Late rain on the circuit led to five formation laps being executed under the watchful eye of the safety car before the race could commence with a rolling start. Whilst the drivers admitted the conditions were suitable for intermediate tyres, half of them decided to spend another lap on full wets, avoiding a double-stack pitstop and potential time loss in the busy pitlane.
Max Verstappen, who was the polesitter, stayed on course while Oscar Piastri, who started second, pulled into the pitstop. The Red Bull team gave Verstappen the signal to pit a lap later, intentionally slowing down his pitstop to 3.2 seconds to prevent a possible collision with Lando Norris of McLaren.
Returning to the track 1.7 seconds behind Piastri, Verstappen managed to regain the lead due to a strong tow down the Kemmel Straight during the sixth lap post another safety car period. The Dutch driver stood by his team’s strategy saying, “I think it was just a safer call. I could come in first, but then I might be blocked by other cars; there might be a safety car and then you lose out massively. So, I didn’t mind to stay out.”
Verstappen, highlighting the calculated risk they took added, “We lost one position, but we know that we are quick, and I think you could see that when we put the inter tyres on, we were flying. So, it was okay.”
Despite previously complaining about difficulties to “wake up” his brakes in the cooler conditions, the Red Bull driver swept to victory by a margin of 6.6 seconds over Piastri. Verstappen later clarified his radio call explaining, “We were just trying to get an even split on the brakes, but it was all under control. The car was quick; the tyres were holding on – just tiny little issues.”
In preparation for the full Sunday Grand Prix, Verstappen proved his edge by clocking the fastest lap in qualifying, 0.82 seconds quicker than Charles Leclerc. Owing to a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, Verstappen is set to start from sixth place. This, according to him, makes Turn 1, of the first lap a critical point —provided he can steer clear of troubles. Verstappen commented, “I need to pass a few cars. So, I think the biggest risk is just lap one, Turn 1 – all these kinds of things. Everything is always very tricky there. So, as long as we stay out of trouble, I think we’ll have a quick car.”