SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Lewis Hamilton led from start to finish at the Belgian Grand Prix to clinch his 89th career win and move two behind Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record on Sunday.
The world champion was untroubled from pole position, beating his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by eight seconds and finishing 15 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was fourth and grabbed an extra point for the fastest lap.
Hamilton’s fifth win from seven races also extended his championship lead over Verstappen to 47 points with Bottas drifting 50 back in third. Hamilton is odds-on to win a seventh title to tie Schumacher’s record.
“I am 35 going towards 36 but I feel better than ever,” Hamilton said.
Schumacher won five of those F1 titles consecutively during a glorious era for Ferrari, but the proud Italian team is struggling badly now. Sebastian Vettel finished 13th and Charles Leclerc 14th.
They are not able to get anywhere close to Hamilton in terms of speed, let alone challenge him.
Having secured a record-extending 93rd career pole, which he dedicated to American actor Chadwick Boseman, Hamilton made a clean start and Bottas was unable to exert pressure on the long straight up to Turn 2.
“I just couldn’t catch him,” Bottas said. “Lewis was faultless today.”
Verstappen would love a faster car to take the fight to Hamilton, but Red Bull has yet to bridge the gap to Mercedes.
“It was pretty boring to be honest, not much to do,” Verstappen said. “It was not really enjoyable out there.”
Early into the 44-lap race, Williams driver George Russell and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi crashed heavily but were both unharmed.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. failed to start because of an exhaust failure.
A minute’s silence was held before the race in memory of French driver Anthoine Hubert, who died here last year following a horrific crash during an F2 race.
F1 driver Pierre Gasly, who was close friends with Hubert, and other drivers gathered solemnly around a picture of Hubert on the grid. His racing helmet was placed on a stand.
The safety car was deployed for several laps after Giovinazzi lost control of his car and Russell swerved into the barriers to avoid a loose tire from Giovinazzi’s car bouncing across the track.
Both climbed out unhurt, while other drivers crawled at snail-like pace slowly over the debris on their way into the pits for new tires.
“Feeling unlucky and lucky right now,” Russell said. “Gutted, as we were having a great race, but really glad we have the halo on these cars now or it could have been much worse.”
Astonishingly, Ferrari’s mechanics were not even ready to fit tires onto Leclerc’s car and the stop took far too long.
After the race restarted on Lap 14, Hamilton and Bottas traded fastest laps but by halfway through Hamilton was starting to pull clear.
Smooth sailing for Mercedes, muddled message from Ferrari.
“Why do we need to keep doing these stops?” Leclerc asked after being asked to pit again.
“We’ll let you know after the race,” his engineer replied evasively.
Leclerc was even summoned by the stewards for a misdemeanor during the pre-race reconnaissance lap … ironically for driving too slowly.
Vettel is a four-time champion but has not even finished in the top five this season — and has been 10th or lower in four races — heading into next weekend’s race at Italy’s famed Monza circuit.
Influential Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport ran a scathing headline on the team’s ongoing shortcomings, saying: “Ferrari deserves no fans at Monza” in reference to the fact no spectators have been allowed at races because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, 90,000 fans turned up each day to the Spa-Francorchamps track located in the Ardennes forest, with the surrounding hills turned into makeshift campsites and stands jam-packed with raucous fans.
When Hamilton crossed the line, the forest was eerily silent and the only sound was that of his engine.
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