Analysis: things we learnt from the Belgian Grand Prix

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Last weekend saw the Formula One field assemble at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix that brought the first half of the 2023 F1 season to a close. F1Technical’s senior writer Balázs Szabó reflects on Round 12 of the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Records - The records just keep on falling to Red Bull and Max Verstappen. The double world champion took his 45th career F1 victory and his eighth consecutive F1 triumph which is just one short of Sebastian Vettel’s all-time record of nine consecutive victories.

It was Red Bull's fifth one-two finish of the season, their 12th triumph of the current season and their 13th consecutive victory.

Third in a row – Born in Hasselt just a few miles from Spa, Max Verstappen took his first Belgian Grand Prix in 2021. However, that race took place in difficult climatic conditions and became the shortest F1 race in history with just three laps completed.

Last year saw the Dutchman win the Spa F1 race by 17.841s despite starting from 14th on the grid due to engine-related penalties. This year, he also started from further back on the grid as a gearbox penalty deprived him of his well-earned pole position and demoted him to P6. However, he was back in the lead on Lap 17, beating his team-mate Sergio Perez by 22.305s when he crossed the finish line.

Third sprint – The Belgian Grand Prix sported the third sprint weekend this year with three other venues set to feature the special schedule. Red Bull Racing have not only won every single race this year, but they have also clinched the victory in every sprint race too. Sergio Perez won the first sprint from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc while the second sprint in Austria was won by his team mate Max Verstappen, who also took a dominant triumph in last Saturday’s 100km dash.

Tyre change – Ferrari were not only fast on the 7.004km Spa track, but they were quick off the track too. The Maranello-based outfit completed the fastest pit stop of the Spa race when they serviced Charles Leclerc within 2.19s. Red Bull completed the second quickest tyre change with a 2.24s tyre swap.

Curiously, the third and fourth fastest tyre change fell to AlphaTauri which has hardly been exceptional in the pit lane so far this season. Mercedes completed a total of five tyre changes, three for Lewis Hamilton and two for George Russell, but their fastest tyre switch (2.76s) was only enough for a 10th place in this standing.

Late stop - A late pit stop for fresh tyres allowed Lewis Hamilton to snatch the DHL Fastest Lap in the Belgian Grand Prix. The additional point saw the seven-time world champion close to within one point of Fernando Alonso in the fight for third place in the championship.

F1 returnee – Daniel Ricciardo made a shock comeback to F1 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri. The eight-time race winner was involved in a first corner incident at the Hungaroring, but managed to climb up the order to finish in P13. At Spa, he started the race in P11 on the starting grid, but dropped back to finish the 44-lap race in P16.

Surprise – Ferrari expected the Hungaroring suit their inconsistent SF23 and the Spa-Francorchamps track highlight their car’s weaknesses. However, the reality was that Ferrari was lagging behind Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren at the Mogyoród track and emerged as second fastest at Spa.

After his eye-catching qualifying performances in 2022, Charles Leclerc has had a very difficult season so far in 2023 with only two podium finishes (Azerbaijan and Austria) which he could add another one to with his third-place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Big changes – Alpine have had a very difficult weekend off the track. The Anglo-French outfit have announced that they parted ways with Team Principal Ottmar Szafnauer, Sporting Director Alan Permane, CEO Laurent Rossi and Technical Director Pat Fry. However, the Enstone-based squad managed to score points with both cars following two pointless race weekends.

Pierre Gasly finished third in the Sprint race, scoring six points while his team-mate Esteban Ocon secured an eighth-place finish in the grand prix, adding four points to the team’s and his own point tally. For the former Hungarian Grand Prix winner, it was his first points-finish since Canada, four races ago.

Drivers’ Championship – Max Verstappen continues to dominate proceedings this year, sitting atop of the Drivers’ Championship on 314 points, 125 points clear of his team-mate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso has had a difficult run in the last four races, but he is still third in the standings, but seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton closed in on him with only a single point separating the two.

Charles Leclerc has made a huge jump in the standings thanks to his fifth-place finish in the Spa Sprint and third place in the Spa race, and now finds himself in the fifth position.

However, George Russell has the same point tally as the Monegasque with each of them having collected 99 points apiece so far this season. The one-time F1 race winner is a place behind in the standings though as he has only collected a single podium finish this year compared the Leclerc’s three podium finishes.

Constructors’ Championship – After having won all races so far in 2023 and having clinched five one-two finishes, it is no surprise that Red Bull Racing are the runaway leader in the Constructors’ Championship, sitting atop of the table on 503 points. Mercedes are second on this list, but they have less than half of the points of Red Bull.

Aston Martin are still third in the teams’ standings, but their low-key performances in the last four races mean that fourth-placed Ferrari have closed in on them with only five points separating the Silverstone- and Maranello-based outfits.

McLaren have been on a real march recently, having collected two podium finishes at Silverstone and the Hungaroring. However, the Belgian Grand Prix saw Oscar Piastri retire after a Turn 1 incident with Carlos Sainz while Lando Norris finished only down in P7.

Williams, Haas and Alfa Romeo were the only three teams to fail to collect a single point despite the additional point-scoring opportunities in the Sprint race.

By contrast, AlphaTauri managed to add a point to their two-point tally thanks to the tenth-place finish from Yuki Tsunoda. In fact, the Japanese has scored all of AlphaTauri's points in 2023.

Track limits – A total of 15 lap times were deleted for track limit infringements at Turns 4, 9, 11 and 15.

Logan Sargeant came the closest to a five-second penalty with three track limits infringements. Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda had two lap times deleted apiece while Kevin Magnussen, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon were found guilty of exceeding the track limits once.

Rookies – Both of this season’s rookie drivers have won at Spa-Francorchamps on their way to Formula One. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri won at Spa in Formula Renault Eurocup, albeit his first Belgian Grand Prix turned out to be a short race after his collision with Carlos Sainz.

Williams’ Logan Sargeant won the FIA F3 sprint race at Spa in 2020, although his first F1 Spa race saw him finish down in P17 after suffering from high tyre degradation.