44 laps of racing were ahead of us around the 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and the question was could anybody bring Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s winning run to an end? The Dutchman lined up sixth on the grid this afternoon after his five-place grid penalty for exceeding his gearbox allowance, but he still entered the race as favourite having come from 14th on the grid last year to claim a dominant victory.
Ahead of the race, pole-sitter Charles Leclerc said Ferrari have a “good chance of a great result” in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix but admitted he was “not confident” of holding off the Red Bulls behind him.
Charles Leclerc inherited pole position after finishing second in Friday’s Qualifying because Max Verstappen, who topped the timesheet, incurred a five-place grid penalty after exceeding his gearbox part allowance for the season. Having taken victory in Saturday’s Sprint to extend his world championship lead to 118 points, Max Verstappen started as favourite on Sunday despite his position of sixth on the grid.
Asked about his chances of victory, Charles Leclerc said: “Not confident, especially with two Red Bull guys right behind. I think they’ve got a much better race car than we have. It’s great to be starting first and I think it gives us a good chance to have a great result, but to say that we’ll target the win, I think is probably a bit too optimistic. If there’s an opportunity for whatever reason, as always I’ll try to get it, but I believe it’s going to be difficult to try to keep those guys behind.”
With 50 minutes to go until the race began, the pit lane was open! However, on his reconnaisance lap, Nico Hulkenberg was reporting smoke from the back of his Haas and said power was not delivering. He was back in the garage and Haas had a quick job to try and solve the issue ahead of race start. Haas had installed a brand new power unit this morning meaning the German was going to be starting from the pit lane.
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Sky Sports F1’s Anthony Davidson explains why pole-sitter Charles Leclerc could struggle to hold the lead at the start:
“Sainz started from pole here last year and the lucky thing for him was, because of the pinch point going into Turn 1, he was able to break free. If you can break free and have enough air between you and the cars behind, you break the slipstream through Eau Rouge and the Kemmel Straight, obviously with no DRS on the first lap. But the danger comes if they’re right on your tail on the exit of La Source (Turn 1), and they follow you through Eau Rouge and pick up your slipstream.”
There was an interesting mix of starting tyres for the top 10: the top four of Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz, along with Max Verstappen in P6, were on softs. The rest, including Oscar Piastri in P5, were on mediums. As for further down the field, eight of the remaining 10 cars are starting on softs, with only Yuki Tsunoda (P11) and Nico Hulkenberg, who starts from the pit lane, going for mediums.
Charles Leclerc kept the lead from Sergio Perez at the start, but Carlos Sainz made contact with Oscar Piastri at Turn One. Piasti hit the wall on the inside of the first corner as he was squeezed by the second Ferrari and has tumbled down the field. Unfortunately our lead didn‘t even last one lap: Sergio Perez blasted past Charles Leclerc on the Kemmel straight and took the lead. The Red Bull was simply too quick and the Ferrari could do nothing to keep it at bay. Meanwhile, Verstappen was already up to fourth after starting sixth.
Sergio Perez led by one second as we began lap two. Lewis Hamilton was a further second back in third and had Max Verstappen challenging him for the final podium position, just as Oscar Piastri stopped on track. His damage was terminal after that first corner contact by Carlos Sainz. Fernando Alonso was all over the back of Carlos Sainz’s damaged Ferrari.
He couldn’t make a move into Turn One but will have a great run down the Kemmel Straight. And Alonso moved up into the top five as he breezes past the Ferrari car.
By lap 9, Max Verstappen alredy overtook Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc and was running behind his Red Bull teammate, while the Maranello team boxed their stricken driver, but he was not retiring yet and was sent back out in 18th on some new mediums, most likely using this race as a testing session.
Lewis Hamilton was the first of those leading cars to pit from P4 ahead of starting lap 13: he kept P4 as he came back out just in front of Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and he fended off the Canadian down the Kemmel Straight to hold position. The followint lap, Sergio Perez pitted from the lead: it was not the quickest of pit stops by Red Bull at 3.2 seconds. Charles Leclerc also pitted and is a 2.4 second stop for the Ferrari.
Max Verstappen was having a debate with his team as to whether he should try to stay out until the rain arrived in the 10 minutes, but they clearly decided the tyres would not last. The Dutchman re-emerged 2.2s behind Sergio Perez after a pit stop that was half a second quicker than his team-mate. Max Verstappen had an excellent exit out of La Source on lap 17: the Dutchman lifted off through Eau Rouge and then powered past Sergio Perez down the Kemmel Straight to take the lead of the Belgian GP, as expected.
Carlos Sainz, who was the last car on track at this stage due to the huge damage to his SF-23, was told that rain was coming in four minutes – and that the intensity was level two to three. Emergency ponchos were going on in the crowd. But clearly it was not raining enough yet, as Lance Stroll stopped and opted for softs, re-emerging in 18th. A few moments later, George Russell also pitted from P6 for his first stop: fresh soft tyres put on the Mercedes and he came back out in P15.
On lap 23, Ferrari decided to retire the SF-23 car of Carlos Sainz after the stint on medium tyres. He had been struggling all day after picking up damage on the opening lap and now he could start his summer break early.
Lewis Hamilton was beginning to struggle a bit on his medium tyres: he was falling away from Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in third place, and was six tenths slower on the last lap 26. The Mercedes man then pitted for fresh soft tyres and re-emerged in P5 behind Fernando Alonso. Ferrari promptly and called Charles Leclerc to the pits from P3 in response to Lewis Hamilton’s stop: he comes out just in front of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, just as the Mercedes driver got past Alonso at La Source and now he can chase down the Monegasque.
Great driving from Charles to manage the gap to Lewis Hamilton and keep the Pireli tyres alive long enough as to not risk an attack from the Mercedes W14 car behind him. The Monegasque therefore secured a solid third place finish for the Maranello team, on a Sunday in which the SF-23 car regained it’s status of second fastest car on track. Unfortunately, Carlos Sainz’s incident on lap 1 meant the Italian side lost the opportunity of scoring more points at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Stavelot.
Chequered flag: Max Verstappen wins the Belgian GP to claim an eighth consecutive race win. It is a 13th win in a row for Red Bull. And it is a new record of 12 straight wins within a season for Red Bull, beating McLaren’s record.