Winners and losers from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying

Oliver Harden
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen en route to pole position in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying. Spa, July 2023.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen en route to pole position in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying. Spa, July 2023.

Max Verstappen claimed his eighth pole position of the F1 2023 season in Friday’s Belgian Grand Prix qualifying session at Spa.

The Red Bull driver’s lap for pole was a massive eight tenths faster than Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari – but Verstappen will start Sunday’s race from sixth after incurring a five-place grid penalty for exceeding his gearbox allocation.

Think that will stop him? Think again. Here are the main winners and losers from Spa qualifying…


Max Verstappen

And so another qualifying session ends with Verstappen and Red Bull on top, yet this time it wasn’t quite so comfortable as the final timesheet made it look.

In fact, at one stage – the dying moments of Q2 – it was positively uncomfortable as Verstappen only just held on to his Q3 place in 10th spot, resulting in the mother of all team radio rants directed at race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

There will be those who use Verstappen’s comments against him, yet this heated exchange showcased the strength of Lambiase’s management and his understanding of his driver’s personality, the race engineer regularly giving as good as he gets from the multi-million-dollar asset on the other side of the airwaves.

They said what needed to be said, they got it all out of their system – then they went out and blitzed the field together.


Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez made his long-awaited return to Q3 in Hungary, but – stranded in ninth and four tenths slower than Verstappen – there wasn’t much to celebrate.

This week he was even further behind – the gap to his team-mate, on a significantly longer lap, ballooned to nine tenths – but the difference at Spa?

He was in front of nearly everybody else, missing out on second place – and therefore P1 on Sunday’s grid – by less then a tenth.

Some were almost too quick to praise Perez following his recovery drive in Budapest, too ready and willing to push the Driver of the Day award into the palm of a driver made to look good on race day by qualifying F1’s dominant car way out of position.

With changeable weather at Spa the similarities to Barcelona, Montreal and Silverstone were impossible to ignore, yet Perez handled a potentially tricky session in a very efficient manner to line up where Red Bull’s second car really should be.

A corner turned? Maybe. Credit where credit’s due.


After encouraging post-upgrade performances in Canada and Austria, Silverstone and Hungary seemed like a clear step back for Ferrari.

So where did the real truth lie? Probably somewhere in the middle.

Downforce is a dirty word at Maranello currently, with Silverstone (high speed) and Budapest (low speed) punishing Ferrari’s general lack of it most harshly but for different reasons.

With Spa closer to Montreal and the Red Bull Ring on the circuit spectrum, perhaps it is no surprise that the SF-23 car’s limitations aren’t quite so, well, limiting here.

Even Leclerc’s traditional Q3 detonation wasn’t enough to bring him within the same postcode here, but he did at least take the other Red Bull and will lead the field away on Sunday.

Yuki Tsunoda

Focus not only the failure of Daniel Ricciardo, down in 19th after breaching track limits at Raidillon on his final Q1 lap, but the success of Yuki Tsunoda.

Tsunoda suffered one of the greatest insults a driver can take in Hungary – watching a driver jump into a car he had been racing all season and instantly outpace him – and as such there was huge pressure on him, for the good of his F1 career, to hit back straight away at Spa.

That he did, his fine run to P11 the sort of performance that pushed Red Bull into opening the trapdoor on the hapless Nyck de Vries and bringing Ricciardo back.



After breaking F1’s glass ceiling in a fashion Aston Martin would be proud of in recent weeks, it is a reflection of the rapid progress McLaren have made that they should be disappointed with sixth and seventh.

They looked dangerous in the damp here, particularly in the hands of Oscar Piastri, yet as the track dried it was almost as though the natural order of things restored itself, the spell wearing off as the clock struck midnight.

Having never even driven an F1 lap around Spa before in the dry, Piastri went from improvising and relying on his natural touch and feel for a racing car to learning as he went along, while Lando Norris was hamstrung by floor damage after a trip through the gravel early in Q1.

A disappointment – but with more rain set to come this weekend, more opportunities will come their way.

George Russell

Is it time to talk about George Russell?

He has been flawless for much of his time at Mercedes, but hasn’t been quite the same since the W14 car sprouted sidepods in Monaco.

He has outqualified Lewis Hamilton only once (Silverstone) in the last seven races, and has failed to reach Q3 on four occasions (Azerbaijan, Spain, Austria and Hungary) already this season.

He may have made Q3 at Spa, but never got closer than three tenths to his team-mate in the three qualifying segments and the final gap between them of eight tenths is not flattering. recommends

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While Hamilton was among the underrated stars of the session to drag that car in its current condition to fourth, Russell did the bare minimum – perhaps slightly less – to qualify only ahead of the Aston Martins in eighth and behind a floor-damaged Norris.

We ask again: is it time to talk about George Russell?

If Perez really has finally got himself back on track – that intense spotlight about to turn its heat in the direction of another driver – some difficult questions may soon start coming Russell’s way.

Esteban Ocon/Alpine

This was yet another difficult day in the story of Renault’s increasingly chaotic return to F1.

After announcing the departures of team principal Otmar Szafnauer, team stalwart Alan Permane and technical boss Pat Fry all before qualifying, Alpine were the centre of attention for the wrong reasons on track too as Esteban Ocon stuffed his car into the wall at the corner with no name in Q2.

It was an easy mistake to make – Verstappen, of all people, very nearly did exactly the same moments later – but what followed next underlined the difference between Red Bull and Alpine.

As Max got his rant out of the way before taking pole, Ocon was left to sit in his pit box for around half a minute as the team stumbled and staggered around him in search for a replacement front wing.

Ocon was out in 15th, with Pierre Gasly only slightly higher in P13.

The new regime at Enstone, whomever that may involve, will have an awful lot to unpack…

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