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Belgian Grand Prix Race Review: F1 vacation a welcome break from non-stop Verstappen victories

There’s no stopping Max Verstappen in his push to complete a hat-trick of Formula 1 title wins with the Red Bull racer heading into the summer break fresh from an eighth successive victory in Belgium.

The Dutchman has been on another level to his rivals all season and made light work of starting sixth on the grid at Spa-Francorchamps following a gearbox change to take the chequered flag by 22.3 seconds from team-mate Sergio Perez.

With 10 races to go, Verstappen leads the Drivers Championship by a massive 125 points, having also won the sprint race in Belgium, and can enjoy the near four-week break safe in the knowledge it would take a catastrophe for his third F1 to slip away. 

For the rest of the grid, the summer break offers a chance to reflect and plot how to get closer to Verstappen and the seemingly unbeatable Red Bull when the season resumes in the Netherlands at the end of August.

WhatDutch Grand Prix
WhereZandvoort Circuit
When14:00, Sunday, August 27
How to watchSky Sports F1
OddsMax Verstappen 1/4, Sergio Perez 9/1, Lando Norris 14/1, Lewis Hamilton 14/1, Charles Leclerc 22/1

Red Bull remain unchallenged

With over half the season gone, it’s raced 12, won 12 for Red Bull, breaking McLaren’s record of 11 straight wins to start a campaign set back in 1988. 

The overwhelming majority of those wins have been secured by Verstappen in comfortable fashion with the only man in F1 to challenge the Dutch driver this year being his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase after the two engaged in some heated exchanges over the radio at Spa. 

Verstappen totally dominated all facets of the weekend once again, setting the fastest time in Friday’s qualifying session by 0.8 seconds before being served with a grid penalty that dropped him to sixth. 

He won the sprint race in convincing fashion, overcoming a minor strategy error to beat Oscar Piastri to the chequered flag before a third successive Belgian Grand Prix win on Sunday. 

The 25-year-old was imperious on raceday, lapping two seconds faster than Red Bull colleague and leader Perez before passing the Mexican on lap 16. 

Verstappen is now one short of equalling Sebastian Vettel’s record for consecutive race wins and hasn’t lost a grand prix or a sprint since the end of April. 

Perez, once considered a title contender, is powerless to stop his team-mate and has joined the rest of the grid in battling to be best of the rest. 

The Mexican’s runner-up finish in Belgium, which gave Red Bull their fifth one-two of the season, was his best result since Miami and yet he remains a way off Verstappen in a car clearly capable of remarkable feats. 

Spa break not entirely to McLaren’s liking

Chasing home the Red Bulls’ on this occasion wasn’t the new and improved McLaren but Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari. 

For the ninth start in a row, Leclerc failed to fit convert pole position into a victory but his Scuderia clearly enjoyed the high-speed blast through the Ardennes as he held off Lewis Hamilton to take third. 

That left no room on the podium for McLaren after two consecutive runner-up finishes for Lando Norris in his significantly upgraded MCL60, while Piastri had been a worthy runner-up in Saturday’s sprint. 

But a race-ending first-corner collision with Carlos Sainz for Piastri and poor tyre choices for Norris, who took seventh, made for an underwhelming Sunday for McLaren with team boss Andrea Stella saying the race highlighted some areas that need “urgent work”. 

Tsunoda up for Ricciardo fight as Alpine disappoint

While McLaren have work to do, Mercedes and Aston Martin will be content with their points hauls from Spa with a last lap blast from Hamilton securing the bonus point for fastest lap. 

Aston’s Fernando Alson was fifth, while his team mate Lance Stroll was ninth, coming home just ahead of the very impressive Yuki Tsunoda in 10th. 

The Japanese’s third point-scoring finish of the season for AlphaTauri comes hot on the heels of the team bringing in the more experienced Daniel Ricciardo. 

But while the Aussie could only manage 16th, Tsunoda showed him how it should be done with a classy drive on a track that wasn’t expected to suit the slow AlphaTauri. 

Tsunoda took the last point on offer, ahead of Pierre Gasly on a difficult weekend for Alpine that saw team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane depart. 

Alpine’s first half of the season hasn’t gone to plan and the Renault-owned team have felt changes are necessary. Esteban Ocon’s eighth-place was the best Alpine could manage on race day, an underwhelming result after Gasly had taken third in the sprint. 

Gasly’s finish was closer to what Alpine had expected at the start of the season but instead, they sit sixth in the constructors’ standings, 46 points adrift of McLaren.

Belgian GP Race Preview

World champion Max Verstappen set the fastest time in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying but a grid penalty means the Dutch ace will start from sixth spot behind Ferrari's Charles Leclerc on pole.

Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps is the final race before Formula 1 takes a four-week summer hiatus, and the re-aligned grid means it will present a decent test for Verstappen in spite of the recent superiority of his Red Bull. 

Saturday's Sprint was delayed due to heavy rain, with Verstappen showcasing his credentials despite a bad start, as he overcame McLaren's Oscar Piastri to win. 

Leclerc netted his second pole position of 2023, albeit having admitted he wasn't on Verstappen's pace in qualifying, and the Dutchman will be expected by many to finish in front on raceday.

WhatBelgian Grand Prix 
WhereCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
When14:00, Sunday 30th July, 2023
How to watchSky Sports F1
OddsMax Verstappen 1/4, Sergio Perez 6/1, Lewis Hamilton 16/1, Charle Leclerc 20/1, Oscar Piastri 20/1, Lando Norris 28/1 

Verstappen in total command ahead of 'University' challenge

Dutch ace Verstappen held a 110-point advantage at the top of the Drivers' Championship standings arriving in Belgium this weekend after winning nine of the opening 11 races of the season. 

The world champion has been utterly dominant with seven straight race wins and Belgium, characterised by its fast, sweeping corners, sets up well for him. 

As is routinely the case at Spa-Francorchamps, the weather could hold the key to the race, though initial fears qualifying might be lost to heavy rain proved unfounded. 

Known as one of the most challenging circuits on the schedule, the 'University of Driving' is a proper examination in all conditions, but particularly when it rains.

Grid penalty knocks Max off top spot

Verstappen beat Leclerc by 0.820 seconds on a drying track in qualifying but a five-place grid drop for using too many gearbox components this season saw him demoted to sixth for the start of Sunday's race. 

Leclerc edged the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez by 0.057secs with Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes fourth fastest as the Briton continues his recent rejuvenation. 

Carlos Sainz was fifth from McLaren's Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris. 

Ferrari's failure to live up to their own expectations this season has appeared to weigh heavily on Leclerc at times. 

Having struggled in similarly damp conditions in the races in Spain, Canada and Austria this season, the Monaco-born 25-year-old conceded he had an issue in the wet. 

After qualifying on Friday, Leclerc suggested he 'wasn't comfortable a few races ago' in the wet conditions before emphasising his improved showing was the result of 'a lot of work' in the interim. 

Even allowing for starting from the front of the grid, Leclerc is 20/1 to go ahead and win the Belgian Grand Prix, while a more realistic aim may be a podium finish at odds of 13/8.

Contrasting fortunes for Brits

There were some confident murmurings from the Lando Norris camp earlier in the week but he was out-performed by McLaren teammate Piastri in qualifying. 

The Briton ran wide at the second Stavelot corner in the first part of qualifying, resulting in a damaged floor and, in the circumstances, Norris declared himself 'pretty happy' with his grid position. 

Norris is 11/4 for a podium finish at Spa, while a points-finish for both McLarens is priced at 2/5 after positives in qualifying. 

Both Lewis Hamilton and teammate George Russell noted a lack of pace in their Mercedes' in qualifying as the Silver Arrows duo failed to close the gap on the Red Bulls, despite new upgrades. 

Hamilton has claimed podium finishes at three of the last five races and appears to be rediscovering a level of consistency that has been missing over the last 18 months. 

Despite those worries about the car, the seven-time world champion will be expecting a decent showing at a track where he is a four-time winner, and Hamilton can be backed at 4/6 to get on the podium once more.

Verstappen best in wet sprint

Verstappen won the Belgian Grand Prix Sprint race after recovering from losing the lead during a chaotic wet start to beat Piastri. 

The contest, which was reduced from 15 to 11 laps because of rain delays, began after a delay behind the Safety Car, with half the field immediately pitting to swap the wet tyres they were obliged to start on. 

Piastri, who started second, took the lead from Verstappen, who came in to switch to intermediates a lap later. 

When Fernando Alonso spun into the gravel trap, that brought the another Safety Car interruption, and Verstappen seized his moment on the restart and duly extended his lead in the Drivers' championship to 118 points ahead of Sunday's race, which he is now 1/4 to win after his excellence on Saturday afternoon at Spa.

Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Preview: Max Verstappen chasing Spa three-peat

Runaway World Championship leader Max Verstappen will be aiming to further tighten his grip at the top of the standings at this week's Belgian Grand Prix, with qualifying due to take place on Friday.

Red Bull ace Verstappen holds a 110-point advantage at the top of the Drivers' Championship standings after winning nine of the opening 11 races of the season, including each of the last seven, and he will also be on a happy hunting ground at Spa this weekend.

The 25-year-old has won the Belgian Grand Prix in each of the last two years and he will take some stopping if he is to be denied a three-peat, even with his grid penalty for Sunday's race.

WhatBelgian Grand Prix
WhereCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
WhenFriday 28th July - Sunday 30th July
How to watchSky Sports F1
OddsQualifying - Max Verstappen 4/9, Lando Norris 9/1, Lewis Hamilton 11/1, Sergio Perez 11/1, George Russell 20/1

Grid penalty should not harm Verstappen's chances too much

There has become something of a formality regarding Verstappen's F1 dominance in 2023 and it looks inevitable the Dutchman will claim a third-successive Drivers' Championship crown come the end of the season.

However, his hopes of landing an eighth-successive race victory have been dented by the news he has been handed a five-place grid penalty for Sunday's race after exceeding his gearbox allowance for the season.

That will make life more difficult for Verstappen, but with Spa handing drivers plenty of overtaking opportunities, the Red Bull ace can still be backed at 1/3 in the To Win Outright market.

Verstappen has also dominated qualifying of late, topping the timesheets at five of the last six Grands Prix, and he is 4/9 to repeat that trick on Friday ahead of the third Sprint race of the season the following day.

After winning the last Sprint race at the recent Austrian Grand Prix, 4/11 Verstappen will be confident of clinching that prize as well on what could be another dominant race weekend for the defending champion.

Hamilton best placed to halt Verstappen dominance

The big question heading into Friday's qualifying session, and the race weekend as a whole, is can anyone stop Verstappen? While the logical answer is no, there have been some signs of hope for one driver in particular over recent weeks - a certain Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes ace has claimed podium finishes at three of the last five races and appears to be rediscovering a level of consistency that has been missing over the last 18 months.

That was further underlined by the seven-time world champion topping the timesheets during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix last time out and he is 11/1 to repeat that achievement at Spa.

Race victory will be the ultimate aim for Hamilton and the 38-year-old is no stranger to success at the Belgian Grand Prix, as he is a four-time winner at Spa, most recently taking the chequered flag at the race in 2020.

Alonso looking to hold off old rival

Hamilton will head into this weekend's action sitting fourth in the Drivers' Championship and only six points behind old rival Fernando Alonso in third - with the top two in the standings, Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, seemingly well clear.

Alonso has been enjoying a renaissance to his career since joining Aston Martin ahead of the 2023 season, finishing in the points at all 11 races to date, six of which have ended in a podium placing.

Another top-three finish for Alonso this weekend can be backed at 9/2, while he is 10/11 to claim a top-six finish, something he has achieved on six previous occasions at Spa, including last year when he came home fifth whilst driving for Alpine.

It is 25/1 that the Spaniard finishes fastest in qualifying, something he is yet to achieve this season, but with adverse weather conditions expected intermittently across the weekend at Spa, it could be the old guard of Alonso and Hamilton that ultimately run Verstappen the closest.

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