Qualifying: Max Verstappen fastest, but Carlos Sainz to start on pole

Henry Valantine
Carlos Sainz walks outside the McLaren motorhome. France qualifying July 2022.

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz is photographed while walking in front of the McLaren motorhome. France July 2022.

Max Verstappen was comfortably fastest in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying, but his grid penalty means Carlos Sainz will start on pole on Sunday.

The Ferrari driver will be joined by Sergio Perez on the front row on Sunday, while further penalties for Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon will see a second row made up of old sparring partners Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at Spa.

Good friends George Russell and Alex Albon will sit on the third row, before a significant amount of reshuffling takes place to make up the final grid on Sunday.

The session began with the knowledge that a host of penalties are to be taken throughout the grid, which led to intrigue about how much, or little, seven of the 20 drivers would run, with grid drops coming for taking new power unit parts beyond their allocation for the year.

But once things did get underway, each of the penalised drivers: Verstappen, Leclerc, Lando Norris, Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu, Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher did show themselves and took part as planned, as their exact grid slots would be decided through their order in the overall qualifying classification.

The drivers had to wait a little longer to get out on track as barrier repairs from a Porsche Supercup race between FP3 and qualifying caused a 25-minute delay to Q1.

And it was the World Championship leader’s 1:44.581 that set the early pace, being the only driver to drop below the 1:45 barrier at that point.

Both Mercedes drivers struggled for pace early on, with both Russell and Hamilton taking two flying laps and only managing P10 and P11 respectively – below both the Alpine and McLaren pairings.

Only the four Ferrari and Red Bull drivers felt comfortable enough to stay in the garage after one run in Q1, but Sebastian Vettel, Nicholas Latifi, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda and Bottas were the ones to drop out at the end of the session – Vettel being pipped by Haas driver Schumacher by two thousandths of a second.

Onwards to Q2 and every driver went out again, with Leclerc reporting on team radio that his Ferrari was “jumping like crazy” through the slower corners at Spa, dipping a wheel on the grass on his way into Stavelot corner and losing time in the process.

At the front, both Red Bull drivers were well clear of the rest – six tenths clear of third-placed Carlos Sainz as they looked the team to beat once again, after showing excellent form in free practice.

A piece of choreographed towing from Ocon allowed Alonso to improve and put both Alpines into Q3, before Leclerc recovered and pipped Verstappen’s fastest time at the top as Ferrari showed their hand through Q2.

But the story of the second part of qualifying saw Albon put in an excellent lap at the last to knock Daniel Ricciardo out, which saw the Williams driver make it into Q3 for the first time this season.

Pierre Gasly, Zhou, Lance Stroll and Schumacher were the others to be eliminated – with audible disappointment on team radio on Stroll’s part, having been on form through all three practice sessions.

Q3 saw Verstappen on dominant form once again, more than six tenths clear of Sainz behind him. There was a moment of confusion at Ferrari though, as Leclerc was mistakenly sent out on fresh soft tyres, before trundling back to the pits too late to be able to get back out again for another run.

Red Bull driver Verstappen climbed out of his RB18 for the final moments of the session, as did Norris at McLaren, while the remaining seven drivers went back out for a final flying lap.

Sainz was eventually able to count on Leclerc for a tow, as his Ferrari team-mate came back out of the pits to offer a slipstream along the Kemmel Straight. It was a scruffy effort overall though, getting a tyre on the gravel on the exit of the Fagnes Chicane and could not improve his time.

But it was still good enough for him to beat Perez at the top, meaning Sainz will take pole position heading into Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Qualifying classification

1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:43.665
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari + 0.632
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull + 0.797
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari + 0.888
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine + 1.515
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine + 1.703
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 1.838
8 George Russell Mercedes + 2.111
9 Alex Albon Williams + 2.172
10 Lando Norris McLaren + 2.513
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:45.767
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri + 0.060
13 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing + 0.318
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin + 0.844
15 Mick Schumacher Haas + 2.151
16 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:46.344
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams + 0.057
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas + 0.213
19 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri + 0.348
20 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing + 1.522

[Grid is provisional, as penalties are yet to be applied]