In a chaotic first round of the Grand Prix, in which a late-braking Nico Hülkenberg caused a huge crash on lap 1 with Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc, Vettel took the lead decisively. Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo also picked up on what would eventually prove a race-end damage during a separate incident.
Once at the front, Vettel never gave up his advantage and, with his skilful pace, achieved his 52nd place career victory and 107th podium – two values that surpass Alain Prost's best. What's more, he halted the momentum of the title rival and took seven points ahead of Hamilton's championship lead to only steer the British by 1
Hamilton needed to minimize the damage by winning a strong race to finish second – even though he did not have the pace to keep up with the Ferrari around the core-sensitive 7.004-kilometer spa track.
Max Verstappen meanwhile enjoyed the hordes of Dutch fans who crossed the border. Watch their hero race with a surprising third place – a very gratifying result as Red Bull had to fight the pace for the spa track over the weekend.
The man who was on the road during the spa race was Valtteri Bottas with the Finn After starting the race – after receiving motor penalties for a new Mercedes engine – from P17, he raced at the end of the race with a series of keen passes, including Brendon Hartley, on P4 s The Toro Rosso on the outside of Eau Rouge.
Racing Point Force India also had an impressive debut album, finishing in fifth and sixth place with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon after starting the race in fourth and third place respectively.
How the Race Developed …
It did not take long for the drama to develop when the lights went out, with a massive incident that looked a lot like the notorious accident in the first round of 2012. After Nico Hülkenberg had massively closed his Renault tires in the tight first corner at the start of the race, the German driver drove into the back of Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren was flown over the clean of Charles Leclerc. All three drivers were on the spot, and Alonso later remarked that the head protection for 2018 was "a very good thing today". The scratch marks of Alonso's McLaren MCL33 on Leclerc's Halo seem to confirm this assessment …
Daniel Ricciardo, squeezed by Pierre Gasly's Toro Rosso, marked Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, leaving the Finn with a puncture and rear wing damage would force him to resign in the eighth round. Meanwhile Ricciardo was pulled back into the Red Bull Garage, had his front and rear wings changed and was sent two laps behind, driving 31 laps before Red Bull decided to call it a day for the Australian. Valtteri Bottas was seen to pick Sergey Sirotkins Williams off the line. The Russian could suffer great damage, but the Finn had to drop prematurely because of a nose change and fresh rubber.
The safety car was in action, but not before Sebastian Vettel had dragged pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton out over the Kemmel Straight – refuting a challenge from Esteban Ocon's catching Force India – to take the lead right away. That would be the race determine.
When the safety car finished at the end of the fourth lap, Vettel and Hamilton both did a decent job, but Vettel held on to the lead before unleashing his signature train, which we had seen so often in his speech. Bull-days, beating in a series of fast laps to tease out a lead of nearly four seconds over Hamilton.
Behind it, Force India hopes of the challenge for a podium were toppled by Max Verstappen, the first Ocon and then Sergio Perez drove down the Kemmel Straight and made it to a lone third place – but also a high, since Verstappen did not fare better Fourth before the race was.
The second crack point between Vettel and Hamilton came during the pit stop. Hamilton was brought on lap 22 by the Red Bull of Verstappen, while Vettel was convened a lap later by Ferrari. For a moment, it looked like Hamilton could use Verstappen to effectively drag him into the net lead on his Outlap.
Although Hamilton drove into a mighty third sector while Vettel was in the pits, the Mercedes driver was ultimately behind Verstappen at La Source and allowed Vettel to take the lead. From there, Vettel was able to dictate the pace at the top to cruise to his fifth win of the year and his first since Silverstone in early July. With this advantage of 25 points Lewis Hamilton has dropped in the drivers' standings to 17 points, with 200 points left until the end of the season.
It will be a particularly gratifying victory for Ferrari. Not only was it their first in Spa since 2009, but with Ferrari and Mercedes unveiling their Spec 3 engines at Spa, the Scuderia's victory is seen as a technological defeat of their rivals. After the race, a slightly dazed Hamilton confirmed so much and gave Ferrari a clear rating of the Mercedes deficit.
"He passed me by as if I was not even on the straights," Hamilton said, referring to Vettel's lap a pass. "So we have to push on to see if we can catch up …" This will be particularly worrying for Mercedes as we drive to Monza, Ferrari's home and notorious circuit.
Others to have a good day at Spa was Haas, who overcame the pace sessions on Friday and Saturday to win a double. Grosjean finished seventh and Magnussen finished eighth. Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly is nubbed ninth, while in Leclerc's absence Marcus Ericsson stopped his bargain for Sauber's C37 after a solid afternoon of 10.
Stoffel Vandoorne, in the meantime, heads off from his home race with the shame, in having been last of every single session of the weekend after finishing 15th of 15 ranked runners.