After the nearly month-long break that followed the Hungarian Grand Prix, F1 fans around the world have patiently awaited the return to business as usual on the grand prix circuit. And by business as usual, we mean nail-biting, wheel-to-wheel action and bitter rivalries. With that much pent-up anticipation, it would take some spectacle to make up for the hiatus. Fortunately, this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix – held at the legendary Spa Francorchamps circuit – provided exactly that. Follow the jump to read how it went down.
Saturday's qualifying sessions ended with Red Bull's Mark Webber taking the pole, while teammate Sebastian Vettel was relegated to the fourth spot on the grid. Former world champion Lewis Hamilton took the second slot ahead of Renault's Robert Kubica. Defending champion Jenson Button qualified fifth, Ferrari's Felipe Massa sixth, his Williams-driving countryman Rubens Barrichello seventh, Force India's Adrian Sutil eighth, Williams' Nico Hulkenberg ninth, Ferrari's double-champ Fernando Alonso tenth and Michael Schumacher leading his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for eleventh and twelfth, respectively.
Webber's qualifying prowess didn't prevent him from messing up his start, however, as the championship frontrunner dropped to seventh place off the line. Hamilton easily squeezed by to claim the lead, a position to which he would become accustomed over the course of the race.
Coming around the Bus Stop corner on the first lap, half the grid seemed to have skidded off the track. Rubens Barrichello drove straight into the back of Fernando Alonso. Barrichello's day was finished, but Alonso made it back to the pits for the first of several tire-swaps as Ferrari attempted to preempt the changing weather.
Button squeezed past Kubica for second place as Webber climbed back up to fifth before the post-collision safety car was deployed. Under its cover, a slew of cars followed Alonso into the pits. As the lit-up Gullwing retreated to pit lane on lap 4, Hamilton remained in the lead ahead of Button (2), Kubica (3), Vettel (4), Webber (5), Massa (6), Hulkenberg (7), Sutil (8), Liuzzi (9) and Rosberg (10). Once the safety car was in, Vettel moved past Kubica for third, placing the Renault between him and his recovering teammate.
Further adrift, Alonso pitted again on lap 5 to swap his intermediate rain tires for slicks, rejoining way back in 19th place. At the same time, rookie HRT driver Bruno Senna spun out and made it back to the pits only to retire a few laps later.
A fight ensued around the double-digit mark as Renault's #2, Vitaly Petrov, managed to get by Nico Rosberg. Michael Schumacher did likewise as Rosberg suffered minor damage to his front wing.
The real drama followed several laps later when Vettel attempted to pass Button. Losing control of his Red Bull on the dampening track, the young German spun right into the defending champion's McLaren. In a reversal of the outcome from the Barrichello-Alonso shunt, however, this time it was the perpetrator (Vettel) who made it back to the pits (rejoining in 12th place) while the victim's (Button) race was over.
At this point, Lewis Hamilton had a solid lead, with Kubica elevated to second and Webber to third. Massa trailed in fourth, Sutil followed admirably in fifth, followed by the Mercedes pair of Schumacher and Rosberg in sixth and seventh, respectively. Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi notably followed in eighth, ahead of Alonso (ninth) and Petrov (tenth).
Vettel was saddled with a drive-through penalty for the Button crash, and took it on lap 21 as Adrian Sutil pitted from fifth to rejoin in eighth place.
By lap 25, Hamilton's lead was so significant that when he pitted for fresh rubber, he re-emerged still at the front of the pack. At this point, Schumacher had advanced to fifth place behind Massa, with Sutil climbing back up to sixth. Nico Rosberg was still in seventh and Kobayashi, Alonso and Petrov rounded out the top ten.
Vettel, meanwhile, was still stuck among the back-markers in 13th place, and on lap 26 had a brush with Force India's Tonio Liuzzi. Vettel lost his left-rear tire while Liuzzi broke his front wing.
Drama reared its head again on lap 35 when Hamilton miraculously recovered unscathed (and still in the lead) from a spontaneous spin as the long-anticipated rain began to fall. In the ensuing scramble to crowded and cramped pit lane, Webber managed to squeak past Kubica for second place as the Polish driver missed the Renault pit box by a few feet.
Having switched to (and burned out) a set of intermediate rain tires early, Vettel was forced to pit again for a fresh set, pushing him further down the field as the leaders whittled down the closing laps. Losing control in the wet conditions, Alonso surprised the crowds when he spun into the tire wall and was forced to retire his broken car on lap 38. The safety car was deployed once again and recalled two laps later, after which Rosberg passed his wingman, Schumacher, for sixth place.
The remaining four laps were relatively smooth sailing, giving a jubilant Lewis Hamilton his first unchallenged win at Spa. After starting from pole, Webber brought his Red Bull in for a solid second place, ahead of Kubica in third. The remaining points were divided between Massa (4th), Sutil (5th), Rosberg (6th), Schumacher (7th), Kobayashi (8th), Petrov (9th) and STR's Jaime Alguersuari (10th).
The results catapult Hamilton into the lead for the drivers' title with 182 points to Webber's 179, Vettel's 151, Button's 147 and Alonso's 141. Red Bull still narrowly leads the constructors' standings with 330 combined points to McLaren's 329 and Ferrari's 250. The saga continues at Monza on September 12 for the Italian Grand Prix – the fastest on the F1 calendar.