Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, 2022.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Penalty no problem for masterful Max Verstappen in Belgium

The F1 world championship leader extends his advantage with a second Spa success, while team-mate Sergio Pérez made it another 1-2 for Oracle Red Bull Racing to set a new season-best benchmark.
Written by Matthew Clayton
10 min readPublished on
Where some Formula One drivers see obstacles and long odds, Max Verstappen sees options and opportunity.
Oracle Red Bull Racing's reigning world champion knew he'd be taking a grid penalty into the Belgian Grand Prix, but was unperturbed when his fastest lap time in qualifying saw him get demoted to 14th on the grid after his punishment was applied. "With a car like this, it will be a shame not to be on the podium," he said after qualifying.
As it turned out, the flying Dutchman didn't aim high enough with his ambition; it was arguably his only misstep all weekend.
Verstappen's second victory in succession in Belgium and third win on the bounce this season – after victories in France and Hungary before the summer break – was ruthlessly efficient in its achievement, and terrifying for the rest in its speed. Sunday was the Dutchman's ninth win of 2022 and saw the 24-year-old's world championship advantage balloon to 93 points with eight races remaining this year.
Even better for Oracle Red Bull Racing, Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Pérez finished second from second on the grid, the fourth 1-2 of the season for the squad. This set a record for the most 1-2 finishes in a single campaign, usurping the three earned by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in 2009, 2010 and 2013.
Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, 2022.

Pérez and Verstappen made it four 1-2 finishes for the team this season

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen's victory was largely stress-free, which went against pre-race expectations of a potentially madcap race after a series of grid penalties rendered the results of Saturday's qualifying largely irrelevant.
Eight drivers – Verstappen, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, Scuderia AlphaTauri pilot Yuki Tsunoda, McLaren's Lando Norris, Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu along with Mick Schumacher (Haas) – took engine-related penalties into the race. This meant the starting grid looked nothing like the finishing order from qualifying 24 hours earlier, and meant four drivers (Verstappen, Leclerc, Ocon and Norris) who were quick enough to qualify inside the top 10 took off from the rear of the field.
All eyes were on one of that quartet, though. Such was the pace of the RB18 deployed by Verstappen through free practice and qualifying that Mercedes driver George Russell felt Verstappen could win "pretty comfortably" despite his lowly starting spot. Especially with Spa being one of the best circuits on which to overtake on F1's 22-stop world tour.
Russell was spot-on, Verstappen taking the lead for good after 18 of the 44 laps and crossing the line with a healthy 17.8-second advantage over Pérez, with pole-sitter Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) rounding out the podium by heading off Russell after a race-long duel.
Here's how a stellar weekend in the Spa sunshine shook out for Verstappen, Pérez and Oracle Red Bull Racing.

Max plays it smart, then pulls the pin

Verstappen was happy to qualify fastest on Saturday even though he knew he'd be starting from back in the pack. He also knew keeping his nose clean on the first lap was imperative if he was to vault up the order at the rate the RB18 suggested it had in reserve.
The reigning world champion did better than that; from 14th on the grid, he was eighth after the first lap, fifth on Lap 6 and in the podium places two laps later. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 12 after Sainz pitted and Pérez played the team game by letting his faster stablemate through.
Verstappen then pitted on Lap 15, was back in P1 three laps later, and then simply drove off into the distance, much to the delight of the packed grandstands bathed in sunshine after last year's race lasted just one lap in a deluge of rain before being called off.
After his win last time out in Budapest came from 10th on the grid, Verstappen etched his name into the record books for a reason few saw coming. The last time a driver had won consecutive races from 10th or below on the grid came in the final race of 1959 (US Grand Prix) and the season-opener of 1960 (Argentina), both won by Bruce McLaren in a Cooper-Climax.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, 2022.

Verstappen was on the charge from 14th as soon as the lights went out

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Needless to say, Verstappen was thrilled by the manner of his win at the revered circuit in the country of his birth.
"It was quite a hectic first lap to stay out of trouble because so many things were happening in front of me," he said.
"But once we settled in after the safety car (caused by a Lap 2 incident between Williams driver Nicholas Latifi and Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas), the car was really on rails. I picked the right places to pass people, and we could look after our tyres. That's how we made our way forward."
It got better after the chequered flag for Verstappen, too; Leclerc was penalised five seconds for speeding in the pit lane after a stop on the penultimate lap to fit new tyres in an attempt to bank the fastest lap of the race and an extra world championship point.
The penalty dropped the Ferrari driver behind Fernando Alonso (Alpine) into sixth, costing him two points, and his final lap was slower than Verstappen's 1min 49.354sec effort on Lap 32, giving the Dutchman the maximum 26 points on offer for the third time this year.
"Once we were in the lead, it was all about managing everything," Verstappen said.
"This weekend has been incredible. It's been a weekend I couldn't imagine before, but I think we want more of them so we'll keep on working hard."

Checo bounces back to bank second

With his team-mate in the manic midfield at the start, Pérez had high hopes of pouncing on Sainz's Ferrari on the long run to Turn 5 to lead on the opening lap. However, he had to get his elbows out to even retain second place after being shuffled back to fifth at the first corner.
Pérez hunted down his prey and took the lead for a lap when Sainz pitted, but from there on he was largely a rear-gunner to his rampaging team-mate. But second was the Mexican's best Spa showing in 12 starts and was his seventh podium finish of the year.
Better still, Pérez's 18 points to Leclerc's eight saw him slot into second in the driver's standings and helped Oracle Red Bull Racing extend its constructors' championship advantage to a season-high 118 points.
Sergio Pérez of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, 2022.

Pérez pushed on after a tricky start for his best Spa result yet

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

"I really hoped for more today, because it was a good opportunity," Pérez said.
"It was a bit of chaos on Lap 1, I had a really poor start and lost a few positions and managed to get them all back into Turn 5. It was a very hectic Lap 1.
"Max was just flying, he was on another planet and untouchable, but it's a very strong result for the team. We managed to get a lot of points today which is important, so looking forward."
If Pérez was content with his podium, Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner was thrilled with the team's stunning turn of pace as the season turned for home after a month off.
"That's one of our biggest-ever team performances," Horner said.
"I never expected Max to win that race and particularly get to the front so quickly. With Checo right there as well … fastest lap, a 1-2 finish … it couldn’t have been better for us today.
"It was one of those weekends where we were just right in the window with our car and everything worked beautifully. Max has been exemplary this weekend, and Checo is doing absolutely everything asked of him.
"An amazing performance, absolutely up there with the best we achieved in 2010."

Gasly snaps the slide

AlphaTauri's run of five straight races without scoring a single point didn’t look like ending when both cars began Sunday's race from the pit lane, but milestone man Pierre Gasly dug in and dragged himself from dead last to ninth at the chequered flag.
On his 100th Grand Prix start, the Frenchman was set to start from eighth on the grid before an electrical gremlin saw his car sent back into the garage for a hasty reboot before the lights went out. The two points for ninth were Gasly's first since he finished fifth in Azerbaijan in June and continued his prolific form at Spa, having scored in all five starts at the famed circuit.
Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri at the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, 2022.

Gasly made it back to the points from a pit lane start

© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Tsunoda, on the other hand, went through a rollercoaster of emotions all weekend; disappointed with himself for locking up at the final chicane in qualifying and finishing 19th, he was optimistic of his snapping a recent dry run after penalties elsewhere promoted him to 13th on the grid.
But an unscheduled race-morning engine change saw him start in the pit lane alongside Gasly, and the Japanese driver could only advance as far as 13th in the race.

Ricciardo's news, Hamilton's blues

One of the bigger F1 driver market stories in years burst into life in the days leading into the Belgian weekend, with seven-time Grand Prix winner for Red Bull Racing and current McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo announcing he would leave the British team at the end of the season, two years into a three-year contract.
Ricciardo, 33, won at Spa for Red Bull in 2014, but his two-season tenure with McLaren has been spent largely in the wheel tracks of young Briton Lando Norris, despite Ricciardo winning the team's only Grand Prix of the past 10 years at Monza last year.
McLaren's Belgium race was largely miserable on both sides of the garage, Norris (12th) and Ricciardo (15th) failing to score on a day midfield rival Alpine managed 16 points between Alonso (fifth) and Esteban Ocon (seventh).
Elsewhere, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) came off second-best in a clash with Alonso on Lap 1 and retired, the Mercedes driver failing to finish a race for the first time this year, and becoming the last driver to have a DNF next to his name in 2022.
Bizarrely, in a career that began in 2007, Hamilton has just five first-lap retirements in 302 starts … and three of them have now come in Belgium (2009, 2012, 2022).

There's no place like home …

Belgium came as the first race of a triple-header that will soon make you forget about the long mid-season break, and one that features classic tracks on either end with Spa-Francorchamps this weekend and Monza in Italy on September 11. The middle pillar of that triple treat? Perhaps the biggest party of the year at Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix (September 4), where the colour of the caps and t-shirts in the grandstands (and the flares emanating from them) indicate there's just one driver 99 percent of the fans will be cheering next weekend.
Verstappen came into the first Dutch GP since 1985 last year with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, but shrugged at the pressure and embraced the adulation by winning from pole and leading all but eight of the 72 laps. Such was the home hero's pace that Verstappen lapped everyone up to including fourth-place finisher Gasly; as wins go, there was nothing sweeter than home for the reigning world champion 12 months ago.
Pérez made his mark a year ago too, after a qualifying timing howler left him mired in 16th on the grid. Armed with a new engine and a license to unleash it, Checo powered to eighth at the chequered flag and earned Driver of the Day from the sport's fans for an overtaking masterclass at the circuit nestled against the North Sea.

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