George Russell is targeting a rise through the grid in Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix to usurp Ferrari, who he feels will be focused on catching Max Verstappen in pole position.

Mercedes driver Russell qualified sixth in Saturday's session and will sit alongside Red Bull's Sergio Perez on the third row, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton ahead of him in fourth.

While Russell's season has not lived up to expectations he may have had after joining the team that had dominated F1 prior to Verstappen's 2021 championship success, he has a plan to capitalise on Ferrari's title focus on the opening lap as he believes the Dutchman will not be able to be caught.

That could open the door for Russell and Mercedes to strike a decisive blow, with the Briton also adding he is hoping for high temperatures to result in "as many stops as possible".

"I hope they [Ferrari] put all of their focus on Max because that may leave them vulnerable to be honest, because I think Max is just going to clear off into the distance," he said.

"I think we probably will have a faster car than Ferrari and Checo tomorrow. So, we've got to go for it.

"I hope it's as hot as possible, I hope it's as many stops as possible to give us that opportunity. Some teams did long runs this morning and the degradation seemed better than expected.

"It doesn't take a lot, a couple of degrees of track temperature can swing it one way or another, so as I said, I hope the sun comes out."

Hamilton is equally hopeful of a fight with Ferrari at Zandvoort, though he is not certain the car is ready to be able to compete with those ahead of him.

"We've closed the gap somehow on [a single] lap. I can't really understand why but anyways," he said.

"But I am hoping that that means we are closer and even closer in the race and if we are that would be fantastic.

"If we can fight these guys and have a battle with these three ahead of me, that would be an amazing experience."

Max Verstappen snatched an "unbelievable" pole position for his home Dutch Grand Prix as the Formula One championship leader put on another crowd-pleasing show.

On the eve of the Zandvoort race, Verstappen banished Friday's gearbox failure and put himself in a strong position to push for a repeat of last year's win at the track, edging out Charles Leclerc by 0.021 seconds.

Ferrari's Leclerc joins him on the front row, and the Scuderia's Carlos Sainz took third, ahead of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes, with Red Bull's Sergio Perez and the Silver Arrow of George Russell on row three.

Verstappen beat Leclerc's time late in the session, and when Red Bull team-mate Perez crashed on his final lap, that brought out the yellow flags, crushing the hopes of improvement for those on a flying lap.

Asked what it felt like to be on pole, just like he was last year, Verstappen said: "Unbelievable! Especially after yesterday, we had a difficult day but worked really well overnight with the whole team to turn it around.

"A qualifying lap around here is insane. We changed a lot. Yesterday was a bit rushed in FP2 to get the car together, but today the car was enjoyable to drive."

Leclerc had been the fastest in practice on Saturday, and he put himself in the mix to take pole before Verstappen saved his best for late on.

Already 98 points behind title front-runner Verstappen, Leclerc is reasonably doubting his chances of bridging that gap in the remaining races.

He felt Ferrari would have the pace to contend for top spot on the podium this week though, and nothing he experienced on Saturday changed that viewpoint.

Leclerc said: "It was very, very close. Max did a great lap in the end, and our car was getting better and better through qualifying.

"In the beginning I was scared because Max was much quicker than us on used tyres. But in Q3 the car came more together and I did the lap which was enough for P2. Tomorrow is the race and we'll give it our all.

"We are much stronger here compared to last weekend, and that's good to see. Our race pace looks quite strong. It's going to be close with the Red Bulls. We just need to do a great start and then we'll see."

Sainz described his own performance as being "on the limit".

"It wasn't an easy qualification but in the end we did a decent job. It is very tough out there," Sainz said. "The track is especially demanding on the tyres. We have a lot of overheating during the lap, even in the long runs, a lot of degradation.

"Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. There's going to be a lot going on, even if it's a difficult track to overtake, and there's going to be many options with strategies."

The McLaren of Lando Norris and Haas of Mick Schumacher start from the fourth row, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda's AlphaTauri and Lance Stroll's Aston Martin.

After making it through to Q3, Stroll was unable to put in a lap time due to a technical problem.

QUALIFYING TIMES

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 1:10.342
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.021s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.092s
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.306s
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.735s
6. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.805s
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.832
8. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.100s
9. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +2.214
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

Oscar Piastri described Alpine's attempts to announce him in their 2023 driver line-up as "very upsetting" after motorsport's governing body ruled he could sign for McLaren.

Alpine and McLaren were locked in a battle for the services of the 21-year-old, who was a member of Alpine's junior programme and held reserve status with the team this season.

Both teams were in need of a new driver ahead of the 2023 campaign after Fernando Alonso announced he would be leaving Alpine for Aston Martin, while McLaren agreed an early termination of Daniel Ricciardo's deal.

In August, Alpine announced Piastri as a new driver for next year, only for the Australian to deny he had agreed to take a seat with the team.

Friday's ruling by the FIA's contract recognition board (CRB) left Piastri free to partner Lando Norris for McLaren next year, and he has hit out at Alpine's decision to make what he feels was a "false" announcement regarding his future.

"My decision was made well in advance [of Alonso's departure], which made Alpine's announcement probably even more confusing and upsetting because we had told the team that I wasn't going to continue," Piastri told Formula One's website.

"It was quite upsetting as the announcement was false and it also denied me the opportunity to properly say goodbye to everyone.

"I had been with the team for a bit over two and a half years now, and for the rest of the team to find out I was leaving in that manner was very upsetting.

"I still haven't had the opportunity to say goodbye and it's something I want to do, to show my gratitude to all the men and women at Enstone."

Piastri moved to defend his social media intervention following Alpine's announcement, claiming his decision to speak out was a necessary measure. 

"It [the announcement] was done publicly in front of some members of the team who were oblivious to the situation and I didn't want to cause a scene in front of them. It was the biggest moment of my career and probably my life up to now," he said.

"To have that falsely announced was something my management and I felt we had to correct and there was also potential legal implications if we didn't deny the announcement.

"It was not intended to be pointed or in any way anything more than factual. The last line was quite a strong one, but with the CRB ruling, it shows it was purely a fact."

Regarding his decision to seek an exit from Alpine, Piastri pointed to what he described as a "breakdown in trust" between himself and the team's hierarchy.

"To be completely honest, there was a lack of clarity around my future at the team at Alpine," he said. "They publicly stated they wished to continue with Fernando for at least one or two more years. I respect that.

"But after spending the year out, my hopes were firmly set on an Alpine seat and the lack of clarity and, similarly to Fernando, a bit of a strange feeling in negotiations… it didn't feel like it was the right decision for me [to stay].

"The lack of clarity around my future, and ultimately a breakdown in trust, I felt the very attractive offer of McLaren, and the positive dealings with them thus far were all reasons why I felt McLaren was where I was best off for the future."

The FIA's Contract Recognition Board has ruled in favour of McLaren on Oscar Piastri, allowing the Australian to take a seat with the team on the grid from 2023.

Alpine and McLaren were locked in a battle over the services of the 21-year-old, who was a member of Alpine's junior programme and held reserve status with the team this season.

Fernando Alonso's announcement that he would be leaving Alpine for Aston Martin sparked a domino effect in the market, with Alpine then announcing Piastri would take a seat next year.

However, Piastri then took to social media to deny he had agreed to race for the team, with it widely understood he had instead reached an agreement with McLaren - who confirmed Daniel Ricciardo would leave at the end of the season.

Both teams believed they had a valid contract for Piastri, with the case then being heard by the CRB this week - who have now ruled in favour of McLaren.

"The only Contract to be recognised by is the Contract between McLaren Racing Limited and Mr Piastri dated 4 July 2022. Mr Piastri is entitled to drive for McLaren Racing for the 2023 and 2024 seasons," the CRB said.

McLaren swiftly announced Piastri as their 2023 driver alongside Lando Norris and Piastri spoke of his delight at joining the team.

"I'm extremely excited to be making my F1 debut with such a prestigious team as McLaren and I'm very grateful for the opportunity that’s been offered to me," he said.

"The team has a long tradition of giving young talent a chance, and I'm looking forward to working hard alongside Lando to push the team towards the front of the grid. I'm focused on preparing for my F1 debut in 2023 and starting my F1 career in papaya."

Alpine will now be on the hunt for a driver to sit alongside Esteban Ocon next season, with widespread reports Pierre Gasly will join from AlphaTauri, ending his long association with Red Bull, and the team said an announcement on their line-up would be made in due course.

"BWT Alpine F1 Team thanks the Contract Recognition Board (CRB) for convening on Monday and we acknowledge the decision they have made," they stated on Twitter.

"We consider the matter closed on our side and will announce our full 2023 driver line-up in due course. Our immediate focus is the Dutch Grand Prix and securing points in our fight for fourth in the Constructors' Championship."

Alpine is fourth in the Constructors' Championship on 115 points, 20 points ahead of McLaren.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is hopeful there will be no further issues for Max Verstappen after a gearbox failure in the first free practice session at Zandvoort.

The championship leader is seeking to win back-to-back races at his home Dutch Grand Prix this week but his preparations suffered a significant hit when he stopped in a plume of smoke on Friday.

Verstappen stated over team radio that it was a gearbox issue, leading to concerns ahead of Sunday's race, but Horner is hoping the reigning world champion would be able to participate in the second practice session.

"We lost drive once he took a shift from four to fifth, we need to get the car back, understand that and hopefully get it turned around quickly for the next session," he explained.

With Verstappen leading the championship battle by 93 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc a further five behind, the title race is widely considered to be wrapped up, but Horner warned there is still time for things to change.

"Still eight races to go including a sprint race. Anything can happen. We've just got to keep our heads down, keep doing what we've been doing and the championship tables will take care of themselves," he added.

"Spa was probably the most dominant win we've ever had, it's difficult to understand what was it, did they take a step back, did we take a step forward? Max was in a league of his own."

Lewis Hamilton declared he was "more impressed" by the efforts of Red Bull's engineers than by Max Verstappen's driving ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix.

Having beaten Hamilton to the drivers' championship in controversial circumstances last year, Verstappen has been dominant throughout 2022, and holds a 93-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez at the top of the standings.

Red Bull also appear certain to end Mercedes' eight-year stranglehold on the constructors' title, having built a 118-point advantage over Ferrari.

Not since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix have Red Bull failed to get at least one driver onto the podium, while Verstappen has secured nine victories in his last 11 outings.

But when asked about Verstappen's performances, Hamilton chose to shower praise on those behind his car, responding: "I'm more impressed with [Red Bull's chief technical officer] Adrian Newey and his team.

"I think the team, it is a great team. They've generally had really great cars. 

"I think they used to have really high ride height and more drag than before, but I think they've realised this year that their engine isn't actually slower than others. They've done a fantastic job.

"When you've got a stable platform like that… it's a great team. They've done an amazing job. I've got to take my hat off to Red Bull. They had a great car last year as well."

In 2011, Hamilton famously dismissed Red Bull as "just a drinks company", but now acknowledges his criticism was misplaced.

"Anything I would have said in the past about the team... I didn't mean it in a negative way," the seven-time world champion added.

"A few years ago, I said something about them being a drinks company and it was really just highlighting that you would bet on a car manufacturer more than them. 

"But they've proved me wrong, and they've done a great job."

Meanwhile, Hamilton's strained relationship with 2021 title rival Verstappen could mean the Briton receives a hostile welcome in Zandvoort ahead of Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix. 

Hamilton finished as runner-up to Verstappen at the 24-year-old's home race last year, but refuted suggestions his next outing will resemble an "away fixture".

"It's just another race," Hamilton said. "I'm here to do a job."

Fernando Alonso said he is sorry for calling Lewis Hamilton an "idiot" on his team radio after their crash at Spa on Sunday, and will apologise the next time they meet.

Hamilton was sent airborne when he hit former McLaren team-mate Alonso during the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, suffering damage that ended his own race.

It initially sparked a furious reaction from Alonso, who was heard to exclaim: "What an idiot! We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first."

Hamilton took full responsibility after the race for the crash, but it brought back memories of his intense rivalry with Alonso when racing alongside one another at McLaren, and the 37-year-old Briton revealed he was irritated by the Spaniard's reaction.

Asked whether he would be speaking to Alonso after hearing of his radio message, Hamilton said: "No. I would have, until I heard what he said.

"I know that's how things feel in the heat of the moment, but it's nice to know how he feels about me."

However, after several days to reflect, Alonso told the official Formula One website he intended to clear the air with Hamilton when they meet ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, though the Alpine driver also suggested his comments were only scrutinised because of the British media.

"I will hopefully see him today," Alonso said on Thursday. "When we are doing the TV pen I will approach him and say sorry if he understood in that way. I have absolutely no problems with him and I have huge respect for him.

"First of all, it's Lewis – he's a champion, he's a legend of our time. And then when you say something – and I'm sorry to repeat this – against a British driver, there is a huge media involvement after that.

"They've been saying a lot of things to Checo [Sergio Perez], to Carlos [Sainz], to me. If you say something to a Latin driver, everything is a little bit more fun. When you say something to others, it's a little bit more serious.

"But anyway, yes I apologise. I'm not thinking what I said – I don't think that it was much to blame in that moment looking at the replays to be honest, because it was a first-lap incident and we are close together.

"The heat of the moment, the adrenaline of the moment, fighting finally for the top two, top three, made me say those comments that I should not say.

"At the same time, I said after the race that it was a racing incident in my opinion. When you say something on the radio, in that moment you think you are talking to your engineer, so you are preparing the strategy.

"Obviously you should be aware that it should be broadcasted, but it's like if someone makes a hard tackle or something in football. In that moment you say something to your team-mate or whatever, and in that moment it's not broadcasted.

"Before the race or after the race, I said what I was thinking. On the radio, I said something that I was not… I don't think that way."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes the Silver Arrows' struggles at Spa will spur them on at the Dutch Grand Prix next time out. 

Wolff's team endured a torrid time at last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton crashing out of the race after being sent airborne by a collision with Fernando Alonso approaching the Les Combes chicane.

Team-mate George Russell, meanwhile, was beaten to third spot by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who followed Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez home.

Spa represents the first time both Mercedes drivers have missed out on the podium since May's Monaco Grand Prix, but Wolff says the disappointment will drive them on in Zandvoort.

"Belgium was a challenging weekend for us as a team, but those weekends are the ones that really fire you up and make you dig deeper," he said.

"There were such big extremes across the weekend; from the pace differences on Saturday and Sunday, to the difficult first lap for Lewis and George's late charge for a podium.

"We've been working hard to understand our Spa struggles and thankfully we don't have long to wait until we can utilise and maximise those learnings. 

"What will make the difference for the rest of this season is how quickly and effectively we can continue learning, to deliver our best performance this year and next.

"The Dutch Grand Prix is next, and it was a real party atmosphere last year. It's an interesting, old-school track with sweeping bends, banked corners and a lot of character.

"So, we're excited to be back there and to take on the circuit's challenges with this year's car."

Mercedes are 159 points adrift of Red Bull at the top of the constructors' standings with eight races of the 2022 campaign remaining, while Russell and Hamilton sit fifth and sixth, respectively, in the drivers' championship.

The resumption of the Formula One season last weekend resulted in a rather strange race in Belgium, with many out-of-position drivers due to various penalties.

Not that it mattered to Max Verstappen though, who worked his way through the pack to secure victory having started 14th on the grid – extending his lead in the title race to 93 points.

With such a strong grip on the title, a far-cry from the events last year in his fierce battle with Lewis Hamilton, attention for many has already started to shift towards the 2023 season.

Seats for next year are still yet to be fully decided and there are plenty of big names in the mix, including Daniel Ricciardo after his exit from McLaren was announced prior to the last race.

For Verstappen though, there's still plenty to achieve. A victory on home soil in the Netherlands this weekend would see the Red Bull ace become the first driver to win back-to-back races at Zandvoort since James Hunt in 1975 and 1976.

Another win would also be his 10th of the season, equalling the tally he achieved last year in his maiden title win. With nine wins from 14 races, Verstappen's win percentage of 64.3 is the highest in F1 history.

 

Ferrari's race regrets

Ferrari have achieved eight pole positions in F1 this season, the most since the nine secured in 2019. Prior to that, the highest they achieved was 12 in 2004. For Charles Leclerc, his seven poles equal his best-ever return, which he set in 2019.

While the qualifying has yielded success, the races have not and Leclerc's title push has suffered as a result – with just one podium finish in the last nine rounds, having started the season with four podiums in five races.

Now third in the standings and 98 points behind Verstappen, Leclerc and Ferrari may well be wondering what might have been.

Alpine and McLaren fight

After a week in front of the FIA hearing on the tussle surrounding Oscar Piastri, Alpine and McLaren's fight will return to the track as they compete for the 'best of the rest' tag in F1 beneath Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

Alpine have a 20-point advantage in the constructor's standings, capitalising in Belgium with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finishing fifth and sixth respectively, while both McLarens finished outside the points.

That marked the fourth race in a row that Alpine saw both drivers finish inside the top 10, with McLaren at a disadvantage given Ricciardo's struggles in 2022.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has suggested the FIA struggle to police the Formula One budget cap effectively.

Binotto's team are competing with Red Bull for the constructors' championship this season, though driver Charles Leclerc's challenge for the drivers' crown is effectively over after a series of poor race calls.

The gap between the two could yet grow as reigning world champion Max Verstappen edges towards a second title, with Red Bull reportedly set to introduce a lighter car in forthcoming races.

There is a strong belief Red Bull will introduce a weight-trimmed chassis four kilograms lighter than their current model, which would facilitate a faster performance overall.

Binotto, though, feels the FIA are not doing enough to enforce the sport's budget cap.

"The number of people in the FIA monitoring it is very little," he told reporters. "It has to improve for the future because it would be really bad if somehow a championship was dictated by a financial regulation and not technical or sporting.

"I cannot know what they are doing, if they have a [lighter] chassis or not, but the budget cap is always a concern. The financial regulations can make differences between teams in the way they are interpreting and executing it.

"We know we need a very strong FIA to make sure they are properly focusing, otherwise the regulations will not be fair and equitable.

"Ferrari would never be capable of introducing a lightweight chassis or a different chassis through a season simply [because of the] budget cap and I would be very surprised if a team is capable of doing it.

"And if they are, it is back to the regulation itself, is it fair enough, is it equitable enough, is the policing sufficient?"

Red Bull principal Christian Horner has suggested the team are not preparing to make a change, stating: "No, there is no [lighter chassis]. These chassis will run for the next few races."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says they are in a "dungeon" following a dismal Belgian Grand Prix that saw Lewis Hamilton crash out on the first lap.

The Silver Arrows, last year's constructors' champions, have suffered a disappointing 2022 campaign compared to rivals Red Bull and Ferrari.

Seven-time world drivers' champion Hamilton, pipped in controversial circumstances by Max Verstappen last season, has been off the pace in 2022, while the Dutchman's win at Spa edged him closer to another title.

Wolff admitted it has been a frustrating season for the Briton and team-mate George Russell, acknowledging it has been hard to be on the outside looking in at glory this year.

"They say you never lose [but] you learn," he was quoted by the Guardian. "I can tell you it is ******* difficult.

"All these nice Instagram posts and everything we have talked about over the eight years, about how we are going to take this when you arrive in the dungeon.

"To stick to your principles and your values, to keep the spirit up and continue to relentlessly seek to get better? Phew. There is more to write a book about this year than there is about the last eight years."

Hamilton saw his race come to a premature end after a collision with Fernando Alonso, but the major issues plaguing Mercedes have been race-to-race inconsistency rather than one-off errors.

"It's very difficult to cope with these swings," Wolff added. "We had a totally sub-par performance in qualifying, [and] then in the race, sometimes we go three seconds a lap faster.

"There are big question marks about what is going on. It's not where we should be with the structure and knowledge to understand a racing car but we don't with this one.

"Whatever we decide for next year, it needs to be carefully evaluated because clearly our data does not give us the results, doesn't correlate it with the reality. We have massive swings in performance we can't really get on top of.

"In this moment to take a decision for next year, changing a concept dramatically, how can you be sure that is the better direction to go because clearly you would be starting a way back?"

The FIA hearing regarding the contract dispute between Alpine and McLaren over Oscar Piastri started on Monday.

During the mid-season break, Alpine announced that Piastri, their reserve driver and part of their young driver programme, would be racing for the team in 2023 following Fernando Alonso's move to Aston Martin.

The Australian later took to social media to deny that claim, however, with Piastri and his manager, former F1 driver Mark Webber, believing he has a valid contract to move to McLaren – who want him to replace Daniel Ricciardo next year.

With both teams believing they hold a valid contract for Piastri, the FIA will settle the situation in a hearing this week, and while no set timeframe has been stated, it is expected an outcome will occur before Friday.

The FIA's contract recognition board will hear the case, and was first set up in 1992 to settle a dispute between Jordan and Bennetton over Michael Schumacher.

Although the FIA could side with Alpine, the French team may feel the relationship is too damaged to partner for 2023 and could then sell him to McLaren, or trade the driver elsewhere on the grid – with reported interest in Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri.

Either way, an available seat at Alpine or McLaren will quickly become the hottest property for drivers to secure a spot for 2023 and will be highly competitive.

AlphaTauri, Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas are the other teams remaining on the grid not to have fully announced their driver line-up for next season.

Lewis Hamilton declared he was "grateful to still be alive" after crashing out of the Belgian Grand Prix following a collision with Fernando Alonso, as he took responsibility for the incident.

Hamilton was sent airborne when he hit former McLaren team-mate Alonso when approaching the Les Combes chicane on Sunday, suffering damage which ended his own race.

The incident sparked a furious reaction from Alonso, who was heard to exclaim: "What an idiot. We had a mega start, but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first."

While Alonso went on to finish fifth for Alpine, Hamilton's retirement ended a strong run of form for the seven-time champion, who had previously posted five consecutive podium finishes in the Mercedes.

Speaking after the race, Hamilton expressed relief at walking away from the incident unharmed, telling Sky Sports: "Looking back, he was in my blind spot, I didn't give him enough space. It is my fault. I could not see him.

"I'm just so sorry to the team and I need to recuperate and get back on the treadmill.

"I remember looking at the ground, it was definitely high up. I'm grateful to still be alive and in shape."

Hamilton and Alonso had an intense rivalry when racing alongside one another with McLaren, and the 37-year-old Briton revealed he was irritated by the Spaniard's reaction to the crash.

Asked whether he would be speaking to Alonso after hearing of his radio message, Hamilton said: "No. I would have, until I heard what he said.

"I know that's how things feel in the heat of the moment, but it's nice to know how he feels about me.

"It's better that it's out in the open how he feels and, like I said, it wasn't intentional, and I take responsibility for it – that's what adults do."

Alonso played down the comments after securing his joint-highest finish of the season.

"I was surprised, and he's now seen the incident and takes responsibility, which is very nice from him," Alonso said.

"It was a lap-one incident and nothing really to say there. The stewards didn't say anything because these things happen, especially at that corner.

"It's a tricky corner – I was frustrated in that moment, for sure. Every time we start on the first or second row, or are fighting in the top two or three, there is always something going on and I was frustrated.

"Luckily, my car was very strong, and I could continue."

Charles Leclerc is struggling to see how he and Ferrari can get back into title contention after a tough weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.

A dominant race for Red Bull on Sunday saw the Austrian team take first and second place, with drivers' championship leader Max Verstappen topping the podium from Sergio Perez.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third, while Leclerc's dwindling title hopes took another knock when he crossed the line fifth before a penalty for speeding in the pit lane nudged him down a spot.

Leclerc now sits third in the standings with 186 points, a daunting 98 points behind Verstappen. Perez sits five points ahead of Leclerc now, too, and although there are eight races remaining, defending champion Verstappen practically has another title in the bag.

In the constructors' standings, Red Bull have 475 points, well ahead of Ferrari whose haul of 357 puts them second.

Leclerc took responsibility for his excessive pit-lane pace, saying it was "my fault... it's a mistake and that's it".

Reflecting on the bigger picture and looking at what improvements Ferrari might make, with time running out, Leclerc said: "It starts to look very difficult.

"Especially with the pace they've shown this weekend, it's going to be very, very difficult. But I'll keep my head down, try to focus race by race and try to do my best."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Leclerc was asked whether he was still in championship contention.

Again, he answered: "It starts to look very difficult."

Team-mate Sainz agreed Ferrari were left in a sticky position after an arduous weekend.

"Unfortunately it was harder than expected," said the Spaniard. "We had a lot of over-heating on the tyres, we were sliding around a lot, and for some reason our package wasn't quite there this weekend, but in the end we finished on a podium and we will take it.

"The first two laps were strong, but then we went into high degradation and I realised we were degrading more than what we should. Unfortunately we couldn't put up a stronger fight and we had to survive. We will have to learn why at this track we were not so competitive."

Sainz believes there could be stronger results ahead for Ferrari at the Dutch Grand Prix, which comes next, but he does not expect Red Bull to drop off and predicted they will be strong in Italy in two weeks' time.

"Zandvoort should be a better track for us," Sainz said. "Monza should be advantage for Red Bull there, but we will try and win it in Zandvoort."

Max Verstappen hailed an "amazing" weekend after winning the Belgian Grand Prix in dominant fashion to extend his drivers' championship lead.

The Red Bull driver started from 14th on the grid after a penalty for a power unit change, but a superb drive stormed him to a second successive win at Spa-Francorchamps.

In a chaotic race that saw a safety car on just the second lap, Verstappen weaved through the field to make it a Red Bull one-two as Sergio Perez also took advantage of the quick Red Bull car.

The impressive victory means Verstappen now holds a 93-point lead over second-placed team-mate Perez in the drivers' championship standings.

And the Dutchman was delighted after the race, telling Sky Sports: "It was amazing this weekend. We were super competitive from the get-go. I knew that we could have a really good result.

"Winning from P14, even with that car, is always a bit difficult because you don't know in general what is going to happen but luckily I stayed out of trouble, even though there was a lot of stuff going on.

"I was literally just trying to avoid everything and once everything calmed down with the safety car, I was just overtaking cars every lap.

"Once I realised we were in P3, even on the soft compounds, we were very quick and I knew I had a good chance of winning the race."

When asked if this was the best he had felt so far in his Formula One career, Verstappen replied: "It's difficult to say. I'm just enjoying the moment.

"Everyone within the team knows we are having a good time but we are also very focused on what we want to achieve. At the moment we are achieving that, but we always want more."

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