The claims of 'false champion' were all but put to bed by a masterclass display from Verstappen at Spa-Francorchamps.
Max Verstappen returned from F1's mid-season break in style, claiming his ninth victory of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Claiming a victory feels slightly too tame to describe what happened yesterday. Yesterday's race was more of a spanking. Verstappen gave two firm middle fingers to all the naysayers who cling to the belief that he's a "human error champion" or a "false champion."
Verstappen made a clean sweep of the Grand Prix. He set the fastest time during Saturday's qualifying but was pushed back to 14th after receiving a grid penalty for power unit changes. On Sunday, he won the race, set the fastest lap, and was voted driver of the day.
But Max's victory is not the only highlight of yesterday's race, so let's dive right into the breakdown.
Mercedes fans hoped the team would come back swinging after the summer break. Sir Lewis Hamilton even stated that the team wanted to cause some trouble for the frontrunners, but it was not to be. The only trouble he caused for anyone at the front was Fernando Alonso, who started in third and nearly had his race ended prematurely when Hamilton cut in on him on the first lap. It was Hamilton who came off second-best, however, as his car catapulted into the air, slamming onto the deck and causing severe damage to the underside, forcing him to retire a few corners later. George Russell in the other Mercedes finished in fourth place and only looked mildly threatening.
Mercedes' return was poor. After scoring a podium position in the previous six races, yesterday was the first time Mercedes went home without silverware since the Monaco Grand Prix. George Russell tried his best, but there was nothing he could do apart from giving Ferrari something to think about.
As usual, social media has loads of fun at the expense of Hamilton's crash. The 2022 Belgian Grand Prix was only the fifth time he crashed out on the first lap in 302 career races. Interestingly, three out of the five were at Spa.
It is no surprise that Nicholas Latifi's contract has not yet been renewed for the 2023 season. His teammate, Alex Albon, is set for 2023, but the Belgian Grand Prix was yet another display of why Latifi's presence is questionable. He ended Valtteri Bottas's race early and finished stone last. He remains the only driver on the grid with zero points. Albon proved that there's still some magic left at Williams, boasting one of the fastest top speeds ever seen at the notoriously high-speed Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. He also made it to Q3 on Saturday.
Fernando Alonso made magic with his mid-tier car, as did Ocon. While Alonso's fifth place was impressive, Ocon's overtaking maneuvers were second only to Max Verstappen. He overtook two vehicles at once on more than one occasion.
Thanks to Ocon and Alonso, Alpine is now well clear of McLaren in the Constructors' Championship. The French team sits comfortably at the top of the mid-tier racers on 115 points. McLaren has yet to crack triple digits and is currently on 95 points.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like it would be a two-horse race between Verstappen and Leclerc.
As it currently stands, Leclerc no longer poses a threat to Verstappen. The Flying Dutchman is 98 points clear of his main rival, and he has Sergio Perez in second place acting as a buffer.
Carlos Sainz is currently shining at Scuderia Ferrari. Following a rough start at the beginning of the season, he finally came to grips with his machine, and they are flying. Sainz finished in third place, claiming his seventh podium of the season. Leclerc has only managed five podiums so far. With that in mind, who do you think is the real star at Ferrari?
In true Ferrari fashion, it couldn't help but trip Leclerc up somehow. The team called him into the pits for a fresh set of soft tires. They wanted him to come home fifth, netting 10 points for the place plus one for the fastest lap. Unfortunately, he broke the speed limit in the pits, resulting in a five-second penalty, pushing him down to sixth. He did not set the fastest lap.
Max Verstappen started 14th and finished first, nearly 18 seconds ahead of his teammate and 27 seconds clear of the nearest Ferrari. Even though Alonso drove like a demon, SuperMax finished more than a minute ahead.
Since Hamilton fans love throwing statistics around so much, let's use a few to demonstrate just how impressive Max's drive was. In the previous race, he battled from tenth to first. Yesterday he won from 14th. It's the first time since 1960 (and the second time ever) that a driver has won consecutive races from 10th or lower. The previous driver to do so was Bruce McLaren. As in the McLaren that started one of the most successful F1 teams ever. McLaren has yet to name a car after him, but Artura sounds much better than the McLaren Bruce.
Even more impressive is the way Verstappen went from 14th to first. He managed this feat within 12 laps, four of which were behind a safety car. If it weren't for Hamilton's snafu, he would have done it in fewer than 10, although it can be argued the safety car helped extend the life of his soft tires.
We also can't discount Sergio Perez. It was his seventh top-two finish of the year. He famously won the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this year and is proving invaluable as a second driver for Red Bull, capitalizing on the slightest slip-up from Scuderia Ferrari. We do feel sorry for him, as he seemed dejected at being unable to challenge his teammate's pace.
Red Bull is the dominant force this year. Verstappen is firmly on first with 284 points, while Perez is second on 191 points. Red Bull leads with 475 points to Ferrari's 357 points in the constructor standings. The way things are going now, Red Bull will have it all neatly wrapped up by the time the Mexican Grand Prix rolls in.
Obviously, the race was not without controversy. Already people are calling for a standardized car, which completely defeats the purpose of the sport. Some think Verstappen only won because of his car, and to an extent, that's true. F1 is a team sport. Always has been. To get to the top, everything needs to work in harmony. For reference, see Mercedes' and Hamilton's dominance over the past seven years.
Sergio Perez has yet to receive the same upgrades as Verstappen. When he does, the Bulls will likely be unstoppable.
This week we're going to Verstappen's home race. Let's hope the Orange Army behaves better than at the Austrian Grand Prix. As we've said many times before, the home advantage is very real. Not that Verstappen needs it at this point. He can afford to sit on the sidelines for three races and still lead the championship.