Lewis Hamilton extended his advantage at the top of the Formula One world championship as he cantered to an easy win at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg followed his Silver Arrows partner home in second to maintain his slim chances of catching Hamilton in the overall standings.
It was a difficult day for the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who saw his race end with a dramatic puncture just over a lap from the finish line.
Romain Grosjean grabbed the third spot on the podium in his Lotus after staying with the leading pack, taking advantage of Vettel's misfortune. Sky Sports confirmed the end result:
Here is the full result from Spa:
|Belgian F1 Grand Prix: Final Race Standings|
|R||SAI||Toro Rosso||Retired (32)|
|R||RIC||Red Bull||Retired (19)|
|R||HUL||Force India||Retired (0)|
Hamilton laboured off the start line to hold the lead, but it was a disastrous opening lap for Rosberg as a number of cars overtook him before the first corner.
Sergio Perez grabbed second and threatened Hamilton for the lead on the opening lap, with Rosberg down in fifth place in the opening moments.
Fernando Alonso made a tremendous start from the back of the grid and picked off a number of cars in quick succession. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo settled quickly into third place as Rosberg regained a position to sit in fourth spot.
BBC commentator David Coulthard called the action of the open stages, per BBC Sport: "The chaos at the start wasn't quite there, but Nico Rosberg was the big loser of the new start procedure. Hamilton looked slow initially but then really picked up the traction."
Alonso continued his climb through the field—all the way up into 12th—showing the Spa track favours the bravest racers.
A flurry of early pitting occurred from the eighth lap as Ricciardo led the charge to change onto medium tyres. The Mercedes soon followed suit, with Rosberg gaining ground to sit in second place behind Hamilton.
The world champion then recorded the fastest lap of the day as he clocked a time of one minute, 54.938 seconds, leaving his team-mate 3.4 seconds in his wake.
But the German chipped away at Hamilton's slim lead and was only just behind the Brit as the race passed the halfway point. However, the virtual safety car was called into play as Ricciardo was forced to retire, suffering system failure at the Bus Stop chicane.
The Red Bull's retirement once again prompted a wave of pitting as the racing was temporarily brought to a halt. The leader asked if Rosberg had gained an advantage on him as the battle once again commenced:
Hamilton reacted well after the virtual safety car and started to clock six-10ths faster than Rosberg, as the threat of rain gathered with storm clouds overhead. Both Mercedes came in for soft tyres, leaving Rosberg over five seconds shy of Hamilton with just 10 laps of the allotted 43 remaining.
Sebastian Vettel was lodged in third in the final stages of the race, but he was 22 seconds behind the supreme Mercedes cars. Vettel's race was to end dramatically on the penultimate lap as his back-right tyre blew out with a puncture.
Pirelli Motorsport boss Paul Hembery spoke to reporters following the race about the incident, courtesy of PitPass.com:
It was at the end of wear life. Any tyre in the world, when it gets to the end of its wear-life, you're going to have a problem.
We thought the strategy would be based on two or three stops, as the majority did, but they clearly felt they could make it work with one stop. They obviously felt that was feasible.
Wear life was indicated at around 40 laps, but it's an indication and race conditions can change that, and some factors involved in racing mean that sometimes it's not a precise datum. Other teams were taking a different direction.
The incident led to a frantic finish for those placed behind the Ferrari, with Vettel's garage up in arms at their incredible bad luck. Sports writer Rich Laverty commented on Vettel's anger after the race, blaming his choice not to pit late on:
Vettel commented on the incident after the race, via the Press Association (h/t the Guardian): “Things like that are not allowed to happen, full stop. If it happens 200 metres earlier, I am not standing here now. I don’t know what else needs to happen.”
“I think it is a sort of thing that keeps going around and no one mentions," Vettel added. "It is unacceptable. If Nico tells us he did not go off the track, he didn’t go off the track, why should he lie to us?
“It is the same with me, I didn’t go off the track—it is out of the blue the tyre exploded—and as I said, if this happens earlier, then I am f----d. It is not acceptable.”
Hamilton cruised over the line to take the chequered flag—and take one more step toward yet another world championship. Rosberg's pace was excellent, but he will surely feel he will need an incredible twist of luck to win his first world crown.
World champion Hamilton was delighted with how the weekend went for him, saying, per BBC Sport:
We have had such a great crowd here this weekend. The whole circuit has been packed out with the fans. Incredible job done by the team throughout the weekend. Today was a dream and the car was fantastic all weekend. When I saw one of the tyres blow off one of the others cars I was being very cautious but I felt 100 percent all weekend.
Hamilton now leads the standings by 28 points after collecting yet another maximum on Sunday, per ESPN F1:
It was a processional end for Hamilton and Rosberg as they found one of their most comfortable podiums of the season.
Hamilton never looked worried by his team-mate during the contest, with the German looking to have found excellent race pace at the halfway point.
But if anything, the field look further away from Mercedes than ever before, with no team having the capability of an exceptional performance in Belgium.