A controlled drive from Lewis Hamilton gave him his fifth win of the season to reduce the gap at the top of the Drivers Championship to just seven points. However tempers flared further down the track as frustrations with cars and teammates mean that some drivers and team principals will have a lot of thinking about next year as we approach the critical point in the driver contract negotiations.
More Verstappen woes
A clean first lap saw Lewis Hamilton take control of the race. Holding off Sebastian Vettel into turn one, Hamilton was able to just keep the Ferrari at arms length throughout the first half of the race, as Vettel looked to attack but couldn’t get close enough to worry Hamilton too much. Meanwhile further back Valtteri Bottas shored up third from Kimi Raikkonen at first, however when Max Verstappen once again suffered car issues and retired, the former champion failed to lift at all under yellow flags and suffered a 10-second stop-go penalty.
For Verstappen, in what he considers to be his home race, it was a sixth DNF this season, leaving him exasperated at the ‘unbelievable’ luck he is currently having. For a man who most think the title question about him is when, not if, he’ll top the end of season standings, he’ll no doubt be wondering if he’s in a reliable enough vehicle to fulfil his ambitions.
It was Fernando Alonso who provided the drama in the early part of the race, pushing himself up to seventh with a great opening lap, before the Honda engine showed its true colours and suffered on the long straights around Spa. Described as ‘embarrassing’ over the radio, Fernando was literally powerless as he slowly ceded all his opening lap gains. As we’ve seen numerous times this season, Alonso’s emotions changed from annoyance to anger (‘No more radio for the rest of the race!’) to macabre acceptance of this fate, quipping that every overtake ‘doesn’t change my life.’ Soldiering on to lap 28, the McLaren finally found itself back in the pits, with fans unsure if there actually were engine issues or just complete frustration from a world class driver who surely won’t suffer these grumbles much longer. Freely admitting he has other offers on the table for next year, this could well have been the final straw in the fractious relationship the double world champion has with the Honda powered team.
With the race meandering on relatively free of drama, it was up to 2017’s favourite double act Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon to liven up the afternoon. After an earlier attempt at wheel bashing, it was Perez’ turn to go rouge and sabotage the teams points hall. As Ocon got a good run up the inside after the first corner, Perez left him absolutely no track room, with the Mexicans rear right tyre becoming punctured when he used it to lever off his teammates nosecone. Team principle Otmar Szafnauer has tried to allow the two drivers to race all season, accepting that the odd incident is worth it for the extra points over the year. However he was frank during the race that this is no longer feasible, and instructions will have to be given to prevent this happening again, or quite simply the drivers won’t drive. It’s starting to look like these two drivers might not even be able to finish the season as teammates, let alone start next year together.
Hamilton backs up his lead
The ensuing mess led to a safety car period and frustration for Hamilton, who was well aware of Vettel in his Ferrari was ready to pounce on fresh ultra soft tyres, which in theory should have been worth over a second a lap more than the soft set the Mercedes wore. Backing the field up as much as possible before the restart, Hamilton managed to hold the first corner from his title rival, before a wheel to wheel drag race down up the hill ended with the Mercedes driver holding his nerve and his place at the front. It was enough to secure his lead long enough to return the race to the previous status quo, where Vettel could see his rival less than two seconds ahead, but couldn’t get close enough to really challenge.
Behind the front two, an excellent restart from Ricciardo saw him grab third at the top of the hill, with Raikkonen also sneaking past Bottas into fourth, leaving the Finn in a disappointing fiftth and surely ending any faint hopes he had of a title push. Hulkenberg brought his Renault home in sixth, with points for Williams, Haas and Toro Rosso too. Ocon managed to recover from his damage to finish ninth, whilst Perez retired with a few laps to go, possibly to get himself cleaned up and locked safely in his trailer before his team-mate can get his hands on him.
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