Red Bull's Vettel proves he is still the man to beat as he races to his seventh win of the season [GALLO/GETTY] 

Sebastian Vettel was back on the top step, his home-from-home this season, after driving to a commanding victory at the Belgium Grand Prix on Sunday.

The defending F1 champion strengthened his, and Red Bulls, overall lead with seven races remaining.

Vettel started from pole position to win his seventh race of the season and 17th of his career. The German led Red Bull to a 1-2 finish with Mark Webber finishing close behind.

"I enjoyed every lap today. The car was fantastic to drive," Vettel said.

"If the car does what you want it to do, this place is really fun. It was a very entertaining race, with the strategy to come in early."

"I enjoyed every lap today. The car was fantastic to drive"

Runaway leader Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton's slim title hopes took a further blow as he crashed his McLaren early on.

Hamilton slipped to fifth in the standings, 113 points behind Vettel, who has a 92-point advantage over second-placed Webber.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is third ahead of Jenson Button, despite the Briton overtaking the Spaniard late in the race to claim third place at Spa.

Button, who won the last race in Hungary, was left to rue what might have been had he not started the race way down in 13th spot on the grid.

"To come away with the third was disappointing," Button said.

"Who knows what would have happened if we had qualified well."

However, Button was one of the drivers of the day with some superb overtaking manoeuvres that saw him weave wisely through the field. 

'What a race!'

Vettel secured pole position for the ninth time in 12 races this season.

But he had not won any of the last three GPs in Britain, Germany and Hungary, and only one of the last five heading into Spa, prompting speculation that he was losing his grip on the title.

Vettel's jubilation was evident at ending that winless run as he stood on top of his Red Bull after the race, and pumped his fists in delight.

"What a race!'' he told his Red Bull team over the race radio at the end as he won in Spa for the first time, banishing memories of last year's 15th-place finish.

The 24-year-old overcame significant tire wear early on and held off Alonso when the Spaniard was pressuring strongly.

Twenty years after making his F1 debut on the same track, seven-time former champion Michael Schumacher started from last place after crashing during the first lap of Saturday's qualifying session.

The 42-year-old German drove his Mercedes with panache to finish in fifth place behind Alonso.

       Hamilton was in a promising position before colliding with Sauber of Kobayashi [GALLO/GETTY] 

Tire management proved a crucial factor in Vettel's win on the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) Spa circuit - the longest and arguably the most difficult on the F1 calendar.

Hamilton pushed to overtake Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi on lap 13 and the two cars collided coming into the corner.

The crash was more spectacular than harmful as debris from Hamilton's car flew into the air. Hamilton, who has won two races this season, climbed out of his McLaren as a safety car was then deployed.

"I'm not really quite sure what happened, I hit the wall pretty hard," Hamilton said.

"As far as I was concerned I was ahead of whoever I was racing and then I was hit by them."

Vettel took an early pit stop on the fifth lap to replace his blistered tires with soft tires.

"It was not an easy race to manage in the beginning, you are driving into the unknown," Vettel said.

By the halfway stage, Vettel regained the lead but the German had already come in twice to get new soft tires, while Alonso - about five seconds back after 27 laps - was still on one change.

Alonso finally came in to the pits on lap 30, switching to medium tires, followed shortly after by Vettel and Webber, leaving Button to briefly take the lead until he came in for new soft tires.

Bruno Senna, driving in his first GP with Renault after replacing Nick Heidfeld, started from seventh place.

But as several cars bumped and jostled near the back of the grid at the start, the Brazilian slammed into the side of Jaime Alguersuari, who had to pit his Toro Rosso because of a broken track rod.

Senna also pitted for damage and got a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable accident. He ended up 13th.

Alguersuari and his Torro Rosso teammate Sebastien Buemi retired, as did Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo's HRT, and Mexican rookie Sergio Perez.

Source: Agencies