Sebastian Vettel was in a class of his own at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday in the first race back after the August summer break. He was able to blast past Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes on the first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix and then controlled the race from there to the chequered flag to claim his fifth GP victory of the year and his second win at the historic Spa circuit, having previously won in Belgium in 2011.
In terms of keeping the F1 world championship battle exciting, there was mixed news: Fernando Alonso rallied from a poor qualifying position to pick up an impressive second place, and Lewis Hamilton keeps his foot in the door by clinging in to the final podium spot, but Kimi Raikkonen's title hopes took a hit with a mid-race retirement as a result of brake failure.
Many teams had been hoping that Spa's notoriously tricky weather would enable them to get back on an even footing with the Red Bull, but it turned out that even the weather was on the reigning world champion's side and playing nice. After all the concerns about showers affecting the race, the field ended up lining up on the grid under blue skies and on a mostly bone dry track - quite a luxury for the drivers. All the forecasts were warning that it would be only a temporary respite before rain moved into the area roughly halfway through the race, putting a 60 per cent figure on the odds, but ultimately the rain clouds simply weren't prepared to come out and play today after they'd had all their fun and games in qualifying on Saturday.
When the lights went out, Lewis Hamilton got a solid start from pole position and went into La Source in the lead, but Sebastian Vettel overcame the curse of outside grid spot and easily held on to second spot when the lights went out. Surprisingly, it was Mark Webber in third place on the grid who stuttered and fell back three spots, enabling Nico Rosberg to move into third place and Jenson Button into fifth place. The best start of all was from Fernando Alonso, who fired the Ferrari up from ninth spot into fifth ahead of the recovering Webber, which pushed down Saturday Q3 star Paul di Resta to seventh position.
Mercedes's strategy was clearly to keep Vettel bottled up behind Hamilton at all costs, but that plan went pear-shaped in the first run through the Kemmel straight which saw the Red Bull cruise past into the lead with staggering ease. As Vettel went into warp speed and started to pull out of sight let alone DRS range, there was nothing Hamilton could do but tuck into second place ahead of Rosberg who was struggling to hold off the attentions of Button for fourth spot.
As the race settled down and there was a predictable chorus of team radio calls telling their drivers to ook after their tyres, the exception to the rule was Fernando Alonso who continued to scythe his way through the field, passing Button in lap 4 down Kemmel with the aid of DRS and then doing the same again to Rosberg to claim third place two laps later. It appeared Mark Webber was taking notes from this driving masterclass, and he tried out the same move - with similar success - on Button to move up a position to fifth with designs on putting Rosberg to the sword as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
That put Button back down where he started in sixth place, some way clear of Paul di Resta who was holding up a pack of cars the first of which was the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, after the Finn had rebounded from a messy first run though La Source at the start. As pacy as Raikkonen appeared at this early stage of the proceedings, there was evident concern on the Lotus pit wall at the amount of heat and brake dust emanating from the front wheels.
Meanwhile Raikkonen's team mate Romain Grosjean was forced out of the points positions after he was squeezed off the track by Sergio Perez at Les Combes on lap 8 - a move that earned Perez a drive-thru from the stewards. Nico Hulkenberg was lucky to escape a sanction for unsafe release in his first pit stop on lap 10, when he was slow to get away from his pit box and nearly crashed into the side of Felipe Massa as a result. Massa had his own headaches, after reporting an electrical problem that not only wiped out KERS but even left him bereft of data on the steering wheel.