Carlos Sainz Jr. will start from pole on Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix as runaway Formula 1 leader Max Verstappen was among many drivers to be hit with grid penalties.
Sainz was actually second quickest behind Verstappen in Saturday qualifying, but the reigning world champion will drop to 15th before the start. Otherwise, Verstappen would have won his fourth pole of the season and the 17th of his career.
The Red Bull driver always liked his chances based on his qualifying speed.
“With a car like this, it would be a shame not to be on the podium,” said confident Verstappen.
Sainz was happy with his starting position, but his Ferrari was 0.632 seconds slower than Verstappen in qualifying.
“I’m happy to start on pole; obviously not so happy to see the gap with Max this weekend,” said the Spaniard. “But starting from pole is a good start.”
Sainz, who took his first career pole this season at the British GP, has not ruled out the possibility of Verstappen taking the field and winning for the ninth time this season.
“A safety car can help him and if you translate the pace he has over 44 laps, he can come back,” Sainz said.
Sainz was towed by Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc on his final attempt. Although Sainz lost some pace by misinterpreting Turns 5, 6 and 7, he said even a perfect lap would have cut Verstappen’s time by only a tenth.
“When you see the gap with Max, you wonder. He’s been there all weekend, more than half a second ahead of us in every situation,” Sainz said. I believe with the race finishes we can be a bit more competitive.”
And, Verstappen noted that he won from 10th in Hungary.
“Surviving the first lap and then I have to pass a few cars,” Verstappen said. “It’s a bit like Hungary, a bit further back but the basics are the same.”
Verstappen will start alongside Leclerc, who trails the Dutchman by 80 points as F1 resumes competition after its summer break. Leclerc was fourth quickest in qualifying but, like Verstappen, received a grid penalty for changing engine parts and will drop to 16th.
A total of seven drivers received grid penalties in Belgium ahead of the 14th race of the season. McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, Haas’ Mick Schumacher and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas are also forced to retire at the back.
Bottas had failed to break out of the first group for the first time since Monaco in 2015, when he drove for Williams.
With all penalties, Red Bull driver Sergio Perez (third fastest in qualifying) will start second ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will start fourth and fifth once they get back on the grid after penalties.
Hamilton is aiming for a sixth consecutive podium and a first win of the year. But the seven-time F1 champion appeared crestfallen when told of his gap with Verstappen.
“1.8 seconds? he muttered.
But Williams was optimistic as Alex Albon – driving with renewed confidence after a multi-year contract extension – progressed through the third qualifying round for the first time this season. This means that every driver on the F1 grid has reached the final at least once this year.
The 7 kilometer (4.3 mile) circuit, nestled in the Ardennes forest, is the longest in F1 and among the best for overtaking – which could make it easier for Verstappen and other fast cars to cross the forward traffic.
“It should be a very exciting race for the fans,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
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