Why the rules dictate Charles Leclerc will start ahead of Max Verstappen at Spa

Jon Wilde
Charles Leclerc's Ferrari ahead of the two Red Bull cars on the grid. Paul Ricard FIA July 2022.

Charles Leclerc's Ferrari ahead of the two Red Bull cars on the grid for the French Grand Prix. Paul Ricard July 2022.

Charles Leclerc is set to start in front of Max Verstappen and the four other drivers with engine penalties at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The reason, explained by The Race, is a ‘quirk of the sporting regulations’ that determines how the grid order is set when a collection of competitors all incur penalties.

Leclerc and Verstappen, this season’s World Championship rivals, are among six drivers who have exceeded their quota of power unit parts for the season and therefore are taking a grid penalty at Spa-Francorchamps.

Where they line up for the race then depends upon the number of places they are penalised due to the number of new components taken beyond the stipulated quota.

At Spa, Verstappen, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon have all received automatic back-of-the-grid sanctions because they each incurred an individual penalty that exceeds 15 places.

However, that is not the case with Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher, none of whom have been sent automatically to the back – and therefore, as things stand, will start ahead of the other trio.

On Friday, for FP1, Leclerc had his third energy store and fifth MGU-K of the season fitted to his Ferrari. They incurred grid penalties of 10 and five places respectively.

For FP2, the Monegasque also received his fourth control electronics system of the campaign, resulting in another five-place penalty.

But even though that totals 20 places, they are not added together to form a single penalty, as reported by The Race. That means the Ferrari driver avoids the same penalty incurred by Verstappen, Norris and Ocon which automatically sends them to the back.

It also means that if, as expected, Ferrari give Leclerc more new engine components on Saturday, it would still not mean he drops behind the man he is chasing for the World Championship at a distant 80-point margin.

Each of the individual parts that could still be potentially changed on the F1-75 would not exceed the 15 places that would send Leclerc automatically to the back of the grid.

Unless anything else alters the situation before qualifying, there will be two separate battles for grid positions 15-17 and then 18-20.

Leclerc would be expected to qualify ahead of Bottas and Schumacher, and Verstappen in front of Norris and Ocon – although the threat of a wet Saturday afternoon, as was the case at Spa in 2021, could potentially turn those expected outcomes on their head.

For further information, check out our guide to the full list of engine parts taken for the Belgian Grand Prix.