Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, in a lights to flag victory, having started second on the grid. It was Hamilton’s third win of the season and the 14th of his F1 career. He retook the championship lead.
Mark Webber was second and Robert Kubica third. Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil both had strong days in difficult conditions finishing fourth and fifth.
Hamilton survived a major scare on lap 35, when his team insisted he stay out on slicks as the rain began to fall more heavily. It was reminiscent of China in 2007 when he slid off into the gravel trap.
The win was based on several factors; McLaren’s superior grip on a damp track on slick tyres, his impressive final lap in qualifying where he improved despite rain coming down and a better start than pole sitter Mark Webber.
It was a bad day for three title contenders; Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. Vettel and Button collided, putting Button out of the race and Vettel was given a drive through penalty as a result. He later got a puncture. Alonso was involved in an early collision, then made a bad tyre call and finally crashed out of the race. He is now a long way behind in the points table.
The race started in dry conditions, although there had been a brief rain shower an hour before the start and another short burst on the startline only as the cars formed up. It was enough to make the getaway slippery and this caught Webber out and gave Hamilton the advantage.
Prior to this race Red Bull had only won three of the races they started from pole position out of 11 races and Webber bogged down at the start, allowing Hamilton to take the lead, ahead of Kubica and Button. Webber fell to seventh place. At the end of the first lap, rain was falling on the Bus Stop chicane area and the cars all lost control, including the five leading cars. Button got ahead of Kubica.
Rubens Barrichello’s 300th Grand Prix start ended after one lap, as he went off and tangled with Fernando Alonso. “I wasn’t expecting it to be fully wet and on the hard tyres I went straight into Alonso. I’m really sorry,” said Barrichello.
The Ferrari driver dived straight into the pits for intermediate tyres and when the safety car came out this looked like it might have been an inspired call, but the leaders all stayed out on the slicks and the rain abated. Alonso had to pit again on lap 5 for slick tyres. He had said that the one who gambles will win, but this one didn’t pay off.
At the restart, Button challenged Hamilton, while Vettel took advantage of a mistake by Kubica to steal third place. But he sustained some front wing damage in the process.
Starting from 21st place on the grid after his penalty, Michael Schumacher was up to P12 in the early laps, only two places behind Nico Rosberg. Vitaly Petrov also got a great start from the back of the grid to lie 11th in the early stages.
As the race settled down, Hamilton was using the sure-footedness of the McLaren on a damp track to pull away from Button and Vettel. Alonso scythed through the field, up to 14th by lap 10.
Petrov made a bold pass on Rosberg on lap 12 and Schumacher followed him through, knocking a piece of Rosberg’s front wing off in the process!
As Button struggled to compensate for the damaged front wing, Vettel drew close and made several attacks and a queue formed behind him with Kubica, Webber and Massa in it. Teams were being told that more rain was due, so tried to prolong tyre stops in order to try to catch the rain. But the soft tyres were fading fast on the front runners.
On lap 17 Vettel made a mistake, losing control of his car under braking for the Bus Stop chicane, slewing right into Button’s car piercing the radiator with his nose. Button was out on the spot, while Vettel pitted for a new set of hard tyres and a new nose cone. He was handed a drive through penalty for causing an avoidable accident.
“I had damage on the wing, which gave me massive understeer,” said Button. “I thought I was doing a good job of keeping my position. I don’t know what Sebastian was doing. It’s a massive blow for my championship. He didn’t do it on purpose, but it puts me on the back foot now. I’m pretty down.”
With six races to go and Hamilton in the ascendent, he may have realised that the time for the team to back Hamilton for the championship was closing in.
This all put Kubica up to second place, Weber third, Massa fourth and Sutil 5th. Schumacher was sixth and Alonso up to ninth.
Sutil was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 22 for slick tyres, followed by Webber. Kubica responded a lap later and was able to rejoin ahead of the Red Bull driver.
Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 25 and rejoined in the lead. Meanwhile on lap 27, Vettel passed Liuzzi at the chicane and sustained a puncture in the process.
On lap 34 the rain started to fall, but the leaders were reluctant to pit until it was clearly wet enough for intermediates. Hamilton went off the road deep into the gravel kissed the tyre barrier but managed to rejoin. Most of the runners pitted, but the top three delayed it until lap 35. Renault had a slow stop and this allowed Webber to pass him in the pits. Kubica missed his marks and the mechanics had to reposition.
Alonso crashed out as the rain fell more heavily, losing grip on the painted kerbs and slamming into the barriers. This brought out a second safety car. There was a final three lap dash to the flag, in which Rosberg paid back Schumacher for his earlier move by putting him on the grass. Schumacher finished seventh, having started 21st on the grid.
Trulli spun off and was extremely lucky not to be skewered by a host of cars around him.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorchamps, 44 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1h29m04.268s
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault +1.571
3. Kubica Renault +3.493
4. Massa Ferrari +8.264
5. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +9.094
6. Rosberg Mercedes +12.359
7. Schumacher Mercedes +15.548
8. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +16.678
9. Petrov Renault +23.851
10. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +29.457
11. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes +34.831
12. De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari +36.019
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +39.895
14. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +1 lap
16. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
17. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Glock Virgin-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
20. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth +2 laps