Formula 1: All He Does is Win, Win, Win


Max Verstappen continues to dominate Formula 1 this season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the past three weeks, Formula 1 (F1) returned from its summer break with a triple header, starting with the Belgian Grand Prix, followed by the Dutch Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix.

When F1 arrived at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix, most of the teams decided to take new engine components which brought on grid penalties if they exceeded their original allocation. Spa is an excellent location to get these penalties due to the various overtaking opportunities that are available around the track. This year’s main title rivals, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, announced they would be taking new components and triggering those penalties, forcing them to start the race from the back of the grid. 

As the 20 drivers lined up on the grid, Verstappen started 14th with Leclerc starting right behind in 15th. When the lights went out, all 20 drivers got away cleanly. However, not even a half-lap into the race, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Fernando Alonso’s Alpine crashed together, forcing Hamilton to finish early due to the severe damage. Meanwhile, on the second lap, Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo ended up in the gravel trap, forcing the safety car to come out.

While all of that was happening at the front, Verstappen was flying through the field. When the safety car came out, he was already in eighth place. Meanwhile, Leclerc was forced to pit during the safety car due to a tear-off getting stuck in his brakes. Once the race restarted, Verstappen continued his charge. On lap eight, he was already in third place with his teammate Sergio Perez in second and Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz in first. Verstappen’s pure speed allowed him to surpass Perez.

Sainz pitted first on lap 11, with Perez then pitting on lap 14 and Verstappen pitting on lap 15. When Verstappen emerged from the pits, he came out ahead of Perez but just behind Sainz. But on lap 18, he easily cruised past Sainz and immediately started to build a gap. Perez was eventually able to pass Sainz on lap 21 to make it a Red Bull one-two finish. After 44 laps, Verstappen won the race in dominating fashion to increase his championship lead against Leclerc who ended up finishing sixth.

Then, F1 went to Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix, with Verstappen starting his home race on the right step by getting pole position just ahead of Leclerc. When the lights went out, Verstappen was able to retain the lead. While Verstappen and Leclerc were on soft tires, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and George Russell started the race on mediums with a potential one stop on the cards. 

Leclerc pitted on lap 17 with Verstappen pitting immediately after with both going to medium tires. The Mercedes pair stayed out and inherited the lead with Hamilton leading Russell. On lap 28, Verstappen finally caught up with one of the Silver Arrows and was able to pass Russell for second place. Once that happened, Hamilton pitted on lap 29 and Russell pitted on lap 31 for hard tires with a one stop in mind. At this point, it seemed like Mercedes had a stroke of genius due to the fact that neither Verstappen or Leclerc could make it to the end on their tires forcing them to pit again, which would let Hamilton and Russell pass them. 

However, on lap 46, Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri pitted. When he came out, he came to a halt on the track, believing that a tire wasn’t attached. Everyone braced for the inevitable virtual or full safety car, which would let Verstappen and Leclerc to pit and gain an advantage against both Mercedes. However, Tsunoda was told to continue and he entered the pits again on the following lap for new tires. When he emerged from the pits, he once again stopped on track and had to retire from the race. The virtual safety car (VSC) was called and Verstappen pitted alongside both Mercedes for new tires. Leclerc had pitted just before the VSC and as a result, fell down to fourth after Verstappen and both Mercedes left the pits. The race resumed with Verstappen 12 seconds ahead of Hamilton.

Then, on lap 55, Bottas had to retire on the main straight and called out the full safety car. Verstappen immediately pitted again, with Russell also pitting for fresh softs. However, Hamilton stayed out and was now leading the race, albeit on worse tires. It was now Hamilton, Verstappen and Russell in a sprint to the finish. When the safety car came in on lap 60, Verstappen got the perfect jump and overtook Hamilton just as the green flag was shown to take the lead of the race. From there he didn’t look back, winning his home race ahead of Russell and Leclerc, with both passing Hamilton due to the tire offset.

This brings us to the final race of the tripleheader in Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. With it being one of Ferrari’s home races, Leclerc was one of the favorites for pole. And when it was time for qualifying, he was able to stick it on pole to the delight of the Tifosi. Verstappen did qualify second but fell down to seventh due to another grid penalty. Sainz, who qualified third, started 18th due to his own engine penalties. Due to all of the penalties, Russell was promoted into second place for the race.

When the lights went out, Leclerc was able to stay in front of Russell. However, just like at Spa, Verstappen charged through the field and was already into the podium spots by lap four. One lap later, he passed Russell for second place. On lap 12, Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin pulled over to the side of the track and retired from the race, causing the VSC to be deployed. Ferrari made the call to pit Leclerc while under the VSC with Red Bull telling Verstappen to stay out. 

Verstappen then pitted on lap 25, giving the lead back to Leclerc. However, Verstappen was flying, causing Leclerc to pit again on lap 32 to have a fresher tire to catch back up to the Dutchman. After Leclerc pitted for the second time, Verstappen was 20 seconds ahead with 20 laps to go, meaning Leclerc would have to claw back a second every lap for any hope of a Ferrari win. That gap didn’t shorten and with the laps dwindling down, it seemed like a slam dunk victory for Verstappen.

However, on lap 48, Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren retired from the race which brought out the safety car, giving us a five lap sprint. Both Verstappen and Leclerc pitted for new tires to prepare for the restart and emerged from the pits still in first and second. However, the marshals were unable to remove the car quickly enough. On the final lap, it was announced that the race would finish under the safety car, denying everyone the chance to see a pedal to the medal sprint for the win. 

With his win in Monza, Verstappen swept the tripleheader with a hat trick of victories to extend his lead against Leclerc to a staggering 116 points with six races left. Red Bull also have a dominating 139-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors standings. This was Verstappen’s 11th victory of the season and fifth in a row. After a long and grueling tripleheader, the next race isn’t for another three weeks, where F1 travels to the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the Singapore Grand Prix. This will be the first time that F1 races there since the pandemic. Verstappen can actually clinch his second driver’s championship in a row if he wins the race with Leclerc finishing ninth or lower, Perez finishing fourth or lower and Russell finishing second or lower. With only six races to go, both Leclerc and Ferrari’s chances of winning the title keep getting slimmer but don’t expect them to throw the towel in just yet.