Lewis Hamilton was left in no doubt about who is his main rival for this year’s F1 drivers’ title after team-mate Fernando Alonso sent him careering off the race-track in the opening seconds of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Leaving the two Ferraris to speed off down the road, Alonso produced an astonishing hard-left manoeuvre that took him almost horizontally across the road to block Hamilton – and to make it quite clear that he had no intention of surrendering his third-place grid slot.
Hamilton was able to grapple his McLaren back onto the tarmac without surrendering position and the two cars continued to battle like bitter rivals up to the first corner. Neither driver was prepared to give an inch.
Eventually Hamilton, despite running Alonso close, had to surrender the racing line or risk a crash that would have made him decidedly unpopular back in the garage as well as fatally compromising his title bid.
The rest of the race was ‘as you were’ with Ferrari never seriously troubled by the following McLarens and the pit stops providing little drama.
Hamilton made a half-hearted bid at a strategic move, staying out much longer than Alonso on his second stint, but found himself unable to capitalise.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton said: “The car didn’t feel too bad, it just hasn’t worked for me as well as it has at other tracks. I just couldn’t seem to improve on my times at all.
“I got a good start and thought I had a chance to get past at the first corner, but I had to run wide as Fernando kept to the inside line.
“Initially I thought ‘oh thanks’ but I guess these things happen when you fight for the world championship.”
He said that during the race he kept up the pressure – leading to a concentration lapse that saw him take a second excursion off the tarmac in the race’s final minutes and lose three seconds to his team-mate.
“I got the points, which is the main thing. The gap between Fernando and myself is now down to two points which is close, but I am just going to go all out in the last three races to try and win the drivers’ championship.”
Meanwhile, Alonso gave his own version of the incident: “At the start I was sticking to the inside line as long as possible. Unfortunately Lewis ran wide, as there was no space left and I knew there was plenty of run off area.
“I knew that my car in the first stint would be a bit faster as I was stopping one lap earlier than Lewis, so it was very important to be in front… It will be a close fight until the end of the championship which the fans will hopefully enjoy.”
Ron Dennis, who must have got rather too used to rationalising difficult events in recent days, said: “When you have two great drivers like Fernando and Lewis fighting for the world championship, you have to expect manoeuvres like we saw today at the start, which are a result of both being extremely competitive.
“We have a great world championship with both at the top of the table, and I am looking forward to the next three races.
“The team gave them every opportunity to fight up until the final lap. We have worked hard and have shown 100 per cent reliability in the races with our cars so far this year and the entire team look forward to the rest of the season.”