n imperious Max Verstappen cruised through the pack to claim victory at the Belgian Grand Prix and grow his case for back-to-back Formula One championships even further.
A bucketload of grid penalties for almost half of the drivers meant nobody actually started the race where they qualified, leaving Verstappen 13th and Charles Leclerc 14th from the off.
Carlos Sainz, the sole frontrunner on Soft tyres, held the lead into the first corner as Sergio Perez’s angular strategy off the line failed and he fell behind Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Hamilton and Alonso battled down the long Kemmel Straight and the Brit turned in too tight at Les Combes, bouncing into the air off Alonso’s front-left tyre and dropping out of the race from a suddenly promising position – having lamented his qualifying performance.
Perez overtook Russell in the same moment before a safety car was called out by Hamilton stopping on track and Valtteri Bottas being spun out in a separate incident. Amid the mayhem, Verstappen was already into the top eight while a helmet visor tear-off landed in Leclerc’s brake duct, forcing him to pit and drop to the back of the pack.
The championship leader’s surge through the pack continued unabated as Sainz held off Perez, the unexpected top-ten contenders Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel gobbled up with glee in front of the raucous Dutch fans.
A momentary hurdle came in the form of teammate Perez daring to hold Verstappen up in a display of valiance lasting all of a single lap before he made the move with ease ahead of the first pit stops.
Sainz’s earlier change onto the Mediums did briefly extend his lead and yet, by lap 19 of 44, Verstappen had caught him too to sail into the sunset.
Second place was soon Perez’s as Ferrari struggled to get a grip of the tyres ahead of the second stops, confusing radio messages dropped regularly onto both their drivers as the Scuderia showed little sign of learning from their over-thinking under-planning issues from before the summer break.
Ferrari’s woes were compounded further as Russell, in a Mercedes car thoroughly lampooned only 24 hours earlier, pulled up to Sainz for a late move on the final podium place. Yet the Brit ran out of tyres after a small error at Stavelot and was forced to settle for fourth.
Leclerc pitted late for Soft tyres and a run at the fastest lap point, which went to Verstappen nonetheless as Alonso jumped the Monegasque driver. A return overtake was quickly completed before a final hammer blow came Ferrari’s way as the chequered flag was dropped, Leclerc being demoted to sixth place for speeding in the pit lane.