Championship leader Max Verstappen was in masterclass form despite starting the Belgian Grand Prix in P14 following power unit changes to take victory at Spa-Francorchamps and leading home a Red Bull 1-2 over teammate Sergio Perez.
The defending champion stretched his points lead over Charles Leclerc by taking control of events at Spa, moving into first position as early as lap 12 of 44 before cruising to a 18 seconds win.
With the Red Bull RB18 proving so effective in a straight line to allow Perez to dart past polesitter Carlos Sainz on the long Kemmel Straight, Checo brought home second.
Meanwhile, Sainz completed the podium ahead of George Russell as Lewis Hamilton retired following an opening lap crash with former McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Despite topping qualifying over Sainz by a might 0.6 seconds, Verstappen was dropped into the pack for exceeding his allocation of power units – but an electrical glitch on the grid for AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly promoted Verstappen to start P13, one spot over Leclerc.
That appeared to leave it up to second-starting Perez to take the fight to Sainz, but he fluffed his launch to drop to fifth into Les Combe behind both Mercedes and Alonso.
With the medium tyre RB18 bogging down, soft-starting Sainz was afforded an easy run through La Source to consolidate first place ahead of the Alpine as Hamilton tucked into Alonso’s tow on the climb up the hill.
But the pair made contact into Les Combe. Alonso appeared to be fully over the inside kerb, but was pinched by the W13 as Hamilton’s rear-right making contact with Alonso’s front-left tyre.
That launched the W13’s back axle into the air and although the seven-time champion initially rejoined, he was very slow and swiftly parked up with a loss of water pressure.
The yellow flags then morphed into a full safety car after Nicholas Latifi and Valtteri Bottas came to blows at the exit of the chicane, with the Alfa Romeo ending up in the gravel.
Starting in P14, Ocon messed up the corner to run over the inside sausage kerb, it appeared to put Latifi off line as he ran wide and kissed the gravel to pitch the Williams into a spin.
Bottas was innocently collected and turned around to retire. However, both this and the Alonso-Hamilton bash passed without penalties after investigation.
However, Hamilton was given with a warning for not visiting the medical centre despite his shunt exceeding the stipulated impact limit.
Sainz lost his initial 2.1 seconds lead over Perez to the safety car as Russell slotted into third ahead of Russell and a flying Sebastian Vettel, the retiring Aston Martin driver rising from ninth.
Leclerc, meanwhile, was forced to pit at the end of lap three after a visor tear-off had lodged itself in his front-right brake duct to cause overheating and reports of smoke.
He was stopped from ninth, one spot behind title rival Verstappen, for mediums.
As the safety car peeled in at the end of lap four, Sainz led a very slow restart and even locked up into the Bus Stop chicane but a fine exit kept him clear of Perez.
The RB18 driver duly locked up into La Source, forcing him to worry about Russell behind as Sainz pulled a 1.2 seconds gap.
Meanwhile, Verstappen picked off Daniel Ricciardo and then used DRS to fly past Alonso for fourth place on the Kemmel Straight with 1.6 seconds to find to the Mercedes ahead. But that only took until lap eight before Verstappen dragged past Russell to get one foot on the podium.
The 2.6 seconds deficit to Perez was soon eviscerated by Verstappen, but he was delayed getting past his team-mate, who didn’t give way as easily as he could have done into Les Combes.
But with an early fastest lap effort under his belt, and having complained about the “silly” amount of time lost, Verstappen closed and slipstreamed past out of Eau Rouge.
With Ferrari pitting Sainz for a set of mediums at the end of lap 11 before losing time rejoining behind Ricciardo, Verstappen’s initial ascent to first place had been completed.
Such was Verstappen’s prowess that despite running the more delicate soft tyres in warmer temperatures than experienced at any point in the weekend, he was more able to edge life out of them than renowned tyre whisperer Perez on the mediums.
So much so, Red Bull pitted Perez at the end of lap 14 for another set of the yellow-walled tyres while Verstappen stayed out and continued to nurse his C4s.
With Perez effectively keeping Leclerc at bay as he rejoined, the Red Bull squeezing the Ferrari on the outside into Les Combes to the point where the pair made brief contact.
Verstappen eventually came into the pits at the end of lap 15 as his levels of traction deteriorated, Red Bull swapping him into mediums to rejoin in front of Perez.
That left Sainz with a 4.7 seconds cushion to protect the win, the Ferrari’s mediums now four laps old. But Verstappen tore chunks out the gap and on lap 17 was on the F1-75’s rear.
First position and eventual win would effectively be decided when Verstappen powered up Eau Rouge and used DRS to leap Sainz into Les Combes.
Three laps later, Perez was right on the Ferrari and sold Sainz a dummy on the Kemmel Straight to power around the outside for second place and a Red Bull 1-2.
Sainz would pit for his second stop on lap 25, switching to hards as Leclerc was moved onto mediums. Verstappen would make his final visit to the pits of lap 30 for mediums and returned with an 8 seconds lead over Perez.
Lapping consistently seven tenths faster than his stablemate, Verstappen was able to cross the line with fastest lap to claim the spoils by 17.8 seconds and edge closer to a 100-point lead.
With Perez on the hard tyre to cover off Sainz, the Red Bull crossed the line 9 seconds ahead of the lead Ferrari as Russell ran to fourth another 2.2 seconds in arrears.
Leclerc was pitted on the penultimate lap for a switch to softs in a bid to nick the point for fastest lap off Verstappen. But on cool tyres, was released into the path of Alonso.
The Alpine picked off the Ferrari for fifth, and while Leclerc recovered the place on the last lap, he missed the bonus point and was then knocked back to sixth owing to a 5 seconds penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
Ocon crossed the line in seventh, helped by a glorious double overtake on the Kemmel Straight as he picked up a powerful tow from Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly.
Vettel, meanwhile, led Gasly as Alex Albon completed the top ten for Williams.
For much of the second half, Albon kept a train of cars at bay – the queue led by Lance Stroll and then Lando Norris, Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu and Danuel Ricciardo.
Kevin Magnussen led team-mate Mick Schumacher for P16 and P17 as Latifi eventually finished in P18.
So a dominant victory for Max Verstappen even with the grid penalty. The pace of the Red Bull RB18 is simply outstanding and gaining more points is vital in terms of the championship. The next race is Max’s home event so big pressure is on as his passionate fans are expecting another top result but given his top form, this is looking very good. So congratulations Max with this P1.
Belgian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:25:52.894
2 Sergio Pérez Red Bull +17.841s
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +26.886s
4 George Russell Mercedes +29.140s
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine +73.256s
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +74.936s
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine +75.640s
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +78.107s
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +92.181s
10 Alexander Albon Williams +101.900s
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +103.078s
12 Lando Norris McLaren +104.739s
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +105.217s
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +106.252s
15 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +107.163s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
17 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
– Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo DNF
– Lewis Hamilton Mercedes DNF