Sports Desk, Jul 29 (EFE).- Pole-sitter Max Verstappen (Red Bull) saw the checkered flag Saturday in the rain-delayed sprint event of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium, beating out Australian rookie Oscar Piastri (McLaren), who grabbed the early lead from P2 but couldn’t hold the Dutchman.
Verstappen, 25, improved in the driver standings to 289 points, 118 points better than his closest competitor, teammate Sergio “Checo” Perez, and looks a good bet to win his third straight F1 championship.
For Piastri, it was a first-ever F1 podium, while France’s Pierre Gasly (Alpine) took third place.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) finished fourth, but the Briton fell to seventh due to a 5-second time penalty for causing a collision with Perez, who was unable to remain in the race.
With the penalty to Hamilton, the Ferrari duo of Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Monaco’s Charles Leclerc moved up to fourth and fifth, respectively, and British driver Lando Norris (McLaren) picked up the 3 points attached to sixth place.
The other Mercedes driver, Briton George Russell, was eighth, the final points place in the sprint.
Spanish double F1 champion Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin), celebrating his 42nd birthday, ran onto the gravel after losing control of his car on Lap 4 and watched the rest of the sprint from the pit wall.
The sprint start was delayed by 35 minutes due to heavy rain at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and after an extended formation lap behind a safety car, the length of the sprint was trimmed from 12 laps to 11.
Half of the drivers pitted on the first lap to change from wet to intermediate tires.
Verstappen stayed out for the first racing lap from a rolling start, but then pitted for new tires, giving Piastri a chance to snatch the lead.
Once back on the track, the Dutchman gained ground on the Australian until Alonso’s accident triggered a safety car. But the reprieve was brief for Piastri, as Verstappen overtook him seconds after the restart.
While Verstappen, winner in nine of the first 11 races of the season, was the fastest in Friday’s qualifying for the Grand Prix, he will start from P6 on Sunday due to a grid penalty for replacing his transmission, with Leclerc in pole position.