Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023

Verstappen crushes rivals in wet Spa qualifying but penalty hands pole to Leclerc

2023 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying

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Charles Leclerc will start on pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix after Max Verstappen set the quickest time in qualifying.

The Red Bull driver was eight tenths quicker than the rest of the field in Q3 to set the fastest time, but will surrender pole for Sunday’s grand prix to Leclerc as a result of his five-place grid penalty for exceeding his gearbox allocation.

Sergio Perez will start alongside Leclerc on the front row with Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes.


After heavy rain disrupted the Formula 2 qualifying session which was held in the hour leading up to Q1 beginning, the start of the first session was delayed by ten minutes to allow the track time to dry out. The two Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, eager to start work on the drying track, lined up for over seven minutes at the end of the pit lane before the session began.

When the track opened, all cars took to the circuit on intermediate tyres. Russell set the first time, but that was beaten by his team mate. Lando Norris beat both Mercedes by four tenths on his first timed lap, before Russell moved back to the top with his second effort.

Oscar Piastri moved McLaren back to the top of the times as the track started to dry slowly. Norris had a moment on the exit of Courbe Paul Frere which saw him run onto the gravel, causing “significant rear damage” according to his race engineer Will Joseph.

Logan Sargeant was released from the pit lane with less than half of the session remaining after Williams replaced his gearbox following his free practice crash. He was the last of the drivers to set a time, leaving him in the drop zone alongside the two Alfa Romeos and the two Haas drivers.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying in pictures
With under five minutes remaining, Max Verstappen jumped to the top of the times with a 1’58.932, while Zhou Guanyu moved out of the drop zone, pushing Esteban Ocon into danger. But the track was improving all the time as it continued to dry out. Valtteri Bottas also improved, which left Daniel Ricciardo needing to find time if he was to progress.

Alexander Albon appeared to have gone safe, but there were green sectors lighting up the timing screens. Ricciardo improved but had his time deleted for track limits, dropping him out of qualifying. The last driver to improve was Charles Leclerc, which dropped Albon down to 16th and out.

Joining the Williams in elimination was Zhou and the other FW45 belonging to Sargeant, who thanks his team for their repair job. Ricciardo was joined on the back row of the grid by Nico Hulkenberg, the slowest driver in the session, who was delayed by a hydraulic problem on his car. Haas got him back out onto the track in the dying moments but he ran out of time to begin a lap.

Q1 result

116Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’58.3009
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’58.5150.2158
344Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’58.5630.2639
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’58.6880.3889
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’58.8340.5348
681Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’58.8720.5729
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’58.8990.5998
863George RussellMercedesW141’59.0350.7359
922Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’59.0440.7448
1077Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’59.4841.1849
1110Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’59.5111.2119
1231Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’59.6341.3348
1318Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’59.6631.3638
144Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’59.9811.6818
1520Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-232’00.0201.7209
1623Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW452’00.3142.0148
1724Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC432’00.8322.5329
182Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW452’01.5353.2356
193Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT042’02.1593.8598
2027Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-232’03.1664.8665

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Q2 began the same way the first session did, with the Mercedes pair sitting at the end of the pit lane. The track was still far too damp for slick tyres, but dry lines were emerging around the circuit.

Hamilton posted a 1’58.024 on his first lap of the session, again quicker than his team mate. But the Mercedes were easily beaten by Bottas and Kevin Magnussen, before Piastri took a full second off them both.

Red Bull’s first runs were easily better than the rest, Verstappen setting the best time with a 1’55.535, four tenths faster than team mate Perez. Hamilton went off the track at Raidillon in an effort to allow his team mate Russell by, but rejoined in front of him. The Mercedes driver was noted for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner and will be investigated after the session.

The radio waves were now filled with debates over whether to switch to slick tyres, with the vast majority deciding the time was right. Bottas was the first to take a set of softs, and Piastri immediately set a personal best first sector but did not improve over the lap.

Others encountered problems. Verstappen ran off outside the white lines and had his first push lap deleted, while Esteban Ocon slipped off the road at turn nine and clipped the barrier, damaging his front wing and dislodging an advertising board in the process. The track remained green, however.

In the closing minutes Norris sat rock bottom in the times. He managed to jump to the top of the leaderboard with his slick tyre run, while Bottas got himself out of danger too. Yuki Tsunoda pulled clear of the drop zone with his final lap, leavign Stroll, Leclerc, Ocon, Magnussen and Fernando Alonso needing to do better to ensure passage to Q3.

The two Aston Martins improved, which put the championship leader at risk of elimination. Verstappen improved but only good enough to sit on the bubble in tenth, which eliminated Tsunoda in the process. Bottas was also knocked out, with Ocon out in the garage after suffering damage.

Only Pierre Gasly could stun the world champion by eliminating him with his final lap, but while he did improve it was only to 12th place, allowing the Red Bull driver to narrowly survive a shock elimination. A terse radio exchange revealed Verstappen hadn’t been happy with race engineer Giampiero Lambiase’s instructions.

Tsunoda was out in 11th, with Gasly in 12th. Magnussen was knocked out in 13th after sliding off at turn 11 and also clearly impeded Leclerc on the Ferrari driver’s final timed lap, which the stewards announced they would investigate after the session. Bottas and Ocon were the last two drivers eliminated in 14th and 15th, respectively.

Q2 result

181Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’51.53417
255Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’51.7110.17717
316Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’52.0170.48317
418Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’52.1930.65916
54Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’52.2520.71815
644Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’52.3450.81117
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’52.3530.81916
863George RussellMercedesW141’52.6051.07117
914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’52.7511.21716
101Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’52.7841.25016
1122Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’53.1481.61415
1210Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’53.6712.13717
1320Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-231’54.1602.62617
1477Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’54.6943.16017
1531Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’56.3724.83813

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The critical final phase of qualifying was delayed to allow for gravel to be swept off the circuit at turn nine. It also had the effect of giving more time for the sun to dry up more of the moisture embedded in the track surface by the time the pit lane opened for the final shoot-out.

All 10 cars took to the track on soft dry tyres, but the track remained significantly damp off-line. The two Aston Martins were the first across the line to begin their first timed laps, Alonso setting the quickest opening sector of all on his way to posting a benchmark of a 1’49.164.

Leclerc’s Ferrari sat atop the timing screens at the end of the first runs, with a provisional pole time of a 1’47.931, just over a tenth of a second quicker than Verstappen’s first attempt. Sainz took third, four tenths behind his team mate. The two McLarens of Piastri and Norris were fourth and fifth, respectively, while the Mercedes pair attempted two push laps but could only manage sixth and ninth for Hamilton and Russell.

Provisional pole-winner Leclerc was the first of the contenders to begin his final flying lap, immediately setting a purple opening sector. He maintained that pace throughout the rest of the lap to improve on his own pole time by almost a full second, but Verstappen was going even faster behind.

Sainz moved up to second with his final lap, with Piastri two tenths slower than the Ferrari driver. Verstappen then completed his lap to easily set the fastest time with a crushing margin of more than eight tenths of a second in hand. Perez not nowhere near that and slotted into third, a few hundredths slower than Leclerc.

Hamilton secured fourth between Perez and Sainz, while Verstappen will split the two McLarens on the grid in sixth for Sunday’s grand prix. Norris will start seventh, with Russell in eighth ahead of the two Aston Martins of Alonso and Stroll.

Q3 result

11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’46.16822
216Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’46.9880.82023
311Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’47.0450.87722
444Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’47.0870.91924
555Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’47.1520.98423
681Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’47.3651.19723
74Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’47.6691.50121
863George RussellMercedesW141’47.8051.63724
914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’47.8431.67522
1018Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’48.8412.67322

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Verstappen crushes rivals in wet Spa qualifying but penalty hands pole to Leclerc”

  1. Not often you hear a driver making excuses to his engineer. Good for him
    And as quali goes, an absolute crushing gap.

    1. Not often you hear a driver strike such a tone either. It’s good that he apologised, but that was absolutely necessary.

      1. Max likes that relation if he says somethin GP may yell back if he wants.

  2. Just highlights how uselss Perez is.

    That Redbull is on another planet.

    Really wish someone decent was in the opposite seat to Max.

    1. Red Bull absolutely loves the way it is. Perez’s race performance is relatively acceptable, and it is while he’s now not making any troubles with VER as before. With VER’s general attitude, he’s barely gonna be trouble-free with another decent driver.

    2. “Sergio Perez will start alongside Leclerc on the front row with Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes.” Read that at loud.

  3. Top 2 to 9 very competitive.
    Verstappen and Stroll are the exceptions, for completely opposite reasons.

    1. Unfortunately, top 2 is only competitive due to perez being so bad: red bull is so strong that a qualifying ace can barely compete with a (currently) bad driver.

  4. I love having a full time job and missing important quali sessions

    1. Also never mind having any of the weekend left. Thanks for the quantity F1. More races, more sessions, more “overtakes” (turn that darn DRS off already). How about having a life? Both us fans and those involved with the sport. I can’t believe it’s another “spring” weekend, I dislike it so much… Thanks to your quantity of foolish content I don’t even remember races anymore. Ask me what happened two races ago and it’s all a blur for me.

      1. Meanwhile real F1 fans are wondering how to survive without F1 for the next 3 weeks!.

  5. I personally feel as a Hamilton fan Ves is in an other league alot i do feel is maybe age too but i wish people would give Ham some respect. Russel made Lando look silly and we all know how good russ is, look what Ham is doing to Russel this year he is making him look silly. No one would have thought that after last year me included Vettel got made to look sily by Leclerc, Hamilton who is even further along in age has shown his class this year, tbf he was showing it halfway through last yr Russel is no mug he made Lando look stupid in a spec series yet Hamilton being 0-1 down to Rus is making imo a top 3 driver of the young guys, Max Lec and Rus fairly silly. One thing no one will ever dispute Max has had bang avg teammates compared to Lewis not that i think it would make a huge diff Max is that good.

    1. Don’t be fooled. Ham will do the same in that car with a driver of Perez calibre as wing.

    2. Everyone thought Vettel was the next coming of Christ. See how that panned out. Soon as webber left and Danny Ric came in. He suddenly looked not as great. Max is enjoying the same right now. It’s his time, but it doesn’t mean he’s the best. He’s very consistent I’ll give him that, but what more do you expect from a car that has no weaknesses? Even the W11 was pants at Mexico and Monaco. Not this car.

    3. Have you ever considered the use of more interpunction to improve overall legibility of your writings?

  6. Look at the diff in class of Lewis vs Vettel, Vettel was done vs Leclerc and he never came back, Ham way older than Seb has comeback and made russel look absoloute stupid. Russel made Lando his lil puppy in a spec series that is the diff in class Ham has got. Do i think he is better than Max? No but i feel that is because of age for Ham to do what he is doing is spectacular Vet was done Lewis far older as still probably got another championxhip in him if he gets the car to me that is incredible. Never ever compare Fred to him, even if u think Mclaren favourd Lewis eventually that yr (i would have too) he was on Alo pace from qualifying 1 in australia maybe watch 07 season to see it. Lewis is facing a future wc not some mug in the other car who made Massa look like senna. Lewis is making Rus so silly right now infact he has since halfway through last yr in race pace but all i hear is Lewis is done….

    1. Vettel did just fine in 2019.

      It was only in 2020, after the new management decided not to extend Vettel’s contract because they had the amazing opportunity to sign Sainz, that his performance ‘suddenly’ dropped.

  7. Watched the highlights. How do they find seven minutes of footage and not one shot of a proper run from La Source up through Raidillon? That’s what it’s all about!

    Instead we get an excessive amount of crawling through the chicane while the commentator slowly morphs into a David Croft parody. Very poor coverage unfortunately. All the more so given the scheduling of this event on a Friday!

    Anyway, good to see both Ferrari cars up there. Russell massively slower than Hamilton was a bit surprising.

  8. A lot wheel out the trope that Max’s car is the reason he’s winning but I suspect haven’t watch his career all that closely. I have fortunately been on-track with Lewis and Max. Not remarkable (club level racing against Lewis and a test day at PFi when Max was testing too) but I think it gives at least some first-hand experience of observing them from a unique viewpoint. I am not armchairing it at least. I’ve then watched both their careers. One effectively as a ‘fan’ and one as a reporter. Lewis since he was 8 and Max when he entered FIA level racing. It blows my mind that both these drivers get these usual tropes of ‘It’s the car’.

    Max in 2013 was frightening. This idea he’s winning now because his gear is good doesn’t really explain how in 2013 he was largely driving at a level unseen in karting. He made an error or two now and again, but his speed was undeniable. Most who were around karting back then can testify to this. What he did to the best karters on the planet in 2013 in KZ was astounding. Absolutely no one back then is saying that Max is winning just because of the RedBull. Most people say he is a generational talent who have direct experience.

    I said the same about Lewis too, and you can find my words in Frank Word’s biography about Lewis Hamilton when he hit the scene in F1 if you don’t believe me.

    We are fortunate to witness what Max is doing right now. How long it will last who knows. These things are difficult to predict but the level he is driving at is truly remarkable. Watching a genius at work should be cherished. It doesn’t happen often.

  9. He’ll win anyway. 2022 cars are rubbish.


Comments are closed.