Nico Rosberg closed the points gap to title rival Lewis Hamilton with a comfortable Belgian Grand Prix win but the championship-leading Briton limited the damage with a sparkling drive from P21 to third and a podium finish behind Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
The race began in dramatic fashion. Rosberg made a good getaway from pole to take the lead but Max Verstappen making his first career front-row start began slowly from P2. He was passed by the fast-starting Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, but Red Bull driver Verstappen attempted to recover by taking the inside line into La Source.
Vettel though was taking a tight line on the outside of Raikkonen and there was contact, with Raikkonen spinning. Verstappen too picked up damage and all three went backwards. Elsewhere Carlos Sainz picked up a puncture and retired from the race and incident that brought out the Virtual Safety Car, with Rosberg leading from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.
When racing resumed again there was more drama as Renault’s Kevin Magnussen crashed out. The Dane lost the rear end of his car on the run up to Raidillon and spun off track, hitting the barriers hard with the right rear three-quarter of his car.
It was a heavy impact but Magnussen was quickly out of the car and was helped away from the crash site. The smash brought out the Safety Car and when it became clear the barriers would take some time to repair, the race was red-flagged.
As drivers were disadvantaged byt the instances or took the chance to pit under the safety car, some drivers profited greatly. The two most in receipt of good fortune were McLarens Fernando Alonso and Hamilton. Both had started at the back of the field due to penalties for power unit changes but as the cars halted in pit lane following the red flag, Alonso was in fourth place and Hamilon fith. Ahead, Rosberg was still in first place, but Ricciardo had moved past Hulkenberg who had pitted under the Safety Car.
The stoppage was a boon for Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver had started fifth but had hit debris from the first corner incident and damaged his front wing. Under the red flag his team were able to change his front wing and Ricciardo took on new softs.
When the rolling start under the SC took place Rosberg and Ricciardo comfortably held position but Hamilton was on the march, quickly passing Alonso and Hulkenberg to take P3.
As the front three then worked through their strategies, Hamilton eventually closed to within a second of Ricciardo. The Briton needed another stop, however, and took on a final set of medium tyres on lap 32. He attempted to reel Ricciardo in but the 18-second gap to the Australian was too large and Hamilton settled for third place behind the Red Bull man. The Briton’s climb from P21 to P3 still set a new record for places gained at a Belgian Grand Prix.
Ahead Rosberg was comfortable. For the bulk of the race he maintained a healthy gap to Ricciardo and with no mistakes made he crossed the line for his sixth win of the season and his 20th career grand prix victory with 14 seconds in hand.
“It’s been great of course to get the win today on this special track, it’s a legendary track,” said Rosberg. “But Lewis starting from the back made it a lot easier this weekend and I’m sure he’s going to be back in Monza and it’s going to be a big battle as always.”
Behind the top three it was an excellent afternoon for Force India, with Nico Hulkenberg fourth and tea-mate Sergio Perez fifth. The Silverstone-based team scored 22 points to move into fourth place in the Constructors’ standings, ahead of Williams whose drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished eighth and tenths respectively. Force India now have 103 points to Williams’ 101.
Sixth place in the race went to Vettel who recovered well from the lap one incident, passing Verstappen, Bottas and Massa in the closing stages. Alonso, meanwhile, enjoyed an excellent outing, soldiering through to seventh place.
Versatappen who had drawn a sell-out crowd packed with Ducth fans to Spa, had a rollercoaster afternoon. After the start incidents he dropped to P16 before beginning a fight back.
That saw him chased by Raikkonen though and the pair clashed several times during the course of the race’s first third, leading Raikkonen to brand the youngster’s defence of his position “ridiculous”.
Raikkonen got the better of the Dutchman eventually, however, with strategy playing the Finn’s way. He eventually claimed ninth place behind Bottas and ahead of Massa who took the final point.
2016 DRIVER STANDINGS
1 Lewis Hamilton GBR MERCEDES 232
2 Nico Rosberg GER MERCEDES 223
3 Daniel Ricciardo AUS RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 151
4 Sebastian Vettel GER FERRARI 128
5 Kimi Räikkönen FIN FERRARI 124
6 Max Verstappen NED RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 115
7 Valtteri Bottas FIN WILLIAMS MERCEDES 62
8 Sergio Perez MEX FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58
9 Nico Hulkenberg GER FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 45
10 Felipe Massa BRA WILLIAMS MERCEDES 39
11 Fernando Alonso ESP MCLAREN HONDA 30
12 Carlos Sainz ESP TORO ROSSO FERRARI 30
13 Romain Grosjean FRA HAAS FERRARI 28
14 Daniil Kvyat RUS TORO ROSSO FERRARI 23
15 Jenson Button GBR MCLAREN HONDA 17
16 Kevin Magnussen DEN RENAULT 6
17 Pascal Wehrlein GER MRT MERCEDES 1
18 Stoffel Vandoorne BEL MCLAREN HONDA 1
19 Esteban Gutierrez MEX HAAS FERRARI 0
20 Jolyon Palmer GBR RENAULT 0
21 Marcus Ericsson SWE SAUBER FERRARI 0
22 Felipe Nasr BRA SAUBER FERRARI 0
23 Rio Haryanto INA MRT MERCEDES 0
24 Esteban Ocon FRA MRT MERCEDES 0