Piastri sprints to second place finish at Belgian Grand Prix

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Oscar Piastri has raced to his first top-three position in a Formula One race in just his rookie season at Spa.

The Melbourne driver finished runner-up in Saturday’s rain-hit, shortened sprint race at the Belgian Grand Prix, with only world champion Max Verstappen ahead of him.

It left the 22-year-old McLaren driver thrilled as he declared at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit afterwards: “I’m very, very happy. To lead my first laps in a Formula One race was a day I won’t forget.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable with the car, which is much better than it was at the start of the year. It’s been amazing for me.”

Piastri also achieved something that no driver in their first year in F1 has been able to do since 2013 – and that’s actually lead a race of any format. The last to do so was Mexican Esteban Gutierrez in the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013.

It was a magnificent display from Piastri in just his 12th weekend of F1 racing, but he still couldn’t match Red Bull’s Verstappen, who was in a league of his own in a race that began with a rolling start in wet conditions and needed a safety car intervention after Fernando Alonso spun out mid-race.

Oscar Piastri during his second-placed drive.Credit: Getty

It was Verstappen’s ninth straight win, including the two sprint races he has won this season, and he had to come from behind after Piastri, who’d earlier finished second in a red-flagged, qualifying shootout.

He had produced a dazzling lap only to be pipped by 0.011sec by a familiar brilliant last-gasp surge from Verstappen.

But in the race itself, pole-sitter Verstappen fell behind Piastri after the Australian had boxed from wet tyres to intermediate rubber a lap earlier than the Dutchman.

But after Alonso spun off on the third lap and the safety car was employed, Piastri simply couldn’t keep Verstappen at bay with the Red Bull driver roaring past to win eventually by 6.677 seconds, with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly third.

Lewis Hamilton finished fourth but was handed a five-second penalty for colliding with Sergio Perez, dropping him to seventh.

“It was nice to be up there in P2,” said Piastri, who hadn’t finished higher than fourth in any of his F1 races so far after McLaren had made a dismal start to the season.

“All credit to the team – our pace was really strong. For the last three weekends what we’ve had is pretty special compared to where we have been.

“I thought the safety car would be in my favour – it meant less laps to try to hold him behind. But straight away he was basically on top of me and I couldn’t keep him behind on the straight. But it’s my first podium, top-three, whatever you want to call it – I’ll enjoy it.”

His performance prompted a warm tribute from McLaren principal Andrea Stella, who said: “We’re very pleased for Oscar himself, seeing him lead a race, we are just very impressed with him.

“Being on this journey with Oscar, it makes it even more exciting because it was very clear right from the start the level of talent, the analytical behaviour he has, and at the same time always remaining very calm.”

Piastri will looking for another big day on Sunday, starting the main race from fifth on the grid, with Verstappen lining up just behind him after dropping from pole to sixth place with a gearbox penalty.

AAP, Reuters

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