Ricciardo wins as Mercs clash
Daniel Ricciardo strengthened his outside chances of an unexpected late-season run at the championship by winning a dramatic Belgian GP after Mercedes' title-duelling drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton finally came together on track – to the detrimental effect of the Briton's title chances.
It has taken 12 races, and several near misses and off-track flashpoints, but the kind of on-track tangle that most - including perhaps Mercedes' management themselves - had thought was an inevitable consequence of Rosberg and Hamilton's hitherto tense private title duel finally happened on the second lap of Sunday's action-packed Spa race.
Challenging Hamilton on the run to Les Combes having lost the lead into the first corner of the race, Rosberg attempted to go round the outside of the sister W05 at the right-hander, but as the Briton turned in to take the racing line the German only succeeded in slicing the team-mate's tyre.
As the puncture took hold of Hamilton's left-rear tyre the Briton was sent slewing wide at the next corner and forced, with shredding rubber, to crawl his way back to the pits for an emergency change of tyres as the pack streamed past him. Dropping to the back of the field, Hamilton, whose rear floor was also substantially damaged in the incident, didn't have the pace in the car to claw his way back up the order and after numerous requests to retire the damaged car to save the engine the frustrated 29-year-old was finally granted his wish in the closing laps – his third scoreless race of the year.
And while Rosberg didn't go on to win the race – the German requiring a front-wing change at his first stop after damaging the original part in the clash – his fightback to second place behind the impressive Ricciardo re-increased his championship advantage to a joint season-high of 29 points.
The recriminations are, however, only just beginning with Hamilton subsequently claiming that Rosberg "said he did it on purpose" in a post-race debrief at Mercedes.
For his part however, Red Bull's Ricciardo was only too happy to once more pick up the pieces from self-inflicted Mercedes trouble as the Australian secured the third win of his stunning season and second in a row either side of the summer break.
Passing World Champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel after the German ran wide early on at Pouhon, Ricciardo inherited the lead when Rosberg pitted for his change of front-wing and then brilliantly stopped once less time than the recovering Mercedes to potentially bring himself into play in the title fight. His deficit to Rosberg is 64 points, but with 50 up for grabs in November's bumper Abu Dhabi finale alone, F1's new star shouldn't be counted out yet.
The other shining non-Mercedes light of the season so far, Valtteri Bottas, delivered his fourth podium finish after beating four-times Spa winner Kimi Raikkonen to third place in the battle of Finland's young and old stars. Fourth place, though, still represented Raikkonen's best result of his underwhelming Ferrari return to date and the first time he has beaten team-mate Fernando Alonso on race day.
Ferrari's usual front-gunner had a particularly eventful race, meanwhile, which started on the formation lap when Alonso's mechanics were still on the grid beyond the 15-second warning signal - a transgression which earned the Spaniard a five-second time penalty which he served at his first pitstop.
Dropping down the order as a result, Alonso spent much of the race thereafter in an exciting battle with McLaren's Kevin Magnussen for fifth place - although neither man would actuall y end up in that position.
That honour eventually went to Vettel, the German three-stopping and finishing a mammoth 50 seconds behind Ricciardo, and although Magnussen finished ahead of team-mate Jenson Button and Alonso in sixth on the road, the Dane was later demoted to 12th by race stewards for forcing the latter on the grass down the Kemmel Straight with four laps to go.
As a result of the reshuffle, Button took sixth, Alonso seventh, Sergio Perez eighth and Daniil Kvyat ninth, while Nico Hulkenberg was promoted to the final points-paying position in the other Force India.