Formula One

Verstappen optimistic about Belgian GP victory, despite penalty and tension

Max Verstappen before qualifying for the Belgian GP.
Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Max Verstappen emerged dominant in the qualifying session for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, as he recorded the fastest lap, eight tenths ahead of Charles Leclerc, who is expected to start the race from pole position.

The reason behind this is an expected -but not yet announced formally- five-place grid penalty for Verstappen, because of a gearbox change. The penalty will be in effect for Sunday only, so he will be unaffected in the sprint race that will take place tomorrow.

The Dutchman had lost a gearbox in Jeddah during the qualifying session, a problem which had forced him to start down in fifteenth. Therefore, he is adding a gearbox to his pool to be on the same level as everyone else.

Tension between Verstappen and Lambiase

The session did not progress without tension though. In Q2, Verstappen was in the bottom five and on the brink of elimination, before recording a time that put him in ninth position.

But with three cars about to complete their laps on the drying track, the risk was real. But as Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen were unable to record fast enough laps, Verstappen progressed – in tenth position.

This was followed by a heated conversation between Verstappen and his race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, on team radio regarding their Q2 strategy:

Verstappen: “We should have just f****** pushed two laps in a row like I said.”

Lambiase: “You are through, Max.”

Verstappen: “I don’t give a f*** if I’m through in P10. It was s*** execution.”

Lambiase: “OK, and then when the track was 2s quicker for your final lap and you didn’t have any energy left, how would that have gone down? But you tell me what you want to do in Q3, and we’ll do it. Sets, fuel, run plan.”

Speaking on team radio after recording the fastest time in Q3, Verstappen congratulated his team and apologised to Lambiase for his heated comments in Q2.

Verstappen’s comments after qualifying

Despite the tension though, Verstappen was commanding in Q3 and his last lap blitzed the field by eight tenths. After the session concluded, he stated:

It was very tight [in Q2]. Of course the conditions were very tricky. It was drying very quickly. In my final lap I just didn’t have that confidence to push more and I was lucky to be in P10.

Then, of course, in Q3 you have two tyre sets, you know can push a little bit more, you can risk a little bit more. That’s what we did on that final lap.

To be on pole again, although I know I have to drop back on Sunday with the penalty I have, it was the best I could do today.

Last year, he had again received penalties -for exceeding the permitted amount of engine components- and started fourteenth, but he was back in the lead by the twelfth lap and won the race.

The Red Bull driver is hoping for more of the same this weekend:

I mean, last year I had more penalties and then we could still win the race, so that is still the target on Sunday.

But first, let’s see what the weather will do tomorrow and what kind of racing we will have.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps is special to Verstappen, since his mother, Sophie Kumpen is Belgian. He will be chasing his third consecutive victory at the venue on Sunday.

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