Credit Valdrin Xhemaj/European Pressphoto Agency
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — It was racing spectacle of the highest caliber — full of action, crashes and gutsy drives. But it was not the race the full house of spectators at the Belgian Grand Prix had come to see.
The promoters of the race in Spa had not had a crowd like Sunday’s since the height of the Michael Schumacher era at the beginning of the century, when the German’s countrymen flocked to the circuit to see him.
Organizers said that more than 80,000 tickets had been sold for Sunday’s race, while the television broadcaster Canal Plus put the crowd at over 90,000.
The big attraction this year was the teenage sensation Max Verstappen, who has a Belgian mother and a Dutch father, and was born 50 kilometers from the circuit. He won a race at age 18 a few months ago, but his driving has attracted criticism from some of his rivals.
With Verstappen starting on the front row, from second position on the grid, the Belgians and the Dutch streamed into the circuit hoping for a victory. But by the first corner the race was already compromised for the “feisty puppy dog,” as Martin Brundle, a British commentator, called Verstappen, as his Red Bull and the two Ferrari cars of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen collided.