Daniel Ricciardo recorded his second consecutive victory, as Formula One championship rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
A third win of a stunning season for the Australian came after a second lap-clash between the Mercedes team-mates forced Rosberg to change his front wing as Hamilton suffered a puncture which effectively ended his race.
Rosberg fought back to finish second and was later booed on the podium, whilst Valtteri Bottas took third ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The Mercedes drivers had locked out the front row by over 2 seconds, as slow-starting poleman Rosberg dropped to third when Hamilton snatched the lead and Sebastian Vettel moved into second.
Rosberg reclaimed second as the world champion went wide at Les Combes in order to avoid contact with Hamilton, before Rosberg attempted to re-pass his team-mate at the same corner on the next lap.
The German looked for a way around the outside but clipped Hamilton’s left rear tyre in the process.
Hamilton limped back to the pits with a puncture and significant floor damage, and spent the rest of the race struggling with a lack of pace in his W05. The Englishman pleaded with his team on numerous occasions to retire his car and save engine mileage – before eventually retiring with five laps remaining.
Rosberg was initially told to stay out with his slightly damaged front wing, before he dived into the pits for a replacement on lap eight as the top six ran in close order.
The delay dropped the championship leader behind Raikkonen, who jumped from sixth to second as the first round of stops were completed.
Rosberg resumed in fourth, as Ricciardo led following a crucial pass on his Red Bull team-mate when Vettel survived a wild moment at Pouhon on lap five.
Having failed to have passed Vettel and fallen behind the Williams of Bottas, Rosberg switched to an alternative three-stop strategy as he pitted earlier than most on lap 17 for his second stop.
Despite a hairy moment into the bus stop chicane and concerns over front vibrations, the Mercedes driver maintained his medium tyres to reclaim second when the frontrunners made their final stops.
Rosberg made his final venture into the pits for fresh tyres with 10 laps to go, as he fell back to fourth behind Raikkonen and Bottas, who got past on the run to Les Combes.
The German was quickly back up the order, passing Bottas at Blanchimont and easily dispatching Raikkonen of second place along the Kemmel straight.
Rosberg trailed Ricciardo by 20 seconds and despite being around 2 seconds a lap faster, he ultimately failed to overhaul the Australian, finishing 3.3 seconds down at the chequered flag.
Bottas passed Raikkonen with four laps to go to claim his fourth podium of 2014, as Raikkonen recorded his best result of the season in fourth.
Vettel came back through the field following a three stop strategy and finished fifth, taking advantage of an entertaining scrap between Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.
Magnussen held off the intentions of his McLaren team-mate Button to secure sixth, with Alonso taking eighth.
The Spaniard, who received a five-second penalty for his Ferrari mechanics being late away from the grid, became embroiled in the fight over fifth place and damaged his front wing in the late battle.
Alonso was also involved in a three-abreast moment heading into Les Combes, as Magnussen appeared to force him onto the grass, and was handed a 20 second penalty post-race for the incident.
The penalty dropped Magnussen out of the points in 12th, with the revised results moving Button and Alonso up to sixth and seventh respectively, as Sergio Perez was boosted to eighth, with Daniil Kvyat in ninth.
Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10, ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, with Felipe Massa a disappointing 13th.
F1 debutant Andre Lotterer managed only a handful of laps before his Caterham stopped at turn 18, joining both Lotus’, the Marussia of Jules Bianchi and Hamilton on the sidelines.
Ricciardo continues his habit of picking up the pieces when Mercedes trips up, and demonstrated another flawless performance to take Red Bull’s 50th Grand Prix win.
Following his victory at Spa-Francorchamps, Ricciardo said: “I see good things ahead if we can collect maximum points around here. It gives us a bit more hope for the circuits that are going to come later in the season, Singapore, Suzuka, just a couple to mention.”
Although the 25 year old admitted that Red Bull’s hopes have been raised, he has played down his chances of becoming the F1 world champion this year.
When asked about his title chances, Ricciardo replied: “If I’m within 50 points coming into Abu Dhabi, then yes, but there’s still a few races to go.
“To come and steal some points on a circuit where we weren’t supposed to is nice, but I think what’s important is to capitalise on the circuits that we should be strong on.
“While it’s still mathematically possible, we’ll keep fighting. We’re really motivated right now. At the same time, we’ll stay grounded.”
The race will undoubtedly be remembered for what appeared to be the smallest of racing incidents, which could have major repercussions at Mercedes and potentially be a defining moment in the title fight with Rosberg extending his lead to 29 points.
The story has since taken a remarkable twist. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff branded the incident “unacceptable”, before Hamilton announced only a few hours later that Rosberg admitted he deliberately allowed their collision to happen to “prove a point”.
With tensions rising at Mercedes ahead of the Italian Grand Prix on September 7th, it would be unwise to discount Ricciardo in the title race if more inter-team dramas are to occur before the end of the season.