Red Bull Racing’s German driver Sebastian Vettel (centre) celebrates winning outside the garages at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Spa after the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix, yesterday. INSET: Vettel smiles on the podium.
SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium: Sebastian Vettel delivered a crushing blow to his title rivals yesterday when he increased his lead in the drivers’ championship with a consummate triumph for Red Bull in the Belgian Grand Prix.
On a welcome dry afternoon at Spa Francorchamps in the Belgian Ardennes, the 26-year-old German took the lead from pole-man Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap and then pulled clear to claim his fifth win of the year and the 31st of his career, pulling him level with Briton Nigel Mansell.
The defending triple world champion came home a comfortable 16.869 seconds ahead of second-placed Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari with Hamilton third for Mercedes.
It was his fourth third-place of the year and the 54th podium finish of his career, drawing Hamilton alongside three-time champion Austrian Niki Lauda.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg finished fourth ahead of Australian Mark Webber in the second Red Bull and sixth-placed Briton Jenson Button for McLaren.
Vettel’s win, his second in Belgium, lifted him to a total of 197 points while Alonso climbed back to second on 151 with Hamilton third on 139. In the constructors championship Red Bull lead with 312 points ahead of Mercedes on 235.
“Brilliant drive, fantastic performance,” said Red Bull chief Christian Horner on the team radio. “Nice one boys, nice one,” responded the winner. “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees. This car was so nice to drive, unbelievable. Thank you guys.”
With eight races remaining, Vettel’s win was an emphatic riposte to Hamilton’s speed and recent form, and his maiden victory for Mercedes in Hungary.
Finn Kimi Raikikonen failed to finish for the first time since he returned to Formula One for rallying. He was forced to retire for the first time in 39 races due to a brake problem with his Lotus.
The race began in cool and overcast weather with high anticipation among a big crowd, boosted by many visiting Britons hoping to see Hamilton succeed again.
Vettel, showing the speed of his Red Bull car uphill through Radillon, was able to glide past the Mercedes on the long run down to Malmedy.
Behind the two leaders, Alonso made a typically excellent start from ninth and climbed to fifth as Webber, from third, slipped back to sixth. It was the first time in five years that the Spaniard had survived being hit by a rival on the opening lap.
The two-time champion revelled in the welcome dry conditions, passing Button and Rosberg as he climbed to third by lap 10. Hamilton pitted after 12 laps for new medium compound tyres, rejoining ninth, while Perez was handed a drive-through penalty for forcing Grosjean off the circuit at Les Combes.
This left Vettel leading Alonso by 7.4 ahead of Webber, before they both pitted after 13 laps while Hamilton struggled to pass a feisty Grosjean until he surged by on lap 14.
Vettel pitted after 14 laps and emerged second behind Button’s McLaren until lap 17 when he regained the lead with Alonso third after passing Hamilton in the race.
Once Button pitted Alonso moved into second and with Hamilton in third the status quo for the podium places remained unchanged. AFP