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Qualifying report

F1 Belgian GP: Verstappen dominates for pole despite grid penalty

Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc to top a wet-to-dry qualifying session for Formula 1’s Belgian Grand Prix by a whopping 0.8 seconds, but the latter will start on Sunday’s pole.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images

Verstappen had entered the qualifying session at Spa having had a fifth gearbox of the season fitted, which triggers a five-place grid penalty for the GP, but does not impact his starting spot for Saturday’s sprint race.

The Dutchman had trailed Leclerc after the first runs in Q3 – having only just scraped through in 10th in Q2 following the switch from wet to dry tyres in that session, and as he disagreed with Red Bull’s run plan, that led to a terse exchange with his engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

On the second runs in Q3, Leclerc led the frontrunners around and improved the top spot benchmark to a 1m46.988 – gaining nearly a second on his previous personal best.

He was untroubled by all but Verstappen, who, running deep in the Q3 pack behind, blasted to the top spot in all three sectors on his final lap and he secured the fastest time with a 1m46.168s.

However, the world champion is set to start Sunday’s race in sixth following his penalty.

Sergio Perez will join Leclerc on the front row for that event as he improved with his final run to knock Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton down to fourth.

Hamilton faces a post-qualifying investigation for a possible unsafe rejoin infraction following a bizarre incident in which he briefly went off the track at Eau Rouge/Raidillon while running ahead of team-mate George Russell, who ended up eighth in Q3 in the other Mercedes.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Carlos Sainz finished fifth ahead of McLaren pair Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, who went off into the gravel exiting the second part of the Stavelot sequence during the early wet running on the intermediates in Q1.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10, with the Spaniard ahead and finishing behind Russell.

In Q2, led by Piastri with a 1m51.534s, the field made the switch from the inter after the first half of the middle segment – a dry line having appeared around much of the long Spa layout.

This increased the track evolution factor that had dominated the Q1 segment, with several drivers putting in times that had them high up the order when they crossed the line with the chequered flag out, only for the rest behind to go even quicker and shuffle them down and out.

This happened to Yuki Tsunoda, who had briefly been top in Q2 with his personal best time set right at the end of that part of qualifying, with the AlphaTauri driver eventually eliminated in 11th.

Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen set their personal bests after much of the rest had completed their final laps, but they did not trouble the top 10 and they were knocked out behind Tsunoda.

Valtteri Bottas, who had led the change to slicks aboard his Alfa Romeo and ran on them longest, ended up 14th, with Esteban Ocon 15th after crashing at Turn 9 while he was pushing early in the late Q2 slicks running.

The Alpine driver lost control of the rear of his car over a part of the circuit that was still rather wet, his right rear wheel hitting the barriers on the track’s outside before his right front also hit the advertising hoardings at that spot, which ripped several of these off and badly damaged Ocon’s front wing.

He managed to keep going and made it back to the pits, but Ocon did not take part in the final Q2 running, and the gravel that had been brought onto the track during this incident had to be swept away before Q3 began, which triggered another five-minute delay before the final segment began.

Q1, which Leclerc eventually topped, was delayed by 10 minutes to allow extra time for the track to dry out following the dousing it had had only 30 minutes earlier in the preceding Formula 2 qualifying session.

The Mercedes drivers were sent to the end of the pitlane well ahead of the rest, where Russell noted the bright sunshine burst through the clouds over the La Source hairpin on the other side of the pitwall, while Hamilton spotted his right-side mirror had become dislodged.

When the action did get going, the cars circulated more or less throughout other than coming into change inters at some teams, for fear of more raining arriving from the direction of the Les Combes chicane, as the times fell from Russell’s initial 2m02s bracket to Leclerc’s then best of 1m58.300s.

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He jumped from 16th in the drop zone ahead of completing his final lap, with the times getting ever quicker and the improvements meaning Albon was shuffled down the order as he did not complete his lap following an off at Turn 9, which will be investigated now qualifying has been completed for a possible unsafely rejoining.

Albon was joined in exiting in Q1 by Zhou Guanyu, who could not produce a personal best on his final flier, while Logan Sargeant just behind did but nevertheless got eliminated in 18th.

Sargeant missed the first half of Q1 as Williams worked to change his gearbox following his FP1 crash, with the American likely to have missed any qualifying running ahead the session’s start not been delayed.

Daniel Ricciardo thought he had done enough to progress but the Australian’s second 2023 qualifying for AlphaTauri was brought to an early end as his best time, set on his final lap, was deleted for a track limits violation at Raidillon.

Nico Hulkenberg missed taking part in the final fliers as Haas had to try and work to fix a hydraulic issue on his car and although he headed back out in the closing minutes of Q1 he did not have enough time to get around and start a full-speed lap.

F1 Belgian GP: Starting grid

 
     
Driver Info
 
 
 
   
Cla Driver # Chassis Engine Time km/h
1 Monaco C. Leclerc Charles Leclerc Ferrari 16 Ferrari Ferrari 1'46.988 235.675
2 Mexico S. Perez Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 11 Red Bull Red Bull +0.057 235.549
3 United Kingdom L. Hamilton Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 44 Mercedes Mercedes +0.099 235.457
4 Spain C. Sainz Carlos Sainz Ferrari 55 Ferrari Ferrari +0.164 235.314
5 Australia O. Piastri Oscar Piastri McLaren 81 McLaren Mercedes +0.377 234.847
6 Netherlands M. Verstappen Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1 Red Bull Red Bull 1'46.168 237.495
7 United Kingdom L. Norris Lando Norris McLaren 4 McLaren Mercedes +0.681 234.184
8 United Kingdom G. Russell George Russell Mercedes 63 Mercedes Mercedes +0.817 233.888
9 Spain F. Alonso Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Racing 14 Aston Martin Mercedes +0.855 233.806
10 Canada L. Stroll Lance Stroll Aston Martin Racing 18 Aston Martin Mercedes +1.853 231.662
11 Japan Y. Tsunoda Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 22 AlphaTauri Red Bull +6.160 222.844
12 France P. Gasly Pierre Gasly Alpine 10 Alpine Renault +6.683 221.819
13 Denmark K. Magnussen Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team 20 Haas Ferrari +7.172 220.868
14 Finland V. Bottas Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 77 Alfa Romeo Ferrari +7.706 219.840
15 France E. Ocon Esteban Ocon Alpine 31 Alpine Renault +9.384 216.670
16 Thailand A. Albon Alex Albon Williams 23 Williams Mercedes +13.326 209.571
17 China Z. Guanyu Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 24 Alfa Romeo Ferrari +13.844 208.673
18 United States L. Sargeant Logan Sargeant Williams 2 Williams Mercedes +14.547 207.466
19 Australia D. Ricciardo Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 3 AlphaTauri Red Bull +15.171 206.406
20 Germany N. Hulkenberg Nico Hulkenberg Haas F1 Team 27 Haas Ferrari +16.178 204.718

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