Lewis Hamilton won the 2015 Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix, beating his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg with a commanding performance at Spa-Francorchamps.
It was the Englishman’s second Spa win, his sixth of 2015 and the 39th of his career; now he is just two wins off Ayrton Senna’s total of 41. Hamilton equalled Senna’s career podium total with 80.
He extended his championship lead over Rosberg to 28 points, the largest margin it has been so far.
All eyes were on the start of the race after new rules were introduced ahead of the event that meant drivers had to manually set their clutches themselves and when the lights went out, Hamilton maintained his lead from pole position as Rosberg dropped back from second to sixth.
Hamilton held onto the lead for the majority of the race and never looked seriously under threat. Rosberg battled past Valtterri Bottas, who had also made a slow getaway from third on the grid, with a brave move down the inside of the Bus Stop chicane at the end of the first lap. He then jumped Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo with an undercut at the first round of pitstops.
Rosberg then closed on Hamilton by making use of his fresher tyres and got the gap between the down to 2.4s seconds by lap 24. But from there until the end of the race, Hamilton re-established his advantage to pull the gap out again to a commanding five seconds and the pair held station to the finish.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton said: “Today was a dream [and] the whole weekend the car was fantastic. Nico had good pace, but I was able to answer most of the time, so I was able to relax at the front.
“The car was feeling great so it was really about looking after the tyres – particularly at the end when I saw one of the tyres had blown on one of the other cars, so I was being very cautious and in the last two laps Nico was allowed to close the gap, but it felt under control the whole way.”
Rosberg said: “I just completely messed up the start and that was very annoying. Then I fought my way through and gave it absolutely everything.
“We were both on the edge the whole way through, [but] the car has been amazing. Lewis did a great job and deserved to win. I tried to give it everything, but not enough.”
Behind the dominant Mercedes cars, there was action all the way down the field. Romain Grosjean claimed his first podium finish since the 2013 US Grand Prix, a gap of 31 races, thanks in part to a charging performance from ninth on the grid, but also because Sebastian Vettel, who had been running third for much of the race, suffered a spectacular tyre failure as he ran down the Kemmel straight on the penultimate lap.
Vettel had been trying to make a one-stop strategy work after a disappointing performance in qualifying left him eighth on the grid, but his right rear tyre exploded after he had been running on a set of medium Pirellis for 28 laps. The four-time world champion ended up 12th after touring slowly back to the pits for repairs.
Daniil Kvyat came home fourth after late passing moves on Perez and Felipe Massa, who finished fifth and sixth – the trio forming part of a dramatic six car scrap for the points paying positions late in the race.
Kimi Raikkonen recovered from his Ferrari’s gearbox failing in qualifying to finish seventh, just ahead of Max Verstappen, who had seemingly passed Raikkonen on the Kemmel straight on the final lap before he went too deep into the braking zone at Les Combes and had to settle for eighth.
The Toro Rosso driver had earlier made a spectacular pass on Felipe Nasr by going around the outside of the Sauber driver at the 200mph Blanchimont corner and diving up the inside at the Bus Stop to take the position.
Bottas endured a difficult day after his poor start, as Williams mixed up the tyres it fitted to his car at the first pitstop and he left the pitlane with three soft tyres and one medium on the right rear. The Finn was duly handed a drive through penalty that dropped him from seventh on the road to 11th, but he was able to recover to ninth by the finish. Marcus Ericsson beat his teammate Nasr to the final world championship point in tenth for the second race in succession, with ten seconds splitting the Sauber pair.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button both came home a lap down in 13th and 14th, well ahead of the Manor cars of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens. Button suffered ERS deployment issues throughout the race that left him running solely on the petrol internal combustion engine on the Kemmel straight after every passage through Eau Rouge and he finished 18 seconds behind Alonso by the end.
Four cars failed to finish the race; Carlos Sainz did not take the start after suffering engine problems on the second formation lap – although he did get out two laps after the race started for most of the event, before the Toro Rosso team finally brought him in to retire on lap 35.
Ricciardo dropped out of the fight for third place when he stopped at the exit of the final corner when his car suddenly ground to a halt on lap 20, bringing out the virtual safety car for several laps.
Pastor Maldonado suffered a rare Mercedes engine failure in the second Lotus on lap two, while Nico Hulkenberg did not start the race as his power unit failed on the grid, causing an aborted start and the extra formation lap.
Result – 43 laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1h23m40.387s
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +2.058s
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus +37.988s
4 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull +45.692s
5 Sergio Perez Force India +53.997s
6 Felipe Massa Williams +55.283s
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +55.703s
8 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso +56.076s
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams +1m01.040s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +1m31.234s
11 Felipe Nasr Sauber +1m42.311s
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 Lap
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1 Lap
15 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1 Lap
16 Will Stevens Marussia 1 Lap
– Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Retired
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Retired
– Pastor Maldonado Lotus Retired
– Nico Hulkenberg Force India DNS