Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of a second-lap incident between squabbling Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to win his third race of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The race was expected to be another straight fight between pole-sitter Rosberg and Hamilton but that ended when Rosberg clipped his teammate’s left-rear wheel attempting an aggressive overtake. It resulted in a puncture that effectively put Hamilton out of the race.
“I didn’t really understand what happened – I felt a big thud at the rear,” said Hamilton afterwards.
“I gave the guy space. I don’t really understand it. It’s really gutting for the result and for all my team.
“We’ve had such a tough year, not just the guys on my side of the garage, but the whole team in general.
“This is not good for the team. We could’ve easily had a one-two.”
Niki Lauda, the team’s non-executive director, was livid.
“It is unacceptable. If these things happen at the end of the race, when they are fighting for the win then you discuss it but in the second lap to hand the victory to Red Bull,” said the former champion.
“I thought they were clever enough to know that but obviously they aren’t.”
Despite having to pit himself for a new nose cone and employing a three-stop strategy, Rosberg worked his way back through the field to close right up behind Ricciardo by the end but the Australian held on for victory.
Valtteri Bottas overtook fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the closing laps to finish third after another fine race with Sebastian Vettel fifth after a gripping battle with Kevin Magnussen, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
The result means that Rosberg extends his championship lead over Hamilton by 29 points but the tensions between the two drivers will surely be at breaking point.
Despite overshooting his grid box and having to reverse just before the start, Hamilton enjoyed the better start and swept past Rosberg and into the lead.
The Brit maintained his advantage until the start of the second lap before Rosberg attempted an ambitious overtake at Les Combes.
Hamilton maintained his racing line and fended off his rival but not before the German clipped his rear tyre, resulting in a puncture, a slow limp back to the pits and eventual retirement with additional damage to his car floor. Rosberg was not without damage too, and pitted for a new front wing on Lap 9 before rejoining the race, handing the lead to RIcciardo.
Staying on the harder medium compound tyre for his second stop, Rosberg made steady inroads despite reporting vibrations and was forced to pit again ten laps from the finish for a new set of option tyres.
But although he closed the gap to Ricciardo to five seconds by the finish, Ricciardo held on for a second successive victory and third win of the season.
1. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull-Renault 1:24:36.556 2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes +00:03.383 3. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 00:28.032 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 00:36.815 5. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull-Renault 00:52.196 6. Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 00:54.262 7. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 00:54.580 8. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 01:01.162 9. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India-Mercedes 01:04.293 10. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso-Renault 01:05.347