Max’s Masterclass In Spa

Verstappen’s second victory in succession in Belgium and third win on the bounce this season – after victories in France and Hungary before the summer break – was ruthlessly efficient in its achievement, and terrifying for the rest in its speed. Sunday was the Dutchman’s ninth win of 2022 and saw the 24-year-old’s world championship advantage balloon to 93 points with eight races remaining this year.

Even better for Oracle Red Bull Racing, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Pérez finished second from second on the grid, the fourth 1-2 of the season for the squad. This set a record for the most 1-2 finishes in a single campaign, usurping the three earned by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in 2009, 2010 and 2013.

Eight drivers – Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Scuderia AlphaTauri pilot Yuki Tsunoda, McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu along with Mick Schumacher (Haas) – took engine-related penalties into the race. This meant the starting grid looked nothing like the finishing order from qualifying 24 hours earlier, and meant four drivers (Verstappen, Leclerc, Ocon and Norris) who were quick enough to qualify inside the top 10 took off from the rear of the field.

Circuit atmosphere – fans and a burger van. 28.08.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com

All eyes were on one of that quartet, though. Such was the pace of the RB18 deployed by Verstappen through free practice and qualifying that Mercedes driver George Russell felt Verstappen could win “pretty comfortably” despite his lowly starting spot. Especially with Spa being one of the best circuits on which to overtake on F1’s 22-stop world tour.

Russell was spot-on, Verstappen taking the lead for good after 18 of the 44 laps and crossing the line with a healthy 17.8-second advantage over Pérez, with pole-sitter Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) rounding out the podium by heading off Russell after a race-long duel.

The reigning world champion did better than that; from 14th on the grid, he was eighth after the first lap, fifth on Lap 6 and in the podium places two laps later. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 12 after Sainz pitted and Pérez played the team game by letting his faster stablemate through.

Verstappen then pitted on Lap 15, was back in P1 three laps later, and then simply drove off into the distance, much to the delight of the packed grandstands bathed in sunshine after last year’s race lasted just one lap in a deluge of rain before being called off.

After his win last time out in Budapest came from 10th on the grid, Verstappen etched his name into the record books for a reason few saw coming. The last time a driver had won consecutive races from 10th or below on the grid came in the final race of 1959 (US Grand Prix) and the season-opener of 1960 (Argentina), both won by Bruce McLaren in a Cooper-Climax.

Leclerc was penalised five seconds for speeding in the pit lane after a stop on the penultimate lap to fit new tyres in an attempt to bank the fastest lap of the race and an extra world championship point.

The penalty dropped the Ferrari driver behind Fernando Alonso (Alpine) into sixth, costing him two points, and his final lap was slower than Verstappen’s 1min 49.354sec effort on Lap 32, giving the Dutchman the maximum 26 points on offer for the third time this year.

“Once we were in the lead, it was all about managing everything,” Verstappen said.

“This weekend has been incredible. It’s been a weekend I couldn’t imagine before, but I think we want more of them so we’ll keep on working hard.”

One of the bigger F1 driver market stories in years burst into life in the days leading into the Belgian weekend, with seven-time Grand Prix winner for Red Bull Racing and current McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo announcing he would leave the British team at the end of the season, two years into a three-year contract.

Ricciardo, 33, won at Spa for Red Bull in 2014, but his two-season tenure with McLaren has been spent largely in the wheel tracks of young Briton Lando Norris, despite Ricciardo winning the team’s only Grand Prix of the past 10 years at Monza last year.

McLaren’s Belgium race was largely miserable on both sides of the garage, Norris (12th) and Ricciardo (15th) failing to score on a day midfield rival Alpine managed 16 points between Alonso (fifth) and Esteban Ocon (seventh).

Elsewhere, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) came off second-best in a clash with Alonso on Lap 1 and retired, the Mercedes driver failing to finish a race for the first time this year, and becoming the last driver to have a DNF next to his name in 2022.

Bizarrely, in a career that began in 2007, Hamilton has just five first-lap retirements in 302 starts … and three of them have now come in Belgium (2009, 2012, 2022).

Source Red Bull Magazine