Lewis Hamilton fought his way back from the final row of the grid to finish third in a frenetic Belgian Grand Prix won by Nico Rosberg.
While pole-sitter Rosberg enjoyed the easiest of victories to move to within nine points of Hamilton in the title battle, Formula One’s return to action following its traditional mid-season break will live long in the memory following a frenetic race which saw Kevin Magnussen taken to hospital following a jaw-dropping 180mph crash.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished second while his team-mate Max Verstappen, roared on by an army of Dutch fans, could manage only 11th following a first-corner collision involving the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton was thrown to the back of the grid after serving an engine penalty, but by the end of lap eight he had incredibly navigated his way up to fifth following a dramatic opening to the Spa-Francorchamps race.
Rosberg retained the lead on the short run down to La Source, but it was utter chaos behind the German.
First, a slow-starting Verstappen was gobbled up by the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Raikkonen before Vettel turned into his team-mate with Raikkonen then bumping into Verstappen. Vettel spun, while both Raikkonen and Verstappen limped back to the pits with a left-rear puncture and front wing damage respectively.
Jenson Button, whose future beyond this season hangs in the balance, was also a first-lap casualty after Pascal Wehrlein drove into the back of his McLaren. Both drivers were out of the race, and they were soon joined by Carlos Sainz who suffered a right-rear tire blow-out before coming to a stop with his car in pieces.
With debris scattered across the track, the virtual safety car was deployed to slow the field down with Hamilton in 13th.
The world champion had made up a further two places when, on lap six, Magnussen ran across the kerb at Eau Rouge and spectacularly lost control of his Renault.
The sport held its breath with Magnussen’s car buried in the wall, but the Dane was able to walk away from his destroyed Renault albeit with a limp. He was later taken to hospital with an ankle injury and will certainly be a doubt for the Italian Grand Prix in seven days’ time.
While Magnussen’s car was in bits, so too was the tire wall at Eau Rouge, and the real safety car was deployed. A flurry of cars pitted for new tires promoting Hamilton to fifth, and Fernando Alonso, who started from last, after he too was forced to serve an engine penalty, was incredibly in fourth.
With the tire barrier destroyed, the race was then suspended with further repairs carried out.
But the 15-minute suspension enforced a clean start, with Hamilton seemingly in position to challenge for an unlikely win. On lap 12 he swept past Alonso, and six laps later he was in a podium position after easing past the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, but that is where his charge ended.
On the less durable soft tire compound, Hamilton came into the pits at the end of lap 21 to take on the harder medium tire compound. He pitted again for a final time with 12 laps remaining, but was unable to close the gap to either Ricciardo or Rosberg, and crossed the line nearly 30 seconds adrift of his Mercedes team-mate.
Nevertheless, Hamilton, who predicted he would struggle to score a single point on Saturday night, will be ecstatic to leave here having lost only 10 points to his championship rival.