Faced with the opportunity to pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel came up short. 12 months on, he made no such mistake. “Timing is crucial and I managed that perfectly,” said the Ferrari driver, who followed up his opening-lap pass on his rival with a dominant drive to victory to slash Hamilton’s lead in the drivers’ standings to just 17 points…
Ferrari have had the best car for much of this year, but failed to deliver the goods in the two races prior to the summer break as Mercedes took full advantage. That pattern looked to be repeating itself when Hamilton pipped Vettel to pole in wet conditions at Spa, when again the Scuderia had looked best in dry conditions.
However, unlike last year at Spa-Francorchamps, when Hamilton shrewdly negated Vettel’s slipstream advantage on the long drag to Les Combes with some cunning driving (as explained in the video below), this time Vettel wasn’t to be denied.
"Timing is crucial and I managed that perfectly I thought" - Sebastian Vettel
Running less wing, and boosted by a stronger engine than 12 months ago, Vettel timed his attack perfectly, sweeping past Hamilton whilst simultaneously resisting Esteban Ocon’s charging Force India.
“I had a great start,” said a buoyant Vettel after stepping out of his race-winning machine. “I’m not sure Lewis saw me, he pushed me quite far to left [out of Turn 1]. But I knew my chance would be later on up the hill and I think I timed it well.
“Obviously last year I was always ending up short. It was better this year, we had a bit less wing. Timing is crucial and I managed that perfectly I thought.”
No doubt, for no sooner had Vettel got past Hamilton than the race was neutralised with the Safety Car following the massive first corner crash triggered by Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault.
At the restart, Hamilton closed on Vettel but then locked up at the final chicane, allowing Vettel to buy some crucial tenths of a second. By the time they both exited Turn 1, Vettel had enough of a gap to maintain the lead.
“It was one of my worst restarts,” said Vettel. “When I realised the initial bit was not great, also I caught some wheelspin I didn’t want, I didn’t want to slow down again to surprise him again for second chance as I don’t think it’s fair.
“Then I focused on the last corner - that worked really well. Turn 1 – we had some tailwind the whole race so I was making sure I knew where the wind was going.
“Again, I got it right, had a great exit. Once I was told the gap, which was about 0.9s out of exit of T1. I knew I should be safe. I looked in the mirror, tried to see him. I was happy when I went into Turn 5 leading.
“After that it was very smooth race. Lewis pushed hard. Especially in the first stint towards the end, he was very fast. The second stint, I could turn everything down and control the pace.”
Vettel’s victory was the 52nd of his career and 107th podium, moving him past Alain Prost in both cases in the all-time standings. It was also Ferrari’s first win at Spa since 2009, when Kimi Raikkonen triumphed.
More importantly for him, it gives him the momentum heading to Monza – Ferrari’s home track and another venue where the Italian team’s power unit gains will be felt keenly…