Max Verstappen claimed a thrilling pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, but a five-place grid penalty sees him drop down the standings with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc poised to start P1.
With limited running in the only practice session earlier in the day at Spa due to torrential rain, there were many unknowns to the pecking order heading into qualifying – but it was Verstappen who ultimately shone the brightest.
READ MORE: F1 commission unveils plans to delay general tire ban as dates and venue for 2024 pre-season testing confirmed
In the first runs in Q3, it was Leclerc who went fastest with a time of 1m 47.931s, putting Verstappen over a tenth ahead of second. His Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz completed the top three, albeit more than four tenths behind the Monegask.
However, after Leclerc improved his time again, Verstappen crossed the line to take pole position by a whopping eight tenths from the Ferrari driver – although Leclerc will inherit pole after Verstappen’s five places on the grid – with his teammate Sergio Perez . in third, albeit nine-tenths off the pace.
Lewis Hamilton, last week’s pole sitter in Budapest, ran a brilliant final sector into fourth and pushed Sainz’s Ferrari back to fifth.
Fresh from back-to-back podium outings, it was not the position McLaren has become accustomed to with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris sixth and seventh respectively, ahead of George Russell’s Mercedes.
Aston Martin had admitted they were the fifth fastest team on the grid, and the timesheets reflected that, with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll in ninth and tenth respectively.
Yuki Tsunoda – who briefly topped the timesheets in Q2 – narrowly missed out on a top 10 place for AlphaTauri and instead starts 11th, ahead of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas – who came in at Turn 9 in Q2.
READ MORE: Alpine confirm team boss Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane to leave team after Belgian GP
Valtteri Bottas was 14th for Alfa Romeo, with Esteban Ocon failing to make Q3 for the fourth race in a row after also going into the barrier at Turn 9 and damaging his front wing, leaving him unable to set a final lap time down in Q2, and down in the 15th.
Alex Albon failed to get out of Q1, having run wide on his final lap, and will start Sunday’s race from 16th, while his Williams team-mate Logan Sargeant – who left the pit lane late after a gearbox change – was left in 18th. , with Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo sandwiched between the pair.
It was also bad news for Daniel Ricciardo. While the AlphaTauri driver’s fastest time sent him down to sixth, his time was scrapped for going over track limits, leaving him 19th, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s second Haas coming to the rear of the field.
Qualifying Highlights: 2023 Belgian Grand Prix
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Leclerc sets the pace as Ricciardo’s time removed knocks him out
With the revised Sprint format being used for the third time this season, the drivers and their teams had just one practice session to tune their cars for the Spa-Francorchamps circuit ahead of what looked like an intriguing wet/dry qualifying outing to become.
But after heavy rain hampered much of the running earlier in the day, drivers were greeted in much better conditions with even blue skies.
READ MORE: Williams announces Pat Fry as new Chief Technical Officer
However, about seven minutes before the green light came on – after qualifying had been delayed by 10 minutes – Mercedes made the decision to send both drivers to the end of the pit lane on the intermediate tyre, with Russell being told they would have rain in five minutes were expecting. minutes.
When the action got underway, it was Russell who went fastest, with a time of 2m 01.485s, leading Max Verstappen’s championship-leading Red Bull by 0.112s, with his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in third.
However, as times started to tumble, it was Piastri who jumped to the top of the standings, while his teammate Norris, then fifth, went through the gravel at Turn 15, with the Briton being told by his engineer that he might have wing damage.
Both Ricciardo and Albon were eliminated in Q1 at Spa
With eight minutes left in the session, Sargeant made it to the track after Williams mechanics were forced to repair the damage from his crash in FP1 and replace his gearbox.
Sainz then moved to the top of the timesheet to lead Verstappen by just 0.019 seconds, with Alonso in third, ahead of Piastri, Russell, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Norris – who pitted back for his mechanics to assess the damage to his car.
FORMULA WHY: How Formula 1 strives to become a more sustainable sport
Amid a flurry of activity and changes at the top of the standings, Hamilton moved to the top of the timesheets, 0.091s ahead of Verstappen, with Piastri now third, ahead of Russell, Ocon and Sainz.
However, with two minutes left, Norris moved from 14th to eighth, while Ricciardo came back on another set of inters, trying to get out of the bottom five, where he was placed alongside Albon, Sargeant, Magnussen. and Hulkenberg.
As the black and white checkered flag was waved, times began to fall once again, as Leclerc leapfrogged himself to the top of the timesheets after briefly being in the drop zone, with Verstappen and Hamilton making up the top three.
It was not good news for Williams as Albon dropped to 16th ahead of Zhou and Sargeant. Ricciardo found himself in 19th, after his fastest time of sixth was scrapped, with Hulkenberg bottom after not coming out of the pit lane too late for his final run.
Eliminated: Albon, Zhou, Sargeant, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg
Leclerc set the pace in Q1 as he looked for pole position at Spa
Q2 – Piastri leads the way while Ocon hopes to end Q3 with a crash into the barrier
After a short break, the remaining 15 cars took to the track, again on the intermediate tyres, although Piastri was quick to tell his team it was not far off slicks.
But before that change was made, all drivers except Norris tried to set banker laps. The McLaren driver’s car was further inspected for damage, while Verstappen set the fastest lap of 1m 55.535s, ahead of Perez by more than four tenths.
F3: Marti takes pole late at Spa to boost title hopes
Norris eventually got back on track and put in a flying lap on the intermediate tires before he and several other drivers made the call to switch to slicks. However, there was a disagreement at Aston Martin with Stroll putting on a new set of inters.
As the drivers tried to get the soft tires up to temperature, there would have been sweaty hands at Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren, with Sainz in the drop zone, in 11th, ahead of both Hamilton and Russell, while Norris was in 15th. .
After a few consecutive double DNFs for Alpine, they had hoped for a clean weekend. But those hopes were dashed when Ocon damaged his front wing after crashing into the barrier at Turn 9 – while Stroll switched to slicks.
McLaren rookie Piastri continued his strong form as he went fastest in Q2
With two minutes to go and the soft tires now engaged, there was a flurry of changes in the standings, with Norris being fastest by over six-tenths of his former team-mate, Sainz, as the drivers began their final laps.
Times began to tumble even more, as Piastri’s other McLaren jumped to the top of the timesheets, with Sainz once again taking second fastest, just under two-tenths behind the rookie, with Leclerc’s other Ferrari in third.
PADDOCK INSIDER: Momentum is currently at McLaren – and anything is possible in Belgium
There would also have been plenty of nerves at Red Bull, as while Perez was seventh, Verstappen could only finish tenth in the session. The Dutch driver expressed his frustration with the running plan over the team radio, but received a pithy response from his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase.
Tsunoda, briefly fastest in Q2 in all the chaos, finished 11th, ahead of Gasly, Magnussen – who also spun into the gravel in turn 9 – and Bottas, while Ocon was unable to come back for his final run, leaving him down on the 15th.
Eliminated: Tsunoda, Gasly, Magnussen, Bottas, Ocon
Verstappen took pole position by more than eight-tenths from his closest rival
Q3 – Verstappen hurtles across the field as Leclerc seals the start in P1
With pole position on the line, all 10 drivers made their way out after a delayed start to Q3, with the marshals forced to clear the gravel caused by Magnussen’s off-track excursion at the end of Q2.
Those 10 drivers, all from Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin went for fast flying laps, but it was Leclerc who went fastest, with a time of 1m 47.931s, leading Verstappen by more than a tenth .
FP1: Sainz leads Piastri and Norris in rain hampered practice session at Spa-Francorchamps
Each driver opted to complete one lap except the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russell after they were eighth and tenth respectively after their first runs. Their second laps saw an improvement as Hamilton and Russell moved up to sixth and ninth respectively.
With less than three minutes remaining, the drivers took to the track again for the closing laps of the session, with Leclerc crossing the line first, extending his lead over his nearest rivals to over a second.
With the checkered flag waving, Verstappen crossed the line to go more than eight-tenths faster than Leclerc, with his Red Bull teammate Perez third, ahead of Hamilton – who set the fastest final sector en route to fourth.
Sainz finished fifth for Ferrari, ahead of the McLaren pair of Piastri and Norris in sixth and seventh respectively, while Russell finished eighth, while the Aston Martins of Alonso and Stroll completed the top 10.
Russell finished eighth while his Mercedes teammate, Hamilton, qualified fourth
“It was very tight,” said pole sitter Max Verstappen. “Of course the conditions were very difficult. The track dried up very quickly and on my last lap I just didn’t have the confidence in Q2 to push more and I was very lucky to be in P10.
“But then of course in Q3 you have two sets of tyres, you know you can push a little bit more, you can take a little bit more risk, and that’s what we did on that last lap. To get back on pole, I know I have to go back on Sunday with the penalty I have, but it was the best I could do today.”
Next up for drivers is a wave of sprint action at Spa, with the Sprint Shootout (12pm local time) and the Sprint Race (4.30pm) on Saturday, followed by the main Grand Prix at 3pm on Sunday. Go to the RACE HUB For more information.