Reigning world champion Max Verstappen clocked the fastest time in the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix‘s Friday qualifying session at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit. However, a gearbox penalty in effect will drop him down to the sixth position on the starting grid. Verstappen put an impressive eight-tenths of a second over Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc in Q3.
Somewhat surprisingly, advancing to the top 10 shootout was no easy feat for Verstappen. Narrowly evading cut-off in Q2, Verstappen found the wet track a significant challenge to overcome. The world champion had a fierce back-and-forth with Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase due to a disagreement over his run plan. This confrontation resulted in Verstappen later offering an apology for his burst.
“The conditions were very tricky, the track was drying really fast,” Verstappen explained. “Honestly, my final lap in Q2, I just couldn’t muster the confidence to push harder. I feel very lucky to secure P10.”
As the Q3 qualifying session unfolded, the track continued to dry rapidly. The conditions forced all the drivers to switch to soft slick tyres. Crucially, the fight for the pole position looked to be in the hands of those initiating their final laps the latest.
With his second tyre set, Verstappen managed to surpass Leclerc‘s standing record in the final moments. Nevertheless, his penalty allows Leclerc to lay claim to the official pole position. Verstappen expressed, “Knowing that I had two sets of tyres for Q3 gave me the freedom to push and risk more. That was my strategy for the final lap.”
He further added, “I am fully aware of the penalty impact on my position, but securing the pole was the best outcome I could have hoped for today.”
Last year, Verstappen faced penalties and yet, he pulled off from the 14th position to clinch the Grand Prix win. Red Bull‘s heavy-hitting pace in the 2023 season makes Verstappen a strong contender to score his third straight Belgian Grand Prix victory. He optimistically noted, “Although I had more penalties last year, we still managed to win the race. That remains the goal for this Sunday, too.”