Sebastian Vettel closes gap in title race and other takeaways from Belgian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has reduced Lewis Hamilton‘s championship lead to 17 points after sealing a commanding victory in Belgium on Sunday.

Ferrari’s Vettel passed pole-sitter Hamilton on the opening lap of the Spa-Francorchamps race before taking the chequered flag 11 seconds clear of his rival.

Unlike in the wet of qualifying 24 hours earlier, Hamilton’s Mercedes was no match for Vettel, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen completing the podium places.

Here, we take a look at the main takeaways from Belgium.

Vettel cuts gap in title race

The German can leave Spa with plenty of positives after sealing his fifth win of the season and also, significantly, cutting the championship lead to 17 points.

The 31-year-old led a consistent performance in Belgium, overtaking Hamilton on the first lap and maintaining his lead for the rest of the race.

Overall, he didn’t put a foot wrong around a circuit that Ferrari last clinched victory on back in 2009.

With one week until the championship rolls into the home of Ferrari in Monza, the four-time world champion looked sharp after sub-par performances in France and Austria before the summer break.

Hamilton’s shown his resilience for large spells of the campaign, so can Vettel follow suit?

Lewis second best

It was a weekend that started with promise for the Briton, but he struggled to challenge Vettel on a day the Ferrari romped to victory.

Apart from his lock-up after the safety car restart, the 33-year-old showed strong pace and did little wrong but was just unable to put himself in a position to secure his fourth win in Belgium.

Needs to up his performance in Italy to prevent the German from getting closer in the title race.

Verstappen shines on home soil

Starting from P7, the Dutchman produced a sublime performance for his fifth podium of the season.

The 20-year-old endured a frustrating end to the first half of the season, with P15, P4 and one retirement from the three races before the summer break.

But the Monaco resident looked magical in his home race, overtaking the two Force India drivers and pushing Hamilton as he yearned for second place.

With his teammate Daniel Ricciardo retiring midway through the race, it proved to be a mixed weekend for Red Bull.

Bottas shows his class

The title fight may be between Hamilton and Vettel, but Bottas could be right in there.

The 28-year-old started from 17th on the grid after taking a new engine for the race, but he soared 13 places to finish in a formidable fourth.

The Finn looked like he was having real fun out around the sweeping track of Spa, overtaking Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson to name a few.

Deservedly our driver of the day.

Racing Point Force India revival

A stunning result for Racing Point Force India.

Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez may have started third and fourth on the grid, but to finish in fifth and sixth respectively represents the best finish of the season for the new Canadian-owned team.

The duo showed once again that they have the potential to threaten the bigger midfield teams, especially in the European races.

Ocon and Perez looked consistent throughout the race and the car had good pace and balance to remain ahead of Renault and Haas.

Their 18 points scooped from two top-6 finishes means Racing Point Force India are now sixth in the constructors’ championship – seven points ahead of McLaren and seven behind Haas.

Chaotic opening

There was plenty for the stewards to investigate after a dramatic crash heading into turn one.

Nico Hulkenberg appeared to have stalled, resulting in a serious collision that caused Fernando Alonso to go airborne and take out Charles Leclerc.

All three drivers were forced to retire, with Ricciardo picking up rear wing damage and Raikkonen also caught in the carnage with a puncture.

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Lewis Hamilton puts on another masterclass in rain to take Spa pole

David Cooper 25/08/2018
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Lewis Hamilton is on pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix after delivering yet another chapter in his book of wet-weather masterclasses.

As the rain swept in over the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, Hamilton took advantage of the tricky conditions to finish comfortably clear of title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Frenchman Esteban Ocon will line up in a shock third place for Force India ahead of his team-mate Sergio Perez.

Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 24 points in the championship, was the strong favourite to take pole with Ferrari holding the advantage over Mercedes in the dry.

But as the rain arrived in the seconds before the top-10 shootout, it was Hamilton who took the spoils to finish a mighty seven tenths clear of Vettel.

“That was one of the toughest qualifying sessions that I can remember,” Hamilton said after securing the 78th pole of his career.

“I don’t know if Ferrari definitely had the pole in the dry. I was hopeful I could make it but I knew it would be close.

“Then, the rain came, and I can’t express how difficult it was. It was so hard. I went off the track twice, but I am so glad I managed to keep it together on that last lap.”

Vettel added: “We didn’t time it great, but in these conditions anything can happen, so you may as well take second. We had the pace for pole, but the lap to Lewis was quite big so he deserved it.”

The result will come as a blow to Vettel, with Hamilton’s surge to the top in qualifying the first time the world champion has been fastest all weekend.

AUTO-PRIX-F1-BEL-QUALIFYING

Hamilton ran wide on his first attempt at pole, but, as has so often been the case in his career, did not put a foot wrong when the pressure was on.

Like Hamilton, Force India, the British-based team taken out of administration over the summer, also made the most of the inclement conditions to line up in third and fourth.

Romain Grosjean was fifth for Haas ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished a disappointing seventh and eighth for Red Bull.

Earlier in the dry, McLaren’s sorry season took another miserable twist with the British team’s worst qualifying session of the year.

Fernando Alonso finished only 17th, while his under-fire team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne propped up the order at his home race.

Alonso, 37, announced over the summer break that he will call time on his 17-season career at the end of the year, but Vandoorne’s future is likely to be taken out of his own hands.

The Belgian driver, in his second season with the Woking team, had already posted the slowest time in all three practice sessions before his qualifying nightmare.

British teenager Lando Norris deputised for Alonso in opening practice on Friday here, and the feeling is that he could be promoted in Vandoorne’s place next year.

Norris, 18, would join Carlos Sainz, who is moving from Renault to McLaren, but the Spaniard was also slow on Saturday, falling at the first hurdle of qualifying. He is set to line up in 16th.

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Watch: Daniel Ricciardo laments quitting Red Bull over the phone

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Daniel Ricciardo surprised Red Bull and many in the F1 paddock with his unexpected decision to switch to Renault next year.

Ricciardo said he wanted a change in scenery and routine after being associated with Red Bull for a decade.

“It was more just the routine, going to the same factory year after year. I felt it made my enjoyment for the sport a bit numb at times,” Ricciardo said.

However, he admitted severing ties with the company over the phone was not the right thing to do.

“I would have liked to have done it in person and face to face. A bit more like an adult man about it,” Ricciardo said.

Watch the video below.

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