• Hamilton back as F1 drivers’ championship leader
• Accident-prone Sebastian Vettel crashes into Jenson Button
There was thunder, rain, spectacular crashes, safety cars and penalty drive-throughs at today’s Belgian grand prix and Lewis Hamilton emerged from the chaos to resume the leadership of the Formula One world championship.
He could have been some exotic creature coming out of a rainforest, for that is what the densely forested hills of the Ardennes have resembled this weekend. There were so many hazards strewn across the slippery track that he might have wondered whether he was on some fairground simulator, but fortunately for him they were mostly in his rear-view mirror and he was able to record his third win of the season and overtake the second-placed Mark Webber at the top of the table; he now leads the Australian by three points with six races to go.
But while Webber was content to finish second after a start which was so ponderous it looked as though he had engaged reverse gear, it was a desperately disappointing afternoon for Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, who did not finish, and for Webber’s Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who finished out of the points in 15th place.
Button started fifth but got a flyer and was running second when, on the 16th lap, he was taken out by Vettel, who lost control of his car at the Bus Stop as he exited Blanchimont. Afterwards, an angry Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, dubbed Vettel the “Crash Kid” and added: “It’s not what you expect to see in Formula One. It was more reminiscent of junior formulae. A drive-through penalty seemed a pretty light punishment to me. I’d rather he took out his own team-mate than one of ours.”
In Turkey, of course, to the horror of Red Bull, the increasingly accident-prone Vettel had steered his car into Webber’s when the pair were running one-two, allowing Hamilton to charge through to win his first race of the season.
Today, Vettel broke his front wing in the collision with Button and after being given a drive-through penalty then suffered a puncture after another tangle, this time with Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi. The German said tonight: “What happened happened and we can’t change it now. Obviously I’m not proud of it. I lost the car going over a bump as I was braking and unfortunately hit Jenson. I’m sorry for him.”
A disconsolate Button said: “It hurts my championship a lot. Seb didn’t hit me on purpose but it is sad way to go out. It is the strangest incident I’ve ever seen to lose control like that. The corner was dry. I paid the price for someone else’s mistake. I will be positive for Monza but at the moment I am allowed to be a bit down.”
At the start of the race Button was 14 points behind the leader, Webber. But he now trails Hamilton by 35. Meanwhile, Webber has opened up a gap of 28 points over Vettel, something which obviously gave him great pleasure as Red Bull appeared to favour the younger driver in the first half of the season.
Now, Webber mischievously suggested, the team might consider giving him priority. “It is still too early, but not too far away,” he said. “I think it depends on how hungry we are.”
Meanwhile, the hopes of Alonso, who is now 41 points behind Hamilton, took another severe knock. The Spaniard’s Ferrari skidded off on the 38th lap but he was already well back in the field after being hit by Rubens Barrichello on the second lap.
Robert Kubica, who finished third, looked happy with his day’s work but the biggest smiles were reserved for Hamilton, who said: “It was a great weekend and a very tough race for me. I was praying it would be a race that would go smoothly, but then the rain came late on and I locked my wheels at turn eight, but thankfully I got away with it.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but fortunately I got round and changed the tyres. It didn’t rain any more, and in the end it was about nursing the car home, making sure it stayed in one piece and bagging the points.” He has now bagged 182 of them.
• This article was amended on 31 August 2010. The original said “I lost the car going over a bump as I was breaking and unfortunately hit Jenson.” This has been corrected.