Charles Leclerc clinched pole position for Ferrari's home Grand Prix at Monza, topping the timesheet for the eighth time this season ahead of rival Max Verstappen.

Ferrari head into the Italian Grand Prix under immense pressure following a number of disappointments this season, derailing their hopes of a title, but Leclerc was able to perform in front of the Tifosi.

Leclerc was favourite to start at the front of the grid due to a wealth of penalties being issued for Sunday's race but did not require such an elevation, securing pole position on his own merit ahead of Max Verstappen.

The championship leader is among nine drivers taking penalties at Monza, along with team-mate Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher, four of whom progressed to Q3.

That meant the qualifying standings would be significantly different to the starting grid on Sunday, bringing back memories of the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Leclerc took victory at Monza in 2019 and is hopeful of emulating that display in 2022, which would bring an end to Verstappen's run of four back-to-back victories.

"It is amazing. It wasn't an easy qualifying session but I knew we had the potential in the car," Verstappen said.

"In this last lap in Q3 I had to put everything together and I managed to do it. Very happy with the lap and very happy with the performance. I hope we can do just like 2019 tomorrow."

Verstappen explained why he may have seemed slower than some anticipated for the qualifying session, with changes to the car aimed to boost a potential rise through the pack on Sunday.

"It was close but of course we chose to go for a little bit more downforce around here and on one lap it is maybe not the best," said Verstappen. 

"I think for tomorrow it can be quite strong and also knowing we have to start a bit back. All in all, it was a good lap and I enjoyed it. I think it will be an interesting day tomorrow."

Sainz, who put in the third-fastest lap in qualifying but faces a stern test from further back on the grid, admitted that it "hurts" to have to tumble down the starting order for Ferrari's home race.

"It hurts to be starting from the back with how competitive we feel in the car this weekend. I wish I could be at the front with Charles to try and do a 1-2 for the team tomorrow," he said.

QUALIFYING TIMES

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:20:161

2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.145

3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.268

4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +1.045

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +1.363

6. George Russell (Mercedes) +1.381

7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.423

8. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.764

9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +2.487

10. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) No Time

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz are among five drivers set to receive grid penalties for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix, joining Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes confirmed on Thursday that Hamilton would be subject to penalties after taking a fourth power unit of the season, the seven-time world champion to start from the back of the grid having taken a new engine component everywhere barring control electronics and energy store.

Red Bull duo Verstappen and Perez will face penalties for exceeding their allocations of internal combustion engines, Verstappen now on his fifth, landing a five-place penalty, and Perez on his fourth, resulting in a 10-place penalty.

Ferrari's Sainz will receive an 20-place penalty after taking new gearbox components and an energy store, while AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda will add to his penalties with an array of new power unit components, having already been given a 10-place penalty for accumulating five reprimands over the course of the season.

Finally, Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas will join former team-mate Hamilton and Tsunoda at the back of the grid after taking new engine components.

Ahead of Friday's practice session, a minute's silence was held following the passing of the Queen on Thursday and all 10 teams posted messages on their social media channels after the news was announced.

The triple-header to follow the resumption of the 2022 Formula One season concludes in Italy this weekend, with Max Verstappen aiming to inflict another stinging result on Ferrari.

Back-to-back wins in Belgium and the Netherlands have seen the Red Bull ace strengthen his grip on the title, with Verstappen remarkably securing 102 out of the last 104 available – only missing out on the fastest lap in France and Hungary.

Perhaps surprisingly, Verstappen's plethora of victories in F1 have not yet included triumph on Ferrari's home soil in Italy – which has seen four different winners in each of the last four races (Lewis Hamilton in 2018, Charles Leclerc in 2019, Pierre Gasly in 2020 and Daniel Ricciardo in 2021).

While the title race looks done and dusted, Ferrari will be determined to secure bragging rights at Monza to provide a boost to a team that has sustained persistent problems this season – most recently with Carlos Sainz's woeful pit stop last weekend.

Ferrari have taken 21 pole positions in the Italian Grand Prix, more than any other team, and have won on 19 occasions – most recently with Leclerc three years ago.

The Monaco-born driver will have fond memories of that triumph and will hope it presents a platform to propel better results in the remainder of the season to at least apply some pressure to Verstappen.

Mercedes mess

Mercedes looked on course for a first victory of the season in the Netherlands last weekend, Lewis Hamilton leading the way with George Russell tucked in behind and Verstappen sitting third before a questionable call.

Russell requested a pit stop and a change for soft tyres, something that was approved and resulted in Verstappen, having also taken softs, finding himself in striking distance of Hamilton and having no problems leapfrogging his former title rival.

Hamilton was understandably furious after the race, with Mercedes fumbling what may well be their best chance of a win in 2022.

Alonso record

In his farewell stint with Alpine ahead of his move to Aston Martin for next season, Fernando Alonso is set to equal Kimi Raikkonen's record of 350 races in Formula One – with nobody else having raced in more.

That record is destined to fall Alonso's way in the future, and he could snatch another off the Finn, as his next race finish would be his 279th in Formula One – putting him ahead of Raikkonen.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes Yuki Tsunoda's mid-race stoppage at the Dutch Grand Prix may have cost Lewis Hamilton a shot at victory over Max Verstappen.

The Briton looked on course for a first win of a difficult season, having seldom been near the pace of his Red Bull rival following last year's enthralling title battle.

But a virtual safety car stoppage for Alpha Tauri's Tsunoda two-thirds into the race handed Verstappen a free pit stop, before a physical safety car later on allowed the world champion to make another change and overtake Hamilton.

Tsunoda stopped his car after reporting issues with his tyres, removing his safety belts before being ordered to drive back to the pits. His belts were checked and he drove for four more corners, before being told to stop again by his team.

Hamilton was ultimately forced to settle for fourth, behind Verstappen, team-mate George Russell and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull principal Christian Horner suggested the stoppage of Tsunoda had no effect on the outcome of the race, but Wolff felt the decision to send the Alpha Tauri – Red Bull's sibling team – back out likely cost Hamilton.

"If we were to fight for a championship, that would be something I would closely look at," he stated when asked if the FIA should review the incident.

"Now, I think what needs to be investigated for the safety of drivers and everybody out there.

"The driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap, came in, the problem wasn't solved, they put the seatbelts back on and he drove out and stopped the car again.

"That probably has changed the outcome of the race that we maybe could have won.

"I think we would have had a fair shot at the win. The race planner said the win was on. It was very close, but it was on."

 

 

Max Verstappen has paid credit to his Red Bull team while suggesting his victories should also be attributed to him being an "exceptional driver" after Lewis Hamilton's recent comments.

The Red Bull man claimed another home triumph at the Dutch Grand Prix to move closer to a second successive world drivers' championship after last year's victory over the Briton.

The Dutchman has been the dominant driver in F1 this season with a superb car, and Mercedes racer Hamilton previously paid tribute to the technical staff, led by Adrian Newey, at the rival team.

The latter's praise notably omitted credit for Verstappen, who edged him for the title in controversial circumstances last year, and whose partner's father, former driver Nelson Piquet, was involved in a racism storm over the seven-time world champion earlier this year.

Asked on Hamilton's comments after victory at Circuit Zandvoort, Verstappen acknowledged the efforts of his team to aid his quest, but also reinforced that he plays just as much of a crucial part in his own success.

"A lot of that is down to the team, of course, as it's also how Lewis won his championships," he stated. "That's how it goes in Formula 1.

"Your car is super important, but I think when you're an exceptional driver like Lewis is as well, you make a difference over your team-mate at the time, in very crucial races as well.

"You end up winning a race like that and that is, at the end of the day, what good drivers do. They do make the difference compared to other fast drivers.

"The car is very dominant in Formula 1 but of course between team-mates, only one can win, and that's where you have to make the difference."

Toto Wolff declared "it was worth taking the risk" for both Mercedes drivers to pit with Lewis Hamilton leading the Dutch Grand Prix, despite the Briton fuming on the team radio after the race.

Hamilton was pushing towards a first race victory of the season on Sunday at Zandvoort, where he was embroiled in a gripping battle with reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Seven-time champion Hamilton seemed to seize the initiative after Verstappen pitted following a second safety car deployment due to apparent engine issues for Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas.

While Hamilton surged into the lead, Mercedes decided the 37-year-old should pit and also called in team-mate George Russell, losing the buffer advantage over Verstappen.

That was to allow both Hamilton and Russell to compete for the win in the closing stages, but that plan came unstuck as Verstappen surged into the lead on lap 61 before easing to victory.

As Verstappen embarked on his victory lap in front of a boisterous home crowd, Hamilton furiously questioned the call over the team radio – a decision that Mercedes team principal Wolff later defended.

"First of all, Lewis is ahead. So, we're always having a problem with the call," Wolff told Sky Sports when asked about the decision.

"You can do two things. You can either pit Lewis, lose track position against Verstappen, and leave George out – screwed. You can pit both – screwed. So, it was worth taking the risk."

While Wolff defended the decision in his post-race interview, he admitted on the team radio to Hamilton that the gamble did not pay dividends, adding: "Yeah Lewis, sorry it didn't work out.

"We did what we discussed in the morning, we took a risk. It didn't work. Let's discuss it between us in the office."

Having squandered the lead to Verstappen, Hamilton slipped down to fourth after being overtaken by second-placed Russell and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

Max Verstappen expressed his pride after a far from straightforward victory at the Dutch Grand Prix, where the Red Bull driver overcame the pursuit of Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton seemed set to push for his first victory of 2022 at Zandvoort on Sunday but was stifled by pitting decisions and safety car deployments.

A virtual safety car was deployed after AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda was forced to stop following tyre concerns, offering Verstappen a fortuitous pit stop when embroiled in a battle at the front with Hamilton.

Another safety car followed after Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas stopped citing engine concerns, with Verstappen again pitting – arguably a surprising decision that seemed to hand Hamilton the initiative.

But Verstappen roared back in typically aggressive fashion to overtake the seven-time world champion on the main straight of lap 61, before easing to victory ahead of George Russell in second.

That marked a 10th victory of the season for Verstappen, his joint-best return in a single year, while he became the first driver since James Hunt in 1975 and 1976 to win back-to-back F1 races at Zandvoort.

After delivering in front of a largely partisan crowd in the Netherlands, Verstappen credited Red Bull's decisions that ensured he held off Hamilton through the latter stages of the race.

 

"It was not a straightforward race but we had to push, of course with safety car, virtual safety car, making the right calls," he said on Sky Sports during his post-race interview.

"Always a bit of question mark but it worked out really well. Once we got back to the soft tyres we had great pace again."

Asked whether he harboured any doubts over decisions as Hamilton pressed on, Verstappen added: "We timed it really well out of that last corner into the banking.

"You could see the draft was quite strong and we got ahead. It's incredible to win again.

"It's always special to win your home GP. This year I had to work for it even more. An incredible weekend and I'm really happy we got the Dutch GP."

Charles Leclerc started second on the grid after being edged out by Verstappen in Saturday's qualifying session, though the Ferrari driver had to settle for third on race day despite promising early signs of pace.

The Monegasque racer may have finished on the podium but sits 109 points behind championship leader Verstappen, and Leclerc conceded the Red Bull driver was a class above at the Dutch Grand Prix.

"To be honest, it was difficult to do much better," Leclerc said. "We were a little unlucky with the [virtual safety car]. I don't know if this would have changed anything – Max was too quick today.

"Then there was Mercedes, which were flying on the hard tyres. We struggled to find the feeling on the hard tyres, so we'll analyse that."

Max Verstappen held off a spirited push from Lewis Hamilton to secure a second consecutive Dutch Grand Prix victory and extend his championship lead to 109 points.

The reigning Formula One champion edged out Charles Leclerc in qualifying to put himself in pole position ahead of Sunday's eventful race, where George Russell finished second and Charles Leclerc took third. Hamilton eventually faded to fourth.

AlphiTauri's Yuki Tsunoda and Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas both stopped midway through the race, with Verstappen's pit stop after the second safety car allowing Hamilton to take the lead.

Yet Verstappen recovered and regained the lead by going past Hamilton down the main straight on lap 61 to claim a fourth consecutive victory and 10th of the season, his joint-best return in a single year after also hitting double figures last year.

 

The top five retained their positions during an eventful start where Hamilton and Carlos Sainz touched cars through turn one, while Haas' Kevin Magnussen slipped off the track and hit the barrier.

Verstappen continued to keep Leclerc at bay through the opening 10 laps, responding to the Ferrari driver's early signs of pace by pressing forward to move out of DRS range.

A problematic pit stop for Sainz in which no rear-left tyre appeared available saw the Ferrari drop from third to 11th on lap 15, with Hamilton displacing the Spaniard as Verstappen stretched his lead over Leclerc.

Sainz recovered into sixth as Verstappen pitted for the first time on lap 19, with Hamilton – still winless in 2022 – taking the lead as Mercedes ran a one-two with Russell in second.

Verstappen roared back before a pit stop for Hamilton, who then got the better of Sergio Perez as the Mexican aimed to protect his Red Bull team-mate's lead.

A virtual safety car deployed after issues for Tsunoda offered a glorious chance to pit on lap 48 for Verstappen, who led Hamilton by almost 16 seconds with 23 laps to go after the Mercedes driver pitted.

Verstappen squandered his advantage by pitting after another safety car deployment, but he recovered to surge back into the lead with 11 laps to go to race to victory.

Russell and Hamilton almost collided as the former looked to overtake into second, with the seven-time world champion slipping down to fourth after Leclerc eased past him.

Max Verstappen snatched an "unbelievable" pole position for his home Dutch Grand Prix as the Formula One championship leader put on another crowd-pleasing show.

On the eve of the Zandvoort race, Verstappen banished Friday's gearbox failure and put himself in a strong position to push for a repeat of last year's win at the track, edging out Charles Leclerc by 0.021 seconds.

Ferrari's Leclerc joins him on the front row, and the Scuderia's Carlos Sainz took third, ahead of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes, with Red Bull's Sergio Perez and the Silver Arrow of George Russell on row three.

Verstappen beat Leclerc's time late in the session, and when Red Bull team-mate Perez crashed on his final lap, that brought out the yellow flags, crushing the hopes of improvement for those on a flying lap.

Asked what it felt like to be on pole, just like he was last year, Verstappen said: "Unbelievable! Especially after yesterday, we had a difficult day but worked really well overnight with the whole team to turn it around.

"A qualifying lap around here is insane. We changed a lot. Yesterday was a bit rushed in FP2 to get the car together, but today the car was enjoyable to drive."

Leclerc had been the fastest in practice on Saturday, and he put himself in the mix to take pole before Verstappen saved his best for late on.

Already 98 points behind title front-runner Verstappen, Leclerc is reasonably doubting his chances of bridging that gap in the remaining races.

He felt Ferrari would have the pace to contend for top spot on the podium this week though, and nothing he experienced on Saturday changed that viewpoint.

Leclerc said: "It was very, very close. Max did a great lap in the end, and our car was getting better and better through qualifying.

"In the beginning I was scared because Max was much quicker than us on used tyres. But in Q3 the car came more together and I did the lap which was enough for P2. Tomorrow is the race and we'll give it our all.

"We are much stronger here compared to last weekend, and that's good to see. Our race pace looks quite strong. It's going to be close with the Red Bulls. We just need to do a great start and then we'll see."

Sainz described his own performance as being "on the limit".

"It wasn't an easy qualification but in the end we did a decent job. It is very tough out there," Sainz said. "The track is especially demanding on the tyres. We have a lot of overheating during the lap, even in the long runs, a lot of degradation.

"Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. There's going to be a lot going on, even if it's a difficult track to overtake, and there's going to be many options with strategies."

The McLaren of Lando Norris and Haas of Mick Schumacher start from the fourth row, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda's AlphaTauri and Lance Stroll's Aston Martin.

After making it through to Q3, Stroll was unable to put in a lap time due to a technical problem.

QUALIFYING TIMES

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 1:10.342
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.021s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.092s
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.306s
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.735s
6. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.805s
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.832
8. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.100s
9. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +2.214
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is hopeful there will be no further issues for Max Verstappen after a gearbox failure in the first free practice session at Zandvoort.

The championship leader is seeking to win back-to-back races at his home Dutch Grand Prix this week but his preparations suffered a significant hit when he stopped in a plume of smoke on Friday.

Verstappen stated over team radio that it was a gearbox issue, leading to concerns ahead of Sunday's race, but Horner is hoping the reigning world champion would be able to participate in the second practice session.

"We lost drive once he took a shift from four to fifth, we need to get the car back, understand that and hopefully get it turned around quickly for the next session," he explained.

With Verstappen leading the championship battle by 93 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc a further five behind, the title race is widely considered to be wrapped up, but Horner warned there is still time for things to change.

"Still eight races to go including a sprint race. Anything can happen. We've just got to keep our heads down, keep doing what we've been doing and the championship tables will take care of themselves," he added.

"Spa was probably the most dominant win we've ever had, it's difficult to understand what was it, did they take a step back, did we take a step forward? Max was in a league of his own."

Lewis Hamilton declared he was "more impressed" by the efforts of Red Bull's engineers than by Max Verstappen's driving ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix.

Having beaten Hamilton to the drivers' championship in controversial circumstances last year, Verstappen has been dominant throughout 2022, and holds a 93-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez at the top of the standings.

Red Bull also appear certain to end Mercedes' eight-year stranglehold on the constructors' title, having built a 118-point advantage over Ferrari.

Not since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix have Red Bull failed to get at least one driver onto the podium, while Verstappen has secured nine victories in his last 11 outings.

But when asked about Verstappen's performances, Hamilton chose to shower praise on those behind his car, responding: "I'm more impressed with [Red Bull's chief technical officer] Adrian Newey and his team.

"I think the team, it is a great team. They've generally had really great cars. 

"I think they used to have really high ride height and more drag than before, but I think they've realised this year that their engine isn't actually slower than others. They've done a fantastic job.

"When you've got a stable platform like that… it's a great team. They've done an amazing job. I've got to take my hat off to Red Bull. They had a great car last year as well."

In 2011, Hamilton famously dismissed Red Bull as "just a drinks company", but now acknowledges his criticism was misplaced.

"Anything I would have said in the past about the team... I didn't mean it in a negative way," the seven-time world champion added.

"A few years ago, I said something about them being a drinks company and it was really just highlighting that you would bet on a car manufacturer more than them. 

"But they've proved me wrong, and they've done a great job."

Meanwhile, Hamilton's strained relationship with 2021 title rival Verstappen could mean the Briton receives a hostile welcome in Zandvoort ahead of Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix. 

Hamilton finished as runner-up to Verstappen at the 24-year-old's home race last year, but refuted suggestions his next outing will resemble an "away fixture".

"It's just another race," Hamilton said. "I'm here to do a job."

The resumption of the Formula One season last weekend resulted in a rather strange race in Belgium, with many out-of-position drivers due to various penalties.

Not that it mattered to Max Verstappen though, who worked his way through the pack to secure victory having started 14th on the grid – extending his lead in the title race to 93 points.

With such a strong grip on the title, a far-cry from the events last year in his fierce battle with Lewis Hamilton, attention for many has already started to shift towards the 2023 season.

Seats for next year are still yet to be fully decided and there are plenty of big names in the mix, including Daniel Ricciardo after his exit from McLaren was announced prior to the last race.

For Verstappen though, there's still plenty to achieve. A victory on home soil in the Netherlands this weekend would see the Red Bull ace become the first driver to win back-to-back races at Zandvoort since James Hunt in 1975 and 1976.

Another win would also be his 10th of the season, equalling the tally he achieved last year in his maiden title win. With nine wins from 14 races, Verstappen's win percentage of 64.3 is the highest in F1 history.

 

Ferrari's race regrets

Ferrari have achieved eight pole positions in F1 this season, the most since the nine secured in 2019. Prior to that, the highest they achieved was 12 in 2004. For Charles Leclerc, his seven poles equal his best-ever return, which he set in 2019.

While the qualifying has yielded success, the races have not and Leclerc's title push has suffered as a result – with just one podium finish in the last nine rounds, having started the season with four podiums in five races.

Now third in the standings and 98 points behind Verstappen, Leclerc and Ferrari may well be wondering what might have been.

Alpine and McLaren fight

After a week in front of the FIA hearing on the tussle surrounding Oscar Piastri, Alpine and McLaren's fight will return to the track as they compete for the 'best of the rest' tag in F1 beneath Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

Alpine have a 20-point advantage in the constructor's standings, capitalising in Belgium with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finishing fifth and sixth respectively, while both McLarens finished outside the points.

That marked the fourth race in a row that Alpine saw both drivers finish inside the top 10, with McLaren at a disadvantage given Ricciardo's struggles in 2022.

Charles Leclerc is struggling to see how he and Ferrari can get back into title contention after a tough weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.

A dominant race for Red Bull on Sunday saw the Austrian team take first and second place, with drivers' championship leader Max Verstappen topping the podium from Sergio Perez.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third, while Leclerc's dwindling title hopes took another knock when he crossed the line fifth before a penalty for speeding in the pit lane nudged him down a spot.

Leclerc now sits third in the standings with 186 points, a daunting 98 points behind Verstappen. Perez sits five points ahead of Leclerc now, too, and although there are eight races remaining, defending champion Verstappen practically has another title in the bag.

In the constructors' standings, Red Bull have 475 points, well ahead of Ferrari whose haul of 357 puts them second.

Leclerc took responsibility for his excessive pit-lane pace, saying it was "my fault... it's a mistake and that's it".

Reflecting on the bigger picture and looking at what improvements Ferrari might make, with time running out, Leclerc said: "It starts to look very difficult.

"Especially with the pace they've shown this weekend, it's going to be very, very difficult. But I'll keep my head down, try to focus race by race and try to do my best."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Leclerc was asked whether he was still in championship contention.

Again, he answered: "It starts to look very difficult."

Team-mate Sainz agreed Ferrari were left in a sticky position after an arduous weekend.

"Unfortunately it was harder than expected," said the Spaniard. "We had a lot of over-heating on the tyres, we were sliding around a lot, and for some reason our package wasn't quite there this weekend, but in the end we finished on a podium and we will take it.

"The first two laps were strong, but then we went into high degradation and I realised we were degrading more than what we should. Unfortunately we couldn't put up a stronger fight and we had to survive. We will have to learn why at this track we were not so competitive."

Sainz believes there could be stronger results ahead for Ferrari at the Dutch Grand Prix, which comes next, but he does not expect Red Bull to drop off and predicted they will be strong in Italy in two weeks' time.

"Zandvoort should be a better track for us," Sainz said. "Monza should be advantage for Red Bull there, but we will try and win it in Zandvoort."

Max Verstappen hailed an "amazing" weekend after winning the Belgian Grand Prix in dominant fashion to extend his drivers' championship lead.

The Red Bull driver started from 14th on the grid after a penalty for a power unit change, but a superb drive stormed him to a second successive win at Spa-Francorchamps.

In a chaotic race that saw a safety car on just the second lap, Verstappen weaved through the field to make it a Red Bull one-two as Sergio Perez also took advantage of the quick Red Bull car.

The impressive victory means Verstappen now holds a 93-point lead over second-placed team-mate Perez in the drivers' championship standings.

And the Dutchman was delighted after the race, telling Sky Sports: "It was amazing this weekend. We were super competitive from the get-go. I knew that we could have a really good result.

"Winning from P14, even with that car, is always a bit difficult because you don't know in general what is going to happen but luckily I stayed out of trouble, even though there was a lot of stuff going on.

"I was literally just trying to avoid everything and once everything calmed down with the safety car, I was just overtaking cars every lap.

"Once I realised we were in P3, even on the soft compounds, we were very quick and I knew I had a good chance of winning the race."

When asked if this was the best he had felt so far in his Formula One career, Verstappen replied: "It's difficult to say. I'm just enjoying the moment.

"Everyone within the team knows we are having a good time but we are also very focused on what we want to achieve. At the moment we are achieving that, but we always want more."

Max Verstappen produced a scintillating drive to surge from 14th on the grid to win the Belgian Grand Prix and further extend his huge championship lead.

The reigning Formula One champion was fastest in Saturday's qualifying session but was one of several drivers to take a grid penalty for a power unit change, leading to him starting on the seventh row.

Yet, just as in the Hungarian Grand Prix before the mid-season break, when he started in 10th, Verstappen expertly worked his way through the field to prevail and claim a second successive win at Spa-Francorchamps.

The raw pace of the Red Bull allowed Verstappen to easily make his way to the front after a chaotic start and a second lap safety car, and he was never threatened after overtaking Carlos Sainz for the lead on lap 18. His team-mate Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull one-two, with the Ferraris of Sainz and Charles Leclerc sandwiched by Mercedes driver George Russell on a day that saw Verstappen's lead stretched to 96 points.

Fernando Alonso got a lightning start to put his Alpine ahead of Perez into the first corner, with the Red Bull man also overtaken by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Yet the good work of the two former McLaren team-mates was soon undone when they collided going into the Les Combes chicane, sending Hamilton airbone as he suffered damage that ended his race.

The next lap then saw the Williams of Nicholas Latifi spin into Valtteri Bottas' Alfa Romeo, prompting a safety car as the latter ended up beached in the gravel.

Sainz locked up at the bus stop chicane at the restart but was still able to stay ahead of Perez and retain the lead.

Yet he soon began losing time to the Red Bulls and had both in his mirrors by the time he pitted on lap 12, Verstappen's spectacular charge through the field rewarded with the lead as he passed Perez while Sainz was in the pit lane.

Sainz was back ahead when Verstappen pitted for medium tyres four laps later, but Ferrari's lack of pace was encapsulated as Leclerc was unable to get past Perez on warmer tyres following the Mexican's pit stop and Verstappen succeeded in breezing past Sainz for the lead.

That set the stage for a serene second half of the race for Verstappen, whose title battle with Leclerc is turning into a procession for the Dutchman.

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