Jenson Button drove a faultless race to secure his second victory of 2012 at Spa, as championship leader Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton retired after a nasty first lap pile up.
It was triggered by Romain Grosjean, who moved over on Lewis Hamilton and who was launched over Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez causing the retirement of all four cars. It was another in a seres of first lap incidents, which have stretched the patience of the stewards to breaking point. They handed him a one race ban for the Italian Grand Prix, leaving Lotus looking for a substitute driver for Monza. Pastor Maldonado was also punished for a jump start and an avoidable collision. He will move back 10 places on the grid in Monza.
It was a race full of incident and overtaking, but Button stayed clear of all of it, With a lights to flag victory ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Button avoided the carnage at La Source and made very good use of a one-stop strategy to put himself back in the hunt for the World Championship with his 14th career win.
Second place starter Kamui Kobayashi was also hampered by the crash as he lost his front wing and finished the race down in 13th.
Alonso’s first non-score of the season means that Vettel is now only 24 points off the championship leader after leap-frogging Mark Webber, who finished 6th.
Button was on good form in Spa, after a mixed season so far. He has recently found a good way to work with the Pirelli tyres, balancing the temperatures front to rear and getting the fronts to work as he wants them to. If he can stay consistent on them, he can easily claw back points on the others, given the raw pace of the McLaren now.
“I’m sorry to all the fans if it wasn’t very exciting at the front,” said Button.
“However, winning a grand prix is never easy: you’ve always got to look after the tyres and keep an eye on the gap behind. Today’s race was particularly tricky to read, in fact, because lots of cars were on different strategies so you never knew exactly where you stood.
“Turn One looked pretty crazy – in my mirrors, I could see cars all over the place. For me, it was all pretty straightforward though.
“It was unusual to be able to run a one-stop strategy. We got to lap 12 and the team asked me how the car was feeling; I told them that the balance was getting better and better, so we were able to get to lap 20 before pitting.”
As predicted, strategy was the crucial factor in this race with both Button and Vettel opting for a one-stop race. This was made They were able to make their option tyres last near half distance and then clear away from the field on the hard compound. It quickly became apparent that the prime was the right choice come Sunday as Nico Hulkenberg started on the tyre and found himself in third place following the first lap carnage. After overtaking Raikkonen for second many of the cars behind were prompted to make an early stop and switch to primes.
This opened the door for Vettel to gain some clear air and put himself in a position for a podium. He, arguably, produced his best drive of 2012 as he put to bed any claims that he cannot race through the pack by making numerous passes around the outside of the Bus Stop chicane.
Raikkonen was unlucky to be held up following both his pit stops and made a tremendous move past one-stopping Schumacher on the entrance to Eau Rouge. He had spent six laps tucked up behind Schumacher as he could not match the Mercedes engine and losing some of his KERS functionality early on did not make this any easier. Schumacher eventually had to switch to “Plan B” and make a second stop in the closing laps. Raikkonen was followed home by Hulkenberg who managed to match the leaders’ pace throughout the race to keep Massa and Webber behind in the closing stages.
The sole Ferrari of Massa had a strong race in fifth and kept the team within touching distance of Lotus in the Constructor Championship.
Schumacher was able to salvage seventh following his unplanned second stop but it could have been much more in his 300th GP after he had sat in third position before the first round of stops. Mercedes’ tyre woes continued and Nico Rosberg also had to make an unscheduled pit stop to make it to the end.
The two Toro Rosso cars of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo headed Paul Di Resta home to complete the top ten. The trio had made good progress in the first lap but slowly slipped down the order as faster cars made their way through the field. Di Resta was battling with a KERS problem.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, SPA, 44 laps
1. Button McLaren 1h29:08.530
2. Vettel Red Bull + 13.624
3. Raikkonen Lotus + 25.334
4. Hulkenberg Force India + 27.843
5. Massa Ferrari + 29.845
6. Webber Red Bull + 31.244
7. Schumacher Mercedes + 53.374
8. Vergne Toro Rosso + 58.865
9. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1:02.982
10. Di Resta Force India + 1:03.783
11. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:05.111
12. Senna Williams + 1:11.529
13. Kobayashi Sauber + 1:56.119
14. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
15. Glock Marussia + 1 lap
16. Pic Marussia + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
18. De la Rosa HRT + 1 lap