The summer break is over and F1 returns and where better to start the second half of the season than Spa Francorchamps, possibly the greatest track in the world.
The new technical directive regarding Flexi floors seems to have affected the RedBulls the least and sees them with the biggest advantage anyone has had all season. However, with a host of penalties throughout the field the grid is mixed up and should give us a great race, could we see Max Verstappen use that huge advantage and make his way through the field from 14th, or could we see a new winner this season with both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the second row today. The weather looks good, almost the complete opposite from last year’s farcical “race” where not a single racing lap took place.
Lights out and Perez makes a poor start, Hamilton makes a move on Alonso into Les Combes and they touch sending the Mercedes into the air, he makes it through another couple of corners before coming to a halt with damage to the car. Into lap 2 and Latifi spins causing Bottas to spin in avoidance bringing out the safety car. Verstappen has already made it up to P8 with Leclerc right behind him. Sainz leads from Perez, Russell, and Alonso.
Leclerc pits under the safety car and puts on fresh mediums but drops to P17. Pit radio confirms a tear-off was stuck in his brake ducts but was removed at the stop. The safety car pulls in and we begin lap 5, Sainz leads the field away.
Alonso tries to overtake Russell but the Mercedes driver breaks later and keeps P3. Verstappen moves to P7 and has his sights on Ricciardo in the McLaren. At the chicane Verstappen makes it passed and is into P6 already. Albon also makes it passed the McLaren and gets his Williams into P7. Verstappen is flying on his soft tyres and is already up to the gearbox of Vettels Aston Martin. Once again into the chicane, he makes it up to P5, next up is Alonso in the Alpine.
The World Champion simply drives passed the Alpine as if it was in reverse. Now up to fourth and only 5.5 seconds behind Sainz in the Ferrari in first position. One lap later he overtakes Russell, the straight-line speed of the RedBull is unstoppable. Meanwhile, Leclerc has made his way up to 14th but is 15 seconds behind Verstappen already. On lap 9 Lando Norris makes his way up to P11 overtaking Magnussen into Les Combes.
Up at the front and Sainz leads Perez by 1.3 seconds who is 0.6 ahead of his teammate. Sainz pits at the end of lap 11, as he pits Verstappen overtakes Perez and takes the lead. Sainz returns to the track in P6 behind the McLaren of Ricciardo, have Ferrari made another strategic error?
At the end of the next lap, Ricciardo and Ocon also pit. The RedBull’s are staying out pulling clear of the field. Russell pits from P3 and returns to the track in P7, he was matching the times of Perez in front of him. Verstappen has now pulled a gap of 3.7 seconds, Perez in second pits at the end of lap 14, he comes out ahead of Leclerc. Perez moves to defend into Les Combes and keeps the position.
The leader pits at the end of lap 15, as he comes out Perez is behind him followed by Leclerc and Russel. Sainz now leads by 4.8 seconds. Russell moves ahead of Leclerc and into P4, Leclerc down to P5 ahead of Alonso, Tsunoda, Albon, Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Zhou, Magnussen, Schumacher, and Latifi.
Verstappen closes the gap to less than a second at the start of lap 18. He retakes the lead with another move at Les Combes. It looks like he will just check out now as he is putting laps in that are over 2 seconds quicker than the Ferrari can manage.
At half distance Verstappen lead from Perez as the Mexican overtakes Sainz, The lead is 6.5 seconds, Sainz is already 1.5 behind Perez, Russell is a further 7.5 seconds behind the Ferrari and he is 9 seconds ahead of Leclerc who appears to be on the usual Ferrari Plan Z strategy. The field seems to have settled before the inevitable second round of pitstops.
The second round of stops begins with Sainz on lap 26, he is followed by his teammate Leclerc. Sainz on the hards and Leclerc on the mediums, surely Leclerc is going to run out of tyres before the end of the race. Albon and Stroll pit on lap 27, They are now at the back of the field along with Latifi.
Perez stops a lap later and returns still in front of the Ferrari of Sainz. His teammate has made it back up to P6 with a move on Ocon in the Alpine. Next up for Leclerc is Vettel who is 3 seconds up the road.
Russell pits in the Mercedes as we start lap 30. He is still in a comfortable P4 in yet another impressive display from the young British driver. Verstappen ends lap 30 by pitting, a fresh set of mediums fitted and he leads his teammate by 8 seconds. The dominance of the Redbulls this weekend has been scary, They have 13 laps now to cruise to an easy 1-2.
As we begin the last 10 laps Russell is catching the Ferrari of Sainz and the gap is down to 4.2 seconds. Could he keep up the run of Mercedes podiums? Ocon moves up to P7 with a great move on both Vettel and Gasly, using the double slipstream to great effect and then outbraking the Alpha Tauri driver.
The gap between 10th and 15th is now just 4 seconds, the leader of the DRS train is Albon, followed by Stroll, Norris, Zhou, Tsunoda, and Ricciardo.
With just 5 laps to go, back at the front, Verstappen leads by 16.7 seconds ahead of Perez who is a further 9.7 seconds ahead of Sainz who is being followed by Russell a further 2.3 seconds behind.
Leclerc pits on lap 43 to go for the fastest lap point but Alonso makes it passed the Ferrari dropping him down to 6th. If he doesn’t get back past the Alpine, Ferrari has just thrown more points away. The Ferrari driver uses DRS to make it passed the Alpine but will he be able to get the fastest lap? He does a 1.49.984 which is over half a second slower than Max Verstappen’s quickest.
Verstappen wins by a huge 17.8 seconds ahead of his teammate who started from the front row, a dominant performance over the driver who is now his closest challenger almost 100 points behind him. Third is Sainz ahead of Russell, Leclerc, Alonso, Ocon, Vettel, Gasly, and Albon collecting the final point of the weekend. Next up was Stroll, Norris, Tsunoda, Zhou, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Schumacher, and Latifi, The only two retirees were Bottas and Hamilton.
As the podium interviews began it was announced that Leclerc had been given a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane for the pitstop that wasn’t needed which dropped him behind Alonso and down to P6.
It’s now just a matter of time before Verstappen wraps up the title for this season, after a display like this weekend it wouldn’t be surprising to see RedBull repeat 2013 where they dominated the season after the summer break.
In just 5 days’ time, the F1 circus will return to Holland for the Dutch GP, Verstappen’s home race, who would bet against him once again dominating?