Max Verstappen’s dominance underlined by offer of ‘pit-stop training’ in Belgium

Max Verstappen goaded his forlorn rivals by challenging Red Bull to pointless “pit-stop training” during his exhibition win in Belgium on Sunday.

Verstappen started sixth by virtue of a grid penalty for a gearbox change, but he assumed the lead on lap 17 of 44 before taking the chequered flag 22.3 seconds clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc finished third for Ferrari. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton started third and crossed the line in fourth.

Verstappen’s triumph was his eighth in a row – leaving him just one short of Sebastian Vettel’s record.

It also marked his 10th victory from 12 rounds so far this season, his 19th from his last 23 outings and Red Bull’s 22nd in that period. The team from Milton Keynes head into Formula One’s summer break unbeaten this season.

Verstappen is riding on a wave of invincibility – a staggering 125 points clear in the championship – and with nine laps remaining here, his supreme confidence was expressed in a message to his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

“I could also push on and we do another stop?” he said. “A little bit of pit-stop training?”

“Not this time,” replied Lambiase.

“He has reason to be cheeky because he is just driving circles round everybody else on merit,” was the verdict of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff following another so-so afternoon for the Silver Arrows.

“The stopwatch never lies and there is one guy in one car above everyone else.”

From sixth to fourth at the end of the first lap, Verstappen dispatched of Hamilton at 210mph on the Kemmel Straight on lap six, and then Leclerc three laps later following a fine move round the outside of the Ferrari pole-sitter at Les Combes.

Max Verstappen eased to another victory at Spa Francorchamps

Max Verstappen eased to another victory at Spa Francorchamps (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Then came the first of a series of sharp-edged radio exchanges with Lambiase which would provide some entertainment on a one-sided afternoon in the Ardennes.

Trailing Perez, Verstappen wanted Red Bull to perform a double-stack tyre-stop in order not to lose any time to his team-mate on fresh rubber. But his request was rebuffed by the Red Bull pit wall.

“So don’t forget Max, use your head please,” said Lambiase. “Are we both doing it (stopping) or what?” replied Verstappen.

“You just follow my instruction,” came Lambiase’s response. “No, I want to know both cars do it,” fired back Verstappen.

“Max, please follow my instruction and trust it, thank you,” said Lambiase.

Lambiase was promptly back on the radio to ask Verstappen if he could make his dry rubber last for the next nine minutes with fine drizzle anticipated.

“I can’t see the weather radar,” was Verstappen’s spiky response.

A lap after Perez stopped for tyres, Verstappen came in. He left the pit-lane 2.8 sec adrift of the Mexican but he required only two laps before he was crawling all over the back of his team-mate’s identical machine.

Red Bull are unbeaten this season

Red Bull are unbeaten this season (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Verstappen tracked Perez through the fearsome Eau Rouge-Raidillon section before he applied DRS and roared round Perez along the Kemmel Straight. By the end of that 17th lap, Verstappen had already established a 1.6 sec gap over his team-mate.

It then began to drizzle, and Verstappen endued a hairy moment through Eau Rouge as the back end of his Red Bull stepped out at 180mph.

“F***, I nearly lost it,” said the championship leader after he regained control.

On lap 29, Perez now trailing Verstappen by nine seconds, stopped for a second time, with Verstappen following in on the same lap and then building on his lead.

Lambiase returned to the airwaves. “You used a lot of the tyre on the out-lap, Max,” he said. “I am not sure if that was sensible.”

Verstappen responded by producing the fastest lap of the race.

Verstappen’s back-and-forth with Lambiase, known as GP, came 48 hours after they squabbled over the radio in qualifying.

But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “GP and Max have been together since the first race that Max stepped into the car. Max is a demanding customer. And you’ve got to be a strong character to deal with that.

“GP is our Jason Statham equivalent, certainly a lookalike, and he deals with him firmly but fairly.

“There’s a great respect between the two of them and that comes out of a mutual trust, which you must have between an engineer and a driver. There’s no counselling required.”

The sport will now head for a four-week shutdown before Verstappen’s home race in the Netherlands on August 27.

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