SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS: Lewis Hamilton celebrated his 200th Formula One race in style on Sunday with a pole-to-flag Belgian Grand Prix victory for Mercedes that halved Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead to seven points.
The 32-year-old Briton’s fifth success in 12 races this season, and 58th of his career, came a day after he equalled Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 pole positions.
It was the three-time world champion’s third Belgian victory, lifting him back into serious contention for the title.
Another victory in next Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza could give him the lead for the first time this year.
“Sebastian was very, very close. He was very consistent throughout,” said Hamilton. “That’s what racing’s about. It’s been a strong weekend for myself and the team.”
Hamilton was in good form all weekend, topping every part of qualifying.
“Really brilliant,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “Hamilton’s drive was really fantastic.”
Vettel finished second for Ferrari, 2.3 seconds behind, after pushing his rival all the way without being able to get close enough to make a move stick in what amounted to a two-horse race of relentless pressure.
With about 10 laps left, Vettel almost overtook his challenger as they emerged from behind the safety car.
Vettel got his Ferrari alongside Hamilton on a long straight, but Hamilton edged his Mercedes into the corner just in time.
“It was really intense because every lap I was waiting for Lewis to do a mistake. He didn’t,” said Vettel.
“He was probably waiting for me to make a mistake. I didn’t,” added the German, who set a race lap record of one minute 46.577 seconds in the closing stages.
On a track more suited to Mercedes than Ferrari, Hamilton felt Vettel got “way too close” for comfort.
“This weekend we definitely didn’t have the race pace. The car is not quite where we need it,” Hamilton said. “It was only just enough to stay ahead.”
With eight races remaining, four-times champion Vettel has 220 points and Hamilton 213.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo took third place for Red Bull after a storming re-start following a late safety car period that had closed the gap to the frontrunners and triggered a flurry of pitstops.
Ricciardo, on fresh ultra-soft tyres, passed Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas to surge into the top three, with the Finn also losing out to the Ferrari of compatriot Kimi Raikkonen as he ran wide.
Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth for Renault, Romain Grosjean was seventh for Haas and Brazilian Felipe Massa took eighth for Williams.
“It’s pretty much for all the Dutch here, so thanks for hanging around,” said Ricciardo, whose teenage team mate Max Verstappen retired shaking his head in sheer frustration after eight laps.
It was his sixth retirement in 12 races.
“There are so many fans paying a lot for the tickets and you finish like this. That cannot happen with a top team,” said Verstappen, whose orange-clad compatriots accounted for a majority of the crowd.