Verstappen cruises to Belgian GP victory from 14th


 Max Verstappen landed a major boost to his championship campaign with a peerless drive to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Verstappen started the race from 14th on the grid but made scintillating progress from lights out. He made five positions up on the first lap alone and continued scything through the field after a brief safety car intervention to clear the stricken cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

By the end of lap 8 – just five racing laps into the race – he was up to third and had victory in his sights.

Polesitter Carlos Sainz had held the lead from Sergio Perez, at the start, but with Verstappen in his mirrors, Ferrari called him in for his first stop on lap 12 to protect the lead.

Verstappen, despite starting on the more delicate soft tire, stayed out and, after breezing past his teammate at Les Combes, inherited the lead until lap 15 when he took his first service. He dropped to second but only 4.5s short of Sainz. By lap 18 he was through into the lead thanks to a slipstream down the Kemmel Straight, assuring his victory with another easy move.

The Dutchman kept the hammer down for the next 26 laps to record the fastest lap of the race and claim victory by a comprehensive 17.8s in one of the most dominant drives of his career and the team’s best of the season.

“It was quite a hectic first lap to try and stay out of trouble,” he said. “But once we settled in after the safety, the car was really on rails.

Sainz held onto third despite a late charge by George Russell to snatch the place; the Briton’s challenge petering out as the race wore on.

“Unfortunately it was harder than expected,” Sainz said. “The pace was just not there.

“We had a lot of overheating on the tires; we were sliding around a lot. We will hope to learn why at this track we were not so competitive.”

Russell finished fourth ahead of Charles Leclerc on the road, but the Monegasque’s wretched weekend ended with a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane, dropping him to sixth behind Fernando Alonso.

Leclerc’s recovery from 15th on the grid was hampered by an early pit stop to clear a visor tear-off from his front-right brake duct. Things got worse when Ferrari pulled him in on the penultimate lap for a new set of softs to vie for the fastest lap. He slipped behind Alonso, and recovering position from the Spaniard meant he could only set a pair of personal best sectors on the final tour.

Alex Albon scored his fourth point for Williams with 10th, completing the points-paying places.

Stroll finished 11th ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda in the second AlphaTauri, the Japanese driver also starting from pit lane after an overnight engine change.

Zhou Guanyu was 14th for Alfa Romeo, up from 18th on the grid, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in 15th.

Kevin Magnussen, Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi finished a lap down and the last of the classified runners, the last-named surviving a clumsy spin on the second lap that cleaned up Valtteri Bottas, who retired on the spot.

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