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Title within touching distance for Verstappen

Title within touching distance for Verstappen

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen won the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday (Aug 28) from 14th place on the grid to bring his second world title to within touching distance.

By Michael Lamonato

Monday 29 August 2022, 09:33AM

Verstappen lifts his trophy after winning the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday (Aug 28). Photo: AFP

Verstappen lifts his trophy after winning the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday (Aug 28). Photo: AFP

Verstappen was tipped as a pre-race favourite for victory despite serving a hefty engine penalty that dropped him from pole to the back of the grid, but the scale of his domination of the race was in equal parts impressive and fearsome, with the Dutchman in effective control of the grand prix after just five racing laps.

The Red Bull Racing driver was in attack mode from the off. He passed five cars on the first lap alone, and after a three-lap safety car intervention to clear some stricken cars from the track, he picked off a driver per lap until he was third after eight laps.

Carlos Sainz was leading Sergio Perez in the lead of the race, and the Spaniard attempted to pre-empt Verstappen’s undercut by taking his first service early, but it didn’t do him any good. Verstappen stayed out for three more laps to rejoin with an almost five-second disadvantage to Sainz, but he obliterated the margin in two laps and was into the lead in three.

With his tyres holding up well and his car in the perfect sweet spot, Verstappen bolted away from the pack, including teammate Perez, to dominate the race by 17 seconds in the most impressive victory of his career and Red Bull Racing’s most comprehensive result 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.

“I picked the right places to pass people and we could look after our tires. That’s how we made our way forward.

“This whole weekend has been incredible.”

Perez crossed the line second for an RBR one-two finish and to take second in the drivers standings, albeit with a whopping 93-point deficit.

Verstappen can now win the championship as early as the Singapore Grand Prix in October, just two races from now, but is increasingly likely to claim the chocolates at the following race in Japan, with four rounds to spare.

“I really hoped for more today,” Perez said. “It was a good opportunity, but Max was just flying. He was on another planet. He was untouchable.

“But it was a quite strong result for the team. We managed to get a lot of points today, which is important.”

Blue Tree Phuket

Sainz crossed the line third for Ferrari after starting from pole, but the Spaniard could do nothing but lament his car’s outright lack of speed as reason for his defeat.

“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.”

George Russell salvaged fourth for Mercedes ahead of Charles Leclerc, though Leclerc served a five-second penalty after the race for speeding in the pit lane, dropping him to sixth and promoting Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in his place.

Leclerc started the race 15th with his second round of engine penalties but had his recovery undone in the opening laps when a helmet visor tear-off - ostensibly from Verstappen’s car - got caught in his front-right brake duct, forcing him into an early stop.

Esteban Ocon started 16th but finished an excellent seventh after a race that featured two sensational double overtaking manoeuvres. The Frenchman had the pace to beat teammate Alonso but was told to hold station to guarantee the team maximised its points score against McLaren, which failed to score, to consolidate fourth in the constructors standings.

Sebastian Vettel was strong for Aston Martin in eighth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who sensationally scored points for AlphaTauri after a pit lane start, and Thai driver Alex Albon, who clung onto the points rom seventh on the grid in his Williams car.

Lewis Hamilton retired on the first lap in a big crash with Fernando Alonso at Les Combes. The Briton was attempting to pass the Spaniard around the outside but pinched the Alpine on the apex. The two cars made wheel-over-wheel contact that launched the Mercedes into the air, breaking its gearbox as it thumped the ground.

Valtteri Bottas also retired after a collision with Nicholas Latifi beached his Alfa Romeo in the gravel.

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