Sebastian Vettel opened up a lead of 46 points over Fernando Alonso in the drivers championship – almost two race victories’ worth of points, with a commanding win in the Belgian Grand Prix.
It was his 31st career win, putting him equal with Nigel Mansell, and the fifth of 2013.
He started second on the grid, but took the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton on the straight after Eau Rouge on the opening lap and drove away from the Mercedes driver, who finished third, a full 27 seconds behind the winner.
Red Bull had set the car up all weekend to have the highest top speed in the field at the top of Eau Rouge at 306 kmh, compared to the 298km/h of Hamilton’s Mercedes. The British driver didn’t get a perfect exit from the legendary corner and Vettel was able to slipsteam him and pass cleanly.
He pulled away from Hamilton into a comfortable lead.
Fernando Alonso was encouraged by the performance of his Ferrari, moving from 9th to fifth on the opening lap and then passing Rosberg, Button and Hamilton to move into second place. Alonso closed on Hamilton due to the Mercedes taking an earlier stop on lap 11, Alonso pitted two laps later and was right behind Hamilton and he made the pass for second place on lap 15.
“The car worked well in all conditions,” said Alonso, “with a full fuel load at first and then with a lighter one at the end and, on top of that, the extra speed we had on the straight meant I could overtake without taking too many laps to do so. We know we have made a step forward and that we have recovered some of the competitiveness we had lost in recent races.
Vettel was instructed to manage the gap and discouraged from pushing too hard in the closing stages. He said afterwards that the car had proved very quick in the race, more so than he had expected,
“I don’t think we expected to be dominant here, and it surprised all of us actually,” he said. “It’s a great result. I think we knew going into the race that our race pace, compared to Mercedes, maybe gave us a little in hand, but we didn’t know where we were compared to the others, especially Ferrari, and Lotus looked very quick in dry conditions also.”
Before the race the weather preductions suggested a 40% chance of rain from 13-00 local time. It never materialised and although some teams believed there was a threat of rain in the closing stages, the entire race was held in dry conditions.
After moving up from sixth on the grid to fourth on the opening lap, Jenson Button in the McLaren was able to race with Webber’s Red Bull, which had dropped from third to sixth after a poor getaway from third place on the grid.
Button tried to make a one stop strategy work, so pitted much later than his rivals on lap 17. But it proved difficult and he was forced to make a second stop on lap 34 due to pressure from Romain Grosjean, who was catching him. Grosjean did pull off a one stop strategy, the only driver to do so, making his only stop on lap 22.
Button finished sixth, seven seconds behind Webber, while Grosjean was 8th behind Felipe Massa.
The race featured plenty of overtaking, with the DRS passes on the Kemmel straight particularly straightforward for many drivers, but there many good passes witout DRS into the Bus Stop chicane. There were some incidents too: Pastor Maldonado took out Paul di Resta in a bizarre incident in the second half of the race, where he turned right in the left handed Bus Stop Chicane and smashed the left rear wheel off the Force India car. Maldonado had been passed illegally by Esteban Gutiarrez, who had run off the race track in setting up the pass, he was then tagged by Adrian Sutil and appeared to decide to turn for the pit lane, unaware that Di Resta was on his outside.
Kimi Raikkonen’s unbroken sequence of finishes stretching back to the start of the 2012 season came to an end with a brake failure. It was his first non-points finish in 28 races and only his second non-points finish since joining Lotus.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorshamps, 44 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull
2. Alonso Ferrari
3. Hamilton Mercedes
4. Rosberg Mercedes
5. Webber Red Bull
6. Button McLaren
7. Massa Ferrari
8. Grosjean Lotus
9. Sutil Force India
10. Ricciardo Toro Rosso
11. Perez McLaren
12. Vergne Toro Rosso
13. Hulkenberg Sauber
14. Gutierrez Sauber
15. Bottas Williams
16. van der Garde Caterham
17. Maldonado Williams
18. Bianchi Marussia
19. Chilton Marussia