Lewis Hamilton couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable victory as he dominated the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, Formula One’s iconic 4.3-mile cathedral of undulating speed, deep in the Ardennes forest.
After grabbing his 93rd career pole with a scintillating course record, Hamilton led every lap to win his fifth Grands Prix of the season and the 89th of his career. The Brit now has a 47 point championship lead over Max Verstappen in his bid for a record-equalling seventh world championship.
Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag 8.4 seconds behind his teammate, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen on the podium’s third step. That’s the first time the Finn’s finished ahead of Verstappen since the second race of the season.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth in his newly competitive Renault ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon, with Red Bull’s Alex Albon hanging on for sixth and Lando Norris seventh for McLaren. Pierre Gasly brought his Alpha Tauri home in eighth, while Racing Point teammates Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez took the final two points positions.
Thankfully, British driver George Russell miraculously escaped grave injury when Antonio Giovinazzi’s untethered wheel hit his Williams after the Italian’s Alfa Romeo spun into the barriers.
Unfortunately, Scuderia Ferrari suffered one of their most demoralising weekends in recent history with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finishing in 13th and 14th respectively.
Mercedes arrived at Spa with an aero treatment aimed at unwinding massive downforce that was too stressful for their tyres. It was an unqualified hit.
After fitting a revised floor, barge boards and sidepod / turning vanes, Hamilton’s 1min 41.252sec lap, put him half-a-second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Additionally, it was more than 2sec quicker than his 2019 third-placed time and 1.3sec quicker than Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari pole from last year.
Once again, Max Verstappen would start third, with his former Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s revitalised Renault in fourth. Alex Albon was fifth for Red Bull with Esteban Ocon’s Renault in sixth.
In contrast, Scuderia Ferrari remained mired while developing a new engine and the fuel metering system while also reworking their aero to complement their existing power unit.
Both red cars survived to make Q2. Charles Leclerc, who won from pole here last year, would start 13th – one spot ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz’s out-lap to the starting grid ended with his car back in the garage. A plume of white smoke and fluid erupted beneath the bodywork. With no time for McLaren to repair the leak, the Spaniard’s race ended on the spot.
Hamilton lined up for the start, well aware he would face his most significant threat on the opening lap as the pack slipstreamed on the long run-up through Eau Rouge, along the Kemmel Straight and into Les Combes.
At lights out, Hamilton kept Bottas behind at the short run down to La Source before continuing to keep the Finn from launching and attack.
While Hamilton protected his lead into Turn 1, Ricciardo tried to go around the outside of Verstappen but couldn’t make it stick. Both he and Verstappen shared the massive Kemmel aero tow, with the Aussie looking to go up the inside of the chicane. Verstappen plugged that hole too and remained third.
Bottas radioed his pit wall engineers, asking for an extra engine mode to fight Hamilton, but Mercedes demurred.
“We have one push, no?” said Bottas. “We do – but we agreed not to use it against each other,” replied his race engineer Riccardo Musconi.
“I have never heard of that,” responded Bottas. Unable to politically challenge Hamilton, the Finn settled into a steady rhythm.
Behind the leaders, Perez and Gasly battle side-by-side through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, with Gasly putting a superb pass on the Mexican. The Frenchman then passed Leclerc on the Kemmel Straight, as did Perez on Lap 4. By then, Bottas had already dropped out of DRS range from Hamilton.
On Lap 5, Verstappen was 2.3sec behind Bottas and comfortably ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. He would remain in this “stasis” the entire Grand Prix.
Leclerc locked up his soft tyres going into Turn 1 on Lap 7 and lost a position to Kvyat about half-way down the Kemmel Straight. At the same time, Gasly was in P8 and getting faster on the hard tyres.
By Lap 9 Bottas was 1.6s behind Hamilton, with Verstappen a further 3.5s behind. Ricciardo was another seven seconds adrift of the Dutchman, with Albon trailing both Renaults.
On Lap 10, Giovinazzi lost control of his Alfa Romeo on the exit of the 140mph Fagnes Chicane, crashing heavily into the wall. Russell, following behind the Italian, veered but couldn’t miss Giovinazzi’s bouncing left-rear wheel and suspension pieces which had come loose from his damaged car.
The shaken Russell reported over the team radio: “There was nowhere I could go, guys.”
The Safety Car appeared, and the field tightened and then reordered after a flurry of pit stops. Mercedes chose to double-stack Hamilton and Bottas for their sole tyre changes. Bottas nearly lost position to Verstappen but stayed ahead in the end. Gasly remained out on his hard tyres and slotted into P4. Perez was another who stayed out and fell in behind Gasly followed by Ricciardo, Albon and Ocon.
The race restarted on L14 and Hamilton leapt away from Bottas. Ricciardo was on the move, too. By L17, he’d taken Perez for P5. Albon took P6 after passing the Mexican at the final chicane. Perez stopped for tyres on L18. He clawed his way back up through the field during the remainder of the Grand Prix – by L33, he was back into the points.
On Lap 21, Ricciardo used DRS to dispatch Gasly for P4. Ocon would overtake the Frenchman on L26.
By then, the Belgian Grand Prix was history.
Hamilton was comfortably out front, 3.9s ahead of Bottas and pulling away. By L34, his lead was 5s, with Verstappen trailing the Finn by 5.5s. Hamilton took the chequers 8.4 sec ahead of Bottas.
Despite the dominant nature of the win, Hamilton had fears for the state of his tyres in the closing stages.
“It was a bit of a struggle. I was nervous we might have a scenario like Silverstone where I had the puncture, so I was nursing it to the end.”
It sounds like Lewis needs another spa treatment before next week’s Italian Grand Prix.