- Verstappen just too strong
- Alonso brands Hamilton an “idiot”
- Sainz and Leclerc in the doldrums
- Ocon pulls the best move of the race
- No joy for McLaren
- Spa retains place on 2023 calendar
He was in a class of his own, wasn’t he? Untouchable was another way of describing Max Verstappen at the Belgian Grand Prix, and not even an engine penalty that left him starting 14th on the grid at Spa-Francorchamps could stop him from sweeping to an alarmingly comfortable ninth victory out of 14 races this season. Alarming for Ferrari at least. Neither Carlos Sainz Jr nor Charles Leclerc had an answer for the Red Bull driver’s pace, as the reigning champion took another step towards securing his second crown. Imperious stuff.
Verstappen just too strong
He’d qualified on pole position nearly 0.7s faster than Sainz on Saturday and, as most predicted, the penalty that pushed him down the grid was merely a blip in an outcome that had an air of inevitability about it.
Verstappen started on the unfavoured red-walled soft Pirellis on the first sunny day of the weekend and was eighth by the end of the first lap. The pause button was pressed by a safety car, but at the restart the Dutchman wasted little time moving up the order and took the lead when Sainz pitted on lap 11 to get rid of his own soft tyres. The Red Bull ran four laps longer and although he dropped behind the Ferrari after his stop, Verstappen soon swept past Sainz on the Kemmel straight and was gone. That was it in terms of any question regarding who might win. A little depressing for anyone other than Red Bull.
Alonso brands Hamilton an “idiot”
“What an idiot closing the door from the outside,” blasted Fernando Alonso on the radio, after Lewis Hamilton pinched him at Les Combes leading to contact that threw the Mercedes briefly into the air. “We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first.”
Ouch. Alonso admitted the heat of the moment was at play in his outburst – not for the first time. But there’s clearly some spice left in this old rivalry and even though Hamilton put his hands up and took the blame for the incident, he refused to apologise to Alonso in the wake of the “idiot” insult. Hamilton was forced to retire with damage, while Alonso remarkably raced on to score decent points. Meanwhile, Nicholas Latifi spun further through Les Combes, then tagged Valtteri Bottas whose Alfa Romeo was beached. That’s what triggered the only safety car interruption of the race.
Sainz and Leclerc in the doldrums
Spaniard Sainz had inherited the pole position because of Verstappen’s penalty, but was powerless to slip behind not only Max but also the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who completed a fourth 1-2 of the year for the Milton Keynes-based team. Sainz finished a well beaten third, but at least saw off Mercedes’ George Russell who finished fourth.
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was having a miserable Belgian GP. He too was penalised before a wheel had turned for engine parts usage, but the first blow in the race was a smoking front wheel, which was caused by a visor rip-off getting stuck in a brake duct – possibly from Verstappen! Leclerc can’t buy a break at the moment. That early unplanned pitstop triggered a fine comeback drive that looked set to net fifth, only for a bid for fastest lap to backfire. Ferrari called Leclerc in for fresh tyres and he dropped behind Alonso, only to charge past before the flag – and then find himself demoted back to sixth by a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. He didn’t even capture the fastest lap, which went to Verstappen. Miserable.
Leclerc has now slipped behind Perez into third in the standings and is 98 points down on Verstappen. Meanwhile, Red Bull is 118 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ table. After such a strong start to the season, what an unhappy picture for Maranello.
Ocon pulls the best move of the race
It’s not a great look that Esteban Ocon was beaten by Alonso even though his team-mate was involved in a heavy collision on lap one. But at least the Frenchman pulled the best overtaking move of the afternoon at Spa. Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly were scrapping ahead of him at La Source, which allowed the Alpine to get a run along Kemmel. In a move that carried echoes of Mika Häkkinen’s move on Michael Schumacher as they lapped Ricardo Zonta in 2000, Ocon passed both of his rivals and finished seventh. Vettel was eighth, Gasly was ninth and Alex Albon claimed a deserved point for Williams in tenth.
No joy for McLaren
Lance Stroll was a pointless 11th for Aston Martin, beaten by his soon-to-retire team-mate (again, not a great look), while Lando Norris was an equally lacklustre 12th for McLaren, three places ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who did nothing to change the perception that dropping him beyond this season was absolutely the right call. As for McLaren, it has now slipped to 20 points behind Alpine in their fight to be the fourth-best team in F1. The team has plateaued, and that’s putting it politely. Rejecting the advances of Audi, which confirmed pre-weekend that it’s set to join F1 – almost certainly with Sauber – in 2026 might turn out to be a decision McLaren comes to regret if it can’t find a path towards a genuine and lasting upturn in form.
Spa retains place on 2023 calendar
Last word on Spa itself, after fears the great circuit was set for the chop from the F1 calendar. Not long before the race start, welcome news was released that a deal has been done, at least for next year. Beyond that, who knows? The F1 future still looks a little bleak for the circuit named by so many as their favourite.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.