When the trophies were lifted in the air and the champagne was splashed, Max Verstappen also spoke about this one scene after his victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. A moment that showed that everything seems to be going well for the 24-year-old and Red Bull. It was an unintentional move that fits perfectly with the picture emerging from this season: that the reigning champions are very likely to be the future world champions as well, with the competition watching and amazed.
The first round of Spa was hectic with various duels. Like some others, Verstappen had started from behind because of an unauthorized engine change. In his race to catch up from 14th place, he was thrown at a lot of dust and dirt in the narrow midfield. In Formula 1 there is a simple solution to this: If a driver cannot see enough, he pulls off one of several foils on the visor and throws it away. Verstappen had a clear view again, soon in two senses, because he almost flew past everyone until he led and easily won ahead of teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.
However, his visor film did not end up in a gravel bed or on a meadow, but was most likely pulled straight into Charles Leclerc ‘s brake ventilation. The pilot who would like to replace Verstappen as the title holder. So Leclerc had to pit unplanned early and therefore fell back. “I hope it wasn’t mine,” said Verstappen: “It’s totally unfortunate. It’s your worst nightmare that something like this happens.”
Ferrari is outclassed by Red Bull in Spa, Sainz finishes almost 27 seconds after Verstappen
The Dutchman even slowed down his competitor twice: A sensor on the F1-75 overheated due to the foreign body, which meant that the speedometer was no longer correct, according to Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. When Leclerc came into the pits for the third time two laps before the end to have a better chance of scoring the points bonus for the fastest lap with fresh tires, Binotto said he was driving 0.1 kilometers per hour too fast and slipped due to the time penalty he received sixth place. But even without this curious incident, he would not have been able to get past the alleged owner of the fatal visor. Now he is only third in the overall standings behind Verstappen (284) and Perez – 98 points behind the leader. In the past nine races he has only managed one podium finish.
Eight appointments and a sprint race are still pending, but the World Championship has basically been decided. While Verstappen had to fight Lewis Hamilton for the title in a controversial final in 2021, he should succeed early this season. He has won nine of the 14 Grand Prix so far, and he will probably break the record of 13 triumphs in one year that Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel currently share. Red Bull outclassed Ferrari in Spa, the superiority was striking. Sainz finished almost 27 seconds behind Verstappen and nine seconds behind Perez. “There was a real performance difference,” admitted Binotto. As always, even in crises, he remained calm, but seemed worried and at a loss: “The Red Bull is simply a faster car.” An explanation that the 52-year-old had already tried after Verstappen drove from tenth place to victory in Budapest.
At the beginning of this season, Ferrari was still in the lead. It looked as if a combination of man and machine had finally found their way to bring the particularly coveted trophy to Maranello after 2007. But after technical problems with what is actually a strong car and several strategic and driving errors, the lead has long since been lost. Bad luck struck on Sunday. And now, is it all over? “It looks very difficult, especially with the pace that Red Bull showed this weekend, it will be very, very difficult,” said Leclerc, who had long debated the tactics with his race engineer in Spa. “We just weren’t strong enough compared to them,” Sainz said. “They were on another planet this weekend.”
“Max was simply in his own league all weekend,” says team boss Christian Horner
It’s very beautiful on this planet right now. The team has caught up on the development backlog and may even have moved to its own galaxy. “I think our car is very efficient,” said Verstappen. Red Bull was fast on the straights, strong in the corners, better at tire management. Ferrari identified the increased wear in particular as a problem. While the eventual winner drove 15 turns on the course in the Ardennes on the soft rubber compound, Sainz admitted: “Mine were pretty much at the end after just three laps.” Ferrari and Mercedes had problems adapting their cars to the track profile. The Red Bull copes better with more ground clearance, which is needed here.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull (475) has a 118-point lead over Ferrari (357), who in turn only have 41 points more than Mercedes. The Scuderia must be careful not to fall behind here too. The three-way fight hoped for by the rule changes will not come about. Red Bull is too strong, the team seems too unswerving in its intention to maintain its supremacy in the premier class. Strategic mistakes are not to be expected, the RB18 purrs reliably, and Verstappen, yes, he looks invincible anyway. “Max was simply in his own league,” said team boss Christian Horner: “Since winning the World Cup, he’s taken the next step. That freed him in many ways.”
It’s all encouraging, Horner said, “but you can never allow yourself to think too far ahead.” There are still routes that are less suitable for his team. On the other hand: Now Formula 1 travels to Zandvoort, where Verstappen adds the home advantage to the impressive form. Then it goes to Monza, Ferrari country. But while the Scuderia fight against their weaknesses, Red Bull can confidently rely on their strengths. The world champions are also dealing with the troubled competition. You don’t even need a wandering detachable visor for this.