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F1 Review: Max Verstappen Cruises, Leads Red Bull to 1-2 Sweep in Belgian GP

Max Verstappen started sixth and quickly took charge at Belgium, cruising to his ninth consecutive win, adding the MSC Cruises Belgian Grand Prix to his long list of season victories. Verstappen picked up two spots at the start and was tailing race-leader Sergio Perez’s tail by lap 13, and took the lead for good when Perez made his first pit stop. 

Perez took second, while pole-sitter Charles Leclerc finished third. Lewis Hamilton came home fourth and added an extra point for fastest lap, Fernando Alonso took fifth, with George Russell sixth. Lando Norris overcame a dismal early race to salvage seventh, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon crossed the line eighth. Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda closed the points-paying positions in ninth and 10th, respectively. 

“I knew that we had a great car, and it was just about surviving turn 1,” Verstappen said. “I could see it getting really tight, so I was just going to stay out of that, and it worked out.”

“From there onwards, we made the right overtakes and moves. I got a bit stuck in a DRS train at the start, but once that cleared, I could do my own pace. Again, really enjoyable.”

See also
Max Verstappen Dominates Spa for 8th Straight Win

Red Bull extended their gaps in both the drivers and constructors standings, leads which have progressed from healthy to laughable over the course of the season. 

Verstappen now leads Perez 314 to 189 in the drivers standings, with Alonso just one point up on Hamilton for third, 149 to 148. At this point, the title-clinching scenarios should be released by mid-August, with Verstappen wrapping up the championship by the end of that month. Disregard, ESPN already offered the information, and Verstappen can clinch in Singapore in mid-September.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull sits on a pedestal, towering over Mercedes 503 to 247. Aston Martin is third with 196 points, just five up on Ferrari. 

The Race

Leclerc was off good at lights out, but Perez matched his start and was on Leclerc’s gearbox immediately. Oscar Piastri made contact with Carlos Sainz, who locked up his breaks and squeezed the McLaren into the La Source hairpin, with both sustaining damage and Piastri getting the worst of it. Perez blasted by Leclerc down the Kemmel straight while Verstappen picked up two spots into fourth.

Piastri retired on lap 2, a blow to McLaren’s recent surge, with their ire focused firmly on Ferrari, as replays showed Sainz leaving Piastri virtually no room at the corner.

Perez was two seconds up on Leclerc by lap 4, while a patient Verstappen searched for a way around Hamilton for third, intent on not letting Perez get too far ahead.

Back in the field, Tsunoda was up to fifth from 11th, while Norris had dropped to 11th from seventh, adding to McLaren’s misery. Norris made an early stop on lap 4 for hard tires, clearly unhappy with the mediums. 

Verstappen got by Hamilton on lap 4 and began his chase of Leclerc, who was 2.5 behind Perez, and was quickly within DRS range of the Ferrari. Leclerc was no match for the Red Bull, and Verstappen zoomed by on lap 9. All was right in the world, as the Red Bull’s were running 1-2. And when that’s the case, it’s much more interesting when Verstappen is the driver in second.

Sainz continued to drop down the order, his car obviously compromised from the contact with Piastri. He pitted on lap 18 for medium tires, but a retirement was imminent, ensuring what has become the usual disappointment for Ferrari.

Norris continued to struggle and was in 15th on lap 11, and the team appeared mystified as to why the car was not responsive. While a podium finish was initially a goal, McLaren now shifted focus with a points-paying finish for Norris considered a success.

For the most part, Perez was maintaining his lead over Verstappen, and the two Red Bull drivers were distancing themselves from the field. The question was: would Red Bull pit Perez first and save him the indignity of being passed by his teammate, or would the team let them race?

That was answered on lap 13, when Perez dove in for medium tires. Verstappen assumed the lead, and pitted a lap later, with Perez retaking the lead. Excitement was just a few laps away when Perez would be forced to defend against this hard-charging teammate.

Verstappen was on Perez’s tail by lap 16, and it appeared the only thing that could possibly put a kink in a Red Bull 1-2 finish was rain, which appeared to be looming. 

Verstappen hit over 200 miles per hour as he powered by Perez down the Kemmel straight on lap 17, and Perez, like a good teammate, conceded the position without a fight. 

On lap 18, the order was Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, George Russell, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, and Esteban Ocon.

Norris pitted again on lap 18, this time for soft tires, even though rain was fast approaching. Most teams were predicting there would be enough rain to warrant intermediate tires. However, significant rainfall never materialized. 

Verstappen experienced his biggest scare of the race – and the season – when he nearly lost the back end into Eau Rouge on lap 22 as he put his tires on the kerb. Verstappen made the save, and the near miss didn’t change the way he attacked Eau Rouge in subsequent laps.  

Sainz finally retired his car on lap 23 after languishing at the back of the field for most of the race. It was yet another instance of many in which self-inflicted mistakes sabotage Ferrari’s fortunes. But, in this case, the Prancing Horse took some collateral damage with them in the form of Piastri’s McLaren. 

Hamilton pitted for soft tires on lap 28, giving up fifth to Alonso. Ferrari reacted to Hamilton’s stop with a stop on the following lap. Leclerc stayed in front of Hamilton, but just barely, and Hamilton was quickly on the Ferrari’s tail in a battle for third.   

Behind the two Red Bulls, Leclerc was putting some distance between Hamilton, while Alonso, Russell, and the resurgent Norris were in the mix for fifth, with Stroll also a factor. Norris’ early struggles were due to a steering issue, which was now remedied.

Tsunoda was in ninth on lap 33, well ahead of his new Alpha Tauri teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and hoping that the important people at Red Bull would notice. 

Verstappen was advised to ease up on his tires by his engineers, while Verstappen asked if another pit stop was possible, a bold ask considering there were only ten laps remaining. He was told bluntly “No” and carried on, but it’s safe to assume that if the team had said yes, Verstappen would have made it work.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon passed Tsunoda for ninth on lap 38, one of the few close battles for position at that point in the race. Ocon’s teammate Pierre Gasly was running 11th and looking for 10th in points, possibly as a going-away present for the outgoing Otmar Szafnauer. Ocon passed Stroll on lap 42 for eighth and held that spot until the end.

Verstappen capped another dominant performance and crossed the line over 22 seconds over his teammate. Hamilton pitted late for fresh soft tires and snatched fastest lap from Verstappen, proving that Verstappen was probably right when he earlier suggested building his lead and pitting late for new tires and gunning for fastest lap. 

The Good

Saying that Red Bull “reinforced” their dominance insinuates that their dominance actually needed reinforcing. It didn’t. At this point, a Red Bull 1-2 finish should just be expected. Red Bull led every lap, and Verstappen beat Perez by 22 seconds, and you get the impression Verstappen could have increased that gap. Perez, not to be outdone (except by his teammate), beat third-place Leclerc by 10 seconds. 

In short, the gap from Red Bull to everyone else is massive.

Esteban Ocon finished eight, giving Alpine points in Otmar Snafnauer’s last race with Alpine. Ocon’s teammate Pierre Gasly just missed the points with an 11th-place finish. It’s amazing Ocon and Gasly can perform as well as they do when they really don’t know who’ll be in charge when they walk into team headquarters every day. And I’m sure that door they walk through is of the revolving variety.

How about that glammed-up performance of the Belgian national anthem? They really brought out the red carpet for that spectacle. Heck, I believe they were wearing the red carpet.

The Bad

Sainz’s start. Sainz, starting fourth, locked up his breaks into the La Source hairpin, and then left Piastri absolutely no room on the inside, forcing the McLaren into the wall as the two cars made contact. It’s typical Ferrari: shooting themselves in the foot. Now, they’ve taken it a step further by shooting someone else in the foot. Piastri was forced to retire, and Sainz called it a day on lap 23. 

Sainz got greedy on the start, and maybe getting by Hamilton at that point would have been crucial, but it’s not like Sainz is going to win a race by making a brilliant start. There are two Red Bulls that you can’t touch. Know your limitations. Play it safe at the start. And maybe you could have finished fourth in the race. Coupled with Leclerc’s eventual third, that’s about as good as it’s going to get for Ferrari. It’s okay to push, but don’t push your luck. 

The Disappointing

After rain all weekend at Spa, it was disappointing that not enough fell on Sunday to impact the race. Nothing makes an F1 race more exciting than a little rain. Rain, in the right amounts, makes a race more exciting by adding more strategy, more spins, and more pit stops to the mix. And in 2023, in the age of overwhelming Red Bull dominance, F1 needs anything that makes a Verstappen win not a certainty. Without rain, you know the result will be a Verstappen of Perez win. With rain, anyone can win, even Logan Sargeant – assuming the rain and ensuing accidents take out most of the field. 

The Driver

After yet another Red Bull win, the phrase “This is getting old” is certainly applicable. And that phrase also applies to the selection of “The Driver.” Max Verstappen, of course, won again, but this time did it from sixth on the grid, something he’s never done before. And he did it with ease, casually even. In a race sponsored by cruises, Verstappen did just that. 

You get the feeling that just winning the race is no longer a challenge for Verstappen. The challenge now is how far ahead he can finish in front of second place. After Verstappen’s final pit stop for soft tires, he was continually admonished by his race engineer for not being “sensible” with his tires. Verstappen ignored these warnings and even made a play to make a late pit stop to ensure he would have fastest lap. Verstappen’s suggestion was shot down. But, at race’s end, his tires appeared to be fine. It gives you the impression that Verstappen is so in tune with his car that he knows more about it based on just feel than his engineers do using their mighty computers and data analysis.   

And, oh yeah, Lando Norris had a pretty good drive, overcoming some tire and steering issues that left him at the tail end of the field early in the race. But the team, and Norris, diagnosed their issues and solved them, and Norris used McLaren’s high downforce package to charge his way to a respectable seventh.

The Results (MSC Cruises Belgian Grand Prix, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps)

POSNODRIVERCARLAPSTIME/RETIREDPTS
11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT441:22:30.45025
211Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT44+22.305s18
316Charles LeclercFERRARI44+32.259s15
444Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES44+49.671s13
514Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES44+56.184s10
663George RussellMERCEDES44+63.101s8
74Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES44+73.719s6
831Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT44+74.719s4
918Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES44+79.340s2
1022Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT44+80.221s1
1110Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT44+83.084s0
1277Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI44+85.191s0
1324Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI44+95.441s0
1423Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES44+96.184s0
1520Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI44+101.754s0
163Daniel RicciardoALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT44+103.071s0
172Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES44+104.476s0
1827Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI44+110.450s0
NC55Carlos SainzFERRARI23DNF0
NC81Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES0DNF0

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RCFX1

DRS is great for a boost on the straights, but I think it’s too strong right now. Maybe lower the amount of speed that is picked up because of it. The rear car is just blowing by the front car. The more exciting passes are in the turns and the unexpected places.

RCFX1

Also, I wasn’t surprised that Max passed Checo, but was surprised that Checo couldn’t keep up with his ‘team’ car. Shouldn’t they be close to equal. Max won by 22 seconds!

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