Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are still very much in the hunt for the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship crown after the German took a comfortable win against pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG F1 at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Vettel’s 52nd career victory – putting him clear of Alain Prost’s win tally – allowed him to close the points deficit to Hamilton to 17 points from 24.
The race started with a first corner crash that took out Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso after Hulkenberg’s Renault locked up all four of its wheels under braking for the first corner. The crash sent Alonso’s McLaren-Renault careening towards Charles Leclerc’s Alfa Romeo Sauber-Ferrari, landing on top of the much maligned Halo cockpit protection device and thus preventing a head injury for Leclerc.
The incident brought out the safety car but not before Vettel managed to pull alongside Hamilton on the long Kemmel straight and pass the defending world champion under heavy braking at the following right-left ciorner sequence and Les Combes. At one point Vettel, Hamilton and the Force India-Mercedes cars of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were running abreast to each other on the straight.
The pair ended up finishing fifth and sixth in the race after succumbing to the resurgent Valtteri Bottas who used the huge speed advantage courtesy of his Mercedes to make his way from 17th place after a first corner collision hampered his progress.
After the safety car came back in, Hamilton attempted to pass Vettel into the tight right-left chicane before the start-finish line but the German held firm and opened up a lead as Hamilton appeared to have his hands full correcting oversteer as he attempted to accelerate faster out of a corner than Vettel.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull-Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo suffered damage at the chaotic start and pulled into the pits for repairs but both eventually retired from the race.
The other Red Bull-Renault of Max Verstappen gave the visiting Dutch fans in Belgium plenty to cheer about as he passed both the Force India drivers to finish in third place.
After lap 18 Bottas has moved into the top ten as he chases Max Verstappen. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are separated by just 3.2 seconds for now. Hamilton hoping to have something in reserve to attack Vettel later in the race.
On lap 21 Hamilton dived into the pits to change to soft tyres from super-soft tyres. Ferrari gave Vettel the order to push and gain time over Hamilton after he came into change to soft-compound tyres too and rejoin the race ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen.
Bottas pitted for the first time since his opening lap collision on lap 29 and came out in sixth place before setting off after the Force India-Mercedes cars of Ocon and Perez in order to score valuable points for Mercedes as they attempt to win a fifth consecutive constructors’ title.
The top ten at the end of the 44-lap race was Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Ocon, Haas-Ferrari’s Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, Toro Rosso-Honda’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber-Ferrari’s Marcus Ericsson.
Aside from Raikkonen being taken out early, this was a race that Ferrari and Vettel will be very happy with and will also make him rue the 25 points he dropped at Hockenheim.
The Italian Grand Prix, to be held from the weekend of 31st August to 2nd September is looking like it will favour Ferrari as well based on their form at Spa. Vettel may yet not be out of this title fight yet.