Belgian Grand Prix – After starting P6, Max Verstappen made it to the front to dominate in Spa and give Red Bull another 1-2 while Charles Leclerc took P3
There would only be nineteen drivers taking the start on the grid in Spa as Nico Hulkenberg changed parts after qualifying and will have to start from the pitlane as a result. Most cars had the soft tyres attached for the start but Oscar Piastri in P5, Lando Norris P7, George Russell P8, Fernando Alonso P9, Lance Stroll P10, Yuki Tsunoda P11, and Hulkenberg chose the mediums instead.
As the lights went out Leclerc held the lead but a few corners in Perez got the better of him to put a Red Bull into the lead of a race once again. Further back Carlos Sainz and Piastri clashed at T1, the McLaren driver plummeted down the pack and slowly made his way back towards the pits. The misfortune for Piastri allowed Max Verstappen to move up a spot and the reigning champion was into P4 before the end of the opening lap.
After the highs of P2 in the Sprint yesterday, Piastri wasn’t even able to complete the opening lap, pulling to the side of the track after T13 to retire. By lap three Perez had over two seconds over Leclerc while the Monegasque driver had Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen right on his tail. There was a five second gap between all of them and Sainz in P5 but Alonso didn’t allow his fellow Spaniard to hold that for long, getting past the Ferrari driver on P4.
While Sainz had the excuse of damage, neither Ferrari had great pace at the start and they weren’t the only ones struggling as Norris was getting passed left right and centre and he’d fallen out of the points places.
The end of lap 5 saw Norris pit for hard tyres and had to suffer through a slow stop before emerging in P17. Further up the grid and Verstappen finally got past Hamilton, blasting down the inside at T5 and then putting his foot down to close up on Leclerc.
Lap 8 saw a double overtake on Norris with Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon getting past the Brit on the Kemmel Straight. The following lap had another pass there but it wasn’t as dramatic or unexpected with Verstappen going down the outside of Leclerc to make it a Red Bull 1-2, Perez a few seconds up the road.
Hamilton was the first of the front runners to pit, the Mercedes driver stopping at the end of lap 12 to put on the mediums and the pace at the front meant that he was able to keep his P4, emerging just ahead of Stroll in P5.
The following lap had Perez and Leclerc make their stops, the two heading out on mediums while Verstappen and his engineer GP had another radio squabble first about strategy and then about whether to stop or try to make his tyres last and wait for the potential rain in a few minutes.
The Dutch driver did head to the pits at the end of lap 14 for his own mediums and he got back out in P2 but the two second gap between the two Red Bulls vanished over the next lap with the reigning champion on his teammate’s rear wing by lap 16.
Verstappen took over at the front of the pack on lap 17 while sunshine from the start of the race had disappeared and things were looking very gloomy. Rain started making its appearances around the track after that but initially not enough to change the grip but by lap 21 the impact was visible on the timesheets with lap times much slower than they had been.
The timesheets weren’t the only thing showing the difference in grip as Verstappen had a big twitch on the way up to Raidillon but was able to regain control and keep his Red Bull on track.
Despite the rain, everyone remained on slicks, Russell making his first stop of the race on lap 23, switching to softs and rejoining in P16. The second retirement of the day came on lap 25 when Sainz was wheeled into his garage.
By lap 26 the rain had died off with the sun appearing again over some parts of the track and lap times had resumed their previous levels.
Hamilton made a second stop on lap 28, switching back to softs and rejoining only one place down in P5. Leclerc responded on the next lap and he got back out still in P3, a second ahead of Hamilton who’d just dispatched Alonso. The undercut didn’t get Hamilton the place but it did get him two seconds closer to the Ferrari.
Perez made his own stop on lap 30, not losing a position but his gap to Leclerc did get halved. Verstappen made it work better than those behind him, managing to retain his pre-pitstops gap to Perez and continue to drive off into the sunshine.
There was a great battle for P11 with Albon and Gasly, the Alpine driver initially getting the better of the Williams but Albon fought back and very nearly made it work but then had to concede and pitted to swap out his mediums for softs.
At the front, Verstappen was told to use his head and not push the tyres too hard trying for the fastest lap. He countered that with the suggestion that he push on and make enough of a gap to pit again to give the team a little pitstop training but that was shut down on him.
Alpine continued to be part of the most dramatic overtakes of the day, this time it was Ocon who closed right up on Tsunoda by the end of the Kemmel Straight and went side-by-side with the AlphaTauri driver through the Les Combes chicane before moving ahead and into P9.
It wasn’t long at all before Ocon was right on Stroll’s gearbox, blasted past him and then set his sights on Norris in P7.
On lap 43 Hamilton ducked into the pits for new mediums, having had more than enough time between himself and Alonso to pit without issue. Verstappen had pulled out a sufficient gap to Perez that he could’ve done the same but Red Bull didn’t seem to be interested this time.
Verstappen took the chequered flag 22 seconds ahead of his teammate while Leclerc was a further 9 seconds back in P3. Hamilton took P4 and did manage to snatch the fastest lap from the Dutch driver, setting a 1:47.305 on the final lap.
Alonso came home in P5 ahead of Russell while Norris managed to recover from his tough start to the race to take P7 with Ocon just a second behind. Stroll ended the day in P9 while the final point of the day went to Tsunoda.