Max Verstappen converted sprint pole into a sprint race win as he beat Oscar Piastri by six and a half seconds at the Belgian Grand Prix. The Dutchman drove a stead shortened sprint to take his second sprint win of the season and further extend his championship lead.
Following a delayed start behind the safety car and with the track drying out Piastri inherited second when the others dived into the pits when the race started properly. At the end of that lap, Verstappen stuck on the full wet and others dived into the pits, following the safety car was able to pass Piastri for second on the first racing lap, using the slipstream he passed the McLaren on the Kemmel Straight.
Saturday had been the day of delays, sprint shootout earlier in the day to set the grid for the sprint had been delayed by over half an hour. That had already delayed the sprint by half an hour, a further delay followed as a heavy shower saw a further half hour delay.
After almost 30 minutes of heavy rain, the sun reappeared and provided much needed assistance to the vehicles that had been sent out to clear the water from the surface. Then the race director opted for four laps behind the safety car creating an eleven lap sprint.
That wasn’t without frustration, by the time racing laps got underway drivers had made it clear over radio that the track was ready for intermediate rather than the wet tyres they were forced to start on behind the Safety Car.
It set up a potentially chaotic situation, with cars able to follow the Safety Car into the pit lane as it came in to allow a rolling restart at the front. But their were no major dramas
Verstappen said: “It was the safer call. I didn’t mind to stay out. We lost a position but we know we are quick and when we got the inters on we were flying.”
That delay was cautious this years race coming four weeks after Dilano van ‘t Hoff was killed in an accident through Raidillon, as well as the death of Antoine Hurbert in 2019. Also a serious shut in W Series in 2021. This created the situation where half the cars pitting for inters at the restart.
Piastri perhaps showed some inexperience in allowing Verstappen to remain on his tail at the rolling restart, making it all too easy for the Dutchman to trail him through Eau Rouge and pass on the exit of Raidillon. It then became another textbook 2023 win for Verstappen who then pulled away.
He praised McLaren for the progress they have made with their car since an upgrade was introduced at the Austrian Grand Prix at the beginning of the month, since when Norris has had two podium finishes.
Piastri said, “Full credit to the team. The last three weekends we have had it has been very special compared to where we were. To lead my first laps was a day I won’t forget.”
The McLaren driver then settled into second to finish ahead of Pierre Gasly, the Alpine driver taking third on a turbulent weekend off track, after the sacking of team principal Otmar Szafnauer. Piastri would get another opportunity to try to pass Verstappen on the restart after Fernando Alonso spun off.
Gasly an emotional sprint podium at Spa, the Alpine driver had been a best friend of Hubert, and on Thursday led a “Run For Anthoine” around the track, stopping to lay flowers at the spot where the Frenchman lost his life.
Also a team experiencing turbulence following a string of management sackings in the build up to the summer break, adding to the growing list of departures over the last twelve months. It was Gasly’s first top-three finish since he joined Alpine this year.
But once again on the restart, Verstappen eased away from the McLaren to build and take victory by six and a half seconds. Gasly meanwhile had gained three place during the pit stops moving into fourth behind Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton had looked to find a way past the Frenchman but the shortened format meant he couldn’t find his way past.
But Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for causing a collision which caused Sergio Perez to retire dropping him to seventh in the final result. Their battle was one of the most entertaining, Hamilton running wide the Stavelot. But the Mercedes had drifted a little wide and had to drop behind the Red Bull for the remainder of the lap, coming under pressure from the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
Sainz had lost positions to Gasly and Hamilton after being held at his tyre stop to avoid a pit-lane collision, leading Leclerc home.
Hamilton pass him at La Source, followed by Sainz who went side by side after picking up the tow on the way to Eau Rouge. He then ran alongside Perez before getting ahead through Raidillon, the Red Bull then lost momentum opening the door to Charles Leclerc who past through Les Combes at the end of the straight.
Things would get worst for the Mexican when he went off at Stavelot losing a place to Lando Norris, before he eventually had to retire his car. Verstappen’s other rival from the early part of the season Fernando Alonso crashed out early on. Sainz and Leclerc the main beneficiaries of Hamilton’s penalty, moving up to fourth and fifth respectively, while McLaren’s Lando Norris improved to sixth.
A rare mistake saw the Aston Martin driver, saw Alonso take too much throttle through Pouhon causing him to touch the kerb sending him into a spin and then to the wall. That lead to the two time champion retiring for the first time this season. The mistake coming as he was chasing down Nico Hulkenberg.
George Russell was eighth for Mercedes he finished six seconds ahead of Esteban Ocon. Russell took the final point, he had also benefited on the restart having passed Daniel Ricciardo at La Source the Ocon, who in the closing stages he was able to fend off the Alpine in the closing stages to finish tenths.
Lance Stroll was eleventh the Aston Martin driver finishing over a second ahead of Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas. Kevin Magnussen was fourteenth as he spilt the two Alfa Romeo’s he was nearly three and a half seconds behind Bottas and ha similar gap over the second Alfa of Guanyu Zhou.
Nico Hulkenberg finished seventeenth a second ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.