With the ‘most complete drive of F1 career,’ Max Verstappen wins Spa after starting 14th

Max Verstappen Spa
Alessio Morgese/NurPhoto via Getty Images
3 Comments

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen quickly carved his way through the field from 14th to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday and widen his lead in the title race.

Verstappen, who in the final race before F1′s summer break drove from 10th to win the Hungarian Grand Prix, produced another imperious drive and moved closer to a second straight world title.

“It’s been a weekend I couldn’t have imagined before,” Verstappen said. “But I think we want more of them and we’ll keep working hard.”

His lead in the standings is now 93 points — but it is over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez because Charles Leclerc dropped to third in another poor Ferrari showing.

“It was quite a hectic first lap to try and stay out of trouble. So many things were happening in front of me, picked the right places to pass people, looked after our tires,” Verstappen said. “Once we were in the lead, it was all about managing everything but this whole weekend has been incredible.”

Verstappen was leading the race by Lap 12, and he earned a bonus point for fastest lap. His third straight win was his ninth this season and 29th overall.

“Amazing Sunday guys, haha!” Verstappen said on his radio after crossing the line.

“Max you have been brilliant, class of your own all weekend,” team principal Christian Horner replied.

The 24-year-old Verstappen — the youngest driver to win a race when he was 18 — said it was probably the most complete drive of his career.

“If you look at the whole weekend, yes,” he said. “This track just seemed to be perfect for the car.”

Perez finished second to jump ahead of Leclerc in the season standings.

“It’s a great team result,” Perez said.

Carlos Sainz Jr. started from pole for Ferrari and finished a disappointing third. Leclerc started 15th and finished fifth behind the Mercedes of George Russell, but Leclerc dropped to sixth after he was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

That pushed Alpine driver Fernando Alonso into fifth, and Leclerc, who is now 98 points behind Verstappen in the standings, was shocked by the penalty and appeared defeated in the championship race.

“I didn’t even know, no one told me,” a surprised Leclerc said of the penalty. “Why did I get the penalty?”

“I’m not focusing so much on the championship now. Red Bull were on another planet today,” Leclerc added. “We need to know why we’re so far away.”

Lewis Hamilton’s bid for a sixth straight podium ended on the first lap when he clipped Alonso and briefly went airborne.

Sainz started from pole because Verstappen and Leclerc were among several drivers to be hit with grid penalties. Sainz got away at the start and Russell and Hamilton zoomed past Perez and behind Alonso.

Hamilton then overtook Alonso on the outside but clipped the side of his Alpine, sending Hamilton’s Mercedes up in the air. Race stewards reviewed and took no action, though Alonso clearly felt Hamilton had not left him enough room as he tried to regain the position.

“What an idiot closing the door from the outside,” Alonso ranted. “We had a mega start but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first.”

Hamilton later cut off an interviewer who attempted to relay Alonso’s comments to him.

“It doesn’t matter what he said,” said Hamilton, who added he didn’t see Alonso “in my blind spot.”

But in a separate interview, Hamilton accepted he hadn’t left enough room for Alonso.

“It was my fault,” Hamilton said. “I paid the price. I was ahead though.”

For Hamilton it was the fifth time he’s retired on Lap 1, with three retirements coming at the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) Spa-Francorchamps circuit — the longest in F1 and one of the best for overtaking, as Verstappen showed.

Seconds after Hamilton pulled over, Nicholas Latifi slid across the track and nudged the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas into the gravel, bringing out the safety car.

Hamilton stood next to his car as smoke billowed out, then walked slowly back to the team garage. He was later issued a warning for refusing to visit the medical center.

Bottas, his former Mercedes teammate, was also out while Leclerc came in early as his team changed his tires and removed some debris from another car stuck inside Leclerc’s front right wing.

Later, Ferrari made yet another bizarre call in this strange season of botched strategy decisions when the team called in Leclerc for new tires with one lap remaining in a futile bid to score the fastest lap. Leclerc was overtaken by Alonso as he came out of the pits, and then had to overtake the Spaniard back, consequently failing to register the fastest lap.

Esteban Ocon of Alpine was seventh and followed by Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri and Alex Albon of Williams.

Next up for Verstappen? His home race in the Netherlands, where he won in style in Zandvoort last year.

“I am going to enjoy today and then next week we’ll see what we can do,” said Verstappen, who is on pace to beat Vettel’s season record of 13 victories set in 2013.

Max Verstappen could clinch second F1 title with victory in Singapore Grand Prix

Max Verstappen F1 Singapore
LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
0 Comments

While last year’s intense Formula One title battle went to the wire and captivated the world of sport, this year’s F1 championship long has seemed a procession for Max Verstappen that could end Sunday in the Singapore Grand Prix.

If the Red Bull driver wins, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crumbles, Verstappen will claim his second consecutive series title.

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points with six races remaining in the 2022 season and will clinch the title if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic head-to-head challenger.

Verstappen, who turned 25 on Friday, must win to clinch a second world title, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.

“It’s quite a long shot,” Verstappen said. “I need a lot of luck for it to happen here, so I don’t really count on it.”

It is more realistic that Verstappen secures the title Oct. 9 at the Japanese GP.

“I think Suzuka will be my first proper opportunity to win the title,” the Dutchman said. “So I’m looking forward to Singapore right now, but I’m also very excited for next week.”

Still, there’ll be no tension in the air Sunday night at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, as in Abu Dhabi last year when Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton lost the title on the last lap to Verstappen. Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title in a controversial finish following a chaotic late restart.

That fans won’t get to see any such drama this season is much to Hamilton’s regret.

“I feel for the fans . . . Last year, going right down to the wire, that was intense for everybody and so it’s never great when the season finishes early,” Hamilton said. “For you, as the one individual (winner) it’s great, but for the actual sport, (it) is not spectacular. Let’s hope for the future that it’s a bit better.”

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez (125 points back), Mercedes driver George Russell (132 behind) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (152) are mathematical title challengers only.

Red Bull is unlikely to allow Perez an opportunity to beat Verstappen, though, and would deploy him to defend its star driver. Verstappen has won 11 of 16 races, including the past five, taking his career tally to 31.

“It’s been a really special season, and I’m enjoying it a lot,” he said. “But I (will) probably enjoy it more after the season, looking back at it.”

He’s also won from seven different grid positions – a single-season F1 record – including starting from 14th at the Belgian GP last month.

“It’s even good to watch when you’re in the car,” McLaren driver Lando Norris said. “Especially when he starts (far back) and still wins quite easily.”

Hamilton hasn’t been close enough to challenge Verstappen this year after so long in the spotlight.

Two of Hamilton’s came on the last day: in 2008 with an overtake on the last corner of the final race, and in 2014 when he beat then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. Two years later, he lost the title in the last race to Rosberg.

Hamilton won the championship with three races left in 2015, and he won the 2020 title at the Turkish GP in a shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With seven titles, that put him even with fellow great Michael Schumacher, who won the 2002 championship with six races remaining. An outstanding campaign saw Schumacher place first or second in 16 of 17 races and third in Malaysia – a race won by his younger brother, Ralf.

Hamilton has a record 103 victories but none this season.

Mercedes has struggled with ground effects, where the floor generates aerodynamic grip – an issue known as porpoising or bouncing – that has been particularly difficult on street circuits like Monaco or Azerbaijan.

Singapore’s tight and sinewy 3.1-mile street course again could be challenging.

“We hope that the car works better here,” Hamilton said. “It really depends how bumpy it is, and the bumps often set the car off. Maybe the car will be fine. Maybe it won’t.”

He does think Mercedes has figured out how to maximize opportunities when they do come.

“We know where those limitations are; we just have to try and work around them,” he said. “I think we were very fortunate, we’re in a much better place I think. So I hope that we’re not far away (from a victory).”

Russell seems to have coped better, however, and leads sixth-place Hamilton by 35 points in the standings. He has seven podium finishes compared to six for Hamilton, who was fifth in the second practice after leading the opening session. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc topped the second practice.

Williams driver Alex Albon returns to racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering subsequent respiratory failure.

Albon jumped back into the Williams FW44 for the first practice session on Friday in hot and humid evening conditions.

“It’s definitely audacious to come back for the toughest race of the season having only just recovered,” Russell said. “But it just goes to show the sort of grit and determination he has.”

Drivers lose around 5 kilos (11 pounds) in weight through dehydration during Sunday’s race.