Max Verstappen wins again, closes in on another Formula One record

AP photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Red Bull driver Max Verstappen celebrates after winning Formula One's Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Verstappen won for the eighth straight race, one shy of the F1 record for consecutive victories.

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — Max Verstappen enters Formula One's annual midseason break in seemingly unstoppable form as he seeks a third straight series championship.

The 29-year-old star won the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday in emphatic fashion for his eighth straight victory and 10th overall of a crushingly dominant season to this point.

Despite starting sixth on the grid, he finished 22.3 seconds ahead of teammate Sergio Perez to give Red Bull an easy 1-2 showing. It moved Verstappen ever closer to his own F1 record of 15 wins from last year and a title run that could be even more impressive than the first two.

Verstappen is 125 points ahead of Perez after just 12 races, and his next target is matching Sebastian Vettel's F1 record of nine straight wins with a victory at the Dutch GP when the season resumes Aug. 27.

"I just want to have a nice time now, have a bit of time with family and friends," said Verstappen, who was born in Belgium but competes under the flag of the Netherlands.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was third to secure his third podium finish of the season, with Lewis Hamilton in fourth for Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso. George Russell was sixth for Mercedes, with Lando Norris (McLaren), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) completing the top 10.

Leclerc started in pole position ahead of Perez, with Hamilton and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. behind them. McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri was on the next row alongside Verstappen, who was fastest in Friday's qualifying but took a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change and had to avoid early traffic.

"It was just about surviving turn one. I could see it was all getting really tight," Verstappen said. "I've been in that position before myself, so I am just going to stay out of that, and it worked out. From there onwards, I made the right overtakes."

Last year Verstappen won after starting 14th, and once he overtook Perez on the 17th of 44 laps Sunday, his 45th career win was seemingly inevitable.

"Really enjoyable to drive once I got in the lead," Verstappen said. "It was again a great race."

Red Bull extended its record to 13 straight wins, including the final race of last season.

Hamilton came in on the penultimate lap for a tire change, and the move paid off as he took the bonus point for fastest lap from Verstappen — a very minor blip for the dominant Dutchman.

It was yet another stellar weekend for Verstappen, who also won Saturday's sprint race, though there was some more bickering over the radio with his race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, as they continued their spat from Friday's qualifying.

"Don't forget Max, use your head, please," Lambiase told Verstappen when he questioned why Perez was making his first tire change on the 14th lap.

Verstappen defused any talk of tension with Lambiase.

"It's fine. We know each other very well, and we have a very good relationship," he said. "I think it's really important."

With some rain forecast, Verstappen went in on the next lap and came out some two seconds behind Perez. Just minutes later, he cruised past Perez and, as so often this season, the rest was just about control.

Perez, meanwhile, pledged to stay on the podium for the rest of the season.

"It's been a bit of a rough patch," the 33-year-old Mexican driver said. "I really need this summer break, it's been really intense. I'll come back really strong for Zandvoort."

There are 10 races remaining this season, but most of the competition for places will be behind Verstappen. Alonso is one point ahead of Hamilton in third overall, with Leclerc and Russell level and Sainz seven points behind them.

Conditions were dry at the start of Sunday's race, in stark contrast to the two previous days, which were impacted by heavy rain at the 4.3-mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Leclerc, who earned his first F1 win at this site in 2019, started solidly, but Perez's extra pace soon put him in front.

"I knew it was quite crucial for my race to get Charles on lap one," Perez said.

Verstappen rose two places to fourth after Sainz bumped into Piastri on the first corner. Piastri, who impressed with a second-place finish in Saturday's spring race, had to pull out after the contact, while Verstappen overtook Hamilton on the sixth lap, passed Leclerc three laps later and made short work of Perez just before some rain fell briefly.

Some good overtaking by Ocon moved the Frenchman up from 10th to eighth in the closing stages. A bad day for Sainz led to him exiting on the 25th lap and Leclerc moving above him in the standings.

"The race was good on my side; a shame for Carlos; as we had good pace," Leclerc said. "When you look at the Red Bulls; we still have a lot of work to do ... This was the best we could achieve today, no doubt."