After stealing a dramatic pole in qualifying the previous day, Lewis Hamilton was unable to reproduce such form in Sunday's race as he slipped to a third place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old came into the weekend on a high having taken his first victory of F1 2013 in Hungary before the summer break, but despite a good start that saw him hold his lead through La Source and the run up through Eau Rouge, the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel stormed past on the first run down the Kemmel straight to Les Combes, after which Hamilton was never able to again threaten the world championship leader for the remainder of the afternoon.
"I got everything that I could out of the car today but we just weren't as quick as Sebastian and Fernando," he admitted. "I made a nice start and it felt like the exit out of turn one was good, too. But Seb just caught me on the run out of Eau Rouge and there wasn't really much I could do to defend: I moved once, like we are allowed to, but then I just had to watch him glide by.
"From that point, it was very difficult to hold on to him, and the same thing happened with Fernando, too, later in the race," he added.
Hamilton's race wasn't helped by the absence of the forecast rain that had made the previous day's qualifying session such a chaotic and thrilling affair. Without that wild card mixing things up, Mercedes' relative lack of pace was brutally exposed by both Vettel and Alonso exposed not just by Vettel and Hamilton eventually finished almost half a minute off the leader.
"We have done a good job this weekend but Spa and Monza are always unique tracks because of the low-drag requirements," pointed out Hamilton, hopeful that this would prove to be an exception to Mercedes' season rather than rule. "I expect we will be more competitive in Singapore again. It's still a great team result to finish third with Nico right behind me in fourth."
With Kimi Raikkonen's retirement helping Hamilton take over in third place in the drivers championship exiting Spa, Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was keen to keep things in perspective for a team that finished a lowly fifth in last season's constructor's championship.
"It is a measure of how far we have come in the past 12 months that a race which would have been our result of the season last year now feels slightly average, said Brawn. "This was a good team result, we scored a good haul of points for both championships, but we were on average half a second off the pace we needed to fight for the win at this track, especially when the tyres were new."
By Philip Barclay