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Max Verstappen wins F1 Belgian Grand Prix despite five-place grid penalty

Max Verstappen takes the chequered flag at Spa-Francorchamps.

There will be sighs of relief from many across the Formula One paddock as the sport heads into the summer break. A respite, then, from a season that has swiftly become an absolute rout for Max Verstappen.

With his win here, the world champion, it seems, is barely even considering the opposition now but rather almost toying with it for amusement.

The Dutchman won from sixth place on the grid. He took the lead from his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez by lap 17 of 44 and was untouchable from that moment onwards.

His winning margin was 22.3 seconds, an extraordinary advantage given that Pérez is in an identical car. In this Red Bull, this season Verstappen is quite simply in a class of his own.

A measure of the ease with which he controlled the race – and indeed the season as he now leads Pérez by an enormous 125 points – was demonstrated in the final third.

He was so unconcerned as he pounded round the circuit, one of the most challenging in the world, that he felt relaxed enough to indulge in a spot of light banter with the team.

When his engineer Gianpiero Lambiase, known as “GP”, asked him to go easy on his tyres for the last stint his reply was tinged with laughter. “I could also push on and we do another stop. A little bit of pit‑stop training,” he said.

A light‑hearted message that would have been felt as a keen, painful wound for every one of his rivals who are slogging around in his wake with no realistic hope of coming close this season. Even Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, had to admit the 25-year-old had earned the right to be pleased with himself.

“He has all the reasons to be a bit cheeky,” Wolff said. “He is just driving round in circles on everybody else on merit, there is nothing else to say. As much as it is annoying, that is just about the lot.” Over the weekend as a whole Verstappen and GP’s relationship has very much been centre stage. In qualifying they had a feisty exchange, with Verstappen swearing angrily at his friend.

Then in the race, an early exchange before Verstappen had taken the lead was also barbed.

When Lambiase asked him for input on the pit strategy with rain expected, a frustrated Verstappen tersely responded that he couldn’t make the call because “I can’t see the weather radar”.

It was shortly irrelevant. By lap one he was up to fourth, passed Lewis Hamilton for third with ease on lap six, then Charles Leclerc for second on lap nine, once more as if the Ferrari was in a different car class.

Then the team sent him into the pits anyway and on fresh rubber Pérez was toast by lap 17. Happily out front again, the mood in the cockpit clearly lightened.

The numbers now, to an extent, tell their own story this season. This was his eighth consecutive win, putting him behind only Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine in a row the German scored in 2013. He could match Vettel when racing resumes at Verstappen’s home race in the Netherlands at the end of August.

He has won 10 from 12 meetings this season, all of which have been won by Red Bull, giving them the record for consecutive victories in a single season. The facts are as relentless as Verstappen’s performances and in their own way similarly draining, so repetitious have they become. Yet they can only be admired for delivering with such impeccable form.

The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, described it as a “magic race” which doubtless it was for the team, even if it was far from captivating fare for the neutral fan. Verstappen is so good, executing with such flawlessness, that with his dominance and because he is unchallenged even by his teammate there is a draining sense of predictability from the moment he puts his nose in front.

The last two races in particular have been enervating affairs at best. Tellingly, afterwards, Verstappen admitted he had backed off his tyres as requested.

Max Verstappen with teammate Sergio Pérez after the race.

Max Verstappen with teammate Sergio Pérez after the race. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

“Yes, I did slow down a bit,” he said. “You have to watch the tyres on this track, so that’s what we did until the end.” His advantage had he not done so would have been cavernous.

His proposed pit-stop jesting then, was simply a jolly to add to the enjoyment of an afternoon constitutional in the Ardennes mountains. “I know that the team doesn’t like to do another stop,” he said with a broad grin.

“I like to mention it so they might get a bit nervous.” That he and the team feel so comfortable and confident is indicative of just how on top of their game they are.

Behind him the chasing pack were all in attendance as ever, even if lapping in battles of their own.

Leclerc was third, Hamilton fourth for Mercedes and Fernando Alonso fifth for Aston Martin. None of them appeared to be especially animated by their results. Perhaps having ground through 12 meetings and with a further 10 still to go, it really is time for a break.

If nothing else, it is a chance to contemplate something other than the back of Verstappen’s car disappearing into the middle distance, with the faint sound of chuckling rippling from the cockpit.

George Russell was sixth for Mercedes, Lando Norris seventh for McLaren, Esteban Ocon eighth for Alpine, Lance Stroll ninth for Aston Martin and Yuki Tsunoda 10th for AlphaTauri.

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