The Malta Independent 24 September 2017, Sunday

Updated: Hamilton wins Belgian GP to trim Vettel's lead to 7 points

Associated Press Sunday, 27 August 2017, 15:56 Last update: about 27 days ago

Lewis Hamilton celebrated his record-equaling 68th pole position with victory at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, trimming championship leader Sebastian Vettel's lead to seven points.

Hamilton clinched his fifth win of the season and 58th overall, having equaled Michael Schumacher's pole record.

Vettel finished second, about 2 seconds behind Hamilton.

"Sebastian was very, very close. He was very consistent throughout," said Hamilton, after his 200th GP. "That's what racing's about."

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Hamilton was in good form all weekend, topping every part of qualifying.

"Really brilliant," Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. "Hamilton's drive was really fantastic."

Although it was a comfortable win for the British driver, it got a bit tense toward the end.

"I was waiting for Lewis to make a mistake and he didn't," Vettel said.

With about 10 laps left, Vettel almost overtook his challenger as they emerged from behind the safety car.

Vettel got his Ferrari alongside Hamilton on a long straight, but Hamilton edged his Mercedes into the corner just in time.

"I'm not entirely happy," said Vettel, adding that he got his approach slightly wrong.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was third — for his sixth podium of the season — finishing ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, with Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas fifth.

Ricciardo showed great race intelligence and opportunism to pass Bottas after the safety car incident.

After 12 races, four-time F1 champion Vettel has 220 points to three-time champion Hamilton's 213 heading into next weekend's Italian GP in Monza.

"The positive thing is that we had really good race pace," Vettel said. "I'm looking forward to next week."

The Spa track, nestled in the Ardennes forest, is the longest in F1 at 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and the race is often full of incident, especially when it rains.

It stayed dry, but there was one heated clash between Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, prompting the safety car to come out after they made contact with each other on lap 30, sending debris onto the track.

Their tense relationship is degrading fast.

Earlier, they touched wheels as Ocon moved on the outside, with Perez responding by squeezing the Frenchman against the barrier.

Hamilton made a good start to the race on the long climb up to Eau Rouge, with Vettel on his tail.

But Max Verstappen's hopes of a first win this season ended on lap 8 when his Red Bull lost power.

"I can't believe this," Verstappen said. His exasperation was understandable — it is the sixth time this season he has failed to finish the race, and some 80,000 Dutch fans had crossed the border to cheer him on.

The 19-year-old Verstappen secured a podium with third place in China but has been hit with reliability issues since.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso lacked pace in his car and retired on lap 27 — the latest setback as McLaren continues to struggle with Honda engines. The Spanish driver has completed only three races so far.

Halfway through the 44-lap race, Hamilton led Vettel by 1.3 seconds, with Bottas seven back.

Behind the leaders, the Ocon-Perez rift deepened.

After bumping on the track at the Azerbaijan GP in June, they did it again, with Ocon's front wing flying away and a tire dropping off Perez's car.

This prompted a furious, expletive-laced outburst from Ocon, who was already unhappy that his team had pitted Perez for new tires ahead of him. After both cars pitted for repairs, Ocon finished ninth but Perez had to retire just before the end.

The safety car stayed out for four laps, which was too long for Hamilton's liking, and he used an expletive of his own to complain.

"There was hardly any debris about," Hamilton said afterward. "They did a good job cleaning the track."

Drivers worry that their tires lose heat if they stay behind the car too long.

"I just couldn't keep the temperatures and (Vettel) was on a quicker tire," Hamilton said.

But Vettel failed to capitalize.

 

"Maybe that was the problem, my restart was too good," Vettel said. "I was too close."

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