Formula One: Verstappen wins wet, wild sprint race at Belgian GP

AFP , Saturday 29 Jul 2023

Max Verstappen increased his lead by a further eight points in the world championship with a calculated and convincing victory ahead of Australian rookie Oscar Piastri in Saturday's rain-delayed sprint race at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) poses after winning the sprint race ahead of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Spa on July 29, 2023. Photo: AFP


Red Bull's double defending world champion rode his luck when McLaren's Piastri snatched the lead by making an early pit-stop to switch from wet to intermediate tyres, to storm back and win by 6.6 seconds.

Verstappen's win extended Red Bull's record this year to 14 wins from 14 races -- 11 grands prix and three sprints.

"It was all under the control, the car was quick, tyres were holding on," said the Dutchman.

Piastri came home a strong second ahead of Pierre Gasly, who gave the beleaguered Alpine team something to celebrate, with Carlos Sainz and his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc finishing fourth and fifth.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton came home fourth on track for Mercedes, but was demoted to seventh behind Lando Norris, in the second McLaren, after taking a five-second penalty for a clash with Red Bull's Sergio Perez.

George Russell was eighth in the second Mercedes ahead of Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo, enjoying his second weekend with Alpha Tauri.

"I am very happy," said Piastri. "We tried out best and led for a few laps, but we were no match for Max. But it's nice to be up there in P2. All credit to the team."

The race began 35 minutes late, after delays caused by heavy rain, with all 20 cars on full-wet tyres for the start behind the safety car.

The race distance was reduced to 12 laps, but it was obvious that in the improving conditions all 20 cars would dive into the pits for intermediates – a chaotic spectacle – as the race was reduced to 11 laps, allowing for one more formation lap.

Finally, the safety car came in and Verstappen accelerated into Pouhon while Piastri, Sainz, Perez, Gasly and Hamilton all dived in immediately for intermediates leaving Verstappen leading Leclerc at the front.

"We need to box this lap," said Verstappen, who then pitted, emerging second behind Piastri with Gasly, Perez and Hamilton behind him, all three gaining from their instant pit-stop decisions.

By lap three, the Australian was eight-tenths ahead, his wet-set-up car resisting the Red Bull, which had superior straight-line speed, before Fernando Alonso spun out at the exit of Pouhon.

He was unhurt, but he had his first non-finish of the season to mark his 42nd birthday.

The safety car was deployed while Red Bull told Verstappen Piastri's left-hand tyres were "suffering".

"I'm not surprised, he's drifting everywhere," said the Dutchman who picked his moment after the re-start, with five laps to go, to blast past Piastri down Kemmel Straight.

Gasly stayed third as Perez and Hamilton tangled when the Briton dived down the inside at Stavelot, but he succeeded later in the lap at La Source and both Ferraris followed in overtaking the Mexican.

"I have no rear grip," said Perez, before slithering across a gravel trap to re-join 16th. "We’re going to box and retire the car," Red Bull informed him.

His team-mate made short work of establishing himself as leader and was four seconds clear of Piastri by lap nine as Hamilton, fourth, was given a five-second penalty for his earlier contact with Perez.

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