F1 – Belgian GP – Race
Bonjour, MiniFans! For the first time during the weekend, no imminent rain was clearly on the horizon for the day, so decisions as to what slick tyre to use needed to be taken. With a front row that wasn’t home to Verstappen for the first time in a long time, it was necessary to go down to sixth place on the grid to find the championship leader in this last race before the summer break.
Softs were the preferred choice among many of the top drivers, save for Piastri, who had acknowledged it would be pretty much impossible to defend from Verstappen at the start. A quick start gave way to Pérez, who quickly overtook Leclerc, while Verstappen easily climbed to fourth. However, it was far away from clean, as a small collision between Sainz and Piastri in the first corner left both with damaged cars which wasn’t considered to need any further investigation past noting the incident. This eventually led to the McLaren’s retirement, with only yellow flags as a precautionary measure to allow marshals to move the car behind the fences.
Sainz had become a mobile chicane, as the damage to his sidepod amounted to a 5% loss of aerodynamic performance, and it took Alonso a few laps to get past with his medium tyres. Right in front of them, Verstappen was calmly taking his time to get pat Hamilton, who was being aided by being in Leclerc’s DRS zone. Once out of it, it was a matter of a few corners until the Red Bull was in front. Meanwhile, Sainz kept dropping places one by one until Ferrari finally decided to pit him for fresh mediums and rebalancing the car in an attempt to lessen the consequences of his broken sidepod.
When the stops at the front finally came, Red Bull allowed Pérez to pit first, but his stop was a bit slower than we’re used to from the energy drinks team, so Verstappen pitting in the following lap closed the gap slightly as dark clouds started to loom over the circuit and the change of position was soon done and dusted. The weather forecast information made it so Russell, Stroll and Gasly still holding into their first sets of tyres as spectators started gearing up for the first drops of rain. Their efforts didn’t pay off, as it didn’t become quite wet enough to get rid of slicks, so the teams eventually relented and gave them another set of dry weather tyres.
Despite it not raining enough in order to force hands and go to intermediates, there was enough water on the track in order to warrant quite a bit of careful driving, as shown by Verstappen saving a possible crash when his car slid under him up Raidillon. When the sun came back out, the care that drivers had to have in order to keep the cars in between the lines disappeared as the grip returned to Spa.
The ever so usual sight of Verstappen in the front was only missing one of his very common companions, the fastest lap, which he set after a small radio conversation in which he was told he would need to be careful with his tyres. A small back and forth ensued, including a suggestion from Verstappen of an extra stop, which was very quickly shot down by the team.
The race had mostly settled once the uncertainty around the rain that fell was over, and it was mostly only the back of the midfield that kept things interesting and exciting, while the gaps at the front were either stagnant or increasing slightly, save for those with very old slicks, who lost pace steadily. Verstappen, however, was not deterred from opening up the gap to Pérez and Leclerc further, trying to convince the team to allow him for a last attempt at the fastest lap. He was not allowed to do as he desired but Hamilton, with a big enough gap to Alonso, was called in for fresh medium tyres, which helped him to steal the fastest lap award and the point from a Verstappen that leaves for the summer break dominating the championship with an iron fist.
The question to answer in Belgium hadn’t been how much time Verstappen would impose over the second finisher, but rather when he’d get to the front. His climb up to second took around ten laps, but there wasn’t any hurry to take first, as it was his own teammate at the front. Red Bull’s twelfth consecutive victory, and his eighth, signs him off to leave on vacation with a gap that could allow him to not return for even longer and still lead, but the Dutch lion wouldn’t miss his home race for anything. Enjoy the break and see you in Zandvoort at the end of August, MiniFans!