Red Bull Motorsport Advisor, Helmut Marko, lauded Max Verstappen’s sensational performance in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying, describing it as an ‘explosion’ after the F1 championship leader dominated the field.
Verstappen demonstrated his brilliance by finishing eight-tenths faster than his closest competitor, Charles Leclerc, on a drying track at Spa-Francorchamps.
Grid penalty for Verstappen
However, due to taking a new gearbox for the event, Verstappen will provisionally start the Sunday Grand Prix from the sixth position on the grid, elevating the Ferrari driver to pole.
Verstappen has a five-place grid penalty at the Belgian Grand Prix as Red Bull opted to install a fifth gearbox on his RB19 for the upcoming race at Spa-Francorchamps.
During the early part of the season, Verstappen had been vocal about experiencing gear sync issues, which may be connected to the reason why he has required multiple gearbox replacements.
Red Bull’s decision to change gearboxes at Spa is a strategic move, as the circuit’s layout offers excellent overtaking opportunities, making teams more amenable to taking grid drops.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 27, 2023
Despite the penalty, Verstappen’s chances of securing another win at Spa seem undeterred. With Red Bull displaying unparalleled performance this season, the five-place drop is unlikely to be a significant obstacle for the Dutch driver.
“I think we have a quick car,” he said.
“Of course, there are a lot of other teams and I think they brought a lot more than us this year, because we couldn’t.
“But we are very happy with how the car is performing. Our Saturday is maybe not ideal, but I think on the Sunday you can see the upgrades we brought. It [Hungary] was a good race to see it working.”
Last year, Verstappen started 14th on the grid in Belgium but charged through to take a dominant victory.
Tricky conditions for qualifying
Verstappen finished qualifying a significant .82 seconds ahead of Leclerc and .88 ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who moved up from third to second on the grid. Leclerc does not believe his car is fast enough to challenge for victory.
“It’s great to start first, but to say we’re targeting the win would be a bit optimistic,” he said. “It will be hard to keep these guys (Red Bulls) behind.”
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton will go from third and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. from fourth ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Verstappen, who leads the championship by a massive 110 points from second-place Perez.
Lando Norris qualified seventh for McLaren, with George Russell in eighth for Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin teammates Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.
Marko: Verstappen ‘expoded’
Reflecting on the qualifying session, Marko commented on the tense moments during Q2 when Verstappen faced the risk of elimination. The Dutch driver engaged in a spirited discussion with his race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, akin to an “old married couple.”
Marko humorously remarked that the argument revolved around the timing of when to go, but everything was back on track after the exchange.
“We didn’t have a flawless Q2, it was close. But in Q3 Max ‘exploded’, which was an incredible demonstration. We actually expected that a little bit,” Marko told Sky Sports Germany.
Marko: ‘Old married couple’
“It was like an old married couple,” joked Marko.
“They argued for a while about when to go. But now everything is all right again.
“That’s Max when he’s under pressure or when he doesn’t perform as he could because he always wants the maximum. That’s one of the traits that makes him so incredibly competitive.
“I think he was the best in all three sectors. He had one mistake in turn nine and his first corner was not optimal once as well.
“But he registers that and Max only makes those mistakes once. When the pressure is on, he delivers.”