Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium — For a brief moment, Lewis Hamilton feared he had lost the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel, on quicker tires with about 10 laps to go, drove up right alongside him on a long straight, and Hamilton thought “this might be it.”
But the British driver fended off his rival heading into the corner.
“It worked out perfect. It was great to go into Turn 5 having just done enough,” Hamilton said. “He was able to get way too close. It was only just enough to stay ahead.”
After that, Vettel never got another chance to pass Hamilton and conceded some ground in the title race.
Hamilton’s third Spa win helped him trim championship leader Vettel’s advantage over him to seven points, with eight races left in what is shaping up to be a nail-biting finish.
Hamilton’s fifth win this season was his 58th overall, after he equaled Michael Schumacher’s pole position record of 68 in Saturday’s qualifying.
Vettel finished about 2 seconds behind Hamilton.
“I was waiting for Lewis to make a mistake and he didn’t,” the German driver said. “I’m not entirely happy.”
The track was more suited to Mercedes than Ferrari, and Hamilton said improvement can still be made.
“This weekend we definitely didn’t have the race pace. The car is not quite where we need it,” said Hamilton, who was competing in his 200th GP. “It was only just enough to stay ahead.”
Four-time F1 champion Vettel has 220 points to three-time champion Hamilton’s 213 heading into next weekend’s Italian GP in Monza.
“The positive thing is that we had really good race pace,” Vettel said.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished third — for his sixth podium of the season — ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas fifth.
Ricciardo showed great race intelligence and opportunism to pass Bottas after the safety car came out 10 laps from the end.
Hamilton made a good start to the race on the long climb up to Eau Rouge, but Max Verstappen’s hopes ended on lap 8 when his Red Bull lost power.
“I can’t believe this,” Verstappen said. His exasperation was understandable — it is the sixth time this season he has failed to finish the race, and some 80,000 Dutch fans had crossed the border to cheer him on.
“I’m not happy at all,” Verstappen said. “I am very disappointed for the fans who buy an expensive ticket to watch.”
The 19-year-old Verstappen secured a podium with third place in China but has been hit with reliability issues since.
Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso retired on lap 27 in the latest setback as McLaren continues to struggle with Honda engines. The Spanish driver has completed only three races so far.
The Spa track, nestled in the Ardennes forest, is the longest in F1 at 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and the race is often full of incidents.
There was one heated clash between Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, prompting the safety car to come out after they made contact with each other on lap 30, sending debris onto the track.
Their tense relationship is degrading fast.
After bumping on the track at the Azerbaijan GP in June, they did it again when they touched wheels as Ocon moved on the outside of the track shortly after the start, with Perez responding by squeezing the Frenchman against the barrier.
Later the pair came into contact again with Ocon’s front wing flying away and a tire dropping off Perez’s car as a result.
This prompted a furious, expletive-laced outburst from Ocon.
After both cars pitted for repairs, Ocon finished ninth but Perez had to retire just before the end.
The safety car stayed out for four laps, which was too long for Hamilton’s liking, and he used an expletive of his own to complain.
“There was hardly any debris about,” Hamilton said afterward.
Drivers worry that their tires lose heat if they stay behind the car too long.
But Vettel failed to capitalize.
“Maybe that was the problem, my restart was too good,” Vettel said. “I was too close.”
At Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, a phone rang at the winner’s podium just as Jeremy Clements was about to recap a memorable Sunday at Road America.
The driver for the small, family-run team had finally captured a checkered flag for the first time in 256 Xfinity Series races. Suddenly, it seems like everyone wants to talk him.
Clements battled Matt Tifft down the stretch at Road America before pulling away to the finish line after the two leaders spun out near the end of the second-to-last lap.
“I drive for a small family team. Just to get a win in any of these starts is amazing,” Clements said. Father and team owner Tony Clements sat next to him, slightly embarrassed after having to turn the ringer off on his phone.
They might be fielding a few more calls this week. Not only was Clements’ No. 51 Chevy built in 2008, but the front end had to be pieced back together following a wreck two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.
But Tony Clements figured that a road course like Road America might provide a more level playing field against more well-funded teams, especially on a weekend when the top-level Monster Cup series wasn’t racing on the same track.
“To even be here is very hard,” the younger Clements said. “We’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices.”
Pit strategy paid off on an overcast afternoon on the 4-plus mile, 14-turn road course.
All the twists and turns can take a toll on tires, and second-place finisher Michael Annett said drivers also had to deal with some wet track around turn 12. Qualifying for the 45-lap race was cancelled because of weather, with rain having fallen earlier in the morning.
Working with fresh tires down the stretch, Clements chased down Tifft after pitting with nine laps left to surrender the lead. Clements finally caught up with Tifft on the 44th lap, with their cars spinning into the dirt on the last turn of the 14-turn road course.
The 32 year-old Clements recovered first and sped away to victory on the last lap. Annett passed Tifft to take second, 5.8 seconds behind Clements. Tifft settled for third.
“I was just trying to survive on the older tires,” Tifft said. “Any time I would try to push it at all, the rear would get really lightened and not so happy with me.”
Elliott Sadler finished in 14th, but the series leader holds a 107-point lead over second-place William Byron.