A dramatic first lap crash at the Belgian Grand Prix which, eliminated championship leader Fernando Alonso, gifted Sebastian Vettel the chance to get his championship fight back on track.
The double world champion put behind him his terrible qualifying performance, which saw the German start tenth on the grid for Sunday’s race, to finish second on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit behind dominant winner Jenson Button in the McLaren. Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber came home sixth after a penalty for changing his gearbox dropped him five places on the grid to 12th.
Ironically, the team’s worst qualifying performance of the year was a blessing in disguise as the drama unfolded in front of them at the La Source hairpin. Grosjean put the squeeze on Lewis Hamilton and the pair interlocked wheels. Grosjean then lost control of his Lotus and careered into the back of Sergio Perez, launching him over the Sauber’s rear wing. The crash eliminated the trio as well as championship leader Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi.
Racing in the points now, the Red Bull pair looked as though they were being held up by some of the midfield runners, and they soon made moves to lift themselves through the order.
But there were some nervous moments back at the Tilbrook factory when Vettel set his sights on Webber as his next target, pulling of a brave move around the outside of the Bus Stop chicane at the end of the lap - but they both made it through unscathed.
Vettel continued to rise up through the order, but the drama didn’t stop there. As he raced against Michael Schumacher for second place, Vettel tried a move down the inside at the Bus Stop, and narrowly avoided collision as the Mercedes then cut across his nose to enter the pits.
Webber came unstuck in his charge when he became embroiled in a battle with Nico Hulkenberg, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel’s one-stop strategy paid dividends as he cruised home to second place, but he could do nothing about Button in front. Webber finished sixth as the pair closed the gap to Alonso in the championship standings.
“I’m happy with that,” Vettel said afterwards. “Qualifying wasn’t as we planned it to be yesterday, but today the car seemed to be back to as we know it.
“The start was poor; I think I was the only one not to gain positions through the first corners, so we had to fight our way back, which wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed it a lot.
“The strategy worked perfectly for us and we had the pace, which was the best thing about today. The car worked well and we didn’t struggle.”
Webber said: “The start was pretty wild, which can happen at La Source. We settled into a race, but it became obvious quite early on that it was difficult for us to overtake.
“Seb and I had a little battle, which was fine – but after that, it just wasn’t possible to fight other people on the straight line, so that made it tough.
“We tried to under-cut some people and roll the dice. I had Petrov on the out lap, which is fair play to him as he’s just doing his thing, but we lost time there.
“We had a bit of luck at the start, but after that we didn’t get the most out of the situation – but it was good to finish six places higher than I started and get points.”
The gap at the top between Alonso and Vettel has been closed now to 24 points, courtesy of the Ferrari driver’s first lap elimination. Webber is still in the hunt for the title, just 32 points off top spot.
Red Bull still lead the way in the constructors’ championship, leading McLaren by 54 points as they head into the final European race of the season - the Italian Grand Prix at Monza - next weekend.