With their crushing victory in Sunday’s 2013 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull sent out a clear message to their championship rivals - they have no plans to ease up in the battle to retain both titles.
As the highly-anticipated Mercedes challenge failed to materialise, not only did Vettel win with ease, he extended his advantage atop the driver standings and saw Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen - previously his nearest opponent in the table - drop from second to fourth overall after his first DNF of the year.
Vettel drove to his 31st Grand Prix victory - one behind Fernando Alonso’s career tally and equalling that of Nigel Mansell - with such insouciant ease in a Red Bull that was perfectly suited to Spa, that rivals shuddered as they floundered in his wake. It suggests he can be very competitive again at Monza, too. Webber made a poor start thanks to clutch worries and spent his race fighting back from that, but at times he was able to set fastest laps to demonstrate what might have been on his last F1 visit to the circuit he loves.
Ferrari had nothing like the pace they needed to get anywhere near Red Bull, but Alonso beat everyone else after fighting up from ninth to fifth on the opening lap and then picking off Button, Rosberg and Hamilton. A decent second place put him back ahead of Raikkonen in the drivers’ title battle. Massa lost time early on in traffic but eventually came out on top of a lengthy fight with Grosjean to take seventh.
As Hamilton had expected, Mercedes lacked the pace in low-downforce form to run with Red Bull, but getting beaten by Ferrari was an unwelcome shock. Hamilton drove the wheels off his W04 to take the final podium slot and move ahead of Raikkonen in the points table, while Rosberg was also very strong and finished only 2.1s behind his team mate.
Button felt that McLaren’s revised MP4-28 was a good improvement, though he wasn’t sure that the team got the best out of it and said they vacillated too much between one- and two-stop strategies. Nevertheless, he did lead briefly when he was out of sync of pit stops, and sixth was a step forward. Perez put in a forceful pass on Grosjean but was adjudged to have forced the Frenchman off track and given a drive-through penalty that held him back to an 11th-place finish.