World champion Sebastian Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix and stretched his Formula One lead to 92 points in a Red Bull one-two finish with Australian Mark Webber on Sunday.
The victory was the 24-year-old German’s seventh in 12 races this year, with seven rounds remaining worth a maximum 175 points and the title likely to be wrapped up well before the end of the season.
Britain’s Jenson Button finished third for McLaren after starting 13th and trailing in 19th place after his first pit stop in a race again dominated by tire strategy.
“Thanks you boys, what a race,” Vettel whooped over the team radio in a mixture of delight and relief after Red Bull’s second one-two of the season and his first win since Valencia in June.
Vettel, who has 259 points to Webber’s 167 after his 17th career win, had started from pole position with serious concerns about the durability and safety of his car’s blistering Pirelli tires.
Champions Red Bull now have 426 points to McLaren’s 295 and Ferrari’s 231 in the constructors’ standings.
Both Red Bulls had suffered heavy tire degradation in qualifying and the team had considered making pre-race changes and starting both drivers from the pit lane, before taking a calculated risk to go ahead as planned.
In the end the problem proved manageable, even as Vettel’s compatriot Nico Rosberg stormed into the lead at the start in his Mercedes, before Vettel overtook on the third lap.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished fourth, ending a run of four podium finishes, after leading in the early stages and being overtaken by Button in the closing laps.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, last year’s winner at Spa, crashed heavily at Les Combes on the 13th of 44 laps while challenging for fourth place.
Hamilton was unhurt and later admitted he had been at fault.
Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, the sport’s most successful racer, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Formula One debut at Spa with a fighting fifth place after starting in last position.
Rosberg was sixth, ahead of compatriot Adrian Sutil for Force India and Ferrari’s Brazilian Felipe Massa in eighth.
Renault’s Russian Vitaly Petrov was ninth and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado collected his first point in Formula One for Williams in 10th.
Webber made a shocking start from third place, wrestling with the anti-stall device as others roared past, but he escaped the early mayhem triggered by Brazilian Bruno Senna on his Renault debut.
Senna had qualified an impressive seventh, but he picked up a drive-through penalty for causing a collision and ended up 13th.
While Webber failed to give himself a 35th birthday present of a first win of the season, he made one of the standout moves of the race by overtaking Alonso through the sweep of Eau Rouge with the two cars almost touching at 300kph.
“Well, you don’t have much time to get the calculator out at that point, mate,” Webber grinned when asked whether it was a calculated move. “It’s more rewarding when you can do it with someone like Fernando because he’s a world class driver and he knows when enough is enough. Obviously, my attitude might have been a bit different with someone else.”