Max Verstappen beats Oscar Piastri to sprint race pole in Belgium

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.

Russell ran wide at La Source and returned to the track in front of Hamilton on the run up to Eau Rouge, hampering his team-mate’s final lap.

“George went wide at turn one,” said Hamilton after he failed to improve. “I had to back out.”

Informed by race engineer Peter Bonnington that he finished seventh, eight tenths adrift of Verstappen, a frustrated Hamilton replied: “It doesn’t help when you are held up at the beginning.”

Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh fastest

Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh fastest (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP).

He later added on the radio: “That could have been so much better, managed better.”

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.

“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.”

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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