Sebastian Vettel cut the gap to Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by taking a dominant victory in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

After grabbing the lead of the race on the opening lap as chaos unfolded behind in a dramatic first-corner crash, Vettel managed to control proceedings to score his fifth win of the season, drawing himself to within 17 points of Hamilton at the top of the standings.

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Vettel seized the lead of the race on an opening lap that saw Nico Hulkenberg trigger a multi-car accident also involving Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo.

On the short run to Turn 1, Hulkenberg slammed into the rear of Alonso, whose helpless car was thrown into the air and over Leclerc’s Sauber, making contact with his bulkhead and glancing the Halo protecting the cockpit.

All three drivers were unharmed but eliminated from the race on the spot, while Daniel Riccairdo, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas also sustained damage in the melee, forcing them to pit for repairs and dropping down the field as a result. Raikkonen retired after eight laps due to an issue on his car, while Ricciardo managed 28 laps before parking his car in the garage, having spent the race two laps down on the leaders after the team had to replace the rear wing on his Red Bull RB14.

Shortly before the Safety Car was deployed, Vettel managed to slipstream Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight and move into the lead. The Ferrari driver came under pressure from the fast-starting Esteban Ocon, who had his nose down the inside into Les Combes, only to back out of the move and settle into P4 behind teammate Sergio Perez.

The race resumed on Lap 5, with Vettel pulling clear after Hamilton locked up at the Bus Stop chicane, losing his chance to attack on the restart. Vettel soon moved out of DRS range, forging a lead of around three seconds that he was able to retain throughout the opening stint of the race.

Looking to try and find a way to get Hamilton ahead, Mercedes brought the Briton into the pits at the end of Lap 21 in a bid to use the undercut to pass Vettel. A slick stop from Mercedes put pressure on Ferrari, but Hamilton found the final sector of his outlap compromised by Max Verstappen, who by this point had passed both Force India drivers to run third before the pit cycle began.

Vettel dived into the pits at the end of Lap 22 for a fresh set of Soft tyres, and emerged from the pit lane ahead of both Verstappen and Hamilton. While Hamilton was able to pass Verstappen at the end of the Kemmel Straight and move into second place, and although he had cut the gap to Vettel down to less than two seconds, his best opportunity to grab the lead had passed.

Hamilton had shown more obvious signs of tyre wear through the first stint than Vettel, with the Mercedes driver being told to keep an eye on blistering after pitting. While managing his tyres, Hamilton struggled to match Vettel for pace, allowing the Ferrari driver to pull clear at the front.

Vettel crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of the field for his fifth win of the season and his first in Belgium since 2013, cutting the gap to Hamilton at the top of the drivers’ championship down to 17 points.

It also marked the first non-Mercedes win at Spa since 2014, and Ferrari’s first in Belgium for nine years.

Hamilton finished a comfortable second ahead of Red Bull driver Verstappen, who sent the tens of thousands of Dutch fans who had made the trip to Spa wild with his first podium finish at the circuit, as well as scoring his best result since the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of July.

Bottas recovered from his grid penalty and from damaging his front wing at the start to take fourth place for Mercedes at Spa, allowing the team to extend its constructors’ championship lead over Ferrari thanks to Raikkonen’s retirement.

Just four days after technically not existing, Racing Point Force India managed to finish fourth and fifth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, coming as a huge boost to the team following a turbulent summer. Perez only lost P4 to Bottas with four laps to go, but the team held on to score 20 points.

After losing all points scored up to Spa in the terms of its mid-season entry to the championship, Force India managed to immediately jump above Williams to sit ninth in the constructors’ standings, just one point behind Sauber in P8.

Romain Grosjean managed to lead Haas’ charge with a straightforward run to seventh, crossing the line ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen, who dodged the start-line drama after a rocket start.

The double score saw Haas move to within six points of Renault in the battle for P4 in the constructors’ championship, as Carlos Sainz. Jr could only finish 11th for the French manufacturer, with teammate Hulkenberg being eliminated on the opening lap.

Pierre Gasly scored points in back-to-back races for the first time in his F1 career by finishing ninth for Toro Rosso, benefitting from the race of attrition to pick up two points. Teammate Brendon Hartley could not match his teammate for pace, ultimately finishing one lap down in 14th place.

Amid speculation about his future, Marcus Ericsson battled to his third points finish in the last five races by crossing the line 10th for Sauber. The Spaniard was followed by Williams drivers Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll, neither of whom could capitalise on the dramatic race to score points, finishing 12th and 13th respectively.

The 2018 F1 season continues with the Italian Grand Prix next weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.

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