The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps was dominated by the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, who powered ahead of the Mercedes of polesitter Lewis Hamilton at the start of the opening lap.
Vettel, the three-time world champ, and now favourite to lift a fourth straight title, was in a class of his own throughout the 44-lap race.
Hamilton eventually had to content himself with third, 27.734secs behind the Red Bull, while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso showed he could mount a late challenge for the title.
The Spaniard powered through from ninth on the grid to finish second, and heads to the next race at Monza confident his team has rediscovered its pace.
The biggest incident in the racer though involved Scot Paul di Resta. The 27-year-old from Bathgate, who started the race from fifth on the grid, was punted out when his Sahara Force India was speared by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado.
After his final scheduled pitstop, and as he was poised to move well into the top 10 and score important world championship points for the team, he was taken out by the Venezuelan.
As Di Resta swept past Maldonado on the outside of the left-hand corner — which forms the second part of the Bus Stop chicane — the Williams driver opted to steer straight for the pits after damaging his car’s front wing having collided with the left-rear of Adrian Sutil’s Force India.
Unaware that the Scot was in the process of passing him, he T-boned Di Resta’s car, lifting it clean off the ground and ripping the left-rear wheel off the car.
The collision also caused substantial damage to the whole rear section of De Resta’s car, and obviously forced his early retirement.
“Pastor missed the first apex, which Adrian and I got,” Di Resta explained, “and then when we went for the cutback, he decided he wanted to go to the pits, which was a bit risky given where he was positioned on the track at that point.
“Hopefully the stewards will look at it, but until I see it properly I’ll reserve judgement.
“Obviously it’s a huge disappointment for the team that we weren’t able to go on and score the points I believe we were capable of scoring.”
Vettel, meanwhile, now heads to the next round, the Italian Grand prix at Monza, leading Alonso’s Ferrari by 46 points, with Hamilton a further 12 points back.
Kimi Raikkonen has slipped to fourth in the title race after he was forced to retire his Lotus when its brakes failed.
The retirement brought to an end the Finn’s run of having scored in 27 consecutive grands prix, and having finished in 38 consecutive F1 races.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix — Result:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h23m42.196s;
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +16.869s;
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +27.734s;
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +29.872s;
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault +33.845s;
6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +40.794s;
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari +53.922s;
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +55.846s;
9. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1m09.547s;
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1m13.470s;
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes +1m21.936s;
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1m26.740s;
13. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari +1m28.258s;
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1m40.436s;
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault +1m47.456s;
16. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault +1 lap;
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault +1 lap;
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap;
19. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps.
Fastest lap: Vettel, 1m50.756
Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes Lap 26
Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 25
Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 8
World Championship standings (After 11 of 19 races):
1. Vettel 197
2. Alonso 151
3. Hamilton 139
4. Raikkonen 134
5. Webber 115
6. Rosberg 96
7. Massa 67
8. Grosjean 53
9. Button 47
10. Di Resta 36
11. Sutil 25
12. Perez 18
13. Vergne 13
14. Ricciardo 12
15. Hulkenberg 7
16. Maldonado 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 312
2. Mercedes 235
3. Ferrari 218
4. Lotus-Renault 187
5. McLaren-Mercedes 65
6. Force India-Mercedes 61
7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25
8. Sauber-Ferrari 7
9. Williams-Renault 1
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull:
“I don’t think we expected to be dominant here, and it surprised all of us actually; it’s a great result. I think we knew going into the race that our race pace, compared to Mercedes, maybe gave us a little in hand, but we didn’t know where we were compared to the others, especially Ferrari, and Lotus looked very quick in dry conditions also.
“It wasn’t clear if the rain was going to come at the end of the race, so we kept pushing, but the gap we had by that stage meant we were able to control the race from there and the last couple of laps weren’t too stressful.”
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari:
“Today’s result shows that the outcome of qualifying bears little relation to the result on Sunday, although I think that even if I’d started from pole I would still have finished second, because Vettel was quicker.
“At the start we immediately made up some places and all in a rush, first passing Button, then Rosberg and Hamilton, so I found myself six seconds behind Vettel, but if one looks at the final gap of 16 seconds, we can but congratulate him and his team.
“The car worked well in all conditions, with a full fuel load at first and then with a lighter one at the end and, on top of that, the extra speed we had on the straight meant I could overtake without taking too many laps to do so.
“We know we have made a step forward and that we have recovered some of the competitiveness we had lost in recent races. In Monza and Singapore we will see the next steps in this process.
“The updates used in this race worked well and, even if they were aimed at this particular circuit, they are the results of work that goes on twenty four hours a day, at home and at the track. That makes us optimistic for the coming races, because our goal still remains the same, namely to fight for the title right to the end.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes:
“Every year you come here and to Monza with a new package, and sometimes you hit the nail on the head and sometimes you don’t.
“I think we have done a decent job but these guys — Red Bull and Ferrari — have done a better job.
“Whether or not we’ll have done an adjustment for the next race, we have to wait and see, but I think we will be more competitive when we get back to Singapore. I feel we have much more chance there.
“I got a decent exit out of the first corner but Vettel was massively fast through Eau Rouge, I came out of there and couldn’t do anything and had to watch him ride by.
“After that it was very difficult to hold on and Fernando flew by me on the straight.”
Mark Webber, Red Bull:
“The two practice starts before the race weren’t great and so we were a bit worried about the clutch going to the start, which put us on to the back foot. We tried our best, but lost a couple of rows off the line which is not good.
“We then had to try and clear people on the track, which was difficult, as we had set up the top gear to race in clean air, rather than to pass. The bad start put us out of position and it snowballs from there, as you use up the tyres trying to getting to back into position.”
Jenson Button, McLaren:
“We were trying for a one-stop strategy at the start of the race, then we adapted that to a two-stopper later on. We gave it a go, but our pace still wasn’t quite as good as that of the cars in front of us, so we couldn’t really chase them down at the end of the race.
“Having said that, it was decent race for us. Moreover, as always, it was really fun to race around this magnificent circuit – I really enjoyed driving the car today. In terms of performance there’s been a small but definite improvement, so we should be pleased with the progress we’ve made.
“I’m pretty happy with the feel of the car now, in fact; okay, there’s still room for improvement in terms of pace, but the good thing is that we know which areas we should be focusing on. So I’m looking forward to Monza – another great circuit – where hopefully we can take another small step.
“We’re not going to be fighting at the front, we know that; instead we’re concentrating on ourselves, gradually understanding more about the car, and progressively improving things. There are still a lot of grands prix left this season, and we can enjoy some of them, I’m sure.”
Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus:
“I had a brake failure, so there was really no point in trying to continue. We both got good starts off the line but there wasn’t enough space into the first corner where I went over the kerb and lost some time, but after that I was pushing as hard as I could.
“There were some brake issues at the beginning of the race but we were managing them and it was going okay until we had to retire. We’ve finished a lot of races and had some good reliability; one day your luck has to run out and today was that day.”