Max Verstappen said he took a lot of risks on his final Q3 run as he was fastest in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Dutchman took the top spot by eight-tenths of a second from Charles Leclerc, but will start from sixth place as he incurs a five-place grid penalty after taking a fifth gearbox of the season – one more than the allocated number of four.
The margin of eight tenths is the largest dry gap of the season, following Red Bull‘s upgrades at the Hungarian GP, and is a damning blow to the chasing field as the team typically focuses on race pace over qualifying trim.
“That final lap, I think was very good,” Verstappen said to the media. “I just risked a bit more compared to all of the other laps, leaving a smaller margin, which almost knocked me out in Q2.
“So it was tough out there today to get everything right.”
Verstappen, however, believes that there is an element of luck with the large gap to Leclerc which he attributed to the mixed conditions.
“If it would have been a fully dry qualifying, I think that the gap wouldn’t have been like this.”
Verstappen evades disastrous Q2
The reigning world champion got into Q3 in 10th place, just one spot above the elimination zone, by 0.4 seconds on a rapidly developing track.
Neither Kevin Magnussen nor Pierre Gasly could improve enough on their final runs to knock the world champion out but if they had improved, then he would have had to start from 16th or 17th.
“I had to abort my first lap [in Q2] because I went over the white line into turn nine,” Verstappen added to media. “Then I did another slow lap and it felt like I probably lost a bit too much temperature in the tyres.
“And then because of that mistake I made in eight or nine, I don’t remember the corner, I just took a lot of margin there and it was way too much.”
Fancying his chances
Despite starting sixth, four places behind his teammate Sergio Perez, Verstappen is aiming for the win in Belgium to extend his run to eight straight wins and to move one victory behind tying the record set by Sebastian Vettel.
“Last year we started 14th, and I think this year that the car is better,” Verstappen added to the media. “So I’m still targeting to win the race for sure.”
The Belgian-born racer took victory around Spa last year, some 17 seconds ahead of Perez who had a 12-place head start.
However, the situation in 2023 may not be identical as the race could also be affected by rain and Verstappen does not hold the advantage of a new power unit over Perez, as he did in 2022.
Nonetheless, he will still be the betting favourite to claim victory at the circuit, just 40 minutes away from where he has lived in the past.