In his ninth Formula 1 win of the season on Sunday in Belgium, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen moved ever closer to his second consecutive title in the world’s biggest motorsporting discipline.
There was a sense, when the F1 circus headed to the historic track of Spa, that this might be the final time the paddock set up at the iconic venue, though it was later revealed that the 7km track would be used at least once more on next year’s calendar.
And, almost as if the weekend’s race – the first since the summer break – was an audition for the future of the series in the country, the drivers performed, the fans turned up and defending champion Verstappen tightened his grip on the Drivers’ Championship.
Those watching in the stands were maybe hoping for something of an exciting race when a mixture of grid penalties and qualifying saw Verstappen start the race down in 14th position with one-time title rival Charles Leclerc, but even that scenario didn’t stop the Dutch sensation from taking the race by storm.
After Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had clashed on the opening lap – with the Briton admitting guilt for not leaving the Spaniard enough space – the race opened up in the early laps but only seemed to help the Dutchman.
The early dust from cars going wide caused Verstappen to rip off one of his visors – a regular occurrence, though unusual so early in a race – only for Leclerc to have to pit for having a visor stuck in his brake duct soon after.
From that 14th position though, Verstappen had firmly taken the lead in just 18 laps and, from there, never looked like being caught. At times he was lapping around a second quicker than his teammate Sergio Perez, who finished second.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz came in to seal third and limit the damage done to his team’s constructors’ tally but that was completely undone by yet another mistake from the Prancing Horse outfit.
Leclerc’s garage brought in Leclerc late in the race to change onto the soft tyres and chase the fastest lap from fifth position.
His Ferrari returned to the track only to be overtaken by Alonso, and despite Leclerc retaking the position and earning the lap time, the Monegasque driver was then penalised for speeding in the pit lane and was dropped to sixth – another example of Ferrari getting it wrong.
Verstappen looked dominant, and he will have his second title – and the record of 13 wins in a season – in his sights in the coming rounds. But after last year’s drama, as he heads into his home Dutch Grand Prix this weekend, he will no doubt want the long procession towards Abu Dhabi to which winners in past seasons were treated.