SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- Sebastian Vettel closed the gap to championship leader Lewis Hamilton to 17 points with an impressive victory at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver passed Hamilton for the lead on the opening lap at Spa-Francorchamps and never looked back, crossing the line with a convincing 11s lead over the Mercedes driver. Hamilton held a further 21.7s margin over Max Verstappen in third place, with Valtteri Bottas completing an solid comeback drive from 17th on the grid to finish fourth.
The race started with a huge accident at the first corner as Fernando Alonso's McLaren was launched over Charles Leclerc's Sauber. The incident was triggered by Nico Hulkenberg locking up under braking and smashing into the rear of Alonso, who in turn was launched over Leclerc. Despite the dramatic images, all three drivers were unharmed although heavy black marks on the Sauber's white Halo head protection device acted as a reminder of why the sport is still working to improve safety.
Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen also lost out in the collision as Alonso's flying McLaren sheared Ricciardo's rear wing off his Red Bull and sent the Australian into the rear of Raikkonen's Ferrari. Raikkonen was able to continue after pitting with a puncture but retired a handful of laps later due to a DRS failure.
The rest of the race failed to live up to the drama of the opening lap and Vettel never really looked under threat from Hamilton. Esteban Ocon, who had started third, thought about launching a move on Vettel at Les Combes on the opening lap after gaining a slipstream from the lead two cars on the preceeding straight, but thought better of it and dropped to fourth behind teammate Sergio Perez.
Hamilton's one chance to turn the race around came at his single pit stop on lap 21. The Mercedes was suffering with rear blistering on its first set of tyres, but he pushed hard on his outlap on a new set of softs to up the pressure on Vettel. The gap between the two dropped from 3.2s before the pit stop to 1.7s after, meaning the slightest mistake by Ferrari during its pit stop on lap 22 would have been costly, but in the end it proved to be the closest Hamilton would get to regaining the lead.
Verstappen moved from eighth on the grid to third by lap ten, but was never a contender for victory and settled into a lonely race in his Red Bull. The Force Indias of Perez and Ocon dropped to fifth and sixth by the finish, but the result was still impressive given that the team was in administration as recently as the last round in Hungary. The team had its points wiped clear in order to return to the grid under new ownership in Spa, but Sunday's haul of 18 points has moved it up to ninth, just one point behind Sauber.
Haas took a solid finish in seventh and eighth ahead of Pierre Gasly in the Toro Rosso in ninth and Marcus Ericsson, who scored the final point on offer for Sauber, in tenth.
There is only a one week break until the next round of the season at Ferrari's home race at Monza, and given the impressive straightline speed of the car at Spa, there is every reason to believe Vettel will be well placed to score the Italian team's first victory at the track since 2010.