SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Formula One points champion Max Verstappen quickly carved his way through the field from 14th to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday and widen his lead in in the title race.
Verstappen, who in the final race before F1’s summer break drove from 10th to the win in the Hungarian Grand Prix, produced another imperious drive and moved closer to a second straight world title. His lead in the standings is now 93 points — but it is over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez because Charles Leclerc dropped to third in another poor Ferrari showing.
Verstappen was leading the race by lap 12, and he earned a bonus point for fastest lap. His third straight win was his ninth this season and 29th overall.
Perez finished second to jump ahead of Leclerc in the standings. Carlos Sainz Jr. started from the 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 he was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
That 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 seemed defeated in the championship race.
“I didn’t even know, no one told me,” a surprised Leclerc said of the penalty. “Why did I get the penalty?”
As for his title race with Verstappen?
“I’m not focusing so much on the championship now. Red Bull were on another planet today,” Leclerc added. “We need to know why we’re so far away.”
Lewis Hamilton’s bid for a sixth straight podium ended on the first lap when he clipped Alonso and briefly went airborne.
Sainz started from the pole because Verstappen and Leclerc were among the several drivers to be hit with grid penalties. Sainz got away on the start and Russell and Hamilton zoomed past Perez and behind Alonso.
Hamilton then overtook Alonso on the outside but clipped the side of his Alpine, sending Hamilton’s Mercedes up in the air. Race stewards reviewed and took no action, though Alonso clearly felt Hamilton had not left him enough room as he tried passing him back.
“What an idiot closing the door from the outside,” Alonso ranted. “We had a mega start but this only knows how to drive and start in first.”
Hamilton later cut off an interviewer who attempted to relay Alonso’s comments to him.
“It doesn’t matter what he said,” said Hamilton, who added he didn’t see Alonso “in my blind spot.”
Seconds after Hamilton pulled over, Nicholas Latifi slid across the track and nudged the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas into the gravel, bringing out the safety car.
Hamilton stood next to his car as smoke billowed out, then walked slowly back to the team garage. He was later issued a warning for refusing to visit the medical centre.
Ferrari made yet another bizarre call in this strange season of botched strategy: Ferrari called in Leclerc for new tires with one lap remaining in a futile bid to score the fastest lap. Leclerc was overtaken by Alonso as he came out of the pits, had to overtake the Spaniard back, and failed to score fastest lap.
Esteban Ocon of Alpine was seventh and followed by Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri and Alex Albon of Williams.
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