Fernando Alonso said Formula One’s new halo device saved Charles Leclerc from serious injury following their terrifying crash at the Belgian Grand Prix.
But the Ferrari driver’s commanding victory was overshadowed by Alonso’s opening-corner smash in which the Spaniard was sent airborne and within inches of Sauber driver Leclerc’s head.
Images of Leclerc’s white halo, the three-pronged cockpit protection device which sits above the driver and became mandatory this season – later emerged to reveal the black marks of Alonso’s McLaren.
The dramatic collision was caused by Nico Hulkenberg after the experienced Renault driver missed his braking point at La Source and, in a plume of tyre smoke, careered into the back of Alonso.
The force of the impact launched the double world champion skywards before his McLaren landed on the helpless Leclerc, and then on the tarmac. Miraculously, however, all three men walked away completely unscathed.
“I flew over Leclerc’s car and the halo was a very good thing to have today,” Alonso, 37, said.
“Looking at the replay I think it helped him.
“We didn’t have any doubts about it before, but this accident shows it offers good protection.”
Team principal Toto Wolff, who revealed at Mercedes’ car launch in February that he wanted to take a chainsaw to the halo, said: “As you know, I am not a fan of it because I think the aesthetics are terrible.
“But having saved Charles from harm and injury it makes it all worth it. It could have been very nasty.”
Hulkenberg admitted fault for the incident and was given a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Italy. He was also hit with three points on his drivers’ licence.
“Nico totally missed the braking point and he played bowling with us,” Alonso added.
“The drivers think it is the last corner of the championship and it has high consequences. You think they would be at a higher level to drive in this series.”
The halo was controversially introduced following a series of high-profile accidents in the past decade.
Leclerc, the highly-rated 20-year-old who has impressed in his rookie season and is set to race for Ferrari in the future, revealed his mother, Pascale, called him several times after the incident.
“Everyone was quite worried,” the Monegasque said. “My physio sent a picture to my mum so she knew I was fine.
“She was then calm when I later spoke to her on the phone. She asked: ‘Are you OK?’ Like any mother, I guess.”
Regarding the incident, he added: “It all went very quickly and in the moment you don’t realise what is happening.
“I felt the impact and looking at the image of my car it is quite spectacular. I was lucky.”
There was nothing fortunate about Vettel’s win. Following back-to-back victories for Hamilton before the summer break, the German needed to stop the rot in the first race after the summer break.
On Saturday, Hamilton took advantage of a rain shower in qualifying to secure the front slot on the grid, but Vettel won the race by moving past his rival on the first lap.
Hamilton held off Vettel at La Source but then he was unable to stop the Ferrari car from sailing past him on the ensuing Kemmel Straight.
Vettel came under pressure from Hamilton at the right-handed Les Combes but the Ferrari man held the racing line to retain the lead. He held off Hamilton again when the race resumed following the safety car, and then cruised to the chequered flag.
“After the safety car, I had a good restart, and then it was a very smooth race,” Vettel said. “It’s been a great weekend.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.