Max Verstappen beats Oscar Piastri to sprint race pole in Belgium

By Sports Desk July 29, 2023

Max Verstappen will start on pole position for Saturday’s sprint race after beating McLaren’s Oscar Piastri to top spot by just 0.011 seconds.

Verstappen qualified fastest here on Friday for Sunday’s Grand Prix, but he will line up in sixth after serving a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

But for the 15-lap dash in the Ardennes, the Red Bull driver begins from the front after edging out the impressive Piastri in wet-dry conditions at Spa-Francorchamps.

Carlos Sainz finished third, just 0.025sec adrift of Verstappen, with Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc fourth.

Lando Norris took fifth for McLaren, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who appeared to trip over one another in the closing moments, only seventh and 10th respectively for Mercedes.

“It was difficult, but we stayed calm,” said Verstappen. “The gap to second was not as big as yesterday, but there was no need to risk it all.

“My second sector was a bit careful – turns eight and nine were very slippery so I left a bit of time on the table – but I am still on pole and that is what counts.

“Let’s see if it rains in the afternoon. I will try to have a clean start and have good vision and that is very important when it is wet.”

The start of qualifying was delayed following heavy rainfall in the area, but the sun suddenly broke through allowing the action to get under way 35 minutes later than advertised.

The final running took place on an almost dry track and the times tumbled as grip improved and the clock ticked down.

Rookie Piastri, 22, looked to have done enough to take the spoils when he crossed the line fastest, only for Verstappen to steal his thunder

“There wasn’t much left in that lap,” said Piastri over the radio. “Probably 11 milliseconds.”

Verstappen is on course to gallop to his third world championship in as many years and the Dutch driver will be expected to extend his 110-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez later on Saturday, with the Mexican only eighth on the grid.

Eight points are awarded for the winner of the 15-lap dash, with a sliding scale down to to eighth place.

The result of Saturday’s sprint, which could take place in the wet with more rain forecast, has no bearing on Sunday’s 44-lap main event.

Lance Stroll’s gamble to switch from wet rubber to slicks with a couple minutes of Q2 remaining backfired as he crashed out.

The Canadian driver lost control of his Aston Martin through the left-hand ninth corner, skidding through the gravel and into the tyre barrier.

The front of Stroll’s machine was heavily damaged in the accident and the running was suspended.

His crash meant team-mate Fernando Alonso, who turned 42 on Saturday, did not post a time, leaving him a disappointing 15th on the grid.

Saturday’s race is due to get under way at 5:05pm local time (4:05pm BST).

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    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is confident Lewis Hamilton’s morale will not plummet despite his continued worst start to a Formula One season.

    Hamilton fought back from his lowly 18th grid slot to finish ninth in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

    But the British driver, in his final season with Mercedes before his blockbuster transfer to Ferrari, leaves Shanghai only ninth in the standings after failing to finish inside the top six at either of the opening five rounds.

    Indeed, Sunday’s result marked the third time he has crossed the line in ninth this year. Hamilton also trails team-mate George Russell 5-0 in qualifying.

    But Wolff said: “Lewis is a pro and he has behaved that way, trying to keep his morale up and the morale of the team up, even if the results have not come his way. I have no doubt this will last.”

    Hamilton has now gone 50 races and 868 long days without a victory and he was exposed to yet another sobering afternoon in his uncompetitive Mercedes.

    Following his worst qualifying result in seven years, Hamilton started on the quickest, but less-durable soft rubber, but just two laps into this 56-lap affair, his complaints began.

    “I am making no ground on this tyre,” he said after dropping from 18th to 19th.

    Hamilton made the first of his two pit-stops on lap nine and rejoined back in 19th, 53 seconds off Max Verstappen’s leading pace.

    “That was the worst tyre, man,” said the despondent 39-year-old.

    Hamilton was soon back on the intercom. “I can’t even catch him (Alpine’s Esteban Ocon), man,” he said. “This car is so slow.”

    Hamilton’s fortunes improved on lap 21 when he stopped for a second time, with the virtual safety car (VSC) deployed after Valtteri Bottas broke down.

    And as the marshals struggled to shift Bottas’ stricken Stake, the VSC was upgraded to a full safety car, promoting Hamilton up the order.

    He would be 12th at the restart, but he was still bemused by his unruly machine.

    “The car is just sliding around everywhere,” he said. “It just feels like something is broken. It is really bad.”

    Daniel Ricciardo suffered floor damage after Lance Stroll thumped into the back of his RB, elevating Hamilton into 10th before he swatted Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg aside.

    Hamilton was then up to eighth as Fernando Alonso made a maverick third stop for tyres. But the 42-year-old took advantage of his fresh rubber to blast back through the field, relegating Hamilton back a place with seven laps remaining.

    The seven-time champion took the chequered flag nearly one minute behind Verstappen.

    “This is the worst season so far, as I mentioned at the last race,” said Hamilton. “It definitely wasn’t better than expected because we expected to finish there today.

    “I have never had so much understeer in my life. I thought I damaged my car because there was debris on the track at one point, but it was just the way I set the car up.

    “We finished second in the sprint race yesterday and, with better decisions on setup today, we would have been where George finished. We have to keep fighting.”

  • Max Verstappen powers to dominant victory in Chinese Grand Prix Max Verstappen powers to dominant victory in Chinese Grand Prix

    Max Verstappen powered to another dominant win in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix – as Lewis Hamilton complained his car was “slow” and “broken” after he finished ninth.

    Verstappen emerged unscathed from two safety car periods to secure his 38th win from the last 49 staged in Formula One on his unstoppable march towards a fourth straight championship.

    But for Hamilton, now 50 races and 868 long days without a victory, this marked another sobering afternoon in his uncompetitive Mercedes.

    McLaren’s Lando Norris delivered an impressive performance to finish second, one place ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fourth and fifth for Ferrari.

    George Russell could manage only sixth for Mercedes as the grid’s once-dominant team endured another race to forget.

    F1 is back in Shanghai following a five-year absence, and it was a venue that Hamilton once ruled, winning a record six times here.

    But the sport has a new king now, with Verstappen securing his fourth win from the opening five rounds – his only downfall in Australia when his Red Bull engine expired. For Hamilton, hampered by starting only 18th, his worst-ever season continued.

    As Verstappen blasted away from his marks to convert his pole position into an all-too predictable early lead, Hamilton was evidently struggling for speed in his Mercedes.

    Hamilton started on the quickest, but less durable soft rubber, but just two laps into this 56-lap affair, his complaints began.

    “I am making no ground on this tyre,” he said after dropping from 18th to 19th. Hamilton made the first of his two pit-stops on lap nine, and re-joined back in 19th, 53 seconds behind Verstappen.

    “That was the worst tyre, man,” said the despondent 39-year-old after switching to the medium rubber.

    Up front and Fernando Alonso, who moved from third to second following a fine move around the outside of Perez at the opening bend, was starting to slip down the order.

    On lap five, Perez sailed past the evergreen Spaniard, before Norris swooped ahead at the penultimate corner two laps later.

    Back to Hamilton, and he was now 15th after making his way ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda at the first bend. But his mood had not improved.

    “I can’t even catch him (Alpine’s Esteban Ocon), man,” he said. This car is so slow.”

    Speed has not been a problem for Verstappen since he denied Hamilton a record eighth crown at the 2021 decider in Abu Dhabi.

    Temporarily demoted to third by virtue of changing tyres earlier than his competitors, the Red Bull star breezed past Leclerc on lap 16 before re-taking the lead from Norris three laps later.

    Hamilton’s fortunes improved on lap 21 when he stopped for a second time with the VSC deployed after Valtteri Bottas broke down. And as the marshals struggled to shift Bottas’ stricken Stake, the VSC was upgraded to a full safety car, promoting Hamilton up the order. He would be 12th at the re-start, but he was still bemused by his machine.

    “The car is just sliding around everywhere,” he said. “It just feels like something is broken. It is really bad.”

    In came the safety car on lap 26, but it was back out moments later after Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll clumsily thudded into the back of Daniel Ricciardo, and Kevin Magnussen punted Yuki Tsuonda off.

    Ricciardo suffered floor damage, elevating Hamilton into 10th and a single-point paying position before he swatted Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg aside for ninth on lap 41.

    Hamilton was then up to eighth as Alonso made a maverick third stop for tyres. But the 43-year-old took advantage of his fresh rubber to blast back through the field, relegating Hamilton back to ninth with seven laps remaining. Alonso would cross the line in seventh.

    Verstappen took the chequered flag 13.7 sec clear of Norris to extend his championship lead to 25 points with Hamilton – almost one minute behind his one-time rival – still searching for a top-six finish this season.

  • Lando Norris: Fans will be turned off Formula One by Max Verstappen’s dominance Lando Norris: Fans will be turned off Formula One by Max Verstappen’s dominance

    Lando Norris fears Max Verstappen’s “boring” dominance of Formula One is forcing fans away.

    Verstappen became the first driver this century to start the season with five consecutive pole positions after a crushing performance in qualifying for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

    The Dutchman, 26, saw off Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by 0.322 seconds at the Shanghai International Circuit to take top spot, after he earlier raced from fourth to first in the 19-lap sprint race.

    Remarkably, since Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 world championship in Abu Dhabi, the Red Bull driver has won 37 of the 48 races staged, and he is firmly on course to wrap up his fourth title in as many seasons.

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    And speaking ahead of the fifth round of the campaign in China, Norris, considered to be Verstappen’s best friend on the grid, said: “It is frustrating for people watching but it has always been like this.

    “Now, we are seeing more dominance than ever, so it is never going to be the best to watch and the only exciting races have been the ones that Max is not in.”

    Asked if he was concerned Verstappen’s stranglehold on the sport could be a turn-off for fans, Norris replied: “Of course it is going to be. Of course it is going be. There is no way you can say it won’t be.

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    “You have got one of the best drivers ever in Formula One, in one of the most dominant cars and it is a combination that is deadly. If Max wasn’t there and you had two (Sergio) Perezs it wouldn’t be the case.”

    Verstappen struggled for speed in the early stages of Saturday’s sprint race but he caught, and overtook, Lewis Hamilton on the ninth lap and then pulled out an eye-watering two seconds on the Mercedes driver in just one lap. He took the chequered flag 13 sec clear.

    Fernando Alonso was the closest non-Red Bull finisher to Verstappen in qualifying but the Spaniard was almost half-a-second back.

    Norris, 24, continued: “Am I surprised how far Red Bull is ahead? No. When you know how tricky it is to get it right, then it makes sense. They are just smart people.

    “You hope teams plateau and we are starting to get there but at the same time to suddenly jump and catch them (Red Bull), it just doesn’t work like that.”

    Mercedes, behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Norris’ McLaren in the constructors’ standings, are a team far removed from the one which dominated the sport.

    Hamilton will start 18th in China on Sunday, with team-mate George Russell only eighth on the grid.

    Norris, who qualified fourth, added: “If you look at how dominant Mercedes have been in the past, you would have expected more from them. I did, especially how much over the last few years they have said: ‘ah, now we have got it’, and they never seem to.

    “We have had that, where we have hit another roadblock, so it is tricky. But they were almost more competitive last year than they are now and you just wouldn’t expect that from them. But it shows how complicated this sport can be.”

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