SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS • Nico Rosberg won the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday with a pole-to-flag victory in which he was untroubled at the front of the field.
But Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes team-mate, achieved far more than he expected by putting in a superb recovery drive to claim third place, minimising the damage that starting from 21st position on the grid had done to his Formula One world championship ambitions.
Daniel Ricciardo drove a solid and considered race to take second place in the Red Bull, having won here in 2014.
Hamilton had led the title race by 19 points going into Spa but, having exceeded the permitted number of new engine components, he took the cumulative grid penalties that put him behind the other drivers. By finishing on the podium, the Briton is still the front-runner for the title, but Rosberg now trails by just nine points.
Given his own fears that the high temperatures would affect his ability to come through the field, he will be pleased with his work, especially since he now has a stock of power units for the rest of the season.
BELGIAN GP RESULTS
1. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1hr 44min 51.058sec
2. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 14.113sec behind
3. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +27.634
4. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India +35.907
5. Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +40.660
6. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +45.394
7. Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren +59.445
8. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams +1:00.151
9. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +1:01.109
10. Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +1:05.873
1. Lewis Hamilton 232 points
2. Nico Rosberg 223
3. Daniel Ricciardo 151
4. Sebastian Vettel 128
5. Kimi Raikkonen 124
6. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 115
7. Valtteri Bottas 62
8. Sergio Perez 58
9. Nico Hulkenberg 45
10. Felipe Massa 39
1. Mercedes 455 points
2. Red Bull 274
3. Ferrari 252
4. Force India 103
5. Williams 101
It was Rosberg's first win at the track, with two second-place finishes in the last two years being his previous best. The victory was his sixth win of the season and the first since the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"I am so happy and proud of everyone," said Rosberg yesterday. "I was not expecting it and I had no idea what we were capable of, but I had a positive mental attitude today and it worked."
Rosberg's triumph also ended Hamilton's run of four victories.
Yesterday, Rosberg put in exactly what was needed - he was under pressure since he knew he had to win to claw back points from Hamilton and that such an opportunity may not occur again this season.
Victory was required and he delivered, working his tyres well, albeit with no real opposition.
He may have hoped for more in terms of regaining points in the title fight but a failure to win would have been more damaging.
Hamilton, in turn, was favoured by events - including Carlos Sainz's Toro Rosso suffering a huge blowout on the second lap, thus bringing out the virtual safety car.
He also gained when Renault's Kevin Magnussen slammed at high speed into the barriers at the top of Eau Rouge, which caused the safety car to be deployed again.
Sainz emerged with only a left ankle injury but the damage to the tyre wall proved extensive and after four laps behind the safety car the race was red-flagged.
Hamilton showed his class by being controlled and skilful in passing rivals and staying out of trouble.
The engine penalties incurred have already cost him once before this season, with mechanical failures forcing recovery drives when he started 22nd in China and fought back to seventh and then managed second from 10th in Russia.
German Nico Hulkenberg finished fourth ahead of his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, as the Silverstone-based team overhauled rivals Williams in the constructors' championship.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE