Belgian GP 2011: as it happened

12.30pm Well hello there and welcome to forumula1.com’s live coverage of the Belgian Grand Prix 2011.

It is not raining at Spa, ye gods! But it may later. No one knows at this devilish track, where some corners can be soaked and others bone dry.

And diabolical is certainly the mot juste for what Pastor Maldonado did to Lewis Hamilton is qualifying yesterday, surely. The Venezuelan, who swerved across the Englishman in an apparent act of revenge, takes a five place grid penalty.

The Virgin of d’Ambrosio and the HRTs will race despite having failed to make the 107% time.

Bruno Senna, in his first outing for the Lotus Renault team in the place of Nick Heidfeld, took an excellent seventh fastest time yesterday, for which he deserves great credit.

Michael Schumacher cannot go without mention today as the great man celebrates an incredible twenty years in Formula One. It is somehow fitting that Spa plays host today for the German.

“We had a very frustrating day yesterday. But it’s not so bad. We have a good car here and we’re going to have a lot of fun today,” says Jenson Button in conversation with the BBC. He starts from 13th.

“We’re expecting rain about an hour after the start. It’s coming,” says Vitaly Petrov. He seems to know something everyone else doesn’t…no reports of rain forecast elsewhere.

The top ten are starting on the tyres they qualified on; something, predictably, they are not happy about. Christian Horner tells Martin Brundle that he is worried about how long the Pirelli rubber will last on his Red Bull cars. They could blister quickly.

It’s looking like that tyre issue could be decisive this afternoon. Sebastian Vettel, on pole, has just been seen in very animated discussion with Paul Hembery, he of the Pirelli clan. The German presumably incandescent that a change of tyres has not been permitted.

Eddie Jordan’s tip is Fernando Alonso, from eighth on the grid. That would be something.

12.55pm The grid is starting to clear now as the excitement builds. It’s 16C at the moment. Bruno Senna gets told to warm his brakes up properly before he tries to whack them on in anger.

And they depart for the formation lap. Boy, it’s a long one here – four point three miles, no less. It transpires that Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher are on the medium harder tyre but everyone else is soft. That will surely allow them to have a longer first stint than many around them. Of course they’ll need it, starting 13th and last respectively.

They’re now lining up. Slow mo replay of blistering on Vettel’s tyres!

1pm And they’re off! Nico Rosberg was smoking off the line but has had an AMAZING START! As they go up the hill he;s surely going to take the lead and he does! Vettel second, MAssa third with another great start, Hamilton and Alonso. Webber had another dreadful start!

Lap 1 Schumacher is up into 15th already! Alonso is attacking Hamilton as they go into the bus stop, but Hamilton repels him…

Lap 2..but not for long…over the top of Eau Rouge Alonso is by. There was a lot of contact down the grid at La Source at the start, but it was chaotic. Jaime Alguersuari, we know at least, was a victim. It turns out Bruno Senna was to blame. He hadn’t heated those brakes enough.

Lap 3 Rosberg is being threatened by Vettel. And he’s past into Les Combes. The order is then Vettel, Rosberg, Massa, ALonso and Hamilton. And Webber is in, as is Button, who was also involved in contact at the first corner.

Lap 4 Alonso is menacing Massa. Senna was bang out of order there at the first turn…steaming up and smacking into poor Alguersuari.

Lap 5 The Ferraris are looking strong. They are right behind Rosberg…and they are three abreast! And Alonso is JUST past Massa by the skin of his teeth…and Hamilton passes Massa too! What action here!

Lap 6 Race leader Vettel pits. Wow. Non stop action here. Buemi’s rear wing is hanging off, as he follows the exiting Vettel through Eau Rouge. Risky, that. He’ll have to be called in.

The stewards are investigating various things that happened at turn one on the first lap.

Lap 7 Rosberg, who now leads, has a determined-looking Alonso on his tail…and sure enough, Alonso is past into the lead as they go along the straight on top of the hill.

Hamilton is on the gearbox of Rosberg now too as they finish the lap. He has been complaining of blisters though, and yes, they are visible.

Lap 8 Hamilton has taken Rosberg in the same place as Alonso got the German last lap. Suddenly, EJ’s prediction is not looking shabby at all. But Vettel will have a say – he’s not going slowly and has pitted.

Lap 9 Leader Alonso pits for more softs, copying Vettel. He emerges just ahead of Alonso and they bomb down to Eau Rouge together! So close…and Alonso yields! That would have been a massive accident if he hadn’t.

Lap 10 The two come across Adrian Sutil, who is yet to pit and so will fight them for position. And he does, through the Bus Stop and down to La Source, but cannot through Eau Rouge. Webber gets taken by a steaming Alonso at the top of the hill again. All that may have held the Spaniard up somewhat.

Lap 11 Hamilton pits from the lead. Vettel complains of more blistering! But he’s just pitted! And Lewis hears that very news from his McLaren team.

The order is Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Kobayashi, Webber, Petrov, Sutil, Hamilton, di Resta, Barrichello, Maldonado, Schumacher, Massa, Button, Perez, Ricciardo.

Lap 12 And Rosberg pits, making that lovely order I’ve just written out completely redundant.

Lap 13 Alonso sets a new fastest lap. He’s more than a second quicker than Vettel at the moment.

And Kamui Kobayashi has come together with Lewis Hamilton and the Englishman is out. Hamilton thought he was past him, as perhaps he was, but Kobayashi on the outside did not disappear nor yield and the result is that it’s a retirement for the McLaren man.

Lap 14 Safety Car is out as a consequence of that accident, which was quite big. Ted Kravitz suggests McLaren believe Hamilton could have won that race.

Lap 15 Vettel pitted as soon as the SC was announced and so has perhaps stolen a march here. Hamilton isn’t having the best of luck this season, all told, but perhaps a little more awareness of other drivers wouldn’t go amiss.

Lap 16 The order now then is Alonso, Webber, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Sutil. The Safety Car is in this lap.

Lap 17 They are racing again! Webber and Vettel are at it hammer and tongs! And Vettel is through and challenging leader Alonso! He is loving these new tyres. But he cannot quite get him.

Lap 18 And Vettel is through into Les Combes. They were wheel to wheel along the straight and Alonso could perhaps have been a little stronger there. Vettel leads, then, and may scamper away. Meanwhile Button has taken Petrov and Perez and so is up to eighth. Schumacher is next up for him, the 20 year hero being seventh.

Lap 19 Vettel is scampering away from Alonso but the Spaniard is told by his team that “it’s not a disaster for the strategy.” Not sure I’d agree with that sunny Italian optimism right now.

Lap 20 Schumacher is threatening Sutil in sixth but the two have Jenson Button in close attendance. Massa is a way up the road in fifth, and he is battling Rosberg again, who has done well to still be fourth.

And Schumacher is defending strongly from Button into the Bus Stop now! Thrilling stuff.

Lap 21 That Merc is lightning in a straight line. Button cannot get past despite having been very close and with his DRS open! Schumacher continues happily, then.

But only til Blanchimont. As they go round, Button draws level, and is through as the last of the late brakers into the Bus Stop.

Lap 22 Rosberg is manfully containing the industrious Massa. A good performance from Mercedes here, a definite improvement.

Lap 23 Vettel’s lead is nearly four seconds now over Alonso. Sutil is now repelling the advancing Button. But the Englishman is through round the outside of Les Combes. What a move!

Lap 24 Button is very very quick now…he can see Massa now in fifth. Hamilton is philosophical about his retirement. “That’s motor racing…there are a lot of races we haven’t finished this year and that’s another one,” he tells Lee McKenzie. He then goes on to say that he was struggling with top speed.

Lap 25 Button has taken fifth with a fantastic move around the outside of Felipe Massa! This is a sweet moment for Jenson, it seems.

Lap 26 Vettel’s tyres are looking shot, yet again. And Button is on Rosberg now! What speed the Englishman has at the moment. Truly a sight to behold! And he overtakes him in the DRS zone. Button. Is. Flying.

Lap 27 Button is being told now that the front lot have blisters! Mark Webber is in third and would be Button’s next victim. He has of course been on the harder tyre, having started on them, which the front three have yet to do.

Lap 28 The order is Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Button, Rosberg, Massa, Sutil, Schumacher, Petrov, Maldonado, Barrichello, di Resta, Kobayashi, Trulli, Kovalainen, Senna.

Lap 29 Perez pits with what looks like a terminal problem. He had a good start and was running as high as sixth or seventh but now he’s retired.

“You are the quickest car on the track and you took a second out of Webber the last time round,” say McLaren in Jenson Button’s general direction.

Lap 30 The blistering tyres don’t seem to be hurting Vettel too much. Alonso pits again, probably for the last time now. He emerges 22 seconds or so behind Vettel, which could be enough, seeing as the German has to pit again.

Lap 31 Button could still have a say in this. Vettel pits. He comes out behind Button. Will the Englishman pit again? He’ll go onto softs if he does, which could make the final few laps very interesting. Rosberg, Massa and Petrov dive in for fresh rubber too.

“Button may go to the end. It would be very ambitious,” say Ferrari to Alonso.

Lap 32 Vettel passes Button for the lead. That will be crucial. The German has got the strategy just about perfect today and it looks like Button’s chance of winning the thing has gone at a stroke there.

McLaren react by coming out into the pits for Button. They still have a shot at the podium. He is in and has 11 laps to turn it on and get the best result he can.

Lap 33 Massa pits, emerges into 11th. The gap between Vettel and Button, who has come out into fourth, is 16 seconds. Surely, surely, too much.

Lap 34 The gap has closed to 15 seconds. Don’t forget about Alonso in second and Webber in third, either. “You can get Alonso,” Ciaron Pilbeam tells Mark Webber.

Lap 35 This is fascinating stuff. Will Vettel be able to conserve his rubber to the end? The prediction that this race would all be about tyres was very accurate indeed.

Vettel is very slowly being caught by Alonso, Alonso is being quickly caught by Webber, and Webber is being slowly caught by Button. “This is a four horse race,” says Martin Brundle. It is closing up nicely.

Lap 36 Alonso can now see Webber in his mirrors. Ferrari are slower on the harder tyre, there’s no doubt. Webber will surely have him before the end of this race.

Lap 37 And it is the very next lap. Webber was much quicker down to Eau Rouge and with the DRS open the Spaniard had no chance whatsoever. A Red Bull one-two, then, as we stand. What can Jenson Button do about it? He’s 4.7 seconds behind third-placed Alonso now with six laps remaining.

Lap 38 Will Webber get told to hold station again? With a new contract in his pocket the Australian might be tempted to have a go. Button is catching Alonso by a tenth a sector.

Lap 39 It’s now 3.5 seconds, the gap between those two. Elsewhere, the two Mercs, Rosberg and Schumacher, are fifth and sixth respectively and running very close together.

Lap 40 Webber, Alonso and Button are now on the same straight together. Quite extraordinary. Button and Schumacher have had exceptional races, especially considering Button had to pit for a new front wing too.

Lap 41 Button is less than a second behind Alonso now. Rosberg is told to save fuel by his team…which would surely mean he would surrender the place to Schumacher.

Lap 42 Barrichello runs into the back of Kobayashi at the Bus Stop. Whoops. Barrichello in for a new front wing and drops to the back of the field.

And Button is through past Alonso! The Englishman takes third place over…and while that was happening, Schumacher also got past Rosberg. Exemplary driving from the pair of them.

Lap 43 Vettel is progressing serenely on now, untroubled. It looks like a conclusion this is going to now.

Lap 44 Final lap and Button has backed off.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL WINS THE BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

Mark Webber is second with Jenson Button third. Fernando Alonso is fourth. Michael Schumacher is fifth and Nico Rosberg sixth. Seventh is Adrian Sutil with Massa eighth and Vitaly Petrov ninth. Pastor Maldonado is tenth.

What a drive from Vettel, the drive of a true champion. It looked difficult for the German but even with strategy and tyre complications his quality and speed showed through.

Webber did well after a bad start but the real honourable mentions go to third placed Jenson Button and fifth placed Michael Schumacher, who were on top form today. Alonso will be disappointed with fourth.

Fantastic entertainment again from Spa today. Monza is next up.

That’s all from me, thanks for following.