Max Verstappen apologises for X-rated rant but ends Belgian GP qualifying fastest

Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium - July 28, 2023 Red Bull's Max Verstappen speaks to the media after qualifying in pole position

Max Verstappen had to apologise after losing his temper with his team in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix – Reuters/Stephanie Lecocq

There was a definite whiff of deja vu in the Ardennes air on Friday as Max Verstappen annihilated the field in qualifying for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix – but only after a foul-mouthed tirade at his race engineer for which he later apologised.

Verstappen, who has won seven races in a row and nine of the last 11, was furious after he nearly exited in Q2, only just squeaking through in 10th place, and was quickly on the radio to accuse his team of “s— execution”.

It hardly mattered. In the end, Verstappen not only made it through, he utterly dominated Q3, going a massive 0.8sec faster than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, although he will have to start in sixth on Sunday after copping a five-place penalty for a change of gearbox.

That will not worry Red Bull too much. Verstappen came through from 14th on the grid to win in Spa last year and they will be confident of repeating the trick from much closer to the front this time given their superiority. In fact, that was why Red Bull elected to take the penalty here, at a track where overtaking is relatively straightforward. “I think it’s the best place to do it,” Verstappen admitted afterwards. “I think Sunday looks more and more dry. That’s why we went for it here basically.”

The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez will line up alongside Leclerc on the front row, followed by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton who declared himself “very happy” with third on the grid.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell could only go eighth quickest, though, behind the two McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, who will be separated by Verstappen. And that was despite Norris having to drive with damage from going off track in Q1.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, speaks with Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico after placing first in the qualification session ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Spa, Belgium, Friday, July 28, 2023

Sergio Perez had a much better qualifying session and will start Sunday’s race on the front row – AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Russell will undoubtedly be disappointed although his Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff sought to absolve him of any blame, saying the rear wing configuration he ran compared to Hamilton had cost him. “George has a bit of a barn door in the back and that can be advantageous for tyre performance on Sunday but didn’t help today so we have to assess why it didn’t,” Wolff said.

A heavy downpour an hour or so before qualifying started had threatened to see it cancelled entirely, especially with the drivers having urged race director Niels Wittich earlier this week to “be bold” and stop any running when visibility was too impaired.

But so quickly does the weather change in this part of the world that by the time qualifying started, there were even patches of blue sky visible. With the track drying, it was a question of leaving it as late as possible, switching to slicks at the right time, and trying not to make any errors. Daniel Ricciardo was one who did. The Australian looked to have made it into the second part of qualifying in his first wet competitive session since returning to F1 with Alpha Tauri at the last race in Hungary, but his lap was deleted for exceeding track limits and he will start 19th.

Verstappen had a very close shave in Q2, Pierre Gasly missing the chance to go above him in the final seconds of the session. The Dutchman was incandescent. “We should have just pushed two laps in a row like I said,” he told his race engineer ‘GP’ over the radio.

The long-suffering Lambiase replied: “You are through Max.” Verstappen continued: “I don’t give a f— mate that we’re P10. It’s just s— execution.”

Lambiase, who had clearly had enough, replied tartly: “Okay then, when the track was two seconds quicker for your final lap and you didn’t have any energy left, how would that have gone down? But you tell me what you want to do in Q3, and we’ll do it. Sets, fuel, run plan.”

Verstappen did not respond to that. And he was later contrite. “Sorry GP, for being such a… on a rant,” he said during his warm-down lap. “Slowly getting used to it, Max,” came the sardonic response.

That aside, the session was less dramatic than many expected. There is further heavy rain forecast for Saturday’s standalone sprint day, which will feature a qualifying session followed by a short sprint race for reduced points. But the weather is expected to brighten, much like Verstappen’s mood yesterday. “It happens sometimes,” he said, smiling, of his tantrum. “We can get quite emotional, quite vocal. We sort it out afterwards.”

Belgian Grand Prix qualifying times

  1. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 46.168secs

  2. Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:46.988

  3. Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:47.045

  4. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:47.087

  5. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spa) Ferrari 1:47.152

  6. Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:47.365

  7. Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:47.669

  8. George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:47.805

  9. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:47.843

  10. Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:48.841

  11. Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:53.148

  12. Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:53.671

  13. Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 Team 1:54.160

  14. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:54.694

  15. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:56.372

  16. Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 2:00.314

  17. Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Alfa Romeo Racing 2:00.832

  18. Logan Sargeant (USA) Williams 2:01.535

  19. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia AlphaTauri 2:02.159

  20. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Haas F1 Team 2:03.166

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