Vettel cuts Hamilton championship lead in Belgium
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP):
Sebastian Vettel made a crucial early overtaking move on Lewis Hamilton to win the crash-marred Belgian Grand Prix yesterday and trim his rival's overall lead.
Hamilton started from pole position for a record fifth time at Spa, and a record-extending 78th in Formula One (F1), with Vettel second on the grid.
But Vettel has a knack for quick starts and nudged his Ferrari past Hamilton's Mercedes on the first lap with a smart move down the left.
"I had a great start. I knew my chance would come," Vettel said. "Timing is crucial, and I managed that perfectly, I thought."
It came moments after Fernando Alonso's McLaren flew through the air and landed on top of Charles Leclerc's Sauber. Leclerc, unharmed, was likely spared a head injury by the protective halo device surrounding the cockpit area of F1 cars. The incident brought out the safety car.
Vettel finished about 12 seconds clear of Hamilton, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen an impressive third after starting seventh.
Vettel's 52nd career win closes the gap to Hamilton to 17 points heading into next weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza - Ferrari's home. Hamilton has 231 points, and second-place Vettel has 214. A win earns 25 points.
Moments after his victory, Vettel removed his steering wheel and held it aloft, almost like a trophy, as he stood on his car to celebrate. Then, he jumped into the arms of his mechanics and grabbed a Ferrari flag. With eight races remaining, it was a crucial win to halt Hamilton's momentum.
It also moved Vettel one ahead of four-time F1 champion Alain Prost for third in all-time wins behind Hamilton (67) and Michael Schumacher (91).
"He drove past me like I wasn't even there on the straight," Hamilton said, expressing concern for Ferrari's greater speed. "Congratulations to Seb."
Hamilton fears that Ferrari has speed Mercedes is unable to match, which could play into Ferrari's hands in Monza and in the following race at the Singapore GP - which is another quick track.
"In the end, he was doing times that I wasn't able to equal," said Hamilton, who added that he eased up near the end. "It got to a point where it was just sensible to save the engine."
Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas, starting near the back after being penalised for too many engine changes, overtook Sergio Perez late on to place fourth.
Vettel's Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo both retired.
Hamilton initially held his lead, but Vettel overtook him sharply as they headed onto the Kemmel Straight. Vettel then held off Perez, who had jumped up from fourth to third by overtaking his Racing Point Force India team teammate Esteban Ocon.
The heavy crash at the start happened when Hulkenberg bumped into the back of Alonso, sending Alonso's McLaren spinning and then flying up in the air. Hulkenberg took the blame, saying he misjudged his braking speed, and was handed a 10-place grid penalty for Monza.