Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Nico Rosberg rode his luck to open up a clear 29-points championship advantage over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton on Sunday when he finished second behind triumphant Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo, of Red Bull, won with a bold and well-judged drive in a dramatic race that saw Hamilton lead from the start, but suffer a second-lap puncture following a collision with Rosberg.
It was Red Bull's 50th win in Formula One and a beaming Ricciardo was hailed with cheers, while Rosberg was booed by the crowd at the end of the race. It appeared that Hamilton was the victim of a misjudged passing move by the German.
'A bad result for Lewis and for the Mercedes team'
Photographs: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
The damage wrecked his race and may have ruined his title bid with seven of this year's 19 races remaining.
"I have apologized to Lewis... A bad result for Lewis and a bad result for the Mercedes team," said Mercedes team chief Niki Lauda.
After struggling to regain his momentum, the 29-year-old Briton retired with four of the 44 laps remaining leaving Rosberg content to take his first podium finish in Belgium at the eighth attempt. He came 3.3 seconds behind the beaming Ricciardo.
It was Ricciardo's third win in six races in his first season with Red Bull since succeeding fellow Australian Mark Webber as teammate to four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel, who came home fifth.
Rosberg made a poor start
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Finns Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari came home third and fourth ahead of Vettel, Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen and his McLaren team-mate Briton Jenson Button who were all engaged in a furious final tussle for positions.
On a welcome dry, if cool, afternoon in the Ardennes, Rosberg made a poor start from his 11th career pole position and Hamilton, from second on the grid, pulled alongside and outside to lead as they surged round the hairpin at La Source.
The 2008 world champion pulled clear on the entry to Eau Rouge and up the hill towards Radillon where a charging Vettel, who had taken second place, attacked without success and ran off track, falling back into third behind Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard, who had struggled to leave the grid for the formation lap and required assistance to start, was handed a five seconds penalty - to be added to a pit stop - for the misdemeanor, but raced with great elan and determination.
'Nico hit me, Nico hit me'
Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images
That persistence put him in the box seat when, on lap two, Rosberg attempted a slipstreaming pass on leader Hamilton at Les Combes where the Briton defended his line and, in another of his catalogue of misfortunes this year, suffered a puncture as the German's front wing slashed into his left rear tyre.
"Nico hit me, Nico hit me!" said an incredulous Hamilton. Hamilton was forced to limp back to the pits with a puncture and, after his stop, rejoined in 19th position while Rosberg battled on with half his front wing missing until he pitted from the lead after eight laps.
"Nico, we advise you to hang it out," he was told, a decision that cost him several laps at reduced potential. He also had a struggle to remove a strand of debris from Hamilton's punctured tyre that was flicking into his cockpit.
Ricciardo regained the ascendancy in a flurry of positional changes
Photographs: Yves Herman/Reuters
It was clear he was struggling for outright pace and, following his stop, the aggressive Ricciardo took control at the front before he pitted after 12 laps and handed the lead to Bottas.
The Finn came in just a lap later passing the lead to Button, briefly, before he pitted and Ricciardo regained the ascendancy in a flurry of positional changes and pit stops before the race began to settle down, albeit with the drivers on contrasting tyre strategies.
By lap 20, Ricciardo led Raikkonen, Vettel and Bottas with Magnussen fifth, Alonso sixth and Button seventh. Perez was eighth ahead of Rosberg and a luckless Hamilton down in 17th after making two pit stops.
Raikkonen pitted again and Bottas climbed back to second.
Rosberg was content to work his way back up to second behind Ricciardo, knowing his teammate and only serious title-rival Hamilton had little chance of scoring any points.
Rosberg finished third
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The Australian pitted, rejoined behind Bottas and led again when Bottas stopped again for fresh tyres, rejoining fifth.
All this left the young Australian out in front with 15 laps remaining, having driven flawlessly to head the field and leave Red Bull teammate Vettel struggling in his wake and unable to resist Bottas on lap 30. Rosberg stayed second ahead of Raikkonen, a four-time winner at Spa.
Rosberg pitted for a final charge on soft tyres after 34 laps, immediately losing two places when Bottas passed him, but in a thrilling pass at Blanchimont he regained third and, seconds later, surged past Raikkonen to set up a final pursuit of Ricciardo.