Lewis Hamilton celebrated his 200th Formula One race with a victory from pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Hamilton took the chequered flag at Spa-Francorchamps 2.358 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after a tight race but a faultless performance under constant pressure from the German four-time world champion.
The third victory in Belgium for Hamilton, who Saturday equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 poles, cuts Vettel’s lead in the drivers’ championship to seven points and gives him a 58th career win and fifth of the season.
“It’s been a strong weekend for the team. The support has been incredible seeing the British fans all weekend,” Hamilton said in the podium interviews.
“Sebastian put up a great fight but this is what I came here to do and I did it.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, with Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes fifth.
Hamilton was able to keep Vettel at bay but was put under severe pressure 10 laps from the end after the safety car came out following a collision between Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Vettel was immediately in Hamilton’s slipstream when the safety car went in but the Briton was able to hold off the challenge after the Ferrari driver had drawn level on the straight.
Ricciardo and Raikkonen also benefited in getting past Bottas who was unable to take the turn and ran wide.
“It was really intense,” Vettel said.
“I was waiting for Lewis to make a mistake, he didn’t. He was waiting for me to make a mistake but I didn’t. I was fearing I was not close enough but I was too close. We’ve done good steps forward and we can look forward to next week, our home race.”
There was huge disappointment for tens of thousands of Dutch fans who had crossed the border into Belgium when Max Verstappen retired on the eighth lap after a loss of power.
“Unbelievable, I can’t believe this,” Verstappen, who was in fifth place, said over team radio after the Dutchman’s sixth retirement of the season.
Ricciardo at least provided some consolation with his sixth podium finish of the season.
“Max dropped out early and I know it’s full of Dutch fans here so thanks for sticking around,” Ricciardo said.
“I knew we had been given a bit of an opportunity at that restart so it is great to capitalise on that.”
Raikkonen was meanwhile unhappy with a 10-second stop-go penalty for not slowing down under a yellow flag when Verstappen retired.
The stewards also investigated the Force Indias’ clash which led to Perez limping into the pits without a rear tyre. It was the second time this season the pair have collided, following an incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Nico Huelkenberg in a Renault, Romain Grosjean in a Haas, Felipe Massa in a Williams, Ocon and Carlos Sainz in a Toro Rosso completed the leading 10.
With eight races remaining, and the Italian Grand Prix to follow next Sunday, Vettel has 220 points in the standings, with Hamilton on 213, Bottas on 179, Ricciardo on 132 and Raikkonen on 128.