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Verstappen hits new high to crush hopes in Belgium

Verstappen hits new high to crush hopes in Belgium

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen stamped his authority on the 2022 title campaign with a peerless performance in Belgium on Sunday (Aug 28), and it’s started the countdown to his championship coronation.

By Michael Lamonato

Friday 2 September 2022, 09:30AM

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Verstappen will win the 2022 world championship.

This is no great revelation, for Verstappen had been unrelentingly extending his championship lead for months before the Belgian Grand Prix.

But what his utter domination at Spa-Francorchamps underlined was that this will be a championship that the Dutchman wins, not one that Ferrari loses.

So much of the 2022 campaign has been about the Italian team squandering not only its faster car but also a handy points lead early in the season through critical strategy mistakes, chronic unreliability and driver error. Add back in those lost points and the title equation would be notably tighter.

But that does a gross disservice to Verstappen’s flawless performances in his first title defence, and his Belgian Grand Prix masterclass recentred the focus away from his rivals were falling short and back onto where he was setting the benchmark.

And the benchmark is being set extremely high.

Verstappen was operating on such a high level in Belgium that there was no point during the weekend that victory wasn’t on the cards.

Not during free practice, when unrepresentative cold and damp conditions made the form guide difficult to read.

Not during qualifying, when he was easily fastest of the field but had to serve an engine penalty that sent him to near the back of the grid.

And certainly not on the first lap, when there was plenty of carnage ready to trip up younger players.

What’s remarkable isn’t that he passed 12 cars on route to victory - races have been won from further back and in more unlikely scenarios - but that he turned that into an 18-second lead at the flag, having taken the lead after only 18 laps of the 44-lap race.

The next-best car was teammate Sergio Perez, who started on the front row of the grid.

CBRE Phuket

It was a demonstration of individual brilliance such that even Verstappen acknowledged it as the best weekend of his F1 career.

“I don’t think we expected it to be like this,” he said, praising the car. “But you know, sometimes it’s nice when things positively surprise you.

“It’s been really enjoyable to drive the car around here this year.

“It was literally just overtaking one car every lap, and once I was back into P3 and I saw that my tyres were actually holding on quite nicely with the soft compound, I knew that there was a good possibility we could win the race.”

Carlos Sainz, who started from pole but was powerless to resist Verstappen’s advances, lamented that Ferrari had hit a fallow patch at the crunch moment of the championship, having been similarly mystified by its lack of pace at the previous race in Hungary.

“It’s certainly something that we didn’t expect,” he said of the size of the gap between the teams. “Which means we need to go back and analyse why at this sort of track we are so weak.

“They were on another planet this weekend. They were just strong in quali, strong in the race, better in tyre management, stronger on the straights, stronger in the corners.

“We were just not quick enough, unfortunately, this weekend.”

So where does that leave the championship?

With eight wins from the last 11 races and a 93 and 99-point gap over Perez and Charles Leclerc respectively, Verstappen has built a considerable head of steam such that he’s now just three races away from his first chance to seal the deal, that coming at the Singapore Grand Prix, though he’d need some retirements from his rivals to make it happen.

The following race in Japan, however, is much more likely, with only a continuation of the current points trajectory needed to collect his second major trophy.

The clock is ticking, and it’s Verstappen with his hand on the controls.

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