Hamilton is still up against it and four other things we learned from Belgian GP

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Lewis Hamilton halved Sebastian Vettel’s lead at the summit of the Formula One championship with victory in Belgium.

Hamilton will now head to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday just seven points behind his title rival.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at the main talking points from yesterday’s race.

Hamilton’s still up against it

To all intents and purposes, Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a stellar weekend.

Twenty-four hours after matching Michael Schumacher’s pole position record, Hamilton, contesting his 200th grand prix, led virtually every lap to secure his fifth win of the season and reduce Vettel’s title lead.

Yet, the Spa-Francorchamps course was supposed to be one which suited Mercedes, and while Hamilton won, he will no doubt be alarmed as to how hard-fought his victory actually was.

Vettel did not give Hamilton a moment’s respite, and at a track where Mercedes were expected to dominate, the intensity of the battle, will be of cause for concern.

Indeed Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished only fifth, and was off the pace for much of the weekend.

Hamilton’s display here was faultless, but whether that sort of form will be enough to stop Vettel and his impressive Ferrari team from winning the championship, remains to be seen.

Perez and Ocon feel the Force

Sergio Perez’s relationship with Esteban Ocon appears beyond repair after they collided twice in Belgium.

Ocon called Perez an “idiot” over the radio, then accused his team-mate of trying to kill him during his post-race media commitments, before reiterating his stance on Twitter.

“We were having a good race until Perez tried to kill me two times,” the 20-year-old Frenchman wrote.

Mexican Perez, seven years Ocon’s senior, then gave his version of events. “I am very disappointed to see his comments that l wanted to kill him,” Perez said.

“I am not that type of guy. I just want to tell the truth and move on.”

That might however, be easier said than done.

Renault apologise to Max

Four-time champion and Renault chief Alain Prost personally apologised to Max Verstappen after the Dutchman’s failure to finish in Spa.

Verstappen, running in fifth, came to a stuttering halt on the Kemmel Straight after his Red Bull-Renault engine expired. It marked his sixth DNF of a season which has become increasingly frustrating for the teenager.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit last week played host to record-breaking crowds, due in part to the large army of Dutch supporters who travelled across the border to cheer on Verstappen.

“I am extremely disappointed, not just because of my retirement but for the fans also,” Verstappen said.

“They pay a lot of money to come and watch the race. I then retire after only eight laps so it must be frustrating for them.”

To make matters worse, Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo claimed the final spot on the podium.

Luckless Palmer calls for Alonso penalty

Jolyon Palmer remains without a point this year after another frustrating weekend.

The 26-year-old Englishman appeared on course to out-qualify his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg for the first time this term, only for a gearbox failure to thwart his progress.

Palmer was forced to start a lowly 14th, with Hulkenberg seventh on the grid.

He then failed to make his way through traffic before losing further ground after an altercation with Fernando Alonso.

“Alonso forced me off the track,” Palmer said.

“I don’t know if he will get a penalty, but he cost me two places.”

Palmer finished 13th, while Hulkenberg crossed the line in sixth. A case of what might have been for the Brit.

Schumacher Jnr rolls back the years

Mick Schumacher, the 18-year-old son of seven-time world champion Michael, wowed the crowds with a demonstration of his father’s title-winning Benetton.

Mick, who contests the European Formula Three series, completed one lap prior to Sunday’s race in the car which his father won his maiden championship in 1994.

The demo marked the 25th anniversary of Schumacher’s first of a record 91 career wins.

The 48-year-old has not been seen in public since he suffered brain injuries during a skiing accident in 2013.

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Vettel finished second at Belgian Grand Prix but questions linger for Ferrari

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Formula 1 might have packed up for a month for its half-term break but what, if anything, has changed on the grid’s return?

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend threw up the fifth Lewis Hamilton-Sebastian Vettel one-two of the season, and in one sense that didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before the mid-season holiday.

The short of it is that the season will continue to be a pulsating head-to-head between Hamilton and Vettel right, it would seem, to the final race of 2017.

Just seven points now separate them, Hamilton’s win to Vettel’s second cutting the German’s advantage to a tantalisingly slim margin.

But as bizarre as it might sound, if anything Ferrari might actually come away from Spa this weekend as the happier of the two teams despite not actually taking the chequered flag out front.

Due to the nuances of the Ferraris and Mercedes, certain circuits suit their cars more than others. Spa is very much a Mercedes track and the expectation was that this was very much suit the German manufacturer much akin to the high-speed, sweeping corners of Silverstone.

But unlike the British Grand Prix, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were not able to stamp down their authority as quite they might have anticipated.

Sure, Hamilton got away with the victory but the Mercedes hierarchy were left scratching their heads a little bit in the post-race debrief.

Team boss Toto Wolff said of the small margin of victory: “We were surprised. They’ve done a good job in bringing an upgrade package.”

So how has this been achieved and Ferrari been able to cut the deficit at a race in which they would have expected to have more of a time gap come the race end?

Among the upgrades in Belgium are a new front suspension featuring a third damper, which the team tested out at the post-Hungary test.

What that has done is give them lower drag on the long, fast straights but something that has been achieved without losing their advantage in other areas on the race track. That quest has also been aided by a new front wing and endplate.

So what do those innovations mean for the rest of the championship? Is it now a case of advantage FerrarI?

No one quite knows, not even the title protagonists themselves, and it will probably become none the clearer at Monza, the next race on the calendar.

The big question mark that looms is over the subsequent race next month in Singapore, a habitual bête noire for Mercedes.

The reality is that Mercedes are all too aware that their cars tend not to work so well at the low-speed, high downforce circuits.

And in Belgium, Wolff intimated that this issue in which the team struggles to get its tyres working quickly enough will indeed be a problem. So in short, Ferrari have caught up at their weak tracks while there’s a big query as to whether Mercedes has done so.

It is there under the night lights of the street circuit that the manner in which the title will be won might be swayed one way or the other.

Mercedes do not have any major upgrades looming, Wolff putting it thus, “that the team will continue to bring new bits to the car”.

And the rest of the season is a developmental one as well as a racing one.

There was no shortage of bravado from the title rivals in the immediate aftermath. “Close,” was Vettel’s succinct take while Hamilton brushed it aside by suggesting he had lifted off.

The battle lines between them are drawn, likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes. Who has the advantage currently is not abundantly clear but Ferrari look the happier heading for home.

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Max Verstappen frustrated by early exit at Belgian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen dropped a heavy hint that he is running out of patience with Red Bull after another enforced retirement in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The 19-year-old Dutchman suggested he is considering his future and is ready to leave following his sixth retirement in 12 races.

“This should not happen with a top team,” he said. “It is unbelievable…”

Asked how many more retirements it would take to persuade him to re-consider his future, he said “not too many.”

Verstappen has been consistently linked with a switch to Ferrari, but remains under contract with Red Bull until 2019.

He started fifth in Sunday’s race, but was forced into retirement with a loss of power on lap eight.

He parked the car in front of thousands of Dutch fans – 80,000 arrived to create a massed ‘orange army’ in a crowd of 125,000 – at Eau Rouge.

“I can’t believe it,” said the son of former Benetton driver Jos Verstappen.

His Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished third behind victorious Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.

“It is very disappointing. There are so many fans here and they pay a lot of money for very expensive tickets and then the race finishes for me after eight laps.

“This cannot and should not happen with a top team – to finish like this.”

The Dutch teenager is widely regarded as the outstanding young talent in the sport after winning the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix on his debut with Red Bull after a dazzling earlier spell with sister team Toro Rosso.

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