Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo has taken full advantage of early contact between Mercedes teammates and title rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to win the Belgian Grand Prix.
Tensions between the Mercedes duo will only be growing after the second-lap incident on Sunday in which Rosberg sliced up Hamilton’s rear tyre, and damaged his own front wing, when he tried to overtake him in an effort to regain the lead he had lost at the start.
Hamilton’s race was ruined and he eventually retired, and he is now 29 points behind Rosberg, who came second in dry conditions the day after a wet qualifying.
Ricciardo meanwhile got his second win in a row and third of the season from fifth place on the grid, ahead of first-time Spa podium finisher Rosberg and Williams driver Valtteri Bottas.
Rosberg leads the championship with 220 points from Hamilton (191), and Ricciardo, who improved to 156 after 12 of 19 races.
Rosberg had a dreadful start from pole as Hamilton and Vettel slipped past, with Hamilton holding off Vettel to lead the way into the first turn.
Vettel tried his luck again but went wide which dropped him back to third.
Rosberg tried to recover first place in the second lap but Hamilton did not give way and although Rosberg eventually held back the two Mercedes’ made contact, with Rosberg’s left front wing slicing up Hamilton’s rear tyre.
“Nico hit me,” Hamilton said via team radio as he limped into the pits for new rubbers and rejoined in 19th place.
Rosberg was loudly booed by sections of the crowd after the race.
He explained: “I got a good run on Lewis and tried to go around the outside and we just touched in the end, unfortunately. So that hurt both our races. From the team point of view it’s very disappointing.”
Stewards took no action, seemingly deeming it a normal racing incident.
Rosberg maintained the lead before pitting in the ninth for a new front wing and fresh rubbers, with Ricciardo climbing from fifth at the start into second at the time – and leading from Raikkonen once all drivers had made their first tyre change.
Rosberg was hampered by some sort of debris, possibly even from Hamilton’s tyre, clinging to the aerial in front of the cockpit, before he managed to pull it away.
Alonso dropped to eighth after serving a five-second stop-and-go penalty imposed because mechanics had worked on his car too close to the start.
Hamilton’s request to retire was turned down by the team, saying that any safety car phase would get him back in contention. But they eventually had mercy four laps from the end, saying there was possibly something wrong with the car.
Ricciardo retained the lead through the second round of pit stops and safely completed the 44 laps in 1 hour 24 minutes 36.556 seconds for victory.
A delighted Ricciardo thanked the large contingent of Australian supporters who attended the event in Spa. “This is nearly as many Australian flags as there were in Melbourne. It’s impressive,” he said.
Rosberg followed while Bottas passed four-times race winner Kimi Raikkonen in the 40th lap to complete the podium.
Raikkonen placed fourth while a big fight for fifth to eighth saw Vettel ahead of the McLarens of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, and Alonso in eighth. – AAP