Early move en­ables Vet­tel to close the gap on ri­val Hamil­ton

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - RUGBY LEAGUE - PHILIP DUN­CAN

SE­BAS­TIAN VET­TEL re­duced Lewis Hamil­ton’s cham­pi­onship lead to 17 points af­ter seal­ing a com­mand­ing vic­tory in Bel­gium.

Fer­rari’s Vet­tel passed pole-sit­ter Hamil­ton on the open­ing lap of the Spa-Fran­cor­champs race be­fore tak­ing the che­quered flag 11 sec­onds clear of his ri­val.

Un­like in the wet of qual­i­fy­ing 24 hours ear­lier, Hamil­ton’s Mercedes was no match for Vet­tel, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen com­plet­ing the podium places.

Fer­nando Alonso was sent air­borne over the Sauber of Charles Le­clerc af­ter Nico Hulken­berg crashed into the back of the Spa­niard’s McLaren at the open­ing bend.

But all three drivers walked away from the ter­ri­fy­ing crash with Alonso sug­gest­ing the halo, the cock­pit pro­tec­tion de­vice con­tro­ver­sially in­tro­duced this sea­son, may have avoided se­ri­ous in­jury to Le­clerc.

Fol­low­ing back-to-back victo- ries for Hamil­ton be­fore the sum­mer break, Vet­tel needed to stop the rot on For­mula 1’s re­turn to ac­tion here in the Ar­dennes for­est.

On Satur­day, Hamil­ton took ad­van­tage of a rain shower in qual­i­fy­ing to se­cure the front slot on the grid, but Vet­tel won the race by mov­ing past his ri­val in the open­ing ex­changes.

Hamil­ton held off Vet­tel at La Source but then he was un­able to stop the Fer­rari car from sail­ing past him on the en­su­ing Kem­mel Straight.

Vet­tel came un­der pres­sure from Hamil­ton at the right-hand- ed Les Combes but the Fer­rari man held the rac­ing line to re­tain the lead. The safety car was then de­ployed fol­low­ing the chaotic start be­hind the lead­ers.

Hulken­berg missed his brak­ing point for La Source, and in a plume of tyre smoke ca­reered into the back of Alonso’s McLaren. The force of the im­pact sent Alonso into the air and over the top of Le­clerc’s Sauber.

The front of Alonso’s car then hit Le­clerc’s halo. The three­p­ronged halo which sits above the driver’s head be­came manda­tory this year, and Alonso said it did its job.

“I flew over his (Le­clerc) car and the halo was a very good thing to have to­day,” the 37-yearold said. “Look­ing at the re­play I think it helped him.”

The race re­sumed at the end of lap four but Fer­rari’s su­pe­ri­or­ity in the dry paid div­i­dends as Vet­tel romped to a timely win with the Ital­ian team’s home race in Monza just a week away.

“Lewis pushed me quite far to the left at the first cor­ner, but I knew my chance would be up the hill and I climbed it well,” said Vet­tel as he ex­plained his start.

“My tim­ing was cru­cial and I man­aged it per­fectly. As soon as I was ahead I was quite re­lieved.”

Hamil­ton added: “Con­grat­u­la­tions to Seb. I did ev­ery­thing I could in the race. He drove past me like I wasn’t there on the straight.

“They (Fer­rari) have got a few trick things go­ing on in the car so we have got to keep push­ing to see if we can catch up.”

Verstappen started sev­enth but fin­ished third af­ter cruis­ing past the Force In­dia cars of Ser­gio Perez and Este­ban Ocon and Ro­main Gros­jean’s Haas early on.

Valt­teri Bot­tas moved up 13 places to fourth de­spite suf­fer­ing front wing dam­age af­ter hit­ting Sergey Sirotkin’s Wil­liams on the first lap. Perez and Ocon fin­ished fifth and sixth for the Force In­dia team. Red Bull’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo and Kimi Raikko­nen both re­tired with car dam­age af­ter the Aus­tralian hit the Fer­rari on the open­ing lap.

PIC­TURE: AP/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT

SAFETY MEA­SURES: McLaren’s Fer­nando Alonso of Spain goes over the top of Sauber’s Charles Le­clerc at the open­ing bend of the Bel­gian Grand Prix at Spa-Fran­cor­champs.

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