Max Verstappen sees off Oscar Piastri to win sprint race at Belgian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen overcame Oscar Piastri to win Formula One’s sprint race at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Pole-sitter Verstappen fell behind Piastri after the Australian moved from wet tyres to intermediate rubber a lap earlier before blasting back into the lead at the midway stage of a frantic rain-hit dash at Spa-Francorchamps.

Rookie Piastri finished runner-up with Pierre Gasly a surprise third for Alpine. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth but was hit with a five-second penalty for colliding with Sergio Perez, dropping him to seventh.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were promoted to fourth and fifth respectively for Ferrari with McLaren’s Lando Norris sixth. George Russell took the final point in eighth.

The sprint took place in wet conditions

The sprint took place in wet conditions (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Perez was forced to retire from the race allowing Verstappen to extend his championship lead from 110 points to 118 ahead of tomorrow’s 44-lap Grand Prix.

Six minutes before the race was due to get under way, the FIA announced the start would be postponed following heavy rainfall in the area.

A 30-minute delay followed before a rainbow emerged over Spa-Francorchamps and the weather improved.

At 5:35pm local time, the Safety Car led Verstappen et al on five formation laps in an attempt to clear the spray and aid the drivers with visibility.

FIA race director Niels Wittich’s decision over when to enable the start of the race was heightened following the death of 18-year-old Dilano Van ‘t Hoff at a rain-hit Formula Regional European Championship (FRECA) race four weeks ago.

There was plenty of action in the 11 racing laps

There was plenty of action in the 11 racing laps (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The safety car peeled in, paving the way for a rolling start and a shortened 11-lap dash to the chequered flag.

But, before a proper racing lap had even taken place, half of the 20-strong field came into the pits to change from the full wets to the intermediate tyre.

Among them was Piastri, Perez and Hamilton with Verstappen staying out on track.

Verstappen immediately knew he was on the wrong rubber, calling on his team to change him to the intermediate tyres.

In Verstappen came at the end of the opening lap, but by the time he emerged, Piastri had done enough to leapfrog him and lead a Formula One race for the first time in his career.

Gasly, Perez and Hamilton benefited from their early stops to move up the pecking order.

On lap three, the Safety Car was back out after Fernando Alonso crashed. The double world champion, who turned 42 on Saturday, lost control of his Aston Martin through the left-hander Turn 11, pirouetting through the gravel and nudging the barrier.

Piastri headed the field when the race restarted on lap six, but his defence lasted only a handful of corners.

Verstappen tracked Piastri through the fearsome Eau Rouge-Raidillon section and then blasted by on the Kemmel Straight.

Asked if it was a mistake not to stop for inters at the very start of the race, Verstappen said: “No, it was just a safer call.

“I could have come in first and be blocked by other cars in the pits. We lost one position but we knew we were quick and when we put the inter tyres on we were flying.”

Piastri, 22, said: “I feel very happy. We tried our best and led a few laps but we were no match for Max.

“I thought the safety car would play in my favour with less laps to try and hold him behind. I got a good restart but by the top of Eau Rouge he was on top of me already. I could not keep him behind on the straight.”

Further back in the battle for fourth, Hamilton attempted to muscle his way past Perez but the Mercedes man made contact with his Red Bull rival. Perez briefly remained ahead before Hamilton drove round the outside of the Mexican at La Source.

Perez sustained damage in the accident and fell down the field, sliding through the gravel and then being ordered by his Red Bull team to retire the car.

The stewards investigated the flashpoint and slapped Hamilton with a penalty, demoting him down the order.

Verstappen remained in control of the race, taking the chequered flag 6.6 sec clear of Piastri to rack up yet another win in a one-sided campaign.

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