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 scintillating lap, but due to penalties for taking new power-unit components he and six other drivers will start from back of the grid positions. Verstappen will start in 15th with another of the ‘sanctioned-seven’ Charles Leclerc a place behind.
The 24-year-old Dutchman, whose Belgian mother was watching from the pits, was quickest ahead of Sainz, Sergio Perez and title rival Leclerc in the second Ferrari.
Esteban Ocon and his Alpine team-mate Fernando Alonso were fifth and sixth.
The two Mercedes men seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were seventh and eighth, ahead of Alex Albon of Williams and Lando Norris of McLaren.
But the qualifying result had little bearing on the shape of the grid with Ocon and Norris also facing penalties.
As a result, the radically-affected grid is set to be: Sainz, Perez, Alonso, Hamilton, Russell, Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel.
“It was an amazing qualifying, but I think all weekend we’ve been on it,” said Verstappen.
“The car has been working well and we’ve been just trying to fine-tune it – we need to move forward at the start, of course, and it would be a shame not be on the podium.”
Sainz said: “It was ok and I am happy to start from pole, but obviously not happy to see the gap to Max this weekend and the gap Red Bull has on us.”
This was Spaniard Sainz’s second career pole after July’s British Grand Prix where he went on to claim his maiden win.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap in one minute and 43.665 seconds to outpace the Spaniard by six-tenths of a second, delighting his vast ‘orange army’ of fans packed into the circuit.
The session was delayed by 25 minutes for barriers following an incident during an earlier supporting Porsche Supercup qualifying session.
Eventually, in cool conditions under and overcast sky, the field was slow to emerge from the pits with Haas’s Mick Schumacher clocking the first lap time in 1:47.929.
As the main contenders joined in, Verstappen was quick to top the times ahead of Sainz in front of an enthusiastic packed crowd under the trees and in the grandstands.
Both Mercedes drivers stayed out for a second ‘push’ lap without reward, hoping to resolve problems with tyre temperature issues.
By contrast, Ferrari and Red Bull did not go out for a second run, knowing they had filled the top four places comfortably ahead of Russell.
Out after the first session went 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, the Finn’s first early exit since the 2015 Monaco GP.
Bottas, however, was another of the gang facing a grid penalty.
After finding a late improvement both Mercedes were quick to return in Q2 only to be outpaced comprehensively when the Red Bulls, led by Verstappen, took new softs.
Despite grumbling about “bouncing”, Leclerc topped the middle session ahead of the Red Bulls with Sainz fifth and Hamilton sixth while McLaren’s Ricciardo, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo, Stroll of Aston Martin and Haas’s Schumacher were eliminated.
All this allowed Ocon to reach the ‘top 10’ shootout for the first time this season with some prospect of a good race finish given that so many drivers face grid penalties.
The closing 10 minute shoot-out began with another Ferrari blunder as Leclerc sent out on new tyres. “It’s a mistake,” the team admitted on his radio channel before asking him to push anyway.
He went fourth behind Verstappen, Sainz and Perez, knowing he and the Dutchman’s efforts, and those of Norris and Ocon, were more for the crowd’s enjoyment than grid positions.
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