Jenson Button romped to his second win of the year after a first-lap collision wiped out several of the top contenders.
Following a lengthy safety car delay Button drove off into a lead he never lost. Like him, Sebastian Vettel used a one-stop strategy which enabled him to salvage second place from tenth on the grid.
Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium after swapping places with Michael Schumacher more than once during the race.
Shunt at La Source
It was the first F1 race start for five weeks and some of the participants looked more than a little rusty.
Pastor Maldonado let his clutch slip a fraction too soon and found himself diving down two columns of stationary traffic before the lights had gone out.
But that paled in comparison to what came next. Romain Grosjean made a better start than Lewis Hamilton alongside him and cut sharply across the track, squeezing the McLaren driver up against the white line.
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Contact was inevitable, and as Hamilton lost control of his car the McLaren pushed the Lotus into the cars ahead which were slowing for the first corner.
The Lotus scythed across the front of Fernando Alonso’s car, passing terrifyingly close to his helmet. Hamilton’s car reared into the side of Sergio Perez’s, and the other Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi was knocked into Maldonado. Only the latter two emerged from the crash, Kobayashi with a substantial hole in the side of his car.
The sense of relief was palpable when Alonso emerged from his wrecked car uninjured. It was a very worrying crash which will surely provoke further debate about driving standards and cockpit safety.
Vettel fights his way forward
Raikkonen emerged from the chaos in second place. The Force India pair appeared behind him, Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Paul di Resta, followed by Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes – which had started 13th.
The Lotus driver’s hold on second place didn’t last long. Hulkenberg, who had started on hard tyres, prised it off him at the restart. The other Force India was moving in the opposite direction, di Resta falling prey to Schumacher.
The Red Bull pair ran ninth and 12th at the restart. Vettel had a run at Felipe Massa as they came out of Raidillon but had to duck out of the move as they both went past Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham.
Mark Webber’s attempts to pass Bruno Senna were being thwarted by the Red Bull’s poor straight line speed. Vettel was having the same problem, and as in Hungary urged his team to consider bringing him into the pits to move him into clear air.
But Vettel’s pessimism about his chances of making progress proved unfounded. The DRS zone may have proved unhelpful for the Red Bulls but the speed he was able to carry through Blanchimont allowed him to attack drivers in the braking zone for the chicane.
Vettel passed Webber there, having already taken Massa. As the cars in front began to pit Vettel soon found himself in a battle with Schumacher for second.
Schumacher had already taken Raikkonen on the run towards Les Combes, then moved up to second when Hulkenberg pitted. Vettel attacked him at the chicane and the pair locked tyres as they hurtled into the corner.
At this point Vettel’s quick-thinking served him well. He’d been advised to do the opposite to Schumacher as they passed the pit lane. While Schumacher made for the pits, Vettel dodged left and stayed out. Vettel only extended his run by a few more laps, but it was enough to come out in front of the Mercedes.
Raikkonen battles Schumacher
Button pitted on lap 21, the lap before Vettel came in, but was sufficiently far ahead of the Red Bull driver to keep the lead when he did so. This was to be Button’s sole pit stop of the race, and although Vettel turned in some quick laps in the second half of the race the McLaren never really looked threatened.
While the lead pair committed to stopping just once, most of the rest made two visits. Raikkonen’s second dropped him back behind Schumacher.
The pair swapped places as Raikkonen prised third off the Mercedes at the chicane. But that allowed Schumacher to respond in the DRS zone, and he duly reclaimed the place on the run to Les Combes.
A few laps later Raikkonen caught Schumacher on the run towards Eau Rouge, diving past in much the same manner as Webber’s celebrated pass on Alonso last year.
Hulkenberg was next to put a move on Schumacher, impressively going around the outside of the Mercedes at La Source – only to be re-passed in the DRS zone again. The Force India got ahead at the chicane again, only for Schumacher to give up the unequal struggle and make for the pits.
That set the top four places, and Massa’s move on Webber secured a consolation fifth place for Ferrari. Schumacher came back out of the pits in seventh.
The Toro Rosso pair made progress in the final laps. Jean-Eric Vergne muscled his way past Nico Rosberg at Les Combes and Daniel Ricciardo took advantage, following his team mate past.
They also passed Senna, and Di Resta claimed the final points position off the Williams as well despite having lost his KERS. Senna ended up 12th behind Rosberg.
Kobayashi limped home 13th with a badly damaged Sauber. Vitaly Petrov took 14th for Caterham after team mate Heikki Kovalainen had two spins during the race. He also collided with Narain KArthikeyan in the pits after making a slow getaway from his box.
Timo Glock prevailed in the all-Marussia battle for 15th place after swapping places with Charles Pic. Pedro de la Rosa was the only HRT that made it home after Karthikeyan crashed at Stavelot.
Vettel takes up the championship chase
Despite his second win of the season Button remains 63 points behind Alonso in the championship. Vettel has taken up the role of Alonso’s closest pursuer, moving within 24 points of the Ferrari.
But Alonso can take heart from the fact that it wasn’t one of his closest pursuers who won. And team mate Massa – who Alonso has had little difficulty beating this year – finished within half a minute of the McLaren.
2012 Belgian Grand Prix
- Grosjean ban ‘not just for affecting the championship’
- Button wins Belgian GP Driver of the Weekend vote
- Rate the Race Result: 2012 Belgian Grand Prix
- Fan’s video shows Maldonado’s crash with Glock
- Monza call-up “a massive challenge” – D’Ambrosio