Sebastian Vettel closed the gap on championship leader Lewis Hamilton with a controlled drive to the flag after overtaking the championship leader on a chaotic first lap defined by a Turn 1 collision that took out Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. Max Verstappen took the final podium spot Red Bull Racing.
At the start, Vettel got away well to immediately put pole-sitter Hamilton under pressure. But behind chaos was unfolding. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, starting fro P18, locked up massively on the approach to La Source and slammed into the back of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. The Spaniard’s car became airborne and after his front wing scythed through the rear wing of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, Alonso flew across the top of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. Alonso and Leclerc were immediately ruled out of the race while Ricciardo limped back to the pits for repairs.
There was more drama in turn one involving Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn was hit by the out of control Ricciardo as they exited La Source and sustained a rear right puncture. He pitted at the end of the lap for a new set of Medium tyres. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was also involved in a collision, running into the back of Lance Stroll’s Williams. Bottas too pitted for repairs.
At the front, Vettel managed to get a run on Hamilton out of Raidillon and on the long Kemmel Straight the Ferrari stole the lead moments before the race was neutralised by the appearance of the Safety Car.
When racing resumed on lap five, with Ricciardo back on track, but two laps down, following extensive repairs, Vettel held off Hamilton at the restart to retain the lead. Sergio Perez was now third ahead of Racing Point Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Ocon’s hold on fourth place wouldn’t last long however. Verstappen was already closing in and he passed the Frenchman with a good move down the inside into Les Combes.
He repeated the overtake, though this time around the outside, to pass the Perez on lap 10 and the Red Bull driver quickly began to pull away from the pack as he tried to stay with leader Vettel and second-placed Hamilton.
Further back, Bottas was on a charge and on lap 12, armed with quicker supersoft tyres, he passed Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin to claim 10th place and on lap 17 he breezed past Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson to take ninth place.
At the front, Hamilton was now just 3.3s behind Vettel and lapping marginally quicker than the Ferrari, while Verstappen had slipped almost 14s behind the Mercedes. Perez was a further 11 seconds behind in fourth, with Ocon 4.2 adrift of his team-mate. The Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen lay in sixth and seventh respectively, with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in eighth place ahead of Bottas.
On lap 21, Hamilton attempted to undercut Vettel by pitting for soft tyres, but Vettel was alive to the threat and after a good in-lap he pitted for soft tyres on lap 22 and emerged in front. The pair were briefly separated by Verstappen, but Hamilton quickly dismissed the Red Bull driver and once again set off in pursuit of title rival Vettel.
The chase was in vain, however. With the benefit of clear air, Vettel was able to eke out a gap and by lap 36 he had built a 5.1s gap to the Mercedes man, with Verstappen now almost 25s further back. The podium positions were sealed.
The race was now about how far Bottas could climb up the order. After his second pit stop, the Finn found himself in P6 behind the Force Indias of Ocon and Perez.
He made light work of catching Ocon and on lap 31 he breezed past the Frenchman on the Kemmel Straight and by lap 37 he was 3s behind Perez, with the Mexican being told the Mercedes driver would catch him on the last lap.
Bottas wasn’t prepared to wait that long, however, and on lap 40 he closed up behind Perez on the run down from La Source and easily powered past the Force India man on the Kemmel Straight.
And that was it. A little over four laps later Vettel took the flag for his 52nd career win ahead of Hamilton while Verstappen gave the huge crowd of Dutch fans something to cheer as scored his 16th career podium finish with third place.
Behind Verstappen, Bottas took fourth spot, while Racing Point Force India scored their first championship points courtesy of Perez’s fifth place and Ocon’s sixth-place finish. Grosjean finished seventh ahead of Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly scored two points for Toro Rosso with an excellent drive to ninth place and the final point on offer went to Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
2018 Belgian Grand Prix – Race
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 11.061
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 31.372
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:03.605
5 Sergio Perez Force India 1:11.023
6 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:19.520
7 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:25.953
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:27.639
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:45.892
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 lap
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 1 lap
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1 lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams 1 lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1 lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1 lap
16 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing
17 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber
19 Fernando Alonso McLaren
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault