'Untouchable' Verstappen cruises in Belgium to tighten grip on second title

Reuters

World champion Max Verstappen blew away his rivals with a commanding performance at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday to take a significant step towards a second successive drivers' title as Red Bull celebrated a 1-2 with Sergio Perez finishing a remote runner-up.

The 24-year-old Dutchman, who started from 14th on the grid, scorched through the field with devastating pace and elan to deliver crushing proof of his and Red Bull's superiority.

"It's been a weekend that I couldn't have imagined before," said Verstappen, who pulled 93 points clear of Perez in the drivers' standings.

Among those blown away by Verstappen's stunning show of superiority was his teammate.

"Max was flying – he was on another planet. He was untouchable," said Perez.

Verstappen has now won nine of this season's 14 races - this was the 29th of his career and completed a hat-trick of summer victories in Europe.

In front of a packed crowd at the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit, including many fans from the nearby Netherlands, Verstappen came home 17.841 seconds clear of the pack with race pole-sitter Carlos Sainz finishing third for Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc, Verstappen's nearest challenger going into the race, struggled in the other Ferrari after starting 15th.

He was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane and had to battle past Alpine's Fernando Alonso on the last lap to snatch sixth behind the Mercedes of George Russell and Fernando Alonso.

Lewis Hamilton retired on the opening lap after his Mercedes collided with Alonso's car.

 

- Flying Verstappen -

 

Verstappen was one of eight drivers to be relegated down the grid after taking new power-unit or gearbox components.

In spite of being quickest in qualifying he started 14th but quickly carved his way through the field to install himself in the easy chair up front.

The race began in bright and dry conditions following official confirmation that Belgium's place on the calendar was secure for next year at least with a one-year contract extension.

When the lights went out, Sainz made an excellent start, while Perez was slow to move and passed by Alonso, Hamilton and Russell. Verstappen rose smoothly from 14th on the grid to eighth.

As the field climbed through Les Combes, Hamilton collided with Alonso as he attempted to complete an impetuous pass, the Mercedes rising over the Alpine and falling violently. Both men continued, but Hamilton's race was done.

Alonso called Hamilton an "idiot" over the radio and the Briton later took full responsibility.

"He was in my blind spot, I didn't give him enough space. It is my fault," Hamilton said.

This unscripted exit left the seven-time champion still searching for a first win of the season.

Shortly after, Nicholas Latifi went wide in his Williams and spun, taking out Valtteri Bottas's Alfa Romeo.

A safety car was deployed and the field settled with Sainz leading Perez, Russell and Alonso.

Soon after the resumption, Verstappen cut his way through to reach third and a podium finish by lap eight.

The impatient Dutchman surged past Perez on lap 12 as Alonso pitted, leaving the two Red Bulls leading ahead of Russell and Vettel, a near-perfect scenario for the Milton Keynes-based team that made light of Verstappen's grid penalty.

Perez pitted after 14 laps, re-joining third in front of Leclerc as Verstappen came in from the lead on lap 15. He came out ahead of Perez.

The defending champion was in imperious mood and on lap 18, after following Sainz uphill from Eau Rouge, swept past to lead on the Kemmel straight.

Remarkably, to the delight of the orange-clad hordes packed into the circuit, Verstappen had demolished the field before half-distance.

Three laps later, Perez passed Sainz for second.

Further pit-stops shuffled the pack briefly, but Red Bull reigned supreme.

"It was quite a hectic first lap to stay out of trouble," said a composed Verstappen. "But once we settled in after the safety car, the car was really on rails."

He added that he knew his car was ‘super-competitive’ from the start of the weekend. “I could tell from the ‘get-go’ that we could get an amazing result.

"Now, of course, I am enjoying the moment, having a good time, but even with this amazing weekend, we are still focused on what we can achieve and we want more."

He will be counting on another big points pay day next weekend when the F1 circus pitches up at Zandvoort for his home Dutch Grand Prix.


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