Wed. May 29th, 2024
Max Verstappen F1 Belgian Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates with his trophy on the podium after the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Spa on July 30, 2023. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — Defending Formula One champion Max Verstappen enters the mid-season break in unstoppable form, after emphatically winning the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday for an eighth straight win and 10th overall of a crushingly dominant season.

Despite starting from sixth place he finished 22.3 seconds ahead of teammate Sergio Perez to give Red Bull an easy 1-2. It moved Verstappen ominously closer to a third straight world title and his own F1 record of 15 wins from last year.

Verstappen is 125 points ahead of Perez after just 12 races, and his next target is matching Sebastian Vettel’s F1 record of nine straight wins with a victory at the Dutch GP when the lopsided season resumes on Aug. 27.

“I just want to have a nice time now, have a bit of time with family and friends,” Verstappen said.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc finished in third spot for a third podium of the season, with Lewis Hamilton in fourth for Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

George Russell was sixth for Mercedes, with Lando Norris (McLaren), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) completing the top 10.

Leclerc started on pole ahead of Perez, with Hamilton and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. behind them. McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri was on the next row alongside Verstappen — who was fastest in Friday’s qualifying but took a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change and had to avoid early traffic.

“It was just about surviving turn one. I could see it was all getting really tight,” Verstappen said. “I’ve been in that position before myself so I am just going to stay out of that and it worked out. From there onwards I made the right overtakes.”

Last year Verstappen won from 14th, and once he overtook Perez on Lap 17 of 44 his 45th career win was seemingly inevitable.

“Really enjoyable to drive once I got in the lead,” Verstappen said. “It was again a great race.“

Red Bull extended its record to 13 straight wins, including the final race of last season.

Hamilton came in on the penultimate lap for a tire change and the move paid off as he took the bonus point for fastest lap from Verstappen — a very minor blip for the dominant Dutchman.

Max Verstappen F1 Belgian Grand Prix

A race marshal waves the checkered flag as Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Spa on July 30, 2023. (Photo by SIMON WOHLFAHRT / POOL / AFP)

It was yet another stellar weekend for Verstappen, who also won Saturday’s sprint race. The only issue was some more bickering with his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase over radio, as they continued their spat from Friday’s qualifying.

“Don’t forget Max, use your head, please,” Lambiase told Verstappen when he questioned why Perez was making his first tire change on Lap 14.

Verstappen defused any talk of tension with Lambiase.

“It’s fine. We know each other very well and we have a very good relationship,” he said. “I think it’s really important.”

With some rain forecast, Verstappen boxed on the next lap and came out about 2 seconds behind Perez. Just minutes later he cruised past Perez and, as so often this season, the rest was just about control.

Perez, meanwhile, pledged to stay on the podium for the rest of the season.

“It’s been a bit of a rough patch,” the 33-year-old Mexican said. “I really need this summer break, it’s been really intense. I’ll come back really strong for Zandvoort.”

Conditions were dry for the race start, in stark contrast to the two previous days, which were impacted by heavy rain at the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Leclerc, who won his first F1 race here in 2019, made a solid start but Perez’s extra pace soon put him in front.

“I knew it was quite crucial for my race to get Charles on Lap 1,” Perez said.

Verstappen rose two places to fourth after Sainz bumped into Piastri on the first corner.

Piastri had to retire, while Verstappen overtook Hamilton on Lap 6, Leclerc three laps later and made short work of Perez just before some rain fell briefly.

Some good overtaking from Ocon moved the Frenchman up from 10th to eighth in the closing stages.

It was an early end for Piastri, who had impressed with a second place in Saturday’s sprint race.

A bad day for Sainz saw him retiring on Lap 25 and Leclerc moving above him in the standings.

“Of course the race was good on my side, a shame for Carlos as we had good pace,” Leclerc said. “When you look at the Red Bulls we still have a lot of work to do … This was the best we could achieve today, no doubt.”

After the F1 break there will be 10 races left, but most of the competition for places will be behind Verstappen.

Alonso is one point ahead of Hamilton in third overall, with Leclerc and Russell level and Sainz seven points behind them.

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