Max Verstappen won his eighth race in a row at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix, while nearly every driver on the grid had some standout result across an exciting sprint weekend.
This was the hardest weekend of the Formula 1 season so far to pick out any losers exactly for that reason, perhaps predictably given the extended running in changeable conditions.
Yuki Tsunoda was nowhere on sprint Saturday but produced a strong grand prix performance for his third points finish of the season to provide the perfect riposte to his critics post-Hungary.
McLaren crashed down back to earth on Sunday after consecutive podiums, but there’s no way they can be in the losers after Oscar Piastri‘s sprint performance. Is it too harsh to make Lando Norris a loser after being P5-7 all weekend? Read on to find out…
Winner: Max Verstappen
Verstappen‘s fifth entry in the winners this season – more than any other driver – the plan was to feature him less in lieu of his predictably brilliant dominance.
But you can’t ignore a clean sweep, and Q2 was the last session of the weekend that Verstappen didn’t top.
It’s a mark of how revered he is right now that barely anyone gave a thought to Charles Leclerc or Perez‘s chances as soon as Verstappen emerged from the first sector unscathed – wherever he is on the first lap the odds are that he’s still going make the top step of the podium.
His decision to take the slower, safer option in the sprint speaks to the confidence he has in his Red Bull, he knows the only thing that can stop Max Verstappen is lady luck.
Loser: Otmar Szafnauer
That was a surprise, wasn’t it? Laurent Rossi and Otmar Szafnauer both gone in the space of two races, and Alpine in turmoil for the umpteenth time since Renault took over at Enstone back in 2016.
No doubt Szafnauer will be back in F1 before very long at all, at his third team of the decade, but you sense that Alpine could’ve given him one more offseason to see the fruits of his labour.
Alpine need long-term direction and if they’re planning to only give their team principals 18 months at a time then they’d better get used to fighting for fifth every year.
It was only the ten-point haul from Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, Alpine‘s best since Monaco, that kept the whole team out of the losers but what a statement from both drivers.
Winner: F1 sprint
The 2023 Austrian GP already underlined where sprints can add value: by providing more chances for F1 to show its strengths.
And while the grand prix was a bit of a snoozefest once again, Friday and Saturday were genuinely thrilling.
Any F1 fan should be signing up for a double-dose of qualifying right now but the race itself provided entertainment too, the more track time on a wet weekend the better.
Loser: Carlos Sainz
The turn one crash does look better on second viewing and probably was a racing incident, but it was still a Sainz mistake that ended the race for both him and Piastri.
He locked up and just looked a bit out of control at La Source, not the corner you want to be in the situation for.
Poor Piastri did box himself in and perhaps his move was a tad optimistic, but you can’t criticise him for attacking what was a pretty big gap on the inside and Sainz came from so far across the track.
And the feeling that Sainz missed a trick in the rest of the weekend is inescapable. A sprint podium looked there for the taking and even after his pitlane misfortune it was still a surprise that he couldn’t put Gasly under more pressure.
The battle for fifth is incredibly tight but Sainz should’ve emerged from Spa still as the incumbent.
Winner: Charles Leclerc
The new fifth-placed man in the championship, Leclerc seemed content that this was the most he could’ve got from the Belgian GP.
He’s had a rollercoaster season but it’s now five races in a row that Leclerc‘s beaten Sainz – a streak that’ll be nearly 100 days by the time F1 heads to Zandvoort.
Leclerc didn’t have the best sprint Saturday, but he didn’t have the worst either and he saved his big moments for when it mattered most.
With the resurgence of McLaren, the downturn of Aston Martin and the consistency of Mercedes then Ferrari have almost been lost in the wash and his second place in qualifying was the perfect statement announcing the team are back.
Just as impressive was how he always looked assured of the podium as soon he was relegated to second place, Lewis Hamilton could barely make any inroads on the final stint and ended up waving the white flag to chase the fastest lap.
Loser: Logan Sargeant
The Williams wasn’t great in the rain, and the five-minute spattering that fell on Spa around halfway through the race was when Sargeant struggled most.
He was running in the points early on but slipped back after the first round of pitstops, and then again in the rain. Still, he was the victim of the overtake of the race, Norris‘ sumptuous pass tiptoeing around the outside of Rivage.
Behind Alex Albon – who didn’t have a stellar weekend either – in every session, the summer break’s probably come at a good time for Sargeant.
With Nyck de Vries gone, he’s probably now the least competitive driver on the grid. However, just being in F1 in 2023 is ahead of schedule for the American, and if he’s taking on learnings that’ll fire him up the grid next season then that should be classed as a success.
Winner: Fernando Alonso
This wasn’t in the draft after Saturday, that’s for sure. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and to be fair to Alonso he also started decently qualifying ninth.
So it’s not how you… middle, it’s how you finish? Whatever saying applies, fifth place is not to be sniffed at in the middle of a difficult patch for Aston Martin.
It all came from a really smart first sector by the experienced campaigner, he stayed out of trouble at the start then picked up the pieces after the chaos before holding station for the rest of the race.
Good work if you can get it, and Alonso needed that top-five to hold onto third in the drivers’ championship. Now it’s over to Aston to see if they can come out of the summer break as they came out of preseason; ultra-competitively.
Loser: Frederik Vesti
Vesti left Budapest with an 11-point in the F2 standings, but he had a nightmare in Spa while title rival and Sauber junior Theo Pourchaire put in a sublime set of performances.
Pourchaire looked inspired in both races to clinch two second-places while Mercedes‘ Vesti did secure P2 in qualifying, the high point of his weekend.
But after a decent sprint, he crashed on the way to the front row of the grid for the feature race and was unable to start, while Pourchaire picked up 18 vital points. With three rounds to go in the championship, Vesti now trails by 12 and has it all to do against the Frenchman who’s form just gets better and better.
This season it seemed an F2 title for Vesti was his last chance to shoot for F1, but that looked unlikely given the big guns in the championship, until he hit the front and stayed there with his ruthless consistency.
Meanwhile, Pourchaire seemed destined for F1 ever since he was F3 runner-up to Piastri in just his third year out of karting, but his career stalled with the next big title always proving just out of reach… Until now?
And F2 and F3 as a whole probably should’ve been in the winners for Hungary, it was a brilliant slate of support racing and if you have time you should absolutely watch all the highlights from it on F1‘s YouTube channel, it’s absolutely worth it.