Max Vestappen humbles the F1 field to win the 2022 Grand Prix of Belgium at mighty Spa-Francorchamps
Max Verstappen won the Grand Prix of Belgium by simply slicing through the field of F1’s most brilliant drivers as if he was driving in a different formula on another planet.
In a season where Red Bull and Ferrari are usually no more than a couple of hundredths apart in qualifying, the Dutchman started the Belgian Grand Prix from 14th on the grid. He then produced an otherworldly pace that saw him finish 18s ahead of the field.
Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished second, with Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) third. Mercedes’ George Russell captured fourth, in front of Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in sixth. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) in seventh ahead of Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) and Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri). William’s Alex Albon took the final point.
Verstappen and Leclerc were already penalized for new power units upon arrival and would line up alongside each other on the eighth row.
The Dutchman quickly captured the provisional pole with a solitary Q3 lap 0.685sec clear of Carlos Sainz and the rest of field without really trying.
By virtue of Verstappen taking the pole, the Dutchman would now move from the last row of the grid (per the engine change penalty) to start ahead of seven other drivers also taking on a new power unit and gearbox starting penalties.
Thus, the Dutchman, as the fastest qualifier, would start 14th, ahead of Leclerc in 15th (new engine).
Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris also took on new power dropping them to 16th and 17th, respectively, but in front of the slower Bottas, Zhou, and Schumacher.
Later news revealed Gasley (AlphaTauri) would join teammate Tsunoda to start from the pitlane after post qualifying changes.
Red Bull intentionally chose Spa to introduce a relatively large rear wing with outstanding balance, good downforce, and very low drag. Its slow corner performance put the RB18 onto the straights faster, making the car rocket through Sectors 1 and 3 while producing devastating speed and grip through the fast corners of Sector 2.
The new wing was all about aero efficiency at the low end of the downforce scale demanded by Spa. The weekend’s hot track and tyre choices amplified Red Bull’s advantage.
The Hamilton and Russell duo were 1.8 seconds off Verstappen’s pace in Q3 as they continued to battle a desperately unpredictable car. Due to colder temperatures than expected, Mercedes was miles away from their Hungarian Grand Prix pace of a month ago.
The adjusted starting grid would be Sainz starting first, ahead of Perez, Alonso, Hamilton, Russell and Albon.
Carlos Sainz got a perfect start from pole position, but Sergio Perez dropped back to fifth place, as Alonso, Hamilton, and Russell lunged for second place.
Hamilton picked up the draft on the Kemmel Straight from Alonso and attempted to slice across the Spaniard’s line from the outside of Les Combes, but he ran out of racing room before reaching the apex of the right-hander. Alonso was already there, and they made contact. Hamilton’s W13 was launched skyward, tail up and landed heavily. Hamilton was out on the spot.
“What an idiot!” screamed the Spaniard. “Closing the door from the outside. We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first.”
The contact presented an opportunity for Perez, as the Mexican retook second place from Russell, dropping Alonso to fourth.
Moments later, Nicolas Latifi ran wide and spun at Les Combes on Lap 2. Valtteri Bottas veered into the run-off area, high-centering his Alfa Romeo and forcing the Finn to retire.
When the dust settled, Verstappen was already up to eighth place before the safety car deployed. The Dutchman had already taken four positions on his own while inheriting two more spots thanks to Hamilton’s exit and Pierre Gasley’s start from the pit lane.
Ironically, having started at the rear due to his engine change, Charles Leclerc was up to ninth when he suddenly experienced poor braking. Unable to apply pressure on the Dutchman, the Monegasque had to pit. Ferrari discovered a tear-off from Verstappen’s visor had lodged in his Ferrari’s brake duct. He rejoined near the back and eventually wrestled up to a distant fifth.
When the race restarted on Lap 5, Verstappen bolted past Alex Albon’s Williams and Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren before he exited the chicane. He then passed Sebastian Vettel and Alonso in succession. As he started his eighth lap – and just the fifth “racing lap” – the Dutchman grabbed third place from Russell using DRS. Only Perez and Sainz remained ahead.
By now, Sainz’s soft tyres were screaming with pain. His first two laps were quick, but the softs immediately went into high degradation. Sainz pitted at the end of Lap 11, leaving only Verstappen on the softs. The Dutchman swept past team- mate Perez to take the lead. Verstappen would pit four laps later.
Three laps after his stop, on that same tyre compound, Verstappen overtook Sainz for the lead, having taken 2.4 seconds out of the Ferrari on just the previous lap. Verstappen was racing in a different world, and the Spaniard had no answer.
It was all over except for the champagne.
Three laps after Verstappen took the lead, Perez followed him through, and from then on, the Red Bull pair cruised to the flag. The Dutchman pitted at the end of Lap 30. Thanks to a 21.5sec gap to Perez, he fitted mediums and retained the lead.
Sainz was running third, 8.2sec behind the Mexican, with Russell another 6sec behind. Leclerc was fifth and 14sec behind the Mercedes, followed by Vettel, who had only made one stop, 2.5sec back.
There was still brilliant racing to enjoy. With ten laps remaining, Esteban Ocon, who had started 16th due to his Alpine’s power unit penalty – pulled off the pass of the season. Sebastian Vettel had passed Pierre Gasly out of La Source, but Gasly and Ocon, both with DRS, caught Vettel and passed either side.
Ocon was trailing the duo and took to the outside, where the trio went three cars abreast. Ocon had enough momentum and cut into the apex first to secure seventh, while Vettel re- passed Gasly three corners later for eighth.
Then there was Charles Leclerc. His early pitstop had destroyed any opportunity of taking on Verstappen. Ready to start the penultimate lap, Leclerc was called into the pits for soft tyres to try to set the fastest lap. After rejoining the race, Leclerc couldn’t stay ahead of Alonso. The Spaniard passed him at the exit of the Kemmel Straight.
Equally heartbreaking, Leclerc didn’t have a new set of soft tyres for the fastest lap attempt. He fell 0.6sec short of Verstappen’s benchmark in a car that would have been around 28kg lighter by then.
Max Verstappen took the checkers 17.8s ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz crossing at 26.8s.
Later, the Stewards penalized Leclerc with a five-second time penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit on his out lap, dropping him to sixth behind Alonso in the finishing order.
Later, Charles Leclerc reflected on the reality of Red Bull’s pace and Verstappen’s sheer speed.
“Other than all of this, there’s also the pace. The pace, Carlos and I… The thing that is strange is the feeling is quite OK inside the car but then you look at the pace compared to Red Bull and they are on another planet completely,” mused Leclerc.
“So we need to understand and hopefully by Zandvoort next week we’ll understand and we’ll come back to as close to Red Bull as we were in the first part of the season.”