Max Verstappen made light work of his grid penalties to win the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix from P15 on the grid in a Red Bull one-two backed up by Sergio Perez, while pole-sitter Carlos Sainz finished P3 for Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso tangled at Les Combes on Lap 1, leaving the Mercedes driver out of the race before Valtteri Bottas spun out in avoidance of Nicholas Latifi and brought out a Safety Car on Lap 2.
The restart saw Verstappen line up eighth while Sainz led Perez – Leclerc having had to pit for mediums with a tear-off in his brake duct. Verstappen made quick work of the cars ahead, sweeping into P3 by Lap 8 with only Perez and Sainz to beat.
Sainz pitted from softs to mediums on Lap 12, when Perez allowed Verstappen past and into the lead. The Dutchman extended his lead until Lap 15 and clawed back the deficit to Sainz, taking the lead on Lap 19 – taking another free pit stop on Lap 31 – before going on to win over Perez by over 18 seconds in a dominant display, with fastest lap to boot.
Sainz completed the podium ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, who had previously passed Charles Leclerc but lost out on the final podium place by just over two seconds.
Leclerc made a late pit stop for soft tyres in an effort to take fastest lap, but missed out on the bonus point and only just held on to P5 ahead of Fernando Alonso. However, after being caught for speeding in the pit lane, a five-second penalty dropped him to P6.
The two-time champion was re-passed by the Ferrari on the final lap but finished ahead of team mate Esteban Ocon, who overhauled Sebastian Vettel (P8) and Pierre Gasly (P9) late in the race. Alex Albon rounded out the top 10 for Williams, fending off Lance Stroll for the final point.
Lando Norris caught up to a battling Albon and Stroll by the end of the race but the McLaren driver missed out and finished 12th, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who won a late-race battle against Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu.
That left Daniel Ricciardo in P15 ahead of the Haas pair – Kevin Magnussen 16th and Mick Schumacher 17th – while Nicholas Latifi finished 18th after taking three pit stops.
AS IT HAPPENED
Almost heralding the news that Spa-Francorchamps will remain on the calendar for 2023, the historic Ardennes circuit was basking in the sun on Sunday afternoon. That of course meant that conditions would be markedly different to the cool climes of Friday and Saturday.
Qualifying saw Carlos Sainz take pole position ahead of Sergio Perez even though Max Verstappen set the fastest time, as eight drivers were hit with engine and gearbox-related grid penalties for the Belgian Grand Prix. Those drivers were Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda – who would cop a pit lane start after further power unit changes.
Verstappen was therefore aiming not only to extend his championship lead of 80 points, but become the first driver to win the Belgian Grand Prix from P14 or lower since Michael Schumacher, in 1995. Only Sainz, Bottas, Verstappen and Leclerc would start on softs, Tsunoda the sole hard-tyred starter – with the rest on mediums.
Lights out, and Sainz reacted quickest while Fernando Alonso jumped to second ahead of the Mercedes pair and Perez was bumped down to fifth behind the Silver Arrows. Hamilton edged ahead of Alonso going into Les Combes but the Alpine driver ran out of room and briefly rendered his rival airborne. The Mercedes driver was out of the race.
“This guy only knows how to drive and start in first,” exclaimed a furious Alonso.
Verstappen had a flying first lap, jumping all the way to P8 on his soft compounds, while Leclerc was up to 10th by the end of Lap 1. The start of Lap 2 signalled another collision – and a Safety Car – as birthday boy Valtteri Bottas spun out in avoidance of an out-of-control Nicholas Latifi, who himself seemed to be avoiding Ocon.
Behind the Safety Car, Sainz would line up ahead of Perez then Russell and Alonso, with Vettel rounding out the top five. Leclerc would have lined up ninth behind Verstappen but he reported smoke from his front-right tyre and soon had to pit under caution, on Lap 4, taking medium tyres, and lining up 17th ahead of new-nosed Latifi. Ferrari’s pit wall soon confirmed that a tear-off had caused Leclerc’s front-right brake to overheat, and that he was aiming for a one-stop strategy from there on.
The race restarted on Lap 5, just after Sainz locked up into the final chicane while prepping for the resumption, which caused Perez to back off and lock up into La Source and Russell to slow in avoidance. That gave Alonso a run at Russell down the Kemmel Straight but no positions had changed hands, at least in the top five; Verstappen had jumped to seventh at the expense of Alex Albon and taken another to P6 from Daniel Ricciardo at the final chicane. Ricciardo would then relinquish P7 to Albon down the Kemmel Straight.
Apart from Verstappen, the biggest gainers by the end of Lap 5 were Ocon, Norris, and Zhou, who had made up five places apiece in the start, Tsunoda up six.
The championship leader was far and away the fastest on track, prying places off Vettel on Lap 6 at the final chicane, then Alonso with DRS on Lap 7. Sainz, holding a two-second lead over Perez, was told to switch to “Plan B”.
By Lap 8, Verstappen had made his way into the podium places with a DRS pass on Russell well before Les Combes, and had just 2.5s between him and the leader. Leclerc meanwhile was 14th by the start of Lap 9, having made it past the AlphaTauris in a show of Ferrari’s pace, overhauling the Alfa Romeo of Zhou and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen soon after.
Albon and Gasly chose to pit for hards on Lap 11, the Williams and AlphaTauri all but committing to a one-stopper, before Sainz stopped for mediums at the end of that tour – emerging sixth but making his way past Ricciardo for fifth soon after.
At the start of Lap 12, Verstappen meanwhile lit up the airwaves by telling his team that he was losing a “silly amount of time” behind Perez, and the Dutchman duly swept past down the straight to take the lead into Les Combes.
Pit stops for hard tyres soon came for McLaren’s Ricciardo and Alpine’s Ocon – but not the Red Bulls – with Russell taking mediums and Norris taking hards shortly afterwards on Lap 14. Sainz was up to third, having easily passed Vettel and the stationary Mercedes of Russell; Verstappen was adamant about extending his stint.
Perez had to react to Russell and pitted for mediums on Lap 15, emerging perilously close to Leclerc (the pair making slight contact down the Kemmel) and just behind Sainz.
With a 13.8-second lead over Sainz, Verstappen entered the pits at the end of Lap 15 and emerged in second, just 4.6 seconds behind the pole-sitter.
Leclerc reeling from his close call with Perez, Russell made it past the Ferrari driver with DRS, dropping Leclerc down to P5. As for the other Ferrari, he was being reeled in by Verstappen and the Dutchman took the lead down the straight, having previously and sensibly aborted a move around the outside of La Source on Lap 19. By the end of that lap, his lead stood at over 2.5 seconds.
While Verstappen pried the lead off Sainz, Ferrari opened up long negotiations with Leclerc – asking him if he would like to stop again to ensure a P5 finish…
Perez had his chance to back up a Ferrari one-two long before Les Combes on Lap 21 and duly made the pass on Sainz, leaving the Spaniard in the final podium position.
With Red Bull heading into the sunset for a one-two finish, Ferrari double-stacked their drivers – Sainz taking hards and Leclerc mediums – on Lap 26 with the former emerging fourth in chase of Russell’s podium place, and the latter seventh. Leclerc would soon pass Ocon for P6, prying P5 off Vettel on Lap 31.
Perez reacted to the Ferraris on Lap 28, taking his second stop for hard tyres and emerging third – which became second when Russell pitted from mediums to hards on Lap 30. That released Sainz back into the final podium spot, the Briton chasing him down having extended his second stint.
Verstappen, having extended his first soft-tyred stint, came in for another set of mediums on Lap 31 and emerged well in the lead. Ferrari might have begun to sense that their woes would be compounded with Russell cutting into Sainz’s five-second lead for the final podium spot. That became clear when Sainz asked if a three-stop strategy was on the cards, before being told that this would drop him behind Russell.
With a margin of victory of 17.841s, Verstappen led a resounding Red Bull one-two while Sainz held on for P3, Russell just over two seconds back as he missed out in P4.
As for Leclerc, he made a penultimate-lap pit stop in the chase for fastest lap but emerged just ahead of Alonso, who passed him. The Monegasque driver managed to hit back and salvage P5 but it turned out that he had sped in the pit lane, dropping Leclerc to P6 by the flag, behind Alonso.
Alonso shrugged off his Lap 1 tangle with Hamilton – for which no action was taken by the stewards as they deemed it a racing incident – to finish fifth ahead of team mate Ocon in P7. The Frenchman made two daring moves, the first a double pass on Ricciardo and Latifi through Blanchimont on Lap 17, before going three-wide with Gasly and Ricciardo on the Kemmel Straight on Lap 36 as he blazed to P7.
Vettel pried P8 off Gasly in that melee but couldn’t overhaul Ocon, the pair having made similar medium-hard-medium strategies. Although Gasly and Albon followed the same strategies, they finished ninth and 10th respectively thanks to longer third stints – ending long point-less droughts for both AlphaTauri and Williams.
Stroll missed out on the final point, choosing mediums for his first two stints before finishing the race on hards. Despite a strong start, Norris finished just over a second behind the Aston Martin driver in P12,
Zhou and Tsunoda both finished the race on soft tyres and battled at the end of the race, Tsunoda winning over the Alfa Romeo driver to take P13 for AlphaTauri.
Ricciardo was running in the top 10 along with Norris until the second stint, and the Australian would fall to 15th by the chequered flag. Kevin Magnussen settled for P16 after a slow Lap 11 pit stop, and Mick Schumacher 17th in an uneventful first race with the latest Haas upgrades – while Nicholas Latifi endured a race to P17 having pitted three times.
"It was quite a hectic first lap to try and stay out of trouble," said Verstappen. "So many things were happening in front of me. But once we settled in after the Safety Car, the car was really on rails, we picked the right places to pass people and we could look after our tyres and that is how we made our way forward.
"After that, once we were in the lead it was all about managing everything – but this whole weekend has been incredible. It’s been a weekend I couldn’t imagine before, but I think we want more of them, so keep working hard" – Max Verstappen, Red Bull
Verstappen's second home race of the season is up next weekend on September 2-4 at Zandvoort, the Dutchman 93 points ahead of team mate Perez – who has leapfrogged Charles Leclerc in the drivers' standings.
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