Sebastian Vettel took his 5th victory of the 2013 F1 season this afternoon with a virtuoso lights-to-flag performance – despite not even starting on pole position.
The German passed polesitter Lewis Hamilton on the climb out of Eau Rouge on the opening lap, without the benefit of the DRS system – his lead quickly opened up through the opening stages of the race, as he ended lap 3 some 3.8 seconds clear of Hamilton in 2nd. Nico Rosberg initially ran 3rd, ahead of Jenson Button who vaulted from 6th on the grid into an early 4th place. The McLaren driver was soon overtaken by a flying Fernando Alonso, as the Spaniard made his own revival bid from 9th place.
Mark Webber made a terrible getaway from the line with those all-too-familiar clutch issues flaring up again, but the Australian was soon back up into 5th ahead of Button and menacing Rosberg, who had fallen behind Alonso.
Strategy soon began to show its face as the expected first lap Spa carnage failed to materialise and drivers began to feel the grip (or lack of) in their rubber; Lewis Hamilton was first to pit after being passed by the relentless Alonso. The Mercedes man ran wide into the La Source hairpin at the beginning of lap 14, allowing Alonso to make the move up the inside at the hairpin and despite deploying his DRS along the Kemmel Straight, Hamilton could not fight back – Alonso was through to a 2nd place he was destined never to lose.
Incidents had been few and far between by Belgian standards, but Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez soon obliged as the Mexican muscled his rival off the circuit at Les Combes, earning himself a drive-through penalty despite his protestations of innocence.
Among the frontrunners, only Button and the two Lotuses were yet to make a first pit stop, aiming for a one-stop race. This changed when McLaren snapped and pitted the Englishman, although Romain Grosjean managed an extra 8 laps on his rubber in comparison. Kimi Raikkonen never got the chance to see his strategy pan out as he posted his first retirement from a race since Germany 2009 when his brakes, already causing consternation on the grid by smoking profusely, finally let go when he attempted to pass Felipe Massa.
The middle of the race featured the bulk of the action as the races biggest incident came to a head when Pastor Maldonado got out of shape exiting Stavelot. The Venezuelan recovered but the slip allowed the Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta to mount an attack; it all ended in tears as the Williams driver got crossed up at the Bus Stop Chicane and clipped Sutil, only to clatter into Di Resta and wipe the rear end from the Scot’s car.
Button and McLaren looked like switching to a 2-stop strategy late in the race before opting for the originally-planned one – as his tyres went off plans changed again and the 2012 race winner peeled off for the pits from 3rd place to make his final pit stop, heralding the last change of the race order before the chequered flag.
Vettel’s victory sees him edge even further ahead at the top of the championship, while Alonso’s 2nd elevates him to runner-up spot in the title chase. Hamilton moves up to 3rd after Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement, while Button’s eventual 6th place means McLaren move up to 5th in the constructors table ahead of Force India. Nico Rosberg was 4th, ahead of Mark Webber, Button, Felipe Massa, Grosjean, Sutil and Daniel Ricciardo who made a late move on Perez for 10th.
“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.” Sebastian Vettel
“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. 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.” Fernando Alonso
“I got everything that I could out of the car today but we just weren’t as quick as Sebastian and Fernando. I made a nice start and it felt like the exit out of turn one was good, too. But Seb just caught me on the run out of Eau Rouge and there wasn’t really much I could do to defend: I moved once, like we are allowed to, but then I just had to watch him glide by. It’s still a great team result to finish third with Nico right behind me in fourth, so we will take the positives from this afternoon into the next races.” Lewis Hamilton
“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 a decent race for us. In terms of performance there’s been a small but definite improvement, so we should be pleased with the progress we’ve made.” Jenson Button
“I got a lot of wheel-spin at the start of the race and was down in about tenth place going into turn one, but during the first lap I managed to recover to seventh. After the second pit stop I was racing closely with Adrian and there was a train of four cars battling as we went into the final chicane. Pastor went in deep and missed the apex so I tried to get the cut-back and was going around the outside of him. He then decided to try and enter the pit lane, which was impossible given his track position. As a result he hit me, which took the rear corner off my car. It’s a real shame because the speed was quite strong today and I think there was definitely a point or two up for grabs.” Paul Di Resta
CLASSIFICATION – RACE – BELGIAN GP
|16||Van Der Garde||NED||Caterham|
|20||Paul Di Resta||GBR||Force India||Crash|
|21||Kimi Raikkonen||FIN||Lotus||Brake Failure|
|22||Charles Pic||FRA||Caterham||Oil leak|