Motor racing: 'Untouchable' Verstappen cruises in Belgium to tighten grip on title

Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Belgium Grand Prix, on Aug 28, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM (AFP) - World champion Max Verstappen blew away his rivals with a command performance at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday (Aug 28) to extend his lead in this year’s drivers’ title with Sergio Perez finishing second for a Red Bull 1-2.

The 24-year-old Dutchman, who started from 14th on the grid, scorched through the field with devastating pace and elan to deliver crushing proof of his and Red Bull’s superiority.

In front of a packed crowd at the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit, including many fans from the nearby Netherlands, Verstappen came home 17.841 seconds clear of Perez with race pole-sitter Carlos Sainz finishing third for Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s nearest challenger going into the race but now overtaken by Perez in the drivers standings, struggled in the other Ferrari after starting 15th.

He was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane and had to battle past Alpine’s Fernando Alonso on the last lap to snatch fifth, behind the Mercedes of George Russell.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton retired on the opening lap after his Mercedes collided with Alonso’s car.

“It was quite a hectic first lap to stay out of trouble,” said a calm Verstappen. “But once we settled in after the safety car, the car was really on rails.”
Verstappen has now won nine of this season’s 14 races – this was the 29th of his career and completed a hat-trick of summer victories in Europe – and sits 92 points ahead of Perez, with Leclerc a further three points behind.

“I hoped for more today, it was a good opportunity for me,” said Perez. “But Max was flying – he was on another planet. He was untouchable.” Sainz said: “It was harder than expected... A good start, but the pace wasn’t there. Too much over-heating.”

Flying Verstappen

Verstappen, who is already in sight of a second successive world title, was one of eight drivers to be relegated down the grid after taking new power-unit or gearbox components.

In spite of being quickest in qualifying he started 14th but quickly carved his way through the field to install himself in the easy chair up front.

The race began in bright and dry conditions following official confirmation that Belgium’s place on the calendar was secure for next year at least with a one-year contract extension.

The event had been in doubt with China and South Africa touted as additions at the expense of a traditional European race.

When the lights went out, Sainz made an excellent start, while Perez was slow to move and passed by Alonso, Hamilton and Russell. Verstappen rose smoothly from 14th on the grid to eighth.

As the field climbed through Les Combes, Hamilton collided with Alonso as he attempted to complete an impetuous pass, the Mercedes rising over the Alpine and falling violently. Both men continued, but Hamilton’s race was done.

Alonso called Hamilton an “idiot” over the radio and the Briton later took full responsibility.

“He was in my blind spot, I didn’t give him enough space. It is my fault,” Hamilton told Sky.

The stewards took no further action but later issued a warning to Hamilton for initially refusing to visit the event medical service after the crash.

Shortly after, Nicholas Latifi went wide in his Williams and spun, taking out Valtteri Bottas’s Alfa Romeo.

A safety car was deployed and the field settled with Sainz leading Perez, Russell and Alonso.

Soon after the resumption, Verstappen cut his way through to reach third and a podium finish by lap eight.

The impatient Dutchman surged past Perez on lap 12 as Alonso pitted, leaving the two Red Bulls leading ahead of Russell and Vettel, a near-perfect scenario for the Milton Keynes-based team that made light of Verstappen’s grid penalty.

Perez pitted after 14 laps, re-joining third in front of Leclerc as Verstappen came in from the lead on lap 15. He came out ahead of Perez.

The defending champion was in imperious mood and on lap 18, after following Sainz uphill from Eau Rouge, swept past to lead on the Kemmel Straight.

Remarkably, to the delight of the orange-clad hordes packed into the circuit, Verstappen had demolished the field before half-distance.

Three laps later, Perez passed Sainz for second.

Further pit-stops shuffled the pack briefly, but Red Bull reigned supreme.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.