Lewis Hamilton prevails at Belgian Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel duel
Belgian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton prevails at Belgian Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel duel

Lewis Hamilton secured an important victory in this year's title race after holding off Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel for 44 laps at the Belgian Grand Prix.

In a race which saw the two championship protagonists go wheel-to-wheel twice along the Kemmel Straight, the Mercedes driver prevailed, slashing Vettel's championship lead to seven points in the process. A late Safety Car period gave Vettel one last chance to attack, but despite Hamilton being on a slower tyre, the Mercedes driver was able to hold off the challenge and take his fifth win of the season.

Daniel Ricciardo claimed a brilliant third position for Red Bull after a stunning move at the Safety Car restart saw him hold off Kimi Raikkonen while simultaneously passing Valtteri Bottas on the Kemmel Straight. Raikkonen took advantage of Ricciardo's pass to snatch fourth from Bottas, whose championship challenge took a critical blow as he crossed the line fifth. Nico Hulkenberg took a well-earned sixth place for Renault ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas and Felipe Massa, who went from 16th on the grid to eighth in the Williams. Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz took the final points on offer in ninth and tenth.

Hamilton made a good getaway from pole position to lead Vettel through La Source, but the Ferrari driver quickly recalibrated and looked to Les Combes at the end of the Kemmel Straight to try his move for the lead. As Hamilton punched a hole in the air through Eau Rouge, Vettel drafted behind and when the pair exited Raidillon, Hamilton had to cover the inside line to protect his position. Vettel got his nose alongside but in the final 500 metres of the straight Mercedes' power advantage was clear to see and Hamilton just stayed ahead.

Further down the field -- and in a sign of things to come -- the Force India drivers made contact as Esteban Ocon ricocheted between teammate Sergio Perez and the concrete wall on the run down to Eau Rouge. Remarkably both drivers emerged unscathed, and along with the rest of the field completed the first lap without any further incident.

Fernando Alonso moved from 11th to seventh by taking a wide line through the opening corner, but in the space of the next six laps he dropped four places as his McLaren routinely ran out of puff on the Kemmel Straight. "Embarrassing, really embarrassing," Alonso blurted over the radio before asking his engineer to stop giving him information on lap 17, by which point he had dropped to 15th. On lap 27, Alonso reopened the radio channel to ask if any rain was due to hit the track, and when the response came back negative he replied a minute later reporting a terminal engine problem. Max Verstappen lasted just eight laps before his Renault engine gave up, forcing him to pull to the side of the track and into retirement. Raikkonen was caught speeding in the yellow flag zone as the marshals removed Verstappen's car and was later hit with a ten-second stop-go penalty as a result.

In the meantime, Hamilton remained just out of Vettel's reach and on lap 12 made his planned pit stop to switch to soft tyres. Vettel followed suit on lap 14 but in the intervening two laps lost ground to the Mercedes driver and exited the pits three seconds behind. With Bottas comfortably in third and Raikkonen dropping to eighth with his penalty, the battle for the podium positions appeared to be over ... but that was before Ocon returned to the track from his second pit stop directly behind teammate Perez.

Ocon, who had been ahead of Perez before Force India's second round of pit stops, had a point to prove and on lap 30 and got a better exit from La Source to attempt a move through Eau Rouge. He looked to the right of his teammate on the run down to the high-speed left-right-left only for Perez to move across and squeeze him towards the wall. With nowhere to go, Ocon's front wing endplate made contact with Perez's right rear, sending debris flying into the catch fencing and slashing open Perez's tyre.

Remarkably, both drivers kept their foot pinned to the throttle into Eau Rouge, only for the Mexican to back off as the rear of his car snapped sideways at over 250km/h. A substantial part of Ocon's front wing came to a rest in the middle of the circuit and FIA race director Charlie Whiting wasted no time in calling for a Safety Car.

When the Safety Car emerged all of the remaining cars pitted for fresh rubber, essentially resetting the race ahead of the final ten laps. Both Mercedes drivers opted for the soft compound tyres while Vettel in second, Ricciardo in fourth and Raikkonen -- now back up to fifth after his penalty -- opted for the faster ultra-softs. Behind the Safety Car, Hamilton struggled to get his harder compound tyres up to temperature and Vettel loomed large in his mirrors as he prepared for the restart. Much like he did at the start, Vettel was able to draw alongside but once again Hamilton just had enough of a power advantage to keep him at bay at the top of the hill into Les Combes. Once through the first sector after the restart, Hamilton was able to use the high-speed corners in sector two to get his tyres up to temperature and from that point onwards managed the gap to Vettel behind.

Bottas in third place was unable to match the restart of his teammate and Ricciardo and Raikkonen both found a way past the Mercedes on the entry to the chicane. Ricciardo went to the inside while Raikkonen went to the outside, leaving Bottas with nowhere to go as he ran wide and dropped to fifth.

Back at the front, Hamilton went on to cross the line 1.4s ahead of his title rival, securing a seven point swing in the drivers' championship in the process. He now heads to Monza next weekend in the knowledge that a repeat result would leave the pair level on points with seven races remaining.

Related news

Verstappen quickest in second practice despite hitting trouble

Verstappen quickest in second practice despite hitting trouble

Max Verstappen kept Red Bull top of the order in second practice despite hitting trouble during the session.

Ricciardo edges Hamilton in opening German GP practice

Ricciardo edges Hamilton in opening German GP practice

Daniel Ricciardo topped the opening morning of practice for the German Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton signs new contract with Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton signs new contract with Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton has signed a new two-year contract with Mercedes that will keep him at the Formula One team until the end of 2020.

Marquez wins in Germany for ninth year in a row

Marquez wins in Germany for ninth year in a row

Marc Marquez kept alive his winning streak at the Sachsenring as he won MotoGP's German Grand Prix in dominant fashion ahead of Valentino Rossi.

Marc Marquez on pole in Germany for ninth year in a row

Marc Marquez on pole in Germany for ninth year in a row

MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, the 'King of the Sachsenring', took his ninth successive German Grand Prix pole position on Saturday.

Vettel claims brilliant British GP win, Lewis fights back to second

Vettel claims brilliant British GP win, Lewis fights back to second

Sebastian Vettel won a thrilling British Grand Prix that featured overtaking for the lead, two high-speed accidents and a brilliant fightback drive from Lewis Hamilton to second place.

Lewis Hamilton beats Ferraris to sixth pole at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton beats Ferraris to sixth pole at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton took pole position in a remarkably tight qualifying session for the British Grand Prix, beating championship rival Sebastian Vettel by 0.044s.

Hamilton edges Kimi in final practice, neck strain hampers Vettel

Hamilton edges Kimi in final practice, neck strain hampers Vettel

Lewis Hamilton returned to the top of the timing screens during final practice for the British Grand Prix as Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel failed to set a quick lap time after straining his neck midway through the session.

Vettel edges Lewis in FP2 at Silverstone

Vettel edges Lewis in FP2 at Silverstone

Sebastian Vettel finished the second practice session for the British Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets, albeit just under a tenth of a second off the benchmark time set by Lewis Hamilton in first practice.

RELATED NEWS

Verstappen quickest in second practice despite hitting trouble
German Grand Prix - FP2

Verstappen quickest in second practice despite hitting trouble

Max Verstappen kept Red Bull top of the order in second practice despite hitting trouble during the session.

Ricciardo edges Hamilton in opening German GP practice
German Grand Prix - FP1

Ricciardo edges Hamilton in opening German GP practice

Daniel Ricciardo topped the opening morning of practice for the German Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton signs new contract with Mercedes
Mercedes news

Lewis Hamilton signs new contract with Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton has signed a new two-year contract with Mercedes that will keep him at the Formula One team until the end of 2020.

Marquez wins in Germany for ninth year in a row
German Grand Prix

Marquez wins in Germany for ninth year in a row

Marc Marquez kept alive his winning streak at the Sachsenring as he won MotoGP's German Grand Prix in dominant fashion ahead of Valentino Rossi.

Marc Marquez on pole in Germany for ninth year in a row
German Grand Prix - Qualifying

Marc Marquez on pole in Germany for ninth year in a row

MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, the 'King of the Sachsenring', took his ninth successive German Grand Prix pole position on Saturday.

Vettel claims brilliant British GP win, Lewis fights back to second
British Grand Prix

Vettel claims brilliant British GP win, Lewis fights back to second

Sebastian Vettel won a thrilling British Grand Prix that featured overtaking for the lead, two high-speed accidents and a brilliant fightback drive from Lewis Hamilton to second place.

Lewis Hamilton beats Ferraris to sixth pole at Silverstone
British Grand Prix - Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton beats Ferraris to sixth pole at Silverstone

Lewis Hamilton took pole position in a remarkably tight qualifying session for the British Grand Prix, beating championship rival Sebastian Vettel by 0.044s.

Hamilton edges Kimi in final practice, neck strain hampers Vettel
British Grand Prix - FP3

Hamilton edges Kimi in final practice, neck strain hampers Vettel

Lewis Hamilton returned to the top of the timing screens during final practice for the British Grand Prix as Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel failed to set a quick lap time after straining his neck midway through the session.

Vettel edges Lewis in FP2 at Silverstone
British Grand Prix - FP2

Vettel edges Lewis in FP2 at Silverstone

Sebastian Vettel finished the second practice session for the British Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets, albeit just under a tenth of a second off the benchmark time set by Lewis Hamilton in first practice.