Mercedes-AMG's Lewis Hamilton bounced back from his disastrous Hungarian race with a straightforward win at an uncharacteristically quiet Belgian Grand Prix. The Briton was never threatened for the lead over the forty-three laps in the Ardennes Forest.
The threat from Williams never materialised and Ferrari's chance to capitalise disappeared in a shower of rubber on the penultimate lap. Lotus' Romain Grosjean, who was right behind the German on the Kemmel Straight, took the final podium spot.
Daniel Ricciardo's early form came to nothing after a car failure at the Bus Stop, reportedly caused by electrical issues
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
The return to the track after the summer break is always promising, particularly when the first track back is the glorious Spa Francorchamps.
The Red Bulls looked like they'd found form, the Ferraris looked like they might cause some trouble for Mercedes and Williams did their usual trick of making some positive noises.
In FP2 Rosberg suffered a scary tyre failure but car and driver were unscathed while Marcus Ericsson and Pastor Maldonado both had big ones to bring out the red flags in FP2 and FP1 respectively.
The first casualties were McLaren, with a new internal combustion engine from Honda that only got them slightly ahead of the Manors. Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari conked out in Q2 and Vettel admitted messing up his Q3 lap, ending up eighth after Grosjean's gearbox penalty. Ferrari's 900th grand prix weekend wasn't looking too good at this point.
Hamilton put in a stunning qualifying lap to take pole, half a second ahead of Rosberg. Bottas grabbed P3, followed by Perez and Ricciardo.
McLaren started dead last, with Button (50 place grid penalty, engine)(yes, that's five-oh, not a typo) ahead of Alonso (55 place grid penalty, engine) who nearly didn't set a lap at all but behind Max Verstappen who didn't
(penalty, engine). Raikkonen ended 16th (penalty, gearbox). If McLaren's fifty-odd place grid penalties seem silly, you'd be right.
An unusually sunny Spa Francorchamps greeted the drivers, with Williams' Rob Smedley claiming they had a forecast that foretold rain in the final few laps.
Nico Hulkenberg's Force India had recurrence of a turbo problem - he was at first told to pit but the turbo seemed to come good and he took his place on the grid. The car then promptly died on the main straight, forcing an aborted start.
The drivers would have to wait another few minutes to try their new start procedures. Carlos Sainz looked like not making it, reporting a lack of power on his way around the track on the second formation lap. He pitted as Hamilton and Rosberg rolled to the front row.
Hamilton good a good start but so did Daniel Ricciardo, scooting past Bottas. Perez got a great start, too, almost passing Hamilton at Les Coombes after the Mercedes driver rode the kerb at Radillon.
Hamilton was lucky, earlier in the weekend there was a tall kerb that was removed at the behest of the drivers.
Rosberg's start was less good, ending up behind Bottas. The German passed the Finn at the Bus Stop at the end of lap one in a messy move. Vettel then grabbed fifth from Bottas, the Ferrari driver intially running alongside the Williams off the start in eighth.
Pastor Maldonado's engine expired, ending a strong weekend for the car which had endured a Friday crash but a good run for the team, who were operating under a legal threat to have its equipment impounded. Grosjean was still in the race, however, running seventh and regularly attacking Bottas.
Ricciardo, despite a significant straight line disadvantage, began to edge towards the gearbox of Perez until pitting on lap eight for medium compound tyres.
The team were keen to pull him in to outfox Force India's tacticians. Perez pitted a lap later for another set of softs and returned to the track behind Ricciardo.
Meanwhile Grosjean rounded up Bottas who then found himself immediately under attack from Kvyat, almost being collected by the Russian who had a huge lock-up at the Bus Stop.
Bottas pitted for a set of softs but unfortunately for the Finn the team fitted just three of the soft and one of the medium. He had to pit to recover the mistake but also got a drive-through penalty.
Grosjean, Massa, Kvyat and Verstappen pitted together on lap ten. Verstappen headed out behind Felipe Nasr and the two had a heart-stopping moment as they battled on both sides of the white line.
Raikkonen pitted from sixth on lap 12, having gained ten places from the start.
Sergio Perez undid Red Bull's hard work and passed Ricciardo on lap 12, but given the Australian was on the slower tyre, holding the Mexican up for a few laps might have done the trick for the next stops.
Rosberg pitted on lap 13, the team convinced he was racing Ricciardo. Not only did the Mercedes come out ahead of the Red Bull but also Perez's Force India. Hamilton pitted the following lap, fourteen seconds ahead of second-placed Vettel.
Vettel pitted on lap fifteen, resuming the track in seventh and ahead of Bottas, who was yet to stop or take his penalty. He took the Williams down the lane for the penalty on lap sixteen. Felipe Massa's race was less fraught as he battled Kvyat for seventh, Kimi Raikkonen behind.
Daniel Ricciardo had a gigantic scare at the top of Eau Rouge at Radillon, going wide on both sides of the corner but without any impact.
Daniel Ricciardo lost another place on lap 19, with Romain Grosjean storming past at Les Coombes. The Lotus drier followed up by blowing past Perez on the next lap, again at Les Coombes before stopping a few laps later for the medium tyre.
Ricciardo's race ended on lap 21 as he braked for the Bus Stop - as he went to get back on the throttle, nothing happened. He pulled to the left hand side and the Virtual Safety Car was deployed as the Red Bull was pushed out of the way.
"I had a good start jumping up to third and the race was going okay. We didn't have a great balance with the Prime, I was struggling a little, but we were hoping to come on strong with the Option and have a good last stint."
"It's disappointing not to finish, we are not sure what the issue is but the team are investigating. I lost power going into the chicane, everything switched off, including the dash. It looks like it's electrical but we'll see what the investigation brings."
Grosjean pitted on lap 22, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen following him in. Raikkonen came out of the pits millimetres behind the Williams and even had a go down the outside on the Kemmel Straight. The Brazilian responded with a fastest lap the next time around.
Vettel and his pitwall exchanged a series of messages about strategy, with the German suggesting an extra stop if it made sense, his medium tyres getting old on the one stop strategy. He also had a rampaging Grosjean to contend with.
Hamilton was called in on lap 30 and he took on another set of softs, also fitting in the time to question the decision to pit.
Sainz retired for good on lap 35 having being sent out two laps down after his formation lap trouble.
Four laps from home and fifth to eighth - Perez, Massa, Kvyat and Raikkonen - were covered by just a second. The Russian Red Bull driver dive-bombed Massa at Les Coombes, not long after being told to stick to the track after repeatedly short-cutting Radillon.
A lap later, Kvyat shot past Perez for fifth place, the late-ish stop for tyres playing out perfectly.
Grosjean persisted with Vettel, who cut Radillon for the final time on lap 42.
A few hundred metres into the Kemmel Straight his right rear tyre exploded, the decision to one stop seemingly the wrong one. Romain Grosjean, who has worked hard all year, had his newfound maturity rewarded with third place, his first since 2013.
Hamilton led Rosberg across the line, the Mercedes pair driving faultlessly from turn one on lap one to the finish. Hamilton extended his lead over Rosberg by seven points. Sebastian Vettel's championship chances lay in pieces at on the long Kemmel Straight, that final glimmer of championship hope - barring a total implosion from Mercedes - now gone.
Another great drive was Kvyat, finishing fourth, followed by Perez. Raikkonen came home seventh, a strong effort after lowly starting position of sixteenth.
Formula 1 returns in two weeks for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
|3||Romain Grosjean Lotus||Mercedes-Benz||+37.988s|
|4||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull/Renault||+45.692s|
|5||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||+53.997s|
|8||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso/Renault||+56.076s|
|12||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||+1 lap|
|13||Fernando Alonso||McLaren/Honda||+1 lap|
|14||Jenson Button||McLaren/Honda||+1 Lap|
|15||Roberto Merhi||Marussia/Ferrari||+1 Lap|
|16||Will Stevens||Marussia/Ferrari||+1 Lap|
|-||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso/Renault||DNF - Power Unit|
|-||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||DNF - electrical|
|-||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus/Mercedes||DNF - Transmission|
|-||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India/Mercedes||DNS|
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