Max Verstappen Dominates the F1 Belgium Grand Prix, Hamilton Retires in First Lap
Ferrari continues to fumble away its championship hopes with crucial mistakes.
Drama filled the afternoon in Belgium, just hours after it was announced that the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit would return to the 2023 F1 calendar. Both Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who've been battling for the driver's championship all season, started from the middle of the grid at the Belgium Grand Prix. Verstappen was in P14 on the grid, with Leclerc just one position behind him in P15, due to both drivers getting new engine penalties. And yet both drivers had very different days. Once Verstappen fought through the traffic, and some first-lap chaos, he made his way into the lead and never looked back.
Leclerc's day was far more disappointing. He fought his way to fifth place, a position he held for most of the race. However, with only two laps to go, Ferrari decided to pit Leclerc for soft tires, to try and snag the fastest lap before the race was over. However, Ferrari underestimated how close behind Fernando Alonso was, which mean that Leclerc dropped back into sixth place almost immediately after the pit stop. He then had to fight his way back into fifth, which cost him the fastest lap Ferrari was fighting for. And because he had to hurry out of the pits to fight off an approaching Alonso, he was hit with a five second pit-lane speeding penalty, which dropped his final position into sixth.
Ferrari didn't just mismanage Leclerc, though. His teammate, Carlos Sainz started the day in pole position and yet finished third, behind both Red Bull drivers. Sainz kept noting his lack of grip throughout the day, and even pointed it out to Verstappen and Sergio Perez after the race. Ferrari decided to go for a more aggressive downforce setup, which proved to be costly. Not only did the added downforce make its cars slower in the straights, it also caused more tire degradation on the hot tarmac at Spa.
To be fair, no one could have kept up with Verstappen, anyway. He cruised to an easy win and was truly in a world of his own for the vast majority of the race. He was so far ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez in second place, that he was able to pit mid-race and Perez still couldn't threaten an overtake. It was a masterful performance by Verstappen, his untouchable car, and Red Bull's team management.
Lewis Hamilton's day unfortunately ended early, as a lap-one collision with Alpine's Fernando Alonso put him out of the race. Hamilton's rear right tire went up over Alonso's front left tire, which sent Hamilton's Mercedes up into the air and was too damaged to continue. After the collision, Alonso was furious, blaming it on Hamilton, who accepted the blame. "He was in my blind spot and I didn't leave him enough space, so it was my fault today." Hamilton told Sky TV.
The next grand prix is Sunday, September 4, at Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands. Ferrari will have to drastically improve its strategy if it wants to keep up with Red Bull, as Charles Leclerc (186) is now almost one hundred points behind Max Verstappen (284) in the driver's standings.