Verstappen charges to Belgian GP win as Red Bull bag 1-2 finish
Max Verstappen recovered from a five-place gearbox penalty to claim his eighth successive victory in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, with team mate Sergio Perez adding to the celebrations for Red Bull as he completed a one-two result.
Verstappen gradually picked off his rivals across a tense 44-lap encounter at Spa-Francorchamps, taking P1 after Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc had started the race on pole. The championship leader then kept his car on the track during a mid-race shower that threatened to – but did not quite force – a move from slick tyres to intermediates.
Perez also worked his way past Leclerc to come home in the runner-up spot, crossing the line some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and giving Red Bull their first perfect result since the Miami Grand Prix back in May.
Leclerc held on for the final podium position, denying seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton (who pitted late on to net the fastest lap), while Fernando Alonso put his Aston Martin ahead of the other Mercedes machine of George Russell to take fifth.
FORMULA 1 MSC CRUISES BELGIAN GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:22:30.450||25|
|2 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+22.305s||18|
|3 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+32.259s||15|
|4 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+49.671s||13|
|5 Fernando Alonso ALO Aston Martin||+56.184s||10|
Lando Norris initially lost a host of positions after starting the race on medium tyres and then switching to hards, but a move to softs as spits of rain began to fall proved inspired and he gobbled up the competition on his grippy rubber and eventually bagged seventh.
Aston Martin secured another double points finish as Lance Stroll backed up team mate Alonso in ninth, while Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda completed the points in eighth and 10th respectively via some late scrapping.
Pierre Gasly went longer into the race than anyone else with a sizeable first stint, but a slow stop when he eventually boxed hindered his efforts and left him 11th at the chequered flag, followed by the Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.
Williams had mixed it in the points-paying places early on, with the FW45 showing incredible straight-line speed, but they faded as the different slick-tyre strategies played out, leaving Alex Albon 14th and Logan Sargeant 17th.
Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, both impacted by pre-race penalties, wound up 15th and 18th respectively, while 16th went to the second AlphaTauri of Daniel Ricciardo, who could not match team mate Tsunoda’s points-scoring efforts.
Only 18 cars finished the race after a first-corner clash between Sprint podium finisher Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz led to both drivers retiring – the McLaren man clipping the inside wall at La Source and stopping at the side of the track, and the Ferrari nursing damage before being called in to retire.
When the drivers returned to parc ferme, Verstappen could not hide his delight as he punched the air in celebration for the 10th time this season, moving just one win away from matching Sebastian Vettel’s successive victory record of nine races in the process.
It also means Verstappen now holds a lead of 125 points over Perez in the drivers’ standings, as the Dutchman continues his push towards what would be a third world championship on the bounce.
After an action-packed, rain-affected Sprint day, all eyes were on the skies as the F1 paddock regrouped for the main event, the Belgian Grand Prix itself, with spits of rain threatening to turn into showers through the morning – setting up the prospect of another weather-related twist.
Several updates to the grid saw Verstappen drop from P1 to P6 due to him taking on a new gearbox, Magnussen go from P13 to P16 for impeding Leclerc in qualifying and Hulkenberg moved to the pit lane for a host of power unit and gearbox changes.
When the tyre blankets came off the cars, it was revealed that, of the top 10 starters, pole-sitter Leclerc, Perez, Hamilton, Sainz and Verstappen had gone for the soft compound, while Piastri, Norris, Russell, Alonso and Stroll went with mediums.
Then came the moment for the talking to stop and the action to begin, with Leclerc initially managing to retain his pole advantage as the lights went out, slotting in ahead of Perez, Hamilton, Sainz and Piastri, as the latter two banged wheels at La Source.
Moments later, Perez tucked in behind Leclerc and breezed past the Monegasque along the Kemmel Straight, while Piastri tumbled down the order as he reported damage – replays showing that he clipped the inside wall in his skirmish with Sainz.
At the end of the first lap, Perez led Leclerc by more than a second, ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen, who benefitted from Piastri’s dramas. Sainz held fifth, as he also reported damage, with Alonso, Norris, the fast-starting Tsunoda and Albon, and Stroll rounding out the top 10.
Piastri could not make it back to the pits due to the damage he sustained at the start, pulling off the track in the middle sector and briefly bringing out the yellow flags. “I don’t know what he was doing,” came a frustrated radio message from the Australian rookie.
Sainz was told to adjust his aero balance as a result of the “pretty big” damage he had picked up, enabling Alonso to close in and pull a move, while just behind them, Tsunoda and Albon – displaying rapid straight-line speed – got the jump on Norris.
Shortly afterward, Tsunoda and Albon were the next drivers to capitalise on Sainz’s damage-related troubles, while Norris lost further places in quick succession to Stroll and Russell, who then embarked on a wheel-to-wheel scrap over ninth position.
Struggling on his starting set of medium tyres, Norris made an early stop and swapped to hards, along with Magnussen and Ricciardo, before cameras cut to Verstappen clearing Hamilton down the Kemmel Straight and into Les Combes.
By Lap 7 of 44, Sainz was down to 10th and almost out of the points-paying position, with Sargeant – like team mate Albon, making good use of his Williams’ impressive straight-line speed – duly demoting the Ferrari driver by slipping past at Blanchimont.
Albon, Sainz and Zhou were the next drivers to pit, leading to a dramatic side-by-side moment with Ocon and Norris as they rejoined the track, while a message from the Mercedes pit wall to Hamilton revealed: “Potential rain on the radar, 20 minutes away – not very strong.”
On the ninth tour, Verstappen tucked into the slipstream behind Leclerc down the Kemmel Straight and got the job done around the outside under braking for Les Combes, meaning it was now a Red Bull one-two at the head of the order.
Perez held an advantage of around 2.5 seconds over Verstappen as the lap chart ticked to 10, with Leclerc, Hamilton, Alonso, Stroll, Russell, Gasly and Hulkenberg the other drivers yet to pit – 10th-placed Albon heading the train of cars that had been in for fresh tyres.
Alonso was the next of the front-runners to box on Lap 11, coming back out just ahead of Hulkenberg but then losing out to the Haas down the Kemmel Straight, before Tsunoda moved ahead of Albon for what was at that stage the final point.
At the front of the field, Perez was managing the gap back to Verstappen as they stretched out their opening stints on softs, Leclerc sat a further 3.5 seconds back and Hamilton trailed by another 4.5 seconds – the latter coming in for fresh tyres at the end of Lap 13.
Lap 14 was the number for Perez as he stopped to swap softs for mediums, suffering a slight delay as sparks flew from one of Red Bull’s wheel guns, while team mate Verstappen was told by his engineer to “please follow my instructions” on strategy after raising some questions.
Verstappen was then told that rain could be on the way in around 10 minutes, and asked if he could make it to that point on his ageing softs. “I can’t see the weather radar, can I?” Verstappen commented in response, before pitting and following Perez’s move to mediums.
With Leclerc also coming in, it meant only Stroll, Russell and Gasly had yet to stop, that trio potentially thinking about the reported local showers and whether a straight switch to intermediates – if the rain hit the track – could bring them right into contention.
Verstappen slashed Perez’s advantage as they settled into their medium-shod stints, arriving on the rear of his team mate’s car at the end of Lap 17, tucking in behind him on the run between La Source and Les Combes and completing a clean move for the lead.
Leclerc and Hamilton remained in lonely P3 and P4 spots, followed by Alonso and Stroll, who got their Aston Martins ahead of Russell’s Mercedes, with Gasly, Tsunoda and Ocon completing the top 10 – Stroll, Russell and Gasly still yet to pit.
Norris stopped again at the end of Lap 19 to swap his hard tyres for softs, as Sainz reported over the radio that it was now “raining at Turn 15”, with Ferrari confirming that there would be a few spots before a 10-minute long shower.
As the intensity gradually increased, drivers began to slip and slide their way around the track, turning eyes back to the pit lane and whether teams would start calling their cars in to swap slick tyres for intermediates.
The next stop came from Stroll who, rather than taking on intermediates, moved from mediums to softs – the rain not quite heavy enough to force the switch. Russell and Gasly, meanwhile, continued as the only drivers yet to complete a change of tyres.
Conditions were precarious, though, as proven by a wild snap for Verstappen through the Raidillon/Eau Rouge complex. “F**k, I almost lost it,” the reigning double world champion commented afterwards, as he breathed a sigh of relief.
With the race edging over the halfway mark, Russell pitted to bolt on softs, tyres that Norris was putting to good use on a cool track surface, as blue skies began to break through the clouds and the worst of the rain appeared to have passed.
Up front, Verstappen led Perez by some six seconds after his scare, with Leclerc holding third from Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda, Ocon, Magnussen, Norris – who continued his recovery on softs – and Russell, following a slow first pit stop for Gasly. Sainz’s race, though, was over, as he pitted to retire amid significant damage.
Another flurry of pit lane activity saw Ocon and Magnussen pit and drop out of the points again, with the various dry-weather strategies continuing to play out after the rain drops moved away from the circuit and a move to intermediates was avoided.
On Lap 28, Hamilton stopped again and put on softs, putting him back down to fifth, between Alonso and team mate Russell. A lap later, Hamilton had Alonso in his sights and reclaimed P4 with a DRS-assisted move, as Leclerc pitted and stayed ahead of the pair of them.
Lap 30 saw Perez pit for a second time, along with Alonso, leaving Verstappen, Russell, Stroll and Gasly as the only drivers with only one stop to their name. Alonso, having come back out in fifth, jumped on the radio to say “good job, thank you guys” for the pit lane efforts.
Race leader Verstappen pitted a lap later, rejoining almost 10 seconds ahead of Perez, with Leclerc still holding third from Hamilton, Alonso, Russell (one stop), Norris, Stroll (one stop), Tsunoda and Ocon, but the remaining 12 laps promised plenty more action.
“I’d ask you to use your head a bit more,” was the message to Verstappen as the race entered its closing stages, with Red Bull seemingly concerned about degradation levels on the soft tyres he had fitted several laps earlier.
Having been knocking on the door of points, Williams dropped to the back of the field with third stops for Sargeant and Albon, leaving them 17th and 18th respectively, in front of only the sidelined Sainz and Piastri.
Some thrilling racing to the flag brought some changes to the points-paying position, including Ocon going around the outside of Tsunoda at Les Combes, before setting his sights on Stroll and rising to eighth.
As the remaining laps ticked down, Verstappen had everything under control, despite those aforementioned radio messages, with his ultimate winning margin over Perez coming in at a whopping 22 seconds.
Leclerc was another 10 seconds down in third, as Hamilton exploited a late pit stop to pick up the fastest lap bonus point en route to fourth, followed by Alonso, Russell, Norris and the charging Ocon.
Stroll ended up ninth, with Tsunoda 10th and scoring AlphaTauri’s first point since Azerbaijan. Gasly had to settle for 11th after his pit stop dramas, unable to repeat his Sprint podium heroics, with Alfa Romeo drivers Bottas and Zhou next up.
Albon and Sargeant crossed the line only 14th and 17th despite their eye-catching straight-line speed and many early-race moves, as Magnussen and Ricciardo slotted between them on the final classification.
Hulkenberg was the final finisher in 18th, dropping behind Sargeant late on, while Sainz and Piastri logged retirements after their first-lap, Turn 1 clash that left both drivers with heavy damage.
“I knew that we had a great car, it was just all about surviving Turn 1,” said Verstappen. “I could see it was all getting pretty tight. I’ve been in that position before myself, so I was just like, ‘I’m going to stay out of that’, so it worked out. I think we all made the right overtakes, moves, I just got a little bit stuck in the beginning in a DRS train. Once that [was] clear I could do my own pace. Again, really enjoyable!”
The drivers will now have a four-week summer break before the next stop on the F1 calendar, which will be in Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix, which will take place from August 25-27.