It was a Lewis Hamilton kind of weekend, one where he claimed the pole and then went on to dominate the Belgian Grand Prix holding at bay a late race challenge by Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo started sixth on the grid and worked his way to stand on the final podium spot
"It’s amazing to come back into the season and start on the right foot." said Hamilton "The Ferrari was very strong today and they put on a fantastic fight. We were both pushing every single lap and there was no room for error or mistake. The Safety Car was driving so slow that keeping tire temperature was very difficult. On the restart, Sebastian got a good tow, it was very close. It is fun to be racing against another team and Sebastian at his best and the car at its best – that’s what racing is all about. I want to thank the team, I would not have been able to win today without them."
Hamilton took the lead in his Mercedes at lights out followed by the Ferrari of Vettel, Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo.
It didn't take long for Verstappen's nightmare season to claim another race as his Red Bull racer slowed at Eau Rouge and he pulled over halfway down the Kemmel straight to retire.
“I am extremely disappointed not just because of my retirement but for the fans also." said Verstappen "They pay a lot of money to come and watch the race, I then retire after only eight laps so it must be frustrating for them. We have had a good weekend up until today, we have worked really hard and qualifying went very well so I was optimistic for the race. Out of the last corner I shifted from third to fourth and straight away lost power, it went into some sort of safe mode. It has been a very tough year so far and we need to get on top of these problems which we will discuss as a team again. Obviously I am not a happy person so I’m looking forward to getting home. I will go away and regroup and come back with a positive attitude next week.”
A yellow flag appeared in the area where Verstappen had stopped and according to officials ignored by Raikkonen who was awarded a 10 second penalty for speed through the caution area.
"When I saw the yellow flags I was on the straight, on the right side and I’m sure I did not go any faster than on any other lap." said Raikkonen.
On lap 30 of the 44 lap race the Sahara Force India drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were once again their own worst enemies. As the two exited La Source Perez was on the outside with Ocon taking the inside line through the corner. Perez pinched Ocon into the wall puncturing his rear tire on Ocon's front wing. Ocon's front wing suffered extensive damaging spreading carbon-fiber across the track required the Safety Car to appear to make clean up possible.
Perez's day was over, “I am very disappointed with how the race went, especially because this was a track on which we should have scored a lot of points. Two clashes with Esteban unfortunately took away our chances and ruined the race for the team. I apologize for the incident at the start, which was totally my fault. I didn’t select the start mode and I was down on power going down the hill. I was battling with Nico [Hulkenberg] and I thought I had a good margin on all the others. I moved to the right without checking my mirrors and didn’t see Esteban was there. In the second case, I think he was a bit too optimistic because there was just no room to make a move. I was covering my line and I expected him to attack after Eau Rouge – he had the whole straight to overtake me. I think we both misjudged the situation and we ruined the race for the team. After that, my car was too damaged to drive. It was a very particular situation and we have to review the incident. There’s very little to say, it was not my best race today. We need to talk about what happened and then move forward as a team to avoid losing more points.”
Ocon went on to finish ninth, “On lap one there was a very close moment with my teammate going into Eau Rouge. I can accept this because it was the start of the race and we were three wide, even though I got squeezed into the wall. The second contact with Sergio was too much. He squeezed me towards the wall again, made contact with my front wing, and risked both our races for no reason. It has cost the team points and it’s difficult for me to understand why he was so aggressive. I will take the time to speak to him alone and share my point of view. It’s a shame because we were in a strong position with a competitive car and we should have scored even more points from this race.”
With the Safety Car bunching the field the leaders pitted. Vettel to on a pair of the faster Ultra-Soft compound tires in reserve while Hamilton had to settle for the soft compound tires. On paper the softer tires gave Vettel a clear advantage but apparently Hamilton missed that memo. When racing returned on lap 34 Hamilton was able to keep Vettel at a disadvantage with the Mercedes power down the straight neutralizing the tire advantage Vettel possessed.
“If we had ended up ahead in qualifying, then we would have had a good pace to stay in front today!" said Vettel "I was surprised how close I could follow through the whole race. So I am a bit angry at myself, because, when the race restarted after the safety car, I was probably too close to Lewis out of Turn 1. I tried to open the gap down Eau Rouge but it’s a difficult compromise. You see the cars coming behind and you know that you need to defend, instead of focusing on attacking. At the same time I know that down the straights we are not as quick as Mercedes. So, I am not entirely happy, but after all it’s been a great weekend for the team. We don’t need to be afraid of any circuit, I believe we have the best car in terms of package. There’s still something missing but the guys in Maranello are very motivated. I think we have done the biggest improvement and a big step forward. Now we turn the page on and move on to Monza: let’s see what happens there.”
Hamilton went on to win his fifth race of the season and 58th of his career. Hamilton heads into next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix just seven points behind Vettel who leads the title race with 220 points.
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