Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of an early Mercedes clash to take a stunning win at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo produced a flawless performance to claim the third Formula 1 victory of his career, taking advantage of contact between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to seize an early lead that he never relinquished, despite late pressure from the German, who came home second, while Valtteri Bottas snatched the third and final spot on the podium with a late pass on his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen.
With Rosberg slow away from the grid it was Hamilton who took the early lead on the run down to La Source, as the German found himself swamped by not only his team-mate but also the fast starting Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.
The four-time champion attempted to force his way past Hamilton on the run down the Kemmel Straight, only for the Mercedes man to push him out wide, with Vettel forced to take to the run-off at Les Combes, dropping back to third behind Rosberg.
There was drama on lap two as Rosberg made a lunging attack around the outside of Hamilton into Les Combes for the race lead, only for the pair to make contact, the German damaging his front wing against his team-mate’s left-rear tyre, causing a puncture which sent the 2008 champion tumbling down the order.
With Hamilton rejoining a lowly 19th, Daniel Ricciardo made his way past Vettel into Pouhon to take second behind the now struggling Rosberg, now carrying some substantial damage to his front wing, after the earlier contact with his team-mate.
The German was in on lap nine for a new nose, rejoining 15th, and promoting Ricciardo to the lead, ahead of Vettel and the fast-charging Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
The defending champion was in for his opening stop on lap 11, countered by Ricciardo a lap later, briefly handing the race lead to Bottas, who too stopped for fresh rubber.
Rosberg, who had to deal with a piece of debris that had attached itself to his car aerial after his early stop, found himself ahead of the Finn, but after a botched pass on Vettel at the Bus Stop the Williams man breezed past on the run down the Kemmel Straight, demoting the Mercedes man down to fifth.
With Ricciardo clear out front, Rosberg, complaining of vibrations after his earlier lock-up, kicked off the second round of stops on lap 20, closely followed in by Kimi Raikkonen, who like Rosberg stopped early during the first stint.
The German, dropped into the pack, set about passing Jenson Button in the McLaren, followed closely by Alonso, moving into second, around three seconds behind Ricciardo once the Australian made his second scheduled stop on lap 28.
Rosberg, with Ricciardo still in a comfortable lead, was in for one final stop on lap 35 to switch to the soft tyres, rejoining third, only to be swamped by Bottas’ Williams for a second time in the race, before he finally put the battle to bed with a move around the Finn on the run through Blanchimont.
While his team-mate Hamilton opted to retire his damaged Mercedes, Rosberg on fresh rubber was flying, scything past Raikkonen for second with ease, and cutting huge chunks out of Ricciardo’s lead, the Australian’s advantage shrinking by around 2.5 seconds a lap.
However, it was ultimately all in vain, the Mercedes man unable to stop Ricciardo marching to his third win of the season, and his second on the bounce after Hungary. Rosberg was forced to settle for second place and 18 points, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who came from sixth on the grid to snatch the final spot on the rostrum, his fourth podium finish of the year
Kimi Raikkonen produced his best drive of the year to come home fourth for Ferrari, while 2013 race winner Sebastian Vettel came out on top in a dramatic late four-way scrap for fifth.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen was sixth, his best finish since second place at the season opener in Australia, but the Dane will face an investigation by the stewards for his driving, having forced Fernando Alonso – who was slapped with a five second stop/go penalty after his mechanics failed to clear the grid in the allocated time – to take avoiding action at Rivage, which dropped the Spaniard to eighth, behind Jenson Button in the sister McLaren.
Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top ten to take the last points on offer for Force India and Toro Rosso respectively.
Nico Hulkenberg came home 11th, missing out on the final point by just three tenths of a second at the chequered flag, some six seconds up the road from Jean-Eric Vergne in the second Toro Rosso and Felipe Massa, who slumped to a disappointing 13th place finish.
The two Sauber’s of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez came home 14th and 15th, while Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson were the last classified runners.
Jules Bianchi stopped late on, joining the two Lotus cars of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, as well as Caterham stand-in and F1 debutant Andre Lotterer in retirement.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic