Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix is the first race of the 2023 Formula 1 season where the fastest qualifier has lost pole position due to a penalty.
World championship leader Max Verstappen was quickest for Red Bull by an astonishing 0.820 seconds in qualifying on Friday.
But a five-place penalty for taking a fifth gearbox driveline of the season plus gearchange and auxiliary components drops him to sixth.
Provisional Belgian GP grid
1 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2 Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
3 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
4 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5 Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
6 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)*
7 Lando Norris (McLaren)
8 George Russell (Mercedes)
9 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
10 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
11 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
12 Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
13 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
14 Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
15 Alex Albon (Williams)
16 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) **
17 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
18 Logan Sargeant (Williams)
19 Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri)
Pitlane Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
* Five-place penalty
** Three-place penalty
PENALTY UNLIKELY TO BE A PROBLEM FOR VERSTAPPEN
Charles Leclerc and Ferrari therefore inherit a second GP pole of 2023 after Azerbaijan three months ago, with Sergio Perez alongside as Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate makes his first front-row appearance at a grand prix since his Miami pole in early May.
Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and sprint hero Oscar Piastri’s McLaren then start ahead of Verstappen.
Not that Verstappen finds any of this daunting in the slightest, especially given the ease with which he won from 14th on the Spa grid on an extremely penalty-shuffled weekend a year ago.
“Last year we started 14th and I think this year the car is better,” he said.
“So I’m still targeting to win the race for sure.”
MAGNUSSEN PENALISED FOR LECLERC INCIDENT
The only other grid penalty at present is for Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.
He qualified 13th but was demoted three places for impeding Leclerc in Q2.
It was a particularly messy case, Magnussen having gone off at the nameless left-hander after Rivage but rejoined with minimal damage despite rearranging an advertising banner.
Kevin Magnussen has a moment in the final moments of Q2 😳
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 28, 2023
He tried to continue qualifying as normal but sat ahead of Leclerc on the dry line through the whole middle sector.
The stewards were unimpressed with both Magnussen’s explanation of what happened and Haas’s approach to it.
“Magnussen explained that he did not feel it was safe to move off onto the wet at speed and give room to Leclerc, particularly in the turns between 11 and 15 [Fagnes to Stavelot],” they wrote in their ruling.
“The stewards observed that he did not receive a warning from his team that Leclerc was behind until Leclerc was right behind him at Turn 10 [entry to Pouhon].
“The team also told him to push, as he needed to make it to the line to get another lap.
“Whether it was his failure to slow and yield following his accident, or whether it was the team’s failure to give information early enough that he could have pulled off earlier, or whether it was the instruction to push through the lap; in any case the stewards determine that he unnecessarily impeded Leclerc.”
PITLANE START FOR HULKENBERG
It hasn’t been a straightforward weekend for the second Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, who ran out of time to set a lap in either Q1 on Friday or SQ1 on Saturday morning.
That meant he was due to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid anyway, but a pitlane start has now been confirmed as Haas has elected to make a sweep of changes in parc ferme conditions without prior approval from the FIA, taking a full suite of new engine and gearbox components.