Sebastian Vettel returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since the street race in Valencia in June after a typically feisty drive saw him head a 1-2 result for Red Bull Racing in the Belgian Grand Prix.
The German had to overcome persistent problems with the softer of the two Pirelli tyre options on offer at Spa-Francorchamps, with concerns starting even before the race as teams in the top ten sought the replacement of blistered rubber they were required to run. Permission was not forthcoming, and Red Bull, in particular, was left to take the grid with considerable uncertainty over the longevity of its tyres.
Although Vettel made a solid start, he was not in front at the end of the opening lap, as Nico Rosberg - whose Mercedes' brakes were smoking heavily on the grid - made a blinding getaway to be in second entering Eau Rouge and then steamed past his countryman on the run to Les Combes. Behind the two Germans, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa also made the most of a poor start for Mark Webber - who confirmed that the anti-stall kicked in as he attempted to pull away - moving into, and then exchanging, third and fourth several times on the opening tour.
Further back, there was chaos at La Source, caused largely by a combination of Webber's bad start and Bruno Senna's lack of recent race experience. The Brazilian passed the tardy Red Bull on the inside, but then found himself without sufficient room to brake and make the corner. The black-and-gold machine barrelled across Webber's nose, before squarely collecting the hapless Jaime Alguersuari. The Toro Rosso driver appeared briefly to have escaped major damage, but the impact only served to push his car into the right rear quarter of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, braking its front suspension.
Alonso escaped without significant damage but, in his wake, there was further contact, with Timo Glock collecting a couple of cars ahead of him. The two Team Lotus entries came together in the middle of the melee while Paul di Resta, who bore the brunt of Glock's assault, was forced into Jenson Button's rear wing, badly damaging its right-hand end plate. The drama wasn't over for the Hungarian GP winner, however, as Senna's damaged front wing disintegrated on the run to Eau Rouge, shedding debris that not only ripped through the McLaren's front wing and narrowly missing his helmet as it tore the right-hand wing mirror from the outside of the cockpit.....
The scuffles had a varying effect on the early order, with the second Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi moving up to seventh, chasing Alonso, Adrian Sutil dropping back out of the top ten, and both Michael Schumacher and Daniel Ricciardo gaining a big handful of places over back row grid spots. There were also a number of first lap stoppers as the casualties came in for repairs, but Button was not among them, as McLaren told him to struggle on with the damaged wing until the earliest time for a tactical first tyre stop.
The Briton, along with Schumacher, was also among the few to opt for the harder Pirelli tyre for the start, his qualifying miscommunication giving him the opportunity to choose, unlike those in the top ten. He duly pitted on lap five, changing his wing as well as swapping to the softer compound, but the race had already seen Webber come in to change his damaged rubber, and Vettel was not too far behind.
The German had had to let Rosberg have his moment in the sun for a couple of laps but, as soon as DRS was activated, retook the lead on the run to Les Combes. Alonso, too, was on the move, clearly showing that there were no ill-effects from the Alguersuari hit as he muscled his way past team-mate Massa on the sprint down to Rivage. The Brazilian did not make it easy but his defence left him open to attack from Hamilton, and the Briton duly claimed fourth at Pouhon.
Toro Rosso's day got worse as Buemi joined Alguersuari in retirement on lap six, the Swiss driver's rear wing collapsing as he exited Eau Rouge, possibly as the result of earlier contact. At the same time, the two culprits at the heart of the first lap skirmish were called to account, as Senna and Glock both being handed drive-thru' penalties.