F1 champ Max Verstappen jumps from 14th to win Belgian GP

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen quickly fought his way through the field from 14th place to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday and extend his lead in the the title race.

Verstappen, who in the last race before the F1 summer break drove from 10th place to win the Hungarian Grand Prix, produced another compelling drive and moved closer to a second consecutive world title.

“It was a weekend that I couldn’t have imagined before,” said Verstappen. “But I think we want more and we will keep working hard.”

His lead in the standings is now 93 points – but that’s over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez because Charles Leclerc dropped to third in another poor performance from Ferrari.

“It was a pretty hectic first lap to try and stay out of trouble. There was so much going on in front of me, I picked the right spots to pass people, I took care of our tyres,” Verstappen said. . “Once we were in the lead it was all about managing everything, but everything this weekend has been amazing.”

Verstappen was leading the race on lap 12, and he earned a bonus point for fastest lap. His third straight victory was his ninth this season and his 29th overall.

“Amazing Sunday guys, haha!” Verstappen said on his radio after crossing the line.

“Max, you’ve been brilliant, classy all weekend,” replied team principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen, 24 – the youngest driver to win a race at the age of 18 – said it was probably the most complete drive of his career.

“If you watch all weekend, yes,” he said. “That track just seemed perfect for the car.”

Perez finished second to edge Leclerc in the season standings.

“It’s a great team result,” said Perez.

Carlos Sainz Jr. started from pole for Ferrari and finished a disappointing third. Leclerc started 15th and finished fifth behind the Mercedes of George Russell, but Leclerc dropped to sixth after receiving a five-second speeding penalty in the pit lane.

It pushed Alpine driver Fernando Alonso into fifth, and Leclerc, who is now 98 points behind Verstappen in the standings, was shocked by the penalty and looked defeated in the championship chase.

“I didn’t even know, nobody told me,” a surprised Leclerc said of the penalty. “Why did I get the penalty?”

As for his title run with Verstappen?

“I don’t focus so much on the championship now. Red Bull was on another planet today,” added Leclerc. “We need to know why we are so far away.”

Lewis Hamilton’s bid for a sixth straight podium ended on the first lap when he clipped Alonso and briefly flew away.

Sainz started from pole because Verstappen and Leclerc were among several drivers to be hit with grid penalties. Sainz slipped away at the start and Russell and Hamilton passed Perez and behind Alonso.

Hamilton then passed Alonso on the outside but cut the side of his Alpine, sending Hamilton’s Mercedes flying. The race marshals reviewed and took no action, although Alonso clearly felt that Hamilton had not given him enough room as he tried to regain his position.

“How silly to close the door from the outside,” Alonso said. “We had a mega start but this guy only knows how to drive and start first.”

Hamilton then cut off an interviewer who tried to relay Alonso’s comments to him.

“It doesn’t matter what he said,” said Hamilton, who added he hadn’t seen Alonso “in my blind spot”.

But in a separate interview, Hamilton admitted he didn’t give Alonso enough room.

“It was my fault,” Hamilton said. “I paid the price. I was in front though. »

For Hamilton, it was the fifth time he had retired on the first lap, with three retirements at the 7-kilometre (4.3-mile) Spa-Francorchamps circuit – the longest in F1 and one of the best for the overtaking, as shown by Verstappen.

Seconds after Hamilton came to a stop, Nicholas Latifi slid down the track and pushed Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo into the gravel, knocking out the safety car.

Hamilton stood by his car as the smoke billowed, then slowly walked back to the team garage. He then received a warning for refusing to come to the medical center.

Bottas, his former Mercedes team-mate, was also absent while Leclerc arrived early as his team changed tires and cleared debris from another car stuck inside Leclerc’s right front wing.

Ferrari later made another bizarre call in that odd season of sloppy strategic decisions when the team called on Leclerc for new tires with one lap remaining in a futile attempt to score the fastest lap. Leclerc was passed by Alonso as he exited the pits and then had to overtake the Spaniard, consequently failing to record the fastest lap.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was seventh and followed by Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Alex Albon.

The next step for Verstappen? His home race in the Netherlands, where he won in style at Zandvoort last year.

“I’m going to enjoy today and next week we’ll see what we can do,” said Verstappen, who is on course to break Vettel’s season record of 13 wins set in 2013.

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