What better way to throw down the gauntlet than with an emphatic statement of intent? And while doubtless Max Verstappen has had little time for Shelley in his short, hectic career, his win at the Belgian Grand Prix assuredly boomed: “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Echoing Ozymandias’s grand declaration, this was a victory giving notice of his and Red Bull’s superiority, rolling across the echo chamber of the Ardennes mountains.
Formula One has thrown up some great races this season but this time out at Spa-Francorchamps was an afternoon only Verstappen will savour. Yet it was not without significance on two levels. For Verstappen at the sharp end of the title fight, his pace and control would have left little but despair for his rivals; while for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in their struggle to return to a competitive pace, a wretched weekend could not finish soon enough.
On paper Verstappen’s win should have been the stuff of a classic. That it was not was indicative of just how dominant he and Red Bull were in Belgium. He took the flag from 14th on the grid, coming through the field to do so. Yet with such a pace advantage, instead of the breath-holding visceral thrill so many passes should have entailed, they were barely noticeable. This was a Sunday drive, dog in the back, head out of the window enjoying the wind in its face watching the opposition slip past inexorably, one by one.
Verstappen finished 17sec up the road from his teammate, Sergio Pérez, in second and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in third. Neither had come even close to staying with the Dutchman.
The world champion had a real advantage in qualifying and, but for his grid penalty for taking a new engine, would have been on pole. As it transpired, the sanction was but a minor inconvenience. He had been quietly confident of coming back and such is his precision and composure at his point in his career that few doubted he would at least make it to the podium.
Such small beer was not on the agenda. When the lights went out he delivered a masterclass with an alacrity that was extraordinary. His passing was exemplary, albeit in a car that was demonstrably quicker than the midfield he was dispatching. He was up to 10th by the end of lap one, then eighth a lap later, his victims powerless as he largely breezed past on the Kemmel Straight.
Two more fell on the restart after a safety car and by lap eight he passed George Russell’s Mercedes for third. Sainz pitted and Pérez moved over shortly afterwards. The Dutchman had taken only 12 laps to secure the lead with insouciant, disarming ease. He was untouchable, as he acknowledged.