RED Bull’s Max Verstappen won a rain-delayed and shortened sprint race from pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday to stretch his Formula One lead to 118 points.
Australian rookie Oscar Piastri started and finished second for McLaren, after leading briefly during a safety car period, with Frenchman Pierre Gasly a morale-boosting third for misfiring Alpine.
Verstappen’s closest rival and team mate Sergio Perez retired after a clash with Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton, who crossed the line fourth but ended up seventh after a five-second time penalty.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc moved up to fourth and fifth as a result, with McLaren’s Lando Norris sixth and George Russell taking a point for Mercedes in eighth.
Heavy rain played havoc with the schedule before the race got underway with a rolling start after five laps behind the safety car to clear standing water, with the total distance reduced accordingly.
Rain and heavy spray are a major safety concern at Spa, a fast circuit where two young drivers have died in junior series in the last four years.
Gasly paid tribute to one of them, close friend and compatriot Anthoine Hubert who was killed in a Formula Two crash in 2019.
Half the field followed Piastri straight into the pits at the start to change to intermediate tyres while Verstappen stayed out on full wets.
Verstappen then pitted along with the remaining drivers at the end of the opening lap, with Piastri taking over at the front while the Red Bull was in the pitlane.“It was just a safer call. I could come in first but then I might be blocked by other cars, there might be a safety car and then you lose out massively. So I didn’t mind to stay out,” said Verstappen.
The safety car was deployed on the third of the 11 laps when Aston Martin’s Spaniard Fernando Alonso clipped the kerb and spun off into the gravel at Pouhon on his 42nd birthday.
Piastri led the re-start into lap six in a big career moment but was unable to hold off Verstappen, who slipstreamed past on the Kemmel Straight at the top of the climb from Eau Rouge and pulled away.
“I led a few laps, tried my best but we were no match for Max,” said the Australian, who finished 6.677 seconds behind Verstappen for his highest finish to date even if there is no podium after sprint races.
“Apart from Max our pace was really strong... we’ve still got a little bit of work to do to get it right to the top but it’s a little nicer to be up there.”
Perez retired in the pits on lap nine with a gaping hole in the car’s sidepod after he and Hamilton collided, the pair going side by side through Stavelot before the Briton made the move stick at the first La Source corner.
Both Ferraris also went past the Mexican in quick succession, with Perez sliding into the gravel as Norris also gained a place.
“You could see he lost so much performance and we had no choice but to retire the car. That was very unfortunate,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, with stewards finding Hamilton to blame.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told reporters it was “an absolute racing incident”.
“This is a sprint race, we want to see them racing,” he said. “The argument of the damage isn’t valid because he (Perez) was going backwards before then, massively backwards.
“When you look at that corner, they were side by side. Fair enough it takes two to tango but it’s a racing incident. For me that’s really clear.”
Leclerc will start from pole today after Verstappen was fastest in Friday’s qualifying for the main grand prix but collected a five-place penalty for a gearbox change.