Jenson Button had never won at Spa-Francorchamps, but he put that right yesterday with an emphatic victory on the majestic track that every driver loves. Steering clear of a tumultuous crash in the first corner which eliminated his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, World Championship points leader Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, Button led every lap in a peerless display that left him beaming from ear to ear.
Amid cheers from the crowd, who saluted a very popular success, he said: "It was a perfect race. All weekend the car felt reasonably good. This was the first circuit we've come to which requires low downforce so we were able to try something different. To lead from start to finish gave me a very special victory. This is such a wonderful circuit, the way that it flows and all the history, so it's really nice to win here and to be part of that history now. This hasn't been the easiest year for me, so this was a very special weekend."
After the race the stewards banned Grosjean for one grand prix and fined him €50,000 (£40,000) for triggering the first-corner accident. It made him the first driver to be banned from a race since Michael Schumacher in 1994.
"I accept my mistake," Grosjean said. "I misjudged the gap to Lewis. I thought I was in front of him. It was a small mistake, but a big incident. I'm very sorry, and I'm just glad nobody is hurt. That's the main thing."
Initially Button was chased briefly by Nico Hulkenberg as the German took full advantage of the first-corner mêlée, but the Force India driver was overtaken by Michael Schumacher and the pre-event favourite Kimi Raikkonen.
Schumacher's Mercedes later faded with the loss of sixth gear and the need for a second tyre stop that the team had hoped to avoid.
Raikkonen's Lotus also disappointed. "The car was not very nice to drive for the whole race," Raikkonen said. "I wasn't expecting an easy race and it turned out to be very difficult. For the first few laps on new tyres the handling was good, then I would have no front-end or rear-end grip."
The Finn overtook Schumacher in the Bus Stop chicane on the 31st lap, only to be repassed immediately in the DRS zone after the Eau Rouge corner, but he finally made it stick with a dramatic pass on the entrance to Eau Rouge two laps later.
Theirs was but one of a series of close battles, but through it all Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull made up for a disastrous qualifying with a clever strategy which enabled Vettel to emulate Button's single pit stop and vault ahead to win a crucial 18 points back from Alonso.
"After the first corner probably I was the only one not to improve after a very poor start," Vettel said. "But after that the pace was there. I wanted to come in for fresh tyres, but the team said 'stay out' and that was the right strategy. It enabled us to come back and finish second. After the first lap nobody expected that. I'm very happy."
Vettel also defended Schumacher, who nearly caused an accident by cutting in front of him to head into the pits on the 19th lap. "I don't think he deserves a penalty," Vettel said. "It was nobody's fault, and we didn't hit. I'll talk to him and that's the way to deal with it. When I hit Jenson here two years ago, I called him and apologised. That's the way it should be in sport."
Pastor Maldonado was handed a five grid-place penalty for Monza for jumping the start, and another for a collision with Timo Glock.
Belgian grand prix race details
FIA Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
1 J Button (GB) McLaren 1hr 29mins 08.530secs
2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:29:22.154
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:29:33.864
4 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:29:36.373
5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:29:38.375
6 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:29:39.774
7 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:30:01.904
8 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30:07.395
9 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30:11.512
10 P Resta (GB) Force India 1:30:12.313
11 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:30:13.641
12 B Senna (Br) Williams 1:30:20.059
13 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:31:04.649
14 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham at 1 lap
15 T Glock (Ger) Marussia at 1 lap
16 C Pic (Fr) Marussia at 1 lap
17 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham at 1 lap
18 P la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 at 1 lap
Not Classified: 19 Narain Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 29 laps completed, 20 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 4 laps completed, 21 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 0 laps completed, 22 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 0 laps completed, 23 Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren 0 laps completed, 24 Romain Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 0 laps completed.
Championship Standings - Drivers: 1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 164pts, 2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 140, 3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 132, 4 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 131, 5 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 117, 6 J Button (GB) McLaren 101, 7 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 77, 8 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 76, 9 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 47, 10 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 35, 11 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 35, 12 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 33, 13 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 31, 14 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 29, 15 P di Resta (GB) Force India 28, 16 B Senna (Br) Williams 24, 17 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 8, 18 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 4, 19 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 0, 20 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 0, 21 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 0, 22 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 0, 23 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 0, 24 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 0.
Manufacturers: 1 Red Bull 272pts, 2 McLaren 218, 3 Lotus F1 Team 207, 4 Ferrari 199, 5 Mercedes GP 112, 6 Sauber-Ferrari 80, 7 Force India 59, 8 Williams 53, 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 12, 10 Caterham 0, 11 Marussia 0, 12 HRT-F1 0.