Triumphant Hamilton turns up heat on Vettel in race for title
When yet another tangle between the warring Force India drivers brought out the safety car on the 29th lap of the Belgian GP, and Mercedes put leader Lewis Hamilton on the soft-compound Pirelli tyres during the ensuing pit stops, it seemed that they had thrown away an already nip and tuck race.
It was surely inevitable that the German would sail past the Englishman, denying him a 58th victory in his 200th grand prix.
But as he reminded everyone, on track and afterwards, Hamilton came to Belgium's Hautes Fagnes region to win. And win he did, most emphatically, the day after he had equalled Michael Schumacher's record of 68 pole positions.
He took control at the start, and though Vettel was never more than two seconds adrift and was often a lot closer than that, he retained it right through to the restart on lap 34 behind a safety car that he criticised heavily for being slowly driven and wholly unnecessary.
"It was like NASCAR," he said, referring to America's premier racing series, "where they put out the safety car for no reason. The debris was clear and they could have used the virtual safety car instead, but I guess they wanted to see a race. For sure that was the reason they did that because there was hardly any debris."
As he had feared, Vettel, in the faster Ferrari, got very, very close to the back of his Mercedes on the run down to Eau Rouge, nowadays easily flat for the aces but nevertheless one of the most spectacular corners in the sport. But he got too close and had to lift momentarily, ensuring that Hamilton could not be slipstreamed out of the lead as they climbed the Kemmel Hill to Les Combes at the top of the circuit.
"Even before that he was close," Hamilton said. "Ferrari had the upper hand all weekend, they were very strong, and I was just towing him around.
"Then the safety car was so slow, that it was really difficult to keep the temperatures in the tyres. He was very, very close and my front tyres were not switched on initially so he got a good tow, but he was too close out of Turn 1 and had to lift or he would have come by me potentially before Eau Rouge, so that was good for me that he lost that bit of performance momentarily."
Vettel said: "Obviously I knew we had a tyre advantage on the ultrasofts and with him on the softs, particularly at the restart. On the exit to turn one I was all over him."
"I ran wide because my front tyres still weren't up to temperature, and I could hear him get on the gas sooner than I did," Hamilton said.
But on the run to Eau Rouge he cannily used only 90% throttle, knowing Vettel would not want to pass him before that only to be overtaken with the slipstream.
As Vettel had to lift, Hamilton got his chance to stay ahead, and when Vettel did pull alongside up the hill he was on the outside.
"I wasn't happy with the restart," Vettel admitted. "I was too close, I had to back out, and going to the top of the hill it was a drag race in which I had nowhere to go.
"Overall it was a very good race, good fun, but I never really had a chance to overtake. Maybe half a chance, a quarter of a chance. We were both waiting for the other to make a mistake which never came."
Hamilton was equally complimentary. "He put on a great show, and it was fun to be racing against another team with Sebastian at his best with a car at its best, that's what racing is about."