McLaren’s Jenson Button led from start to finish at yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix for his first victory since the opening race of the season.
The Briton’s chances of winning the drivers’ title remain slim, although he cut his deficit to championship leader Fernando Alonso to 63 points with eight races to go. Ferrari’s Alonso was among four drivers forced to retire following a crash at the first corner.
“This circuit is so special to most drivers,” Button said on the podium after the race. “To get a victory here from lights to flag is very special, especially as it has not been an easy year for me.”
Button, 32, had never won at Spa-Francorchamps. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was second and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, a four- time winner at the circuit, completed the podium positions.
Alonso’s record of finishing in the points at every race this season was ended on the first lap, with Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, Hamilton and Sauber’s Sergio Perez also forced out in the incident.
Grosjean cut across to try to block Hamilton, with his rear-right tire hitting the front-left of the McLaren, which went into a spin and hit the Lotus. A stewards’ inquiry found Grosjean responsible for the accident, and he will be banned from next week’s race in Italy. He was also fined 50,000 euros ($63,000).
“I honestly thought I was ahead of him and there was enough room for both cars,” Grosjean said on the Formula One website. “I didn’t deliberately try to squeeze him or anything like that. This first corner situation obviously isn’t what anyone would want to happen and thankfully no one was hurt.”
Alonso and Perez were taken out, while Pastor Maldonado of Williams and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi sustained damage but were able to continue at the back of the field. Maldonado’s race was ended when he crashed on lap five, soon after the safety car had returned to the pits.
Maldonado will drop ten places on the starting grid at Monza in Italy next week after being cited for two violations by the stewards. He was punished for jumping the start as well as the collision with Timo Glock on lap 5 that caused him to quit. Glock was able to finish.
Button settled into a lead as several drivers battled for positions behind the Briton. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, competing in his 300th Grand Prix, climbed to second after several drivers pitted as he looked for a record-extending seventh win in Belgium.
Schumacher almost hit Vettel as he dived into the pit lane on lap 20, forcing his countryman to take evasive action. Button, on a one-stop strategy, had a 2.6-second stop to further enforce his position.
Vettel was the fastest driver on the circuit and established himself in second spot with 16 laps to go as Schumacher, Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Webber scrapped for the next four spots.
“It was a crazy race,” Vettel said. “Fortunately we came back with a fantastic strategy.”
Raikkonen finally broke free with 10 laps to go, while Ferrari’s Felipe Massa joined the group and eventually finished fifth, behind Hulkenberg. Webber was sixth, ahead of Schumacher, with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta of Force India also in the points.
Schumacher’s plan for only one stop was changed because of wear to his tires, while he ended the race without sixth gear. The 43-year-old told the British Broadcasting Corp. he was yet to decide whether to continue beyond this season.
Button becomes the fourth multiple winner this season, joining Hamilton and Webber on two victories. Alonso is the only driver with three wins, while there have been three other winners in the 12 races so far.
The 20-race series continues next weekend with the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.