A jubilant Lewis Hamilton hailed his record-breaking drive at the Belgian Grand Prix as the best result he could have hoped for after storming from the back of the pack to the podium on Sunday.
While Nico Rosberg sealed his sixth victory of the year to move to within nine points of Hamilton, it is the latter who will head to Monza for next week’s Italian Grand Prix with the broader smile after he finished in third. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo split the Mercedes drivers with another exemplary performance.
Hamilton was thrown to the back of the grid as he served a penalty following a number of engine changes in Belgium. But the world champion took advantage of a chaotic opening eight laps, with Max Verstappen and the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen involved in a first-corner collision, as well as a horror crash for Kevin Magnussen, who lost control of his Renault at 180mph through the notorious Eau Rouge corner. Jenson Button retired after he was punted out of the race by rookie Pascal Wehrlein.
Magnussen walked away from the jaw-dropping smash with only a cut to his ankle and, with the race red-flagged, Hamilton suddenly found himself in fifth place. Simple moves on Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg followed as he became the first driver in the history of the famous race to finish in the top three after starting from such a lowly grid position.
“If I had known this was going to happen, I would have had an even better summer,” said Hamilton.
“I woke up this morning knowing how difficult things were going to be, but you can never predict what is going to happen. In previous races, there have been no incidents and today there was.
“It was about trying to have the right approach – not too aggressive and not too easy – and collectively as a team we had the right balance. This is the best result I could have hoped for.”
Pole-sitter Rosberg, pictured, retained his lead on the short run down to the La Source hairpin, but utter chaos broke out behind him.
First, a slow-starting Verstappen – in front of an army of Dutch supporters – was gobbled up by the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Raikkonen before Vettel turned into his team-mate, with Raikkonen then bumping into Verstappen. Vettel spun, while both Raikkonen and Verstappen limped back to the pits with a left-rear puncture and front-wing damage respectively.
“I think turn one was more important [than the red flag] because it wiped out three of our direct competitors,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said.
“What looked to be a disadvantage turned out to be much less detrimental to [Hamilton’s] campaign and he added his bit with a great drive.
“The championship has been bouncing a bit in both directions and it is going to go long in the season before we know which way it is going to go.”
Yet Rosberg would have hoped to be within touching distance, if not ahead of Hamilton, following his penalty. But as it stands, the Stevenage-born racer remains the firm favourite to claim his third successive title and fourth in all.
Rosberg joked: “After the chequered flag I looked at the results. I knew Daniel was behind me, but then I saw ‘HAM’ in P3 and I was like, ‘What? Seriously?’ ”