FERRARI’S Charles Leclerc will start tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix from pole position after Red Bull’s dominant Formula One leader Max Verstappen qualified comfortably faster but dropped five places for a gearbox change.
Verstappen, who is chasing his eighth win in a row, will start in sixth place at a favourite circuit where last year he romped to victory from 14th on the starting grid after engine penalties.
Spa is one of the better places on the calendar to take penalties as a fast and flowing track with good overtaking opportunities.
“I think this year the car is better so I’m still targeting to win the race for sure,” said the Belgian-born Dutch driver, whose team have won every race this season and a record 12 in a row including last year’s Abu Dhabi finale.
The double world champion’s best lap of one minute 46.168 seconds, in sunshine on a rapidly drying track after rain delayed the start of the session by 10 minutes, was 0.820 quicker than Leclerc’s fastest effort.
“Still very far from Max,” said Leclerc who had set the provisional pole time of 1:47.931 before Verstappen blew it away.
“Not confident, especially with the two Red Bull guys right behind,” he said of his chances on Sunday. “I think they’ve got a much better race car than we have.
“It’s great to be starting first, and it gives us a good chance to have a great result, but to say that we will target the win I think is probably a bit too optimistic.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, second in the standings but already a mighty 110 points behind his team mate after 11 of 22 races, will join the Monegasque on the front row.
Mercedes seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, on pole last weekend in Hungary, will start third with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz fourth and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri fifth.
The Australian rookie’s team mate Lando Norris will line up seventh alongside Mercedes’ George Russell.
Qualifying was held yesterday at Spa with today a standalone sprint event, but there had been fears of a washout earlier in the day with heavy rain and low cloud hanging over the surrounding forest.
The sole practice session of the weekend was almost meaningless, with Verstappen not even setting a timed lap.
Conditions were still tricky even by the time the final top 10 shootout came around.
“It’s quite hectic out there, it’s still only one dry line in some places,” he said. “That final lap was very good, I just risked a bit more compared to all the other laps.”
Verstappen was almost knocked out in the second phase, squeaking through with the 10th fastest time that led to a brief radio rant with his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase that the driver apologised for at the end of qualifying.
“Slowly getting used to it Max,” said Lambiase, whose feisty exchanges with Verstappen have become a highlight of radio traffic.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll completed the top 10 qualifiers with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda a strong 11th on the grid, out-qualifying Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo in 19th.
Ricciardo’s fastest time in the first phase would have seen him go through but it was deleted for exceeding the track limits.