Max Verstappen exuded authority and composure on Friday as he beat the practice times at the Belgian Grand Prix and dismissed his concerns about starting Sunday’s race from the back of the grid. The Red Bull world champion and series leader clocked a best lap in one minute and 45.507 seconds to beat Ferrari’s title rival Charles Leclerc by eight-tenths of a second to surprise his ‘orange army’ fans on the majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
“We’re pretty happy with that,” he says. “There’s not much to do or worry about, with the grid penalty – we were just looking to get the car set up in the best possible way.
“There is still some fine-tuning to be done, but we are quite happy with the first run and the plan. The car is working well, which is positive, but we would have liked to have driven a bit more.”
Both Verstappen and Leclerc will take new components of the power unit, which will take them outside their allowed allotment for the season, and will face grid penalties.
That means they will start from the back of the field along with a further four drivers who have opted to switch to new engines for the Belgian race weekend.
“I will have to try to work from the back of the grid,” said Verstappen. “But at least we should have dry conditions. I think today was the worst weather.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained why they chose a fourth engine, turbocharger and other parts for this race, saying it was a strategic decision as the long and fast Belgian track offers easier overtaking opportunities.
“We looked at the calendar and we were running out of options, but this is a good track to overtake and we think we need to get here quickly,” he said.
On an uncertain and somewhat chaotic day, Lando Norris finished third ahead of McLaren, ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz, who finished fifth in second Ferrari after setting the fastest times in morning practice.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who is chasing a sixth consecutive podium finish in Sunday’s race, finished sixth ahead of Mercedes, ahead of two-time Alpine champion Fernando Alonso and George Russell, in the second Mercedes.
Daniel Ricciardo, who announced on Wednesday that he would be leaving McLaren at the end of the year after agreeing to terminate his contract, finished ninth and Sergio Perez 10th in the second Red Bull.
Hamilton said Mercedes believed they could recover from a disappointing performance on Friday and face another challenge, especially if other drivers took sanctions.
“We’re not very fast and I don’t know why, but I went out and gave it everything. It could be tires, temperatures or something else,” he said.
“But it’s not disastrous out there and we often find this on Friday and things can change on Saturday. I’m hopeful we can turn it around.”
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