Lewis Hamilton dominated today’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, cementing a 28-point lead ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean took 3rd to secure the Enstone team’s first podium since Austin in 2013.
The initial start was aborted following a mechanical failure for Nico Hulkenberg on the grid; however Hamilton led the start proper from start-to-finish holding off – in turn – Sergio Perez (Force India), Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).
Also with a great getaway, Perez was able to get a run on Hamilton and even nosed ahead of the points leader on the outside of Hamilton on the approach to Les Combes on the opening tour, but it was not enough to solidify the lead.
Thereafter Hamilton extended his lead to over six seconds over Perez, when the Mexican opted for an early stop on lap eight, dropping him in behind Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and promoting the slow starting Rosberg to 2nd place.
It was something of a minor recovery for Rosberg, who having dropped from the front row to 4th spot on the opening stretch into La Source, assumed 3rd from Ricciardo when he pitted on lap seven, before Perez too made way for tyres.
Rosberg made his first tyre change on lap 12, with Hamilton coming in one lap later; however Perez’ additional six laps stuck behind the Renault-powered Red Bull ensured Rosberg maintained his 2nd spot.
The now medium tyre shod Mercedes-duo continued to power ahead from the pack, but by lap 15 Rosberg had removed nearly four seconds from Hamilton’s 7.2s lead.
The German racer closed to within 1.8s of the lead when Hamilton slowed too much under the Virtual Safety Car on lap 22, caused when Ricciardo’s Red Bull shut down awkwardly at the exit of the final corner.
Yet once alerted to the shrinking gap, Hamilton began to ease away from his Mercedes counterpart and extended the gap to 5.5s by the time the reigning champion stopped for his final set of tyres on lap 29.
Rosberg pitted one lap later and while he closed to less than four seconds of Hamilton, the reality was the race had been won and Hamilton was merely pacing his efforts, taking care to maximise his point score and register his sixth victory of the season.
There was a brief scare two laps from the end, when a long-running Vettel suffered a right rear tyre blow out at the top of Radillon, but were able to avoid the debris and rubbish in the final miles.
On the podium following the victory, an exultant Hamilton said, “We’ve had such a great crowd here this weekend, so thank you all for coming. For me an incredible weekend. Today was a dream.” Hamilton even made a slight dig at Rosberg, revealing how much of an advantage he believed he had in hand. “Nico had good pace but I was able to answer all the time. At the end when I saw a tyre had blown on another car, I was very cautious.”
Rosberg continued home to assume 2nd spot, confirming Mercedes first 1-2 finish at the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit since 1955; however the contender was clear a to where and how he lost this race.
“I completely messed up the start,” commented the runner-up. “I fought my way through and gave it everything, we were both really on the edge all the time. Lewis did a great job and deserved the win. I gave it everything – but not enough.”
Despite the race being run, Rosberg was in no position to hang around, due to impending birth of his first child with wife Vivian Sibold. “I’m rushing off – we’re expecting our first child at any moment” enthused Rosberg.
Grosjean grabbed the final podium spot from Vettel when the Ferrari driver’s tyre let go on lap 42. The Frenchman had been catching Vettel for sometime after it became clear that Ferrari’s one-stop strategy was no working, with a 5.2s gap closing to less than one second in the final stages.
Yet getting close to Vettel was not as easy as initially assumed and in the final miles it looked as if Vettel might do enough to keep his Lotus-Mercedes rival behind, but as the Pirelli pulled apart, Grosjean was promoted to the final podium spot. “It has been an incredible weekend for us. I still can’t believe we are on the podium,” exclaimed Grosjean. “These guys work so hard to give us this car. Of course at Spa I still remember Turn 1 in 2012 [when a crash led to a race ban], but I think that made me stronger. For us [third] has the prize of a race win.”
Vettel’s late retirement brought the feisty Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) up to 4th, with Perez having to settle for 5th ahead of Felipe Massa (6th, Williams), Kimi Raikkonen (7th, Ferrari), Max Verstappen (8th, Toro Rosso), Valtteri Bottas (9th, Williams) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) rounding out the points in 10th.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr would end the race just outside the scores in 11th, with Vettel eventually classified 12th in from of both McLaren’s (Fernando Alonso, 13th; Jenson Button, 14th) and both Manor’s (Roberto Merhi, 15th; Will Stevens, 16th).
Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso suffered a mechanical issue on the warm-up lap; however the managed a minor fix, allowing the Spaniard to obtain some mileage, albeit two laps adrift. This lasted until lap 35, when the Italian team eventually called his day.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) also retired with a mechanical issue on lap two, while Hulkenberg didn’t even get to take the start, after his Force India gave up the ghost on the initial warm-up lap, causing an aborted start.