Whatever the hopes and dreams of the drivers at the front of the starting grid for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix - from championship front-runners Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton to the likes of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, two of the more unexpected occupants of the front two rows - many of them would rapidly end amid a cloud of carbon fibre shards and debris, just 60 metres off the start line
As the lights went out, the initial attention was on front row man Kamui Kobayashi whose brakes were sending out an alarming amount of smoke into the air and seeming to be on the verge of catching fire. Maybe that put him off the start procedure, because he was slow to get away and was swallowed up by the field. Meanwhile Pastor Maldonado had the opposite problem from the third row of the grid, pulling off the most blatant jump start of recent times.
All of that was quickly forgotten by what ensued. Starting from eighth position, Romain Grosjean tried pulling his Lotus right across the track to try squeezing Hamilton into conceding the position. Hamilton had little time to react and didn't deviate his line or his speed, but wheels touched and after that the accident which followed was a matter of pure physics as cars were flipped up and over one another at the entry to La Source. (See the Spa crash in our special picture gallery
By F1 terms it was a low-speed accident; but that didn't make the in-car footage from Fernando Alonso's car any less frightening as a Lotus car literally flew over no way and slid across the front of the Ferrari just inches away from Alonso's head. Alonso was slow to get out of the car and looked understandably a little shaken when he finally emerged, and a precautionary trip to the medical centre was deemed appropriate, but Alonso was soon back in his pit garage looking fortunately no worse for wear.
Hamilton meanwhile had stalked his way back to pit lane carrying a piece of the debris from his own wrecked McLaren car, but not before having words with Romain Grosjean - words unheard, but the body language making it clear that it was along the lines of "why don't you watch where you're going?" Also out of the car was Sauber's Sergio Perez, while there was further scary footage from his team mate's in-car camera although in Kobayashi's case he was somehow able to continue running despite obvious damage.
As the safety car came out to allow the track workers to literally picked up the pieces, several cars needed to come onto pit lane for running repairs, checks and tyres: Kamui Kobayashi was lucky to be in any sort of state after being caught up in the thick of the accident, while Pastor Maldonado and Pedro de la Rosa were also in.
The chaos of the start presented drivers who had fared poorly in qualifying on Saturday with the ideal opportunity to redeem themselves. While Button and Kimi Raikkonen led at the restart, third place went to Nico Hulkenberg who had started outside the top ten. Paul di Resta was up to fourth, but Michael Schumacher had jumped all the way up to fifth place ahead of the startling sight of the Toro Rosso duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne in the top ten ahead of Bruno Senna, Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen. Even the formerly forlorn Nico Rosberg was back up to 13th with everything to play for. However, there would be no comeback for Maldonado who immediately pulled off at Les Combes with front wing damage after clashing with Marussia's Timo Glock at La Source.
The jumbled running order indicated there would be a further shake-out to come after the race restarted on lap 5, but it went nothing like anyone was expecting. Raikkonen proved no match to Hulkenberg, one of the few cars to have started the race on the harder prime tyres; Raikkonen couldn't even hold on to third place in the face of an assertive move from Michael Schumacher on lap 12.
Mark Webber demonstrated that the Red Bull was lacking in straight line speed at Spa, hitting the rev limiter as he tried to pass the Williams of Bruno Senna down the Kemmel Straight. Eventually Vettel caught up to the back of his team mate after dropping to 12th under the safety car, and put a seriously muscular move on the Australian through the Bus Stop to get ahead before Webber decided enough was enough and made a move onto pit lane. Vettel also pulled off assertive moves on Felipe Massa and later Bruno Senna at the Bus Stop in his determination to take advantage of the absence of many of his chief rivals for the 2012 championship.