Lewis Hamilton has re-ignited the title fight with a hard fought win in Belgium Grand Prix, fending off a charging Sebastian Vettel in a race that was like a game of chess.
The Mercedes driver controlled the race leading from pole position – he also managed a late race safety car, as well as a slight tyre disadvantage to claim the victory ahead of Vettel while Daniel Ricciardo seized a surprise podium.
Ferrari decided to run Vettel two laps longer than Hamilton in the first stint, with the German rejoining just behind Hamilton closing the gap that he had pulled before the stops.
The game of chess continued as Vettel began to push forward closing down on the Brit, Hamilton responded though sprinting out of DRS range before a safety car changed everything.
The Force India team-mates, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez made contact on the way down to Eau Rouge littering debris all over the circuit on lap 29.
The two were squabbling over seventh place when Ocon tried the ‘over and under’ on Perez who was in front of him, Perez moved across on Ocon breaking a piece off his front wing and causing himself a left rear puncture.
Most of the field pitted under the safety car, including the race leader and his rival, who was hot on his heals. Mercedes elected to put the soft compound on Hamilton’s car while Ferrari slapped a set of Ultra-softs on Vettel’s.
Once the race did get back underway, after what Hamilton thought was an ‘unnecessary seven laps under the safety car’, Vettel pounced on him exiting Radillion and up the Kemmel straight.
The German pulled alongside but Hamilton defended well, holding onto the position as he out-braked Vettel for Les Combes, nosing ahead.
Behind though, Ricciardo executed an extraordinary move as Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and himself went three wide on the Kemmel straight.
The Red Bull driver ducked and weaved, getting two places with one move, and proceeded into third place.
At the head of the field though, the positions remained the same as Hamilton took victory on his 200th Grand Prix start.
Nico Hulkenberg finished best of the rest for Renault with a quiet but excellent drive, while Grosjean and Felipe Massa took advantage of the messy race to claims seventh and eighth.
Ocon – who used fowl language to address the incident with his Force India team -recovered to ninth place, while Carlos Sainz took out the final place in the top ten.
Red Bull’s challenge was halved when Verstappen’s car ground to halt on the Kemmel Straight after he suffered a loss of power early in the race.
It was the Dutchman’s sixth retirement from 12 races quoting, “unbelievable guys, this is getting disgraceful” over the radio.
The Formula One circus now heads to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza next weekend.