There has been an ebb and flow to this season’s Formula One world championship lending it a narrative that defies a prediction of its ultimate denouement with any confidence. The Belgian Grand Prix was yet another chapter that added fascinating depth to the rapidly approaching finale.
Lewis Hamilton won the race, continuing the sequence this season that has seen no single driver take back-to-back wins. Proof in itself how the advantage has swung between the lead protagonists Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who was second in Spa. But while the pair went wheel to wheel only twice over the 44 laps, their battle was absolutely intense, lasted the full distance and, crucially, was telling in how the remainder of the season might unfold after Hamilton narrowed the gap to his rival to just seven points.
On the opening lap Vettel almost made it tell, coming alongside Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight but the British driver held his nerve and a defensive line, keeping the lead into Les Combes. After a safety car restart Vettel tried again in the same place but once again was thwarted. He could stay with the British driver but not pass.
The pair had not engaged in a duel that saw them repeatedly exchanging places but it had been very much a hard-fought battle that was appreciated by the crowd of 100,000 in the Ardennes. Hamilton, in his 200th grand prix, had led from pole to take his 58th career win and that pole – equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 – turned out to be absolutely crucial given how closely matched the pair were. Vettel remained within a second and a half of Hamilton for almost the entire race, demonstrating a pace that puts the Ferrari much closer to Mercedes on a circuit that was expected to strongly favour the characteristics of Hamilton’s car.