Belgian Grand Prix: Max Verstappen denies Oscar Piastri a first Sprint victory at a sodden Spa

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen gives a wave. Belgium July 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen gives a wave. Belgium July 2023

Max Verstappen denied rookie driver Oscar Piastri a first-ever F1 victory as he pitted in the second batch of drivers at a wet Spa, lost the lead but made short work of passing the McLaren to win Saturday’s Sprint race.

Two laps worth of strategy right at the very beginning of the Sprint played a major role in the race with the drivers pitting immediately at the end of the formation lap getting the jump on those coming in a lap later on lap 1.

That cost pole-sitter Verstappen the lead with Piastri one of the early stoppers and the Red Bull driver coming out behind him. But he wasn’t there for long with the reigning World Champion using a Safety Car restart for Fernando Alonso’s crash to get the jump on the McLaren driver and race to the win in the Sprint at Spa.

Heavy rain, four formation laps and a rolling start for the Belgian GP

With heavy rain hitting the circuit as the teams wrapped up their final preparations on the grid, Race Control announced an indefinite delay to the start in what was already a late start given Sprint Qualifying not only began 35 minutes late but also ran long for Lance Stroll’s crashed Aston Martin.

And so a day of waiting saw another wait… McLaren and Ferrari informed their drivers there’d be a second big shower, that promptly arrived, but that it would be followed by an hour of dry.

Race Control announced a 17:35 local time start with the drivers heading off behind the Safety Car, everyone on the full wets. But even before the drivers left the grid, Carlos Sainz was asking Ferrari if he could pit for inters on the very first lap behind the SC. He was told he could, and he wasn’t the only one asking the question.

Max Verstappen led Oscar Piastri and the rest of the field away from the grid on what was labelled a ‘formation lap’ with the Safety Car staying out and the FIA revealing there’d be four formation laps and then a rolling start, make that five. The Sprint race, originally 15 laps, was reduced to 12 and then 11.

And finally the drivers went racing!

The mechanics were on standby, the Safety Car peeled into the pits, Verstappen bunched up the field, and then off he shot to lead across the line ahead of Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris with Piastri the first into the pits for intermediate tyres. And in went Pierre Gasly, Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton, Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Stroll, Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg.

Verstappen, over four seconds up on Leclerc in one lap alone, was in the very next lap with all those who didn’t pit earlier following him in one by one with Piastri snatching the lead, 1.6s ahead of Verstappen, with Gasly third ahead of Perez, Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, Norris, Ricciardo and Ocon making up the top ten.

As Verstappen closed up to Piastri’s rear wing, Fernando Alonso got onto the red-and-yellow kerbs at Pouhon, spun his Aston Martin and went off into the gravel on lap 4 to bring out the Safety Car. Leading a Formula 1 grand prix for the first time in his rookie season, Piastri weaved his way around the circuit as he bunched up the field for the restart.

PlanetF1.com recommends

The unfortunate holders of the most unwanted records in Formula 1

Heartbreak: Eight times an F1 race leader has crashed out

An on-track overtake and a win for Max Verstappen

The McLaren driver was able to get a few metres between himself and Verstappen while behind them Perez almost rear-ended Gasly. Verstappen made short work of the Aussie to lead the Sprint. Hamilton tried to slide up the inside of Perez between the two Stavelot corners, the two touched and the Red Bull driver stayed ahead with Sainz taking advantage to close in.

Hamilton promptly overtook Perez, Sainz followed him through, Perez appeared compromised as Leclerc also pounced and Norris entered the fray. “I’ve got no grip,” said Perez… and moments later he was off the track, into the gravel at Stavelot and down in 15th place. With Red Bull noting a hole in Perez’s sidepod, the team told him to “retire the car” with his race over on lap 9. Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for causing the collision with Perez.

Heading into the penultimate lap with Verstappen leading Piastri, Gasly was doing his best to hold off Hamilton in the fight for the final podium position with Sainz and Leclerc fifth and sixth but with the latter under pressure from Norris.

Verstappen crossed the line in the 11-lap Sprint race to win by six seconds ahead of Piastri as the Aussie claimed his first-ever top-three result with Gasly in third place on a weekend in which Alpine needed a pick-me-up.

Sainz was fourth ahead of Leclerc and Norris with Hamilton’s penalty meaning he fell to seventh place, classified ahead of Norris and Ocon. As for Ricciardo, the returnee finished in 10th place, but alas only the top-eight score in the Sprint events.

Result

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing
2 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +6.677
3 Pierre GASLY Alpine +10.733
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +12.648
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +15.016
6 Lando NORRIS McLaren +16.052
7 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +16.757
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +16.822
9 Esteban OCON Alpine +22.410
10 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +22.806
11 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +25.007
12 Alexander ALBON Williams +26.303
13 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +27.006
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +32.986
15 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +36.342
16 Logan SARGEANT William s+37.571
17 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +37.827
18 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +39.267

Did not finish

Sergio Perez Red Bull – lap 9 – crash damage
Fernando Alonso Aston Martin – lap 4 – spin

Read next: Cost cap breaches: ‘Ruthless’ FIA performing raids and reading WhatsApp messages