SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS (Belgium) • Lewis Hamilton completed his 200th grand prix in victorious style yesterday, when he claimed a much-needed win to trim Sebastian Vettel's Formula One championship lead to seven points.
The 32-year-old Mercedes driver made the most of his record- equalling 68th pole position to take the lead, but had to survive some concerted attacks from Vettel's Ferrari before emerging triumphant for the fifth time this season.
It was the three-time world champion's third Belgian victory and the 58th of his career, lifting the Briton back into serious contention for the title.
Another victory in next Sunday's Italian Grand Prix could give him the lead for the first time this year.
Four-time champion Vettel came home second ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and his compatriot Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.
"It's been a strong weekend for myself and the team," said Hamilton. "Sebastian put up a great fight, he was very consistent throughout, and it was fun to be racing against him at his best and the car at his best. We were within half a tenth (of a second) every lap and that is what racing is about.
- Grands prix won by Lewis Hamilton.
"They were able to keep up, so I think they had better pace but fortunately I was just about able to stay ahead."
Vettel said: "It was good fun, but it was intense. I was waiting for Lewis to make a mistake - and he didn't - and he was waiting for me - and I didn't.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr, below) Mercedes 1hr 24min 42.820sec
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +2.358sec
3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +10.791
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +14.471
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +16.456
6 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault +28.087
7 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas +31.553
8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +36.649
9 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India +38.154
10 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Toro Rosso +39.447
OVERALL STANDINGS - DRIVERS
1 Vettel 220pts
2 Hamilton 213
3 Bottas 179
4 Ricciardo 132
5 Raikkonen 128
1 Mercedes 392pts
2 Ferrari 348
3 Red Bull 199
4 Force India 103
5 Williams 45
"We did a lot better than at Silverstone. And next week is our home race... a good day overall."
After an emotional demonstration lap by Mick Schumacher, 18, to mark the 25th anniversary of his father Michael's maiden victory at the 1992 Belgian race, there was a keen sense of anticipation ahead of the start.
However, in front of an estimated 125,000 crowd including an "orange army" of 80,000, Red Bull's Belgian-Dutch driver Max Verstappen was forced to retire on lap eight with another power failure, his sixth early departure in 12 outings, much to the fans' disappointment. "I can't believe this," said the 19-year-old, who stressed that such equipment faults should not happen to a top team.
"I lost power and everything was done. It is really frustrating. There are so many fans paying a lot for the tickets and you finish like this. That cannot happen."
Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth for Renault with Romain Grosjean of Haas and Felipe Massa of Williams completing the top eight.
Off the race track yesterday, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said that Bottas is set to stay at the German outfit next season, with only small details remaining to be signed off.
"It's a no-brainer as it stands for next year to continue with Valtteri," the Austrian told reporters.
"It's just down to the nitty-gritty details and the paperwork and see how it pans out in the future.
"There's a pretty big chance he will be here next year."
Bottas arrived at the F1 champions in January as a replacement for 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg.
The Finn, who had management links with Wolff when he was at Williams, has settled in well at Mercedes and has won two of his first 11 races with the team.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS