BELGIAN GP – Max Verstappen continues domination beating teammate Sergio Perez to victory by twenty-three seconds

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen continued his domination of the 2023 season beating his teammate Sergio Perez by twenty-three seconds to win the Belgian Grand Prix. The Dutchman looked unstoppable as he drove off into the distance and once again looked like the man to beat, at one of his home Grands Prix taking his third win in a row at Spa.

Red Bull has dominated the first half of the season and has won the last fourteen races their thirteenth win of the season already equals their season best with Verstappen dominating the sport winning every race in the last three months.

The Dutchman started sixth because of a gearbox change before his charging Red Bull saw him make good ground at the start, though his progress was briefly halted behind Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc. He then passed the Mercedes on lap six and Ferrari on lap nine, using DRS he blasted past on the Kemmel Straight and passed before the braking zone at Les Combe.

Verstappen appears all but certain to claim a third successive drivers’ title, extends his world championship lead over Perez to 125 points going into the sport’s summer break, having also won Saturday’s Sprint at Spa. Since last year’s race in Spa, eleven months ago, Red Bull has won all but one Grand Prix and Sprint which was in Sao Paulo in November.

The only jeopardy remaining in the race were some testy messages from his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. Who asked Verstappen to “use his head” before his first pit stop, only for the driver to ask whether Perez had been given the same command – effectively to manage his pace. Lambiase responded with “I suggest you follow my instructions and trust me”.

Not even a wobble through Eau Rouge appeared to stop him. While his teammate Perez had took the lead from Leclerc in the same place on the opening lap, he then held the lead for the remainder of the first stint. Verstappen then pitted on lap thirteen, on fresh softs he was able to take the lead from Perez and soon opened the gap and sailed off once again to take another win, his third in a row at Spa.

Verstappen’s near domination is something these regulations were designed to prevent and Red Bull’s penalty for exceeding the budget cap in 2021, to stop a team dominating have little impact on Red Bull. Following the break, the Belgian-Dutch driver will look to do the home double for the third year in a row at Zandvoort.

Further underlining the dominance of Red Bull this season with still half the season to go, Verstappen looks almost certain to surpass Sebastian Vettel’s nine wins in a row achieved a decade ago. While Red Bull has won twelve races this season which makes this their most successful season in their history.

Since last years race at Spa, Verstappen has only be beaten three times, twice by Perez and in Sao Paulo last year by the Mercedes of George Russell. Red Bull’s advantage at the top of the constructors’ championship is now 256 points, with Mercedes staying in second place ahead of Aston Martin in third.

Charles Leclerc was third, and the Ferrari driver made a good start but as he predicted on Friday the pace wasn’t their to take the fight to Red Bull. On the opening lap, Perez was able to remain close through the first sector, then under braking at Les Combes pass the Ferrari. Perez then controlled the opening stint before losing the lead to Verstappen at the first stops.

Leclerc fending of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, and then he was always within a handful of seconds of Perez and more than able to hold Hamilton at bay.

Verstappen said, “I knew that we had a great car and it was just about surviving Turn One. I could see it getting really tight so I was just going to stay out of that and it worked out. From there onwards we made the right overtakes and moves. I got a bit stuck in a DRS train at the start but once that cleared I could do my own pace. Again, really enjoyable.”

Leclerc added, “I don’t think you can call that confidence. I think it is something really interesting that we can look into. This is exactly what we need to understand to maximise our package going into the second half of the season.”

Hamilton was fourth finishing the race a second and a half behind Leclerc, during the middle stint of the race they looked close. Mercedes had tried to cut the advantage of Leclerc at the second stop by attempting to undercut the Ferrari, but that just allowed the Monacan to pull away thanks partly due to Verstappen upping his pace.

But Hamilton holding onto fourth is key in his battle with his long-time rival Fernando Alonso in the fight for third in the drivers, The Spaniard driving a sloid race despite Aston Martin’s early form disappearing to finish fifth, but eight seconds behind Hamilton. The seven time champion stole the fastest lap from Leclerc, consolation perhaps for not passing Hamilton.

Ferrari have often performed well in qualifying but lacked the pace to stay ahead of the likes of Mercedes and Aston Martin on a Sunday, but on this occasion, Leclerc was able to deny Hamilton what would have been a fourth podium in six races.

Alonso finishing fifth after gaining three places on the opening lap, before passing his compatriot Carlos Sainz during the opening phase. The Aston Martin split the Mercedes after finishing eight seconds ahead of George Russell. However Sainz’s, a collision with the McLaren of Oscar Piastri during those opening laps saw both retire, though the Ferrari made it to half distance.

Sainz had locked up into La Source on the opening lap, which then squeaked the McLaren into the wall forcing Piastri out immediately. Sainz meanwhile would go backwards before retiring just after half distance. Ferrari can be encouraged as they beat their nearest rivals were struggling to keep pace.

The biggest drop-off compared to the opening races in ‘the battle behind Red Bull’ is Aston Martin, the team has slipped it looks like from second to fourth in terms of performance. Following the break, they could come under threat from McLaren, Lando Norris however struggled with tyre degradation meaning he was unable to deliver similar results to the last three races.

Norris finished his second home race seventh, the British-Belgian driver lost out at his first stop after McLaren fitted the hard tyre by mistake struggling for grip he dropped to last. Then in his second stint on mediums was able to climb through the field before boldly passing Esteban Ocon for eighth, forcing his way through pass Yuki Tsunoda who finished tenth at Les Combes.

The Frenchman’s eighth place somewhat of a relief to Alpine, in a week where off track headlines have dominated following the sacking of team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane.

Lance Stroll was ninth nearly five seconds behind Ocon, and ahead of Tsunoda by nearly a second. They rounded out the points, with the second Alpine of Pierre Gasly missing out on the points which would have been a boost to the French manufacturer following a string of resignations and sackings in the last week. Gasly missing out on points by nearly three seconds.

Yuki Tsunoda will be buoyed by sealing a third points finish of the season and outperforming new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who could only manage 16th in his second race since replacing Nyck de Vries.

The two Alfa Romeo’s finished behind, Valtteri Bottas beating teammate Guanyu Zhou by ten seconds to take twelfth. Alex Albon was thirteenth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo while his Williams teammate was seventeenth just over eight seconds behind. Nico Hulkenberg was the final classified finisher in eighteenth.

Two more races remain in the European season, before the Asian-Middle East triple header and the trip to the Americas in October and November. But there appears to be two questions, can Red Bull win every race this season? And when will Verstappen take his third-world title?


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