Lewis Hamilton backed up his pole position at Spa today with a controlled race win where he rarely looked threatened in his pursuit for victory.
Behind him, chaos abound from the formation lap on. Nico Hulkenberg radioed in on the formation lap reporting a loss of power, the team told him to box, then changed their minds and instructed the German to take the start, but on the starting grid the Mercedes engine gave up the ghost and the field had to circle around a second time as the Hulk’s Force India was pushed behind the wall.
At the start, Nico Rosberg bogged down and got swarmed by a series of cars, chief among the benefactors was Sergio Perez who made a lightning quick get away. Perez hunted Hamilton through Eau Rouge, up the hill onto the Kemmel straight and audaciously attempted a move on the championship leader, but couldn’t hold it through the chicane.
Misfortune next hit Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado who was forced to retire on lap two in a chassis that looked stronger at Spa than it has all year.
The race settled into a rhythm with Hamilton pulling a gap and Perez pounding around second, leading a train of himself, Ricciardo and Rosberg. Ricciardo couldn’t find a way by and was the first of the leaders to pit when he peeled off on only lap eight for a switch to the medium compound tires.
It was all for naught however as Ricciardo was the next to retire, pulling off track just past the bus stop chicane after yet another Renault engine failure which will surely add to the fire and dissension between Red Bull and their engine supplier.
The Ricciardo incident triggered a virtual safety car whilst the marshalls removed the stricken Red Bull and led to a flury of pit stops. Hamilton radioed into his team that Rosberg took a second out of the lead during the VSC period, but no action was taken.
Action was however taken against William’s Valtterri Bottas who had a race he’d rather forget. Williams slipped up and put a medium tire on the right rear of his car when the other three corners had softs which resulted in a drive thru penalty that effectively ruined the Finn’s race.
In the waining laps, with rain threatening, Rosberg pulled up behind Hamilton, with a 30 second gap back to a close battle between Sebastian Vettel and a resurgent Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. On the penultimate lap, Vettel’s car suffered a massive tire failure at the beginning of the Kemmel straight, very much reminischent of Rosberg’s earlier in the weekend. This relegated a furious Vettel to 12th and handed the final podium slot to a delighted Grosjean who hadn’t cracked the top three since the U.S. Grand Prix in 2013.
Behind the podium finishers the final laps were frantic; an incredibly hard charging Danil Kvyat took an excellent fourth for Red Bull after daring passes on the likes of Bottas, Massa, Raikkonen and Perez. Sergio Perez backed up his strong qualifying form with fifth place finish. Felipe Massa finished where he started in sixth place, Kimi Raikkonen had a strong recovery drive from 16th to 7th right on the Braziliian’s heels. Max Verstappen came in an excellent eighth for Toro Rosso ahead of a dissapointed Valtteri Bottas in ninth. Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top 10 for Sauber.
Hamilton now has a 28 point lead in the driver’s championship with eight rounds to go. Which means even if Rosberg wins next time out in Monza and Hamilton retires he will still lead the championship by three points. After a track record, another win and his 80th podium; drawing him equal with his idol Ayrton Senna, Hamilton seems more and more likely to claim his third championship.