Cool Vettel silences the doubters with victory in Belgium

Defending Formula 1 cham-pion Sebastian Vettel banished any talk that his grip on the title was slipping by winning the Belgian Grand Prix in tough conditions to extend his overall lead with seven races remaining.

Vettel started from pole position to win his seventh race of the season and 17th of his career. The German led Red Bull to a one-two finish, with colleague Mark Webber close behind.

“The car was fantastic to drive,” Vettel said. “If the car does what you want it to do, this place is really fun. It was a very entertaining race.”

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McLaren’s Jenson Button overtook twice former champion Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari late in the race to claim third place, but the Briton could not follow up on his Hungarian GP success.

Scot Paul di Resta was 11th, four places behind Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil, who put six points on the constructors’ championship board for Vijay Mallya’s outfit.

If any of Vettel’s rivals had sensed a weakness after the German’s failure to win any of the last three races, they only need to look at the leaderboard for a reminder of how far-fetched that now seems. Vettel has a 92-point advantage over second-placed Webber, is 102 points clear of Alonso, and leads fourth-place Button by 110 points.

“With every race it is getting more difficult to close the gap on the Red Bull,” Alonso said.

Still, having won his maiden F1 title on the final day last season, Vettel is not getting carried away. “Things can change quickly, two races you are out and others have good races,” he said.

However, Lewis Hamilton’s slim title hopes look all but over after he crashed his McLaren. He is fifth in the standings, 113 points behind Vettel.

Button, meanwhile, was left to rue what might have been had he not started the race in 13th place on the grid.

“To come away with the third was disappointing,” Button said. “Who knows what would have happened if we had qualified well.”

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The 2009 champion remains confident he can win at the Italian GP in two weeks’ time.

“We have to look forward to Monza,” Button said. “For me this is the best we’ve had the car all year.”

Vettel’s jubilation was evident at ending his winless run as he stood on top of his Red Bull after the race, and pumped his fists in delight.

“What a race!” he told his Red Bull team over the race radio at the end as he won in Spa for the first time, banishing memories of last year’s 15th-place finish.

Tyre management proved a crucial factor in Vettel’s win on the seven-kilometre circuit – the longest and arguably the most difficult on the F1 calendar. The 24-year-old overcame significant tyre wear early on and held off Alonso when the Spaniard was pressuring strongly.

“We had a lot of concerns going into the race after qualifying and weren’t quite sure about the tyres,” Vettel said.

Twenty years after making his F1 debut on the same track, seven-time former champion Michael Schumacher started from last place after crashing during the first lap of Saturday’s qualifying session. The 42-year-old German drove his Mercedes with panache to finish in fifth place.

Hamilton pushed to overtake Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi on lap 13 and the two cars collided coming into the corner, prompting the safety car to come out.

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“I’m not really quite sure what happened, I hit the wall pretty hard,” Hamilton said. “As far as I was concerned I was ahead of whoever I was racing and then I was hit by them.”

Di Resta said afterwards: “I got off the line very well and everything seemed to be going quite smoothly.

“But there was an incident ahead of me, and I thought I had managed to get through the corner when I got hit hard by Timo [Glock]. That put a big hole in the floor, damaged my front wing and gave me a lot of understeer.”

Bruno Senna, driving in his first grand prix with Renault after replacing Nick Heidfeld, started from seventh place.

However, as several cars bumped and jostled near the back of the grid at the start, the Brazilian slammed into the side of Jaime Alguersuari, who had to pit his Toro Rosso because of a broken track rod.

Senna also pitted and got a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable accident. He ended up 13th.

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