Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz claimed pole for the Belgian Grand Prix, despite finishing behind Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday. Verstappen stamped his authority on the session with a sparkling lap, but due to penalties for taking new power unit parts, he and six other drivers will start from the back of the grid positions. Verstappen will start 15th with another of the ‘sanctioned seven’ Charles Leclerc trailing behind.
The 24-year-old Dutchman, whose Belgian mother watched from the pits, was fastest in the second Ferrari ahead of Sainz, Sergio Perez and title rival Leclerc.
Esteban Ocon and his Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso finished fifth and sixth.
The two Mercedes men, seven-time champions Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, finished seventh and eighth, ahead of Williams’ Alex Albon and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
But the qualifying result had little impact on the shape of the grid, with Ocon and Norris also being penalized.
As a result, the radically affected grid will be: Sainz, Perez, Alonso, Hamilton, Russell, Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel.
“It was a great qualifying, but I think we’ve been working on it all weekend,” said Verstappen.
“The car has worked well and we have tried to refine it – of course we have to move forward at the start and it would be a shame not to be on the podium.”
Sainz said: “It was okay and I’m happy to start from pole, but clearly not happy to see the gap to Max this weekend and the gap that Red Bull has on us.”
This was the second pole of his career for Spaniard Sainz after the British Grand Prix in July, where he claimed his first win.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap in one minute and 43,665 seconds to beat the Spaniard by six tenths of a second, to the delight of his huge ‘orange army’ of fans on the track.
The session was delayed by 25 minutes due to obstacles following an incident during a previous supporting Porsche Supercup qualifying session.
Finally, in cool conditions under a cloudy sky, the field slowly emerged from the pits, with Haas’ Mick Schumacher setting the first lap time in 1:47.929.
When the main contenders joined in, Verstappen was quick to beat the times for Sainz in front of an enthusiastic packed crowd under the trees and in the stands.
Both Mercedes drivers stayed out for a second ‘push’ lap without reward, hoping to fix tire temperature problems.
By contrast, Ferrari and Red Bull did not go out for a second run, knowing they had comfortably filled in the top four for Russell.
After the first session, four-time champion Vettel of Aston Martin, Nicholas Latifi of Williams, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas went to the Finn’s first early exit since the 2015 Monaco GP.
Bottas, however, was another of the gang who received a grid penalty.
After finding a late improvement, both Mercedes were quickly back in Q2 to completely surpass them when the Red Bulls, led by Verstappen, took on new soft tyres.
Despite grumbles about “bouncing”, Leclerc topped the middle session for the Red Bulls with Sainz fifth and Hamilton sixth, while McLaren’s Ricciardo, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, Aston Martin’s Stroll and Haas’s Schumacher were eliminated .
All this enabled Ocon to reach the ‘top 10’ shootout for the first time this season with any prospect of a good race finish as so many drivers get grid penalties.
The final 10-minute shootout started with another blunder from Ferrari when Leclerc sent new tires. “It’s a mistake,” the team admitted on its radio station before asking him to push anyway.
He was fourth behind Verstappen, Sainz and Perez, knowing that his and the Dutchman’s efforts, and those of Norris and Ocon, were more for the enjoyment of the crowd than the starting positions.
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