Belgium (AFP) – Defending two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in this year’s title race to 28 points when he claimed a near-flawless victory ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in a thrilling Belgian Grand Prix.
Starting from his 10th pole position of the season and sixth in succession, the 30-year-old Briton dominated with some ease as he finished a controlled 2.058 seconds clear of the German. Hamilton now has 227 points and Rosberg 199.
It was Hamilton’s second victory at the Belgian race, having won for McLaren in 2010, his sixth of the season and the 39th of his career. It was also his 80th podium, equalling the mark of the late great Brazilian Ayrton Senna.
“Thank you guys, what a great job,” said Hamilton from his cockpit.
“I am so happy with that. Thank you.”
Later, from the podium, he made clear he felt it was too soon to talk of taking the title.
“It is way too early to say that – the key is turning poles into wins and hopefully today is the beginning of that.”
Rosberg, whose wife Vivian is expecting their first child at any time, said he was keen to rush home to Monte Carlo, but he added: “I messed up the start. Lewis did a great job and deserved the win. I tried to challenge him but not enough.
“I am rushing off after this because we are expecting our first child any moment. It’s an exciting time and I look forward to next week.”
Hamilton added: “We have had such a great crowd here this weekend. The whole circuit has been packed out and it has been an Incredible job by the team.
“For me, today was a dream and the car was fantastic all weekend. When I saw one of the tyres blow off one of the other cars, near the end, I was being very cautious but I felt 100 per cent all weekend.”
Mercedes have now scored in 50 consecutive races, but Sunday’s win was their first in the Belgian event since 1955 when the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time champion, triumphed.
Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel, in his 150th race, looked likely to finish third for Ferrari, in their 900th Grand Prix race, until he suffered a right rear tyre failure on the penultimate lap, as the team risked running him on a one-stop strategy.
“Things like that are not allowed,” an angry Vettel said afterwards.
“If that happens 200 metres earlier, I am not standing here right now…”
His high-speed blowout followed two days after a similar tyre failure had pitched Rosberg into a full spin during second free practice. He, too, said he was lucky to walk away unhurt.
“This sort of thing keeps going around but it’s not acceptable. What’s the answer? Cut, debris, driver running wide… if Nico says he didn’t go off the track, he didn’t. I didn’t go off the track, but, out of the blue, the tyre explodes. It’s not acceptable.”
That spectacular incident ensured that Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who had mounted a thrilling attack for Lotus in the final laps, took third place in an enthralling race.
It was Grosjean’s first podium of the season for the troubled Lotus team, which has faced severe financial problems, and his first podium since the 2013 United States Grand Prix.
“The guys have been working so hard to give us the car to be where we are today – so being here is special. It feels like a win,” said the 37-year-old, who was recording his 10th podium finish.
Russian Daniil Kvyat followed up his podium finish in Hungary with a bold drive to fourth for Red Bull ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams and Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
Local hero Dutch teenager Max Verstappen thrilled his fans in a big crowd by driving from 16th on the grid to take eighth place for Toro Rosso ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Swede Marcus Ericsson of Sauber.