x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Red Bull's quick call key to win in Belgium

Early pit stops to replace blistering tyres prove to be a masterstroke at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Spa-Francorchamps // Ahead of Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, the paddock was abuzz with talk of Red Bull Racing's blistering tyres.

Yet when the lights went out to signify the start of the 12th race of the season, the only thing blistering was the pace of the constructors' champions' two drivers.

Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, claimed his seventh win of the season to extend his lead at the top of the drivers' standings to 92 points. Mark Webber, the German's teammate, finished 3.7 seconds behind to secure the Red Bull pairing their 10th one-two finish in two-and-a-half years.

"I'm very happy," Vettel said. "I got a nice trophy and a good chunk of points, so I can't complain."

Regulations ruled that Vettel, like the rest of the top 10 qualifiers, had to start Sunday's 44-lap contest on the same tyres that he had finished Saturday's qualifying session.

But with both Vettel's and Webber's tyres suffering severe blistering on the inside, Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, had fears his duo would fail to finish.

The result was deployment of an early pit stop strategy that exploited the Red Bull RB7s' superior pace and Vettel, from pole, eventually coasted to victory to claim his first win at Spa.

"We had a lot of concerns going into the race after qualifying and weren't quite sure about the tyres blistering," Vettel said.

"The team took the risk and we had reason to be confident, but you never know until you get out there. We both stopped early on, so the main target was to see how the tyres were over the first few laps. The pace was steady and we went through some people, so it was a fun race. I think it was one of the best we have had this year."

Vettel pitted after five laps and saw Fernando Alonso of Ferrari take the lead, but having changed tyres, he was able to quickly return to the front, where he remained for the rest of the race.

Staff on the Red Bull pit wall appeared emotional as Vettel passed the chequered flag, and Webber called it the team's "best ever" result.

"Pretty stressful on [Saturday] night, pretty stressful [Sunday] morning," said the Australian, who finished 5.9s ahead of third-placed Jenson Button of McLaren-Mercedes.

"We are not just talking about blisters, we are talking about unknown characteristics of what the tyres might do."

The ease of the result, and the fact Vettel's championship lead has been extended, evoked resignation from his rivals, but the 24 year old - as ever - refused to concede he is close to becoming the first driver to win back-to-back world titles since Fernando Alonso in 2006.

"Of course, I'm very happy with the result, and I know that it's very important to finish ahead of everybody else," he said. "It brought us closer to our final target, but it's still a long way," he added.

Button was philosophical about his third-place finish, accepting that a podium finish was an impressive achievement, following a disastrous qualifying session that saw him start the race in 13th.

"If we had got everything together we would have had a better result, but we can look forward to Monza [on September 11] because for me this is the best the car has felt for me all year," Button said.

The 2009 world champion's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton, had an afternoon to forget after crashing out following a collision with Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese driver with Sauber.

Hamilton said: "As far as I was concerned I was ahead of whoever I was racing, and then I was hit by them."

But later he apologised on twitter, saying: "After watching the replay, I realize it was my fault today 100%. I didn't give Kobayashi enough room though I thought in was past."

The stewards decided not to investigate the incident.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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