SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, August 30 – Lewis Hamilton regained the initiative in the drivers' world championship in emphatic style on Sunday when he won a dramatic and incident-filled Belgian Grand Prix.McLaren’s 2008 champion took the lead at the start and then controlled the 44-laps race through two safety car periods and some perilous weather conditions on his way to a well-deserved victory.
It was the Briton’s first win in Belgium, his third win this season and the 15th of his career in his 64th Grand Prix.
It not only boosted his title hopes, but also made up for his disappointment in 2008 when, after finishing first, he was deprived of victory by a controversial stewards’ decision.
Hamilton rode his luck when he had to in the capricious conditions and came home a clear winner, 1.5 seconds ahead of Mark Webber of Red Bull and 3.4 beyond third-placed Pole Robert Kubica of Renault, who lost his grip on second due to a bungled pit-stop when he locked-up his wheels and slid into a mechanic.
"It has been a great weekend for me, but it was a very tough race," said Hamilton.
"I was praying for this race to go smoothly, but in very tricky conditions in the wet I went off at turn eight and, Jeez!, I think the Lord has hand over me there!
"In the end, I was there just happy to be in front and to nurse the car home."
Hamilton now has 182 points and leads the championship ahead of Webber, who began the day as the leader, now second on 179 points.
German Sebastian Vettel, Webber’s Red Bull team-mate, remains third on 151 points after failing to score along with two other title hopefuls – defending champion Briton Jenson Button, in the second McLaren, and two-times champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Vettel finished 15th after an impetuous drive during which he crashed into the luckless Button and sent the Englishman into retirement in a controversial accident after 17 laps.
"I don’t know why he did that – he just banged into me and it is a massive blow to the championship. I’m really disappointed," said Button.
Vettel, who had a late puncture and had to pit five times in all, was given a drive-through penalty for the crash.
Button said: "What else can you give him? It was a racing incident, he didn’t do it on purpose but what else can you do?"
Vettel apologised for the incident, saying: "I am sorry. It was not my intention to that and to wreck both his race and mine."
Alonso struggled in the conditions and retired after spinning his car at Malmedy in the third heavy rain shower of a contest riddled with chaotic moments.
Hamilton’s triumph meant he joined a special group of champion drivers including fellow-Britons Jim Clark and Damon Hill, Brazilian Ayrton Senna, German Michael Schumacher and Finn Kimi Raikkonen to have stamped their authority on one of Formula One’s most famous and demanding tracks.
Schumacher, who started 21st on the grid, finished seventh for Mercedes behind his compatriot and team-mate Nico Rosberg, who was sixth behind fourth-placed Brazilian Felipe Massa for Ferrari and German Adrian Sutil of Force India.
Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber was eighth, Russian Vitaly Petrov ninth for Renault while Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, initially 10th for Hispania, was penalised for a driving infringement, giving Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi of Force India a rankings point.
Webber’s hopes of consolidating his title bid were dealt a heavy blow at the start whyen he became bogged down by his car’s anti-stall clutch system on the grid.
It was a costly slip for the Australian and he slipped from first, on the track, down to seventh as the field swarmed past him on the run through the La Source hairpin as rain began to fall.
"It was a bad mico-moment," said Webber. "Very costly for me and after that it was just a case of damage limitation. It put me on the back foot for sure, but it was a real mixed up race. Lewis deserved to win – he did a really good job."
Rubens Barrichello meanwhile failed to make it past the opening lap as on his 300th race after losing control of his Williams in a brief heavy rain storm to slide into Alonso’s Ferrari.
"I couldn’t help it," said Barrichello. "I braked in the wet and the car just went straight into Fernando. I am sorry for that. We had a great party prepared too so I am sorry, too, for the team."