Sunday dawned bright in the Ardennes and shone down on the most interesting first few rows of any Formula 1 grid in many years.
Jenson Button took a lights-to-flag victory that team principal Martin Whitmarsh called "majestic". Button was peerless, telling his team over the radio that he hadn't seen another car all afternoon.
Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo both did well after poor qualifying performances, bringing their cars home in the points.
The grid formed up with Kobayashi's brakes smoking profusely, an omen for what was about to unfold for the luckless Sauber team.
Pastor Maldonado got what looked like an amazing start. As he rocketed forward, chaos broke out behind him.
Lewis Hamilton got massively out of shape and began pin-balling down the track after being squeezed off the road by Romain Grosjean, a serial start-line offender.
The view from Fernando Alonso's car was terrifying as Grosjean's Lotus flew through the air over the prow of the Ferrari, before Alonso was launched into a sickening airborne spin by Hamilton's McLaren.
Perez was out of the race as a result of his rear wing being torn from its mountings by Hamilton's crippled car. Kobayahsi survived, albeit with a hole punched in the side of his Sauber.
Hamilton was deeply unimpressed, jabbing the side of his helmet as he went to have a word with the Frenchman. The stewards agreed and gave him a one-race ban, benching Grosjean for the Italian Grand Prix. He was also fined €50,000.
Sauber's incredible weekend came to an end due to Grosjean's indiscretions. Everybody trudged away from the wreckage, but Alonso was clearly shaken by the accident and it was a minute or so before he was helped from the car.
Back in the pack, Mark Webber had got a good start but had to back off to avoid the shower of debris. He had got past Vettel and on the restart was ninth behind Bruno Senna who had picked up eight places.
Pastor Maldonado managed to tear off his front wing after colliding with Timo Glock, and he was already in trouble for his jump start. His jump start should have kept him out of trouble, and yet he still found it.
Explaining his start, he told Sky, "The clutch lever slipped out of my hands."
The stewards were unamused and gave him a ten-place grid penalty for that and his accident with Glock.
Button pulled out a very good lead, with Kimi Raikkonen behind the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.
Massa and Vettel battled for most of lap 7, the German terrorising Massa down into the Bus Stop and then pulling a huge out-braking move.
Next lap Webber tried to pass the Williams of Senna. The RB8 was able to get alongside the similarly-powered car of the Brazilian but straight-line speed deserted him on the Kemmel straight.
Vettel muscled past Webber on lap ten, the Australian fighting him hard through the Bus Stop chicane.
Webber and Raikkonen pitted on lap 12, with the Finn having been passed by Michael Schumacher who had done well on the first lap.
Webber was perhaps out-foxing his teammate who had radioed the team demanding to be pitted early, but it was not to be.
Vettel pulled another terrific pass at the Bus Stop, this time nailing Bruno Senna, who had gamely held on to his position for several laps.
The reigning champion was driving aggressively to recover from his ordinary starting position, as well as being able to capitalise on Hamilton and Alonso's misfortunes.
He rounded up the Toro Rosso of Vergne, taking fourth and continuing his advance, a one-stop race becoming a reality with every passing lap.
Not far behind him Raikkonen cleared Nico Rosberg who was playing tail-gunner for Michael Schumacher.
There was almost another big accident on lap 16, this time in the pits. Narain Karthikeyan was tagged by Heikki Kovalainen who was released early from his pit box.
Vettel's banzai race continued as he drew up behind Michael Schumacher. It almost ended in tears at the Bus Stop - Schumacher had a huge lock-up into the chicane, but held his line. Vettel was on the outside of the older German who then chopped across the RB8's nose to take to the pitlane, surprising the Red Bull driver.
Button finally pitted at the end of lap 20 and resumed in the lead.
Vettel pitted on lap 22, taking on hard tyres for his second stint, translating to a one-stop strategy. He rejoined behind Bruno Senna and just snuck ahead of Ricciardo's Toro Rosso and Schumacher's Mercedes.
Again Vettel made a dramatic pass at the Bus Stop, going around Massa on the outside. He set off after Webber in fourth.
On lap 27, it appeared Kimi Raikkonen's team radioed him to tell him to save KERS, indicating a problem with his car's energy release system.
Webber pitted again on lap 28, as did Hulkenberg and Massa. Webber got a better stop allowing him to leave the pits much closer to the young German. It would have been better for Mark if he didn't have to lift off momentarily for Massa's Ferrari coming into its pit.
Karthikeyan's race ended at Stavelot on lap 32, a loose wheel pitching him off the track, the Indian slamming into the tyre barriers.
Raikkonen and Schumacher were battling for third place, the German robustly defending through Blanchimont. Raikkonen got alongside on the run into the Bus Stop and outbraked him.
Schumacher then re-took the place along the Kemmel straight with DRS. Behind them Hulkenberg and Webber fought over fifth.
At the start of the next lap, Raikkonen was presented with an opportunity he couldn't refuse. He jumped out from behind a slow-moving Schumacher on the run out of La Source and passed him on the hill down to Eau Rouge, almost a carbon copy of Webber's audacious move on Alonso in 2011.
On lap 36, Michael Schumacher was pitted by his team, switching him to a two-stop strategy. A few laps later it seemed the former world champion had lost sixth gear, but he persevered.
Felipe Massa was on a charge and got by Mark Webber who was having no luck getting by Hulkenberg. He was able to stay with the Ferrari, however.
Both Torro Rossos harrassed Bruno Senna for several laps to grab the final pair of points finishes. Senna hung on as long as he could, but pitted on lap 41.
Most people watching the race could be forgiven for thinking that Button finished the race half an hour before everyone else.
The Briton was untroubled for every one of the 44 laps of the Belgian Grand Prix. His turnaround from his horror stretch was complete with his dominant performance.
Sebastien Vettel scored an astonishing second place after his 11th place start, with Webber finishing a respectable sixth after a tricky weekend.
"We had a bit of luck at the start, but after that we didn't get the most out of the situation – but it was good to finish six places higher than I started and get points," Webber said.
Raikkonen finished third, with Hulkenberg and Massa behind.
Michael Schumacher converted a poor qualifying start into seventh place, with the Toro Rossos following him home, Vergne eighth and Ricciardo ninth. di Resta completed the top ten and a brave Kamui Kobayashi soldiered home 13th.
Formula 1 returns at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in one week's time.
1. Button - McLaren-Mercedes - 1h29:08.530
2. Vettel - Red Bull-Renault - +13.624
3. Raikkonen - Lotus-Renault - +25.334
4. Hulkenberg - Force India-Mercedes - +27.843
5. Massa - Ferrari - +29.845
6. Webber - Red Bull-Renault - +31.244
7. Schumacher - Mercedes - +53.374
8. Vergne - Toro Rosso-Ferrari - +58.865
9. Ricciardo - Toro Rosso-Ferrari - +1:02.982
10. Di Resta - Force India-Mercedes - +1:03.783
11. Rosberg - Mercedes - + 1:05.111
12. Senna - Williams-Renault - +1:11.529
13. Kobayashi - Sauber-Ferrari - +1:56.119
14. Petrov - Caterham-Renault - +1 lap
15. Glock - Marussia-Cosworth - +1 lap
16. Pic - Marussia-Cosworth - +1 lap
17. Kovalainen - Caterham-Renault - +1 lap
18. De la Rosa - HRT-Cosworth - +1 lap