F1 – Belgian GP – Race
Salut, MiniFans! Belgium has kickstarted the top teams reaching their limit of engine parts, which will mean they will incur in grid penalties, and both Verstappen and Leclerc have chosen Spa as one of the circuits in which to start from the back, which will attract much of the attention. However, their teams’ second drivers, Sainz and Pérez, will seemingly be the ones fighting for the win, so there will always be something to look at, something especially key after last year’s “race”.
Disaster stuck AlphaTauri even before the race took off. After a penalty was applied to Tsunoda on Sunday morning, Gasly had to step out too and start behind his teammate from the pitlane, making all the rest of the penalised drivers step one place up.
After a brilliant start by both Sainz, who was the only one in the top ten starting on softs, and Alonso, who managed to overtake Pérez and settle in second, chaos ensued. Hamilton had made it to the back of Alonso’s car, and a touch between the two sent the Mercedes jumping up, which caused his eventual retirement at the end of the lap and prompted a very angry radio message by the Spaniard, but no penalty was awared to any of them. Barely a lap later, Latifi spun after touching the gravel and collided into Bottas, who got stuck after spinning himself, and the safety car was deployed.
By this point, Verstappen and Leclerc had managed to climb up to eight and ninth, but the Ferrari driver kept his bad luck up and a tear off had gotten stuck in some cooling ducts in his front right tyre, which meant he had to pit and was sent to the back of the pack.
The restart was managed masterfully by Sainz, who caught Pérez slightly by surprise and managed to open up a small gap as Russell attacked the Mexican from Red Bull, and Alonso did the same with Russell, as Verstappen closed up and slowly but surely made his way to them and to the podium places. Meanwhile, Leclerc was making his own way to the points, but having more problems than the championship leader.
The first real stop from the top dogs was Sainz’s, to match everyone else’s mediums. In a different tune than usual, the Ferrari crew gave him a clean and quick stop, allowing their driver to lose as little time as possible. Verstappen, still on softs, asked to continue, and he was granted his wish, pitting a couple of laps after Pérez. They would both leave the pitlane behind Sainz, but Verstappen quickly regained first place from the Spaniard, who would eventually be passed by Pérez too.
With the race settled, many eyes fell on Leclerc, as his race engineer kept asking him long questions regarding tyres, until Ferrari seemed to get to a decision, and made one last, but in this case precise, question about his ability to lengthen his run by five more laps at the same pace. The first to commit to his second stop was Sainz, who got hards fitted, while Leclerc repeated his mediums. Two Red Bull stops later, the order stayed the same, due to the distances accumulated between the drivers.
The battle for the win was pretty much settled, but the podium still wasn’t set in stone, as Russell was making his way to Sainz, but the fight was slowly getting pushed back, as his quickest times weren’t repeating themselves every lap. Further back the battle for the last positions in the points was fired up, with Gasly, Ocon and Vettel even making it three wide before one of the corners, and Albon creating a small train in the fight for tenth.
In the last handful of laps, it was clear that Red Bull would leave Belgium with the 1-2, but Russell’s assault on third was deflating, even losing some time to Sainz as both sets of hard tyres were reaching the end of their lives, and probably paying for the earlier effort in his quest to grab one new podium in 2022. At the front, Verstappen cruised to victory unimpeded, while Pérez climbed to second in the championship standings, pushing Leclerc to third. In a last-ditch effort to try and salvage the race in some way, Leclerc pitted for softs, as he had a free stop, even if he did have a small battle with Alonso, who knew he wouldn’t be able to fight the Ferrari with old hard tyres, and kept his head cold enough to stay behind and use the Spaniard for a tow before overtaking him, but he couldn’t manage to score the fastest lap.
The speculation of whether Verstappen and Leclerc would manage a great comeback was answered very soon into the race. After going up two places with the two AlphaTauri having problems and being relegated to a pit lane start, a chaotic first lap catapulted the championship leader into a very comfortable position to try and score a new win, while the Monegasque’s bad luck returned and a stuck tear-off made him pit and lose a huge amount of both time and places. Almost playing at home, Verstappen displayed one of the reasons why he’s the current world champion, his pace in Spa being insane enough that it became a matter of when he’d make it to the front, not if he’d do it. Ferrari’s misery didn’t go away in the summer break, almost handing the win to Red Bull on a silver platter.