Lewis Hamilton edged out Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vettel in a race-long battle to secure his third Belgian Grand Prix victory and move to within seven points of the championship lead at Spa on Sunday.
Hamilton was able to keep Vettel back despite a handful of passing attempts, bouncing back from his defeat in Hungary in style with a convincing win to kick-start the second half of the F1 season.
The most serious move for the lead came on Lap 34 after a safety car period, with Hamilton defending bravely to ensure his rival could not extend his championship lead, the result acting as the latest momentum swing in the title race.
Hamilton made a slick getaway from pole position to retain his lead ahead of Vettel, only for his title rival to draw near heading down the Kemmel Straight on the first lap. Hamilton defended his inside well, keeping Vettel back before getting his head down to try and create a gap.
Further back, Fernando Alonso was able to make up a number of places around the outside at Turn 1, rising to seventh, only for the lack of power from his Honda power unit to make him a sitting duck on the main straight, causing him to slowly drop back again in the laps that followed.
The two Force India drivers also came to blows on the opening tour of the Spa-Francorchamps track, with Esteban Ocon squeezing between Sergio Perez and the wall on the run to Eau Rouge, remarkably avoiding damage.
Hamilton was able to eke out a lead over Vettel at the front of the field, running 1.7 seconds clear when he dived into the pits at the end of Lap 12. Switching to the soft tire, Hamilton was angling to go to the end of the race without stopping again, leaving Ferrari with a big strategy call to make.
Hamilton’s pace on the softs was such that Ferrari had little choice but to bring Vettel in two laps after his Mercedes rival, the German emerging third on-track. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen had taken the lead momentarily but failed to hold Hamilton up as he re-took the lead with ease down the Kemmel Straight.
Raikkonen pitted at the end of Lap 15, coming back out fourth, but was quickly slapped with a 10-second stop/go penalty after failing to slow under yellow flags, dashing his hopes of another big result at Spa as he dropped to P7.
Vettel was left to lead Ferrari’s charge once again, and soon began to put the hammer down to cut the gap to Hamilton, getting within DRS range after a mistake from his rival. Hamilton was able to dig deep and open the gap back up again, running 1.4 seconds clear as the race hit half distance.
As Hamilton tried to put the hammer down and create a lead, the Force India drivers came to blows for a second time in a flurry of déjà vu, Perez squeezing Ocon out on the run to Eau Rouge. This time around though, the pair made contact twice, causing damage to Perez’s right-rear tire and leaving debris on the track, sparking a safety car period.
The leaders reacted quickly by taking a second pit stop, with Hamilton retaining his lead. However, while Mercedes fitted both its drivers with fresh softs, Ferrari opted to give Vettel and Raikkonen fresh ultra-softs, handing them a pace advantage for the final run to the line. Disgruntled at having lost his lead, Hamilton told his team it was a “BS call from the stewards” to deploy the safety car, claiming there was next to no debris on the track.
The race returned to green with 11 laps to go, with Vettel wasting little time in trying to make a move on Hamilton. Despite being tucked into the Briton’s slipstream, Vettel was unable to make a move, Hamilton defending well on the inside at the run to Les Combes. Just behind, Bottas lost two places to Ricciardo and Raikkonen, the latter making use of a double-tow to take P4.
After soaking up the pressure from Vettel, Hamilton duly pulled clear before DRS was activated again to ensure his rival could not benefit, with his hot-footing proving crucial as the Ferrari driver failed to get that close again before the end of the race.
Hamilton took the checkered flag after 44 laps to record his third win at Spa, finishing 2.3 seconds clear of Vettel in the end to claim an important victory in his hunt for a fourth world title.
Ricciardo was able to complete the podium for Red Bull, holding on to third place ahead of Raikkonen and Bottas, the latter paying the price for his slow restart with fifth place.
Nico Hulkenberg was the best of the midfielders in sixth for Renault ahead of Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa, while Ocon’s wild race ended in ninth place. Perez, meanwhile, retired late on.
Carlos Sainz Jr. completed the points for Toro Rosso ahead of Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat, with Jolyon Palmer taking 13th for Renault ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen. Marcus Ericsson was the last classified finisher in P16.
Fernando Alonso’s race proved more notable due to his radio chatter, venting his anger about the lack of straight-line speed and saying he was simply doing a “test”. The Spaniard did not get that much running, though, pulling into the garage at the end of Lap 25 and retiring from the race.
Max Verstappen’s hopes of giving the army of Dutch fans who made the trip to see him race at Spa were dashed after just eight laps, parking up at the side of the track after a loss of power on the Renault engine in his Red Bull car.
Formula 1 returns next weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the final European round of the season.