Max Verstappen was once again at his scintillating best as the Red Bull driver narrowly beat the McLaren of Oscar Piastri and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz to take pole position for today’s Belgian GP Sprint at an extraordinary wet/dry Sprint Shootout at Spa-Francorchamps.
Verstappen left it late, after taking the chequered flag with just four seconds to spare to set off on his final flying lap in SQ3. But the Red Bull driver went straight to the top of the timesheets with a time of 1:49.056s.
Verstappen bested the impressive time of rookie Piastri by just 0.011s. Sainz finished third, just 0.025s off the pace of the Dutch driver, but ahead of his Ferrari team mate, Charles Leclerc, in fourth.
Lando Norris wound up fifth for McLaren, with Pierre Gasly sixth for Alpine, ahead of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who encountered traffic in the form of his team mate George Russell on his final attempt in SQ3. Sergio Perez was eighth, ahead of the other Alpine of Esteban Ocon, with Russell in 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo was one of the drivers to suffer after Lance Stroll crashed in the closing stages of SQ2 and brought out red flags, meaning the Australian missed out on a chance to progress to SQ3. He will start 11th, ahead of the Williams pair of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, who failed to set a time.
Stroll’s off meant he and his team mate, Fernando Alonso, also could not get a lap in during SQ2, leaving them 14th and 15th, respectively. However the off also left Stroll’s mechanics with a substantial repair job ahead of the Sprint later today.
The other AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda could not repeat his Q2 efforts from yesterday’s qualifying, as he fell at the first hurdle today, and will line up 16th for the Sprint, ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo.
Kevin Magnussen found himself in 18th, ahead of the second Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, as his Haas team mate, Nico Hulkenberg, once again brought up the rear of the field after failing to set a time in SQ1.
Following an intense qualifying battle yesterday that saw Verstappen take a dominant pole position for Sunday’s race, the drivers returned on Saturday to do it all again, but this time to set the starting grid for today’s Sprint.
Rain played a huge part in yesterday’s action, as it hindered running in the lone practice session of the weekend, while qualifying started on a damp track, before eventually getting dry enough to enable the drivers to run on slick tyres.
However, the drivers met worse conditions on Saturday, with the decision made to postpone the Shootout by 35 minutes. But once they got going, they had 12 minutes in SQ1 to set their fastest times, and similar to Friday, they were led out by Hamilton and Russell.
As the first times were clocked, it was Verstappen who set the pace with a time of 2:00.352s, leading the way ahead of Leclerc by over two-tenths, with the Monegasque followed by Russell, Perez, Gasly, Piastri, Albon and Ricciardo.
But with each lap, the times began to drop, as track conditions continued to improve, as while Sainz went fastest briefly, his time was beaten by over a second by Verstappen, with Perez now slotting into second ahead of Hamilton.
Hamilton was then noted for potentially impeding Verstappen on his flying lap, as Piastri moved up from 12th to fifth. In the drop zone though was his McLaren team mate, Norris, alongside Stroll, Sargeant and the two Haas cars – who were yet to set a time.
The stewards later revealed that there was no further investigation necessary in the Hamilton and Verstappen incident, as the drivers readied themselves for another flying lap on a continuously improving track.
As the chequered flag was waved, there were a few nervous faces in the pit lane, especially at Aston Martin and McLaren, with Alonso and Norris in the drop zone. Verstappen led the way ahead of Hamilton, with Alonso eventually moving up to third.
Albon made it out the drop zone as he went up to fourth, ahead of Perez, Sainz, Leclerc, Ocon, his Williams team mate Sargeant, with Gasly rounding out the top 10. Piastri was 11th, while Norris made it through in 13th, as Ricciardo found himself sandwiched between the McLaren pair in 12th.
Stroll and Russell narrowly made it through to SQ2, while Tsunoda ended up 16th ahead of Bottas. They were joined in the drop zone by Magnussen and Zhou, with Hulkenberg again bringing up the rear of the field after failing to set a time – as both Haas drivers received an apology from the team for their lack of running in SQ1.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Bottas, Magnussen, Zhou, Hulkenberg
After a short interval, Ricciardo led his former McLaren team mate Norris out on to a much drier track. And with 10 minutes on the clock, questions were being raised about whether it was time for slicks as blue skies began to make an appearance.
After the first round of laps, Sargeant spun round at Turn 15, bringing out the yellow flags, although the American driver was able to keep his FW45 in one piece and continue on into the pit lane.
Verstappen then went straight to the top of the timesheets, over six-tenths ahead of Hamilton, as Perez tucked into third ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Piastri, Norris, Ocon and Russell in 10th.
Aston Martin then made the bold call to put Stroll on a set of medium tyres, as his team mate, Alonso and the Williams of Albon made it out on to the track for the first time in the session, but on the intermediate.
However, that decision from Aston Martin proved costly, as the Canadian’s gamble ended up with him in the barrier at Turn 9, bringing out the red flags.
With the session unable to be restarted, the top 10 stayed the same, with Ricciardo narrowly missing out on a place in SQ3, with Albon, Sargeant, Stroll and his team mate, Alonso, all not setting times.
Knocked out: Ricciardo, Albon, Sargeant, Stroll, Alonso
With the green light turned on for SQ3, each driver made their way out on a set of brand-new soft tyres, as a complete dry line appeared on track, setting us up for a thrilling eight minutes, as the drivers looked to decide the top 10 grid spots for today’s Sprint.
After the first round of laps, it was Hamilton who went fastest, with Verstappen tucking in behind him, 0.088s off the Mercedes driver’s pace. Norris rounded out the top three, ahead of Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Russell, Perez, Gasly and Ocon.
But with the track evolving with each lap, the times began to improve, as Perez went fastest, despite traffic at the bus stop chicane, while Verstappen only narrowly made it across the line for his own final lap.
But as the drivers crossed the line for the final time in SQ3, it was Piastri who initially went straight to the top of the timesheets. However, he was gutted when Verstappen then shaded his time by just 0.011s, with Sainz in third, only 0.025s off Verstappen himself.
Leclerc finished fourth, ahead of the impressive Gasly, with Hamilton unable to improve too much on his provisional pole time to go seventh – with replays showing he encountered team mate Russell on his final attempt – ahead of Perez, Ocon and Russell.
The drivers will now take a break, look over the data, debrief and talk strategy ahead of the Sprint later today in Belgium at 17:05 local time – the action delayed after rain hit the track this morning.