SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, August 28 – Sebastian Vettel extended his already yawning lead in this year’s drivers’ world championship on Sunday when he drove to a well-judged if, at times, fortunate victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old defending champion and series leader recovered from a poor start and problems with blistering tyres to ride his luck, manage a successful strategy and emerge on top ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in a memorable one-two triumph.
Vettel came home 3.7 seconds clear of Australian Webber, who dropped back after a bad start and then recovered splendidly, with Briton Jenson Button claiming a well-judged third for McLaren after an even more topsy-turvy race.
Two times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso finished fourth for Ferrari ahead of German Michael Schumacher, 42, the seven-times champion marking the 20th anniversary of his F1 debut with a dazzling drive into the points from the back of the grid.
Vettel now has 259 points and leads second placed Webber on 167 and Alonso on 157. Button is fourth with 149 and Hamilton fifth on 146.
Vettel reflected: “We had a lot of concerns going into the race after qualifying and weren’t quite sure about the tyres blistering.
“The team took the risk and we had reason to be confident, but you never know until you get out there. We both stopped early on so the main target was to see how the tyres were over the first few laps.
“Then the pace was steady and I was feeling comfortable and got back into the lead so, after the safety car, it was key to get past Alonso and get a gap to make it more comfortable.
“It was certainly more tyre management than usual for me.”
Vettel’s win was his seventh of the season and 17th of his career and, if not one of his most impressive, enough to prove that as the season runs towards the final few races he remains the dominant force.
Hamilton, of McLaren, crashed out after 13 laps when he was involved in a controversial collision with Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber.
Taking full advantage of the safety car period that followed Hamilton’s luckless exit, Vettel swooped for his second new set of tyres in a move that gave him control thereafter.
Runner-up Webber described his start as “shocking”.
He added: “I dropped the lever and the car stalled, so that was disappointing. It put me on the back foot knowing we would stop early to get rid of the set of tyres.
“The team handled things really well. It was not an easy Grand Prix for the crew on the pit wall, but it was a good result and I enjoyed the race.”
Button said: “If I’d stayed in 13th place at the start, it would have been easier to challenge these guys (Vettel and Webber) but it was mayhem.
“Paul Di Resta hit my rear wing, or we collided, then someone’s front wing flew off and went through my front wing and took off my mirror, which was pretty scary.
“So it was a case of what might have been, but, all in all, from starting 13th it’s good to have finished on the podium.”
Hamilton’s race came to a premature end when his car was sent skidding left and hit a wall hard, nose-first, before spinning through an advertising board in spectacular fashion.
He was dazed, but unhurt, and climbed out of his car. Surprisingly, the stewards decided to take no action.
Hamilton said: “I’m not really quite sure what happened – I hit the wall pretty hard. As far as I was concerned I was ahead of whoever I was racing and then I was hit by them. I think we were struggling, we were massively slow on the straights, I guess that’s why we were in that position. But we might at least have got a podium.”
The minor placings were filled by Schumacher’s Mercedes team-mate and fellow-German Nico Rosberg who came sixth ahead of another German Adrian Sutil of Force India with Russian Vitaly Petrov eighth for Renault.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was ninth for Ferrari and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who started 21st after a grid penalty for crashing into Hamilton during Saturday’s qualifying, finishing 10th for Williams.