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Verstappen and Perez lead home Red Bull 1-2 in Belgium

Defending champion, Max Verstappen, presided over a Red Bull 1-2 finish in leading home teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.

In the first race of the second half of the season after the three-week European summer break, Dutchman Verstappen, one of a contingent of drivers starting from down the grid after powerunit changes before qualifying, produced a masterclass from 14th on the grid to extend his champion lead, now over Perez after a post-race penalty demoted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc from his fifth place finish to sixth.

Leading into the La Source hairpin, up the reprofiled Eau Rouge and down the super-fast Kemmel Straight, Sainz maintained his lead in spite of Perez having attempted a thwarting technique by placing his car to the right on the grid, only for the race to be neutralised moments later under the safety car following a collision between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Attempting to hold-off Hamilton as the pair headed into the Les Combes chicane, two-time champion Alonso found himself being squeezed by the Mercedes, which resulted in the left front wheel of the Spaniard’s Alpine interlocking with the right rear of the Silver Arrow.

This ensuing contact saw Hamilton going airbone and once back on all four wheels, told by his team to pull off in order to prevent any further damage.

The incident between the former teammates at McLaren in 2007 drew the ire from Aston Martin-bound Alonso, who exclaimed over the team-radio after the coming-to-together, “Yeah, what an idiot! Closing the door from the outside. I mean, we had a mega start but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first”.

In a subsequent interview with Sky F1, Hamilton admitted to having been at fault after watching the replays of the incident.

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“He was in my blind spot and I didn’t leave him enough space. It was my fault today. Just so sorry to the team. It was my fault, I didn’t see him,” the seven-times champion remarked.

“He has now seen the incident and takes responsibility for it, which is very nice from him. It is a tricky corner that. There is always something going on. Luckily, my car was strong and I could continue,” Alonso, who crossed the line fifth after Leclerc’s penalty, told Sky F1.

The aftermath of the skirmish between the Brit and Spaniard didn’t stop there as towards the rear of field, Williams’ Nicolas Latifi spun on the exit of Les Combes after having tried to go around the outside of the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon.

Rotating across the track, the Canadian was sent into the path of the rest of the field, including the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, who became beached in the gravel after trying to take avoiding action.

With the safety car out, Leclerc, who like Verstappen started from low-down, in this case 17th, headed towards the pits not only for a tyre swap to the yellow-marked mediums, but also to remove a tear-off that had become entangled around the front brake.

Back under green flag conditions, Sainz, after almost out-braking himself into the Bus Stop chicane as the race restarted, led away Perez, Mercedes’ George Russell, Alonso and by lap six, Verstappen, who easily rounded the Alpine up using DRS going into Les Combes one lap later.

With his teammate in front, Verstappen, who had overtaken Russell soon after, easily breezed past and into second place as lap 12 hailed the opening of the pit window.

Waiting until lap 16, four after the Ferrari, Verstappen’s second position became first two laps later as the assistance of DRS saw him overtook Sainz with relative ease down the Kemmel straight. Three laps later, the scenario repeated itself, this time with Perez.

The pattern of the race remained unchanged afterwards with Russell being unable to make any inroads on the Ferrari ahead, while Leclerc, who by this stage had worked his way up to fifth, appeared to be gaining marginally on the Mercedes.

A final stop to switch to the faster red-banded soft tyres on the penultimate lap with the hope of gaining an extra point for fastest lap then almost backfired on the Monegasque as he came out directly ahead of Alonso, who pounced using DRS, again on the Kimmel straight.

The move was reversed by Leclerc on the final lap, though only momentarily as the stewards slapped him with a five second penalty for speeding in the pitlane during the stop.

Behind the top six came Ocon, who emerged victorious from two, three-way side-by-side battles during the 44 laps. The rest of the points paying positions fell to Aston Martin’s Sebastien Vettel, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Alex Albon.

With the retirements of Hamilton and his former Mercedes teammate Bottas, the rest of the finishers comprised Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in eleventh, McLaren’s Lando Norris in twelfth, the second AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda in thirteenth and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu in fourteenth.

Capping of the rest of the runners was Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the two Haas’ of Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher, and a recovering Latifi.

After the long break, the series enters a triple header with three races over the next 21 days, commencing with Spa and then Zandvoort in the Netherlands next week followed by Monza in Italy on 11 September.

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