F1 Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton takes it easy with commanding Spa win

 Lewis Hamilton cruises to Belgian Grand Prix glory from Nico Rosberg, while Romain Grosjean scores podium after late heartache for Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton has extended his lead in the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship standings with a commanding lights-to-flag victory over Nico Rosberg in the Belgian Grand Prix, while Sebastian Vettel suffered his first non-score of the year after a dramatic late tyre blowout.
Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

The Mercedes driver shrugged off concerns that the new start procedures could cause ‘chaos’ on the run to La Source as he comfortably converted his pole position into a lead he would maintain for the following 43 laps

Indeed, though the first start was aborted when Nico Hulkenberg developed problems on the formation lap, the eventual getaway proved clean for Hamilton on the inside line. This was in stark contrast to fellow front-row starter Rosberg, who suffered a terrible ‘second phase’ off the line, leaving him swamped either side by the fast starting Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo.

Buoyed by his quick getaway, Perez immediately set about trying to get a run on Hamilton through Eau Rouge and towards Les Combes, but his attempt to pass around the outside would prove futile as the defending champion proved the last of the late-brakers.

With Perez unable to sustain the leading pace, Hamilton quickly multiplied his advantage over the Mexican during the opening laps, while Rosberg found himself already slipping adrift in fourth position, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean.

Indeed, with Hamilton pulling away, all eyes were on Rosberg to make an impression on Perez and Ricciardo ahead, his cause being aided when both pulled in for a first pit-stop by lap seven thus releasing him into clear air. When he went on to pit on lap 12, he would emerge second, though not before a wheel-to-wheel moment with Perez on the exit.

Having been upwards of nine seconds behind Hamilton before the stops, Rosberg appeared more comfortable on the medium rubber and in the direct aftermath of the pit-stop would take chunks from Hamilton’s advantage.

It was a charge that would see the lead cut to as little as 3.1secs on lap 20 when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to clear the stricken Red Bull of a hapless Ricciardo, which had expired at the chicane whilst he was running fifth.

Ricciardo’s exit had come just as he had been dismissed by a charging Grosjean in the Lotus, the Frenchman – who had qualified fourth but was forced to start ninth after a penalty – having picked his way up the order having taken a punt on more soft tyres for the second stint. Taking him all the way to third place at the expense of a flagging Perez too, the VSC would prove well timed for him as he dived for the pits to swap to medium rubber, along with Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen – up from 16th and 18th respectively.

Choosing to stay on track, Hamilton coolly proceeded to get the hammer down in response to Rosberg at the resumption of action, multiplying his advantage again to six seconds before stopping again on lap 28.

It would prove the charge to ultimately neuter Rosberg’s burgeoning challenge, the German’s response limited to the odd faster lap on the final set of soft tyres but unable to put his team-mate under any discernible pressure.

As such, Hamilton was left to clinch his sixth win of the season by two seconds, a success that sees him put 28 points between himself and his team-mate with eight races remaining.

Behind Rosberg, the fight for third place would come down to a determined Vettel – running in third place after persevering with a risky one-stop strategy – and the inspired Grosjean. Indeed, with Vettel wrestling his increasingly ill-handling car ahead of his a swiftly closing Grosjean, the fight for the final spot on the podium seemed to be building to a last lap showdown.

However, Vettel’s hopes of clinging on would be dashed on the penultimate lap when his right-rear tyre finally cried enough down the Kemmel Straight, a dramatic blowout that the four-time champion was fortunate to control. A heart-breaking conclusion to a hard fought drive, the failure would see Vettel finish out of the top ten for the first time this season.

His loss, however, was Grosjean’s gain as he capitalised to pick up his and Lotus’ first podium finish since the 2013 United States Grand Prix, the Frenchman making the most of his car’s unexpected upturn in performance to finish a well-deserved third.

One of the few drivers not to pit during the VSC, Daniil Kvyat’s later stop would see him drop from fifth to tenth place with 15 laps remaining, only for the Russian to show his racing mettle by picking off the drivers ahead in the final stages, before being promoted to fourth at the expense of Vettel.

Though unable to sustain his quick pace early on, fifth place still marks Perez and Force India’s best finish of the season having successfully rebuffed the late attentions of both Massa and Raikkonen, who crossed the line sixth and seventh. Up from 18th on the grid, Verstappen very nearly had the measure of Raikkonen on the final lap, only to out-brake himself into Les Combes, forcing him to settle for eighth.

Having started third, Valtteri Bottas endured a dismal afternoon after a mistake at the first pit-stop saw the team fit a single medium rear tyre amongst a set of soft tyres. Being slapped with a drive-thru penalty and completing the entire stint on the mis-matched rubber, Bottas could only recover to ninth.

Picking up the final point in tenth for the second race in a row, Marcus Ericsson kept his nose clean to finish clear of Sauber team-mate Felipe Nasr, while McLaren-Honda experienced a long afternoon as both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button posed little challenge down in 13th and 14th.

As well as Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz developed issues on the second formation lap to be ruled out of contention, while Pastor Maldonado was left to wonder what could have been after retiring with engine problems early on from seventh when he was running ahead of Grosjean