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Verstappen is the fastest, Leclerc gets pole position

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Verstappen is the fastest, Leclerc gets pole position

Then the world champion laughed. Fastest in qualifying, that’s nothing special for the two-time solo world champion in Formula 1. But his last tour of the grid race on Friday for the Belgian Grand Prix (Sunday, 3 p.m. / Sky) demonstrated the difference in the elite class of motorsport: 0.8 seconds faster on a largely dry ideal line than Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, 0.9 seconds than Sergio Perez in the identical Red Bull. It was not particularly difficult for the champion to have to cede pole position to the Monegasque Leclerc.

Max Verstappen will be down five grid positions on Sunday due to another gearbox change beyond the penalty-free number. “The conditions were very treacherous,” he said, looking at the first rays of sunshine after a rainy Friday. In tenth place, he was lucky enough to survive the second run on a still wet track because he had used the energy of a battery too early.

Alpine stands out off the track

He had a dispute about this with his race engineer: “We’ll clarify that internally. (…) But I had the confidence, I knew that we had a fast car and then I risked everything in the last race and made the best of the situation. Red Bull’s sporting director Helmut Marko, 80, was impressed: “When he’s under pressure, Max delivers. He won’t risk anything on Sunday, but I assume he’ll come forward quickly.” Last year Verstappen had won the Grand Prix from 14th place. Already in the sprint race (4.30 p.m. / Sky) on Saturday he can increase his score. The starting grid for the short distance will be extended over 15 laps from 12:00 p.m.

Then Nico Hulkenberg has a new chance. Due to hydraulic damage in his Haas, the Rhinelander didn’t get enough of a chance in the first round of qualifying. While the pilots were able to significantly reduce their lap times on the slowly drying track, the man from Emmerich sat in his car in the pits. After the repairs, he didn’t get to another lap before the time was up: Last behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Alpha Tauri. The Australian had his final lap result dropped for overshooting the track limit.

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While record world champion Lewis Hamilton was “only” fourth in front of Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) after pole position last Saturday in Hungary and his Mercedes team struggled, the ambitious Alpine team was particularly noticeable off the track. The French are eager to change their leadership. On Friday they announced the separation of team boss Otmar Szafnauer and sports director Alan Permane at the end of the Grand Prix in the High Fens. In the past year and a half, Alpine has fired nine senior employees or lost them, including two pilots: Fernando Alonso (9th on Friday) is showing his class as the successor to Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin. Oscar Piastri (6th) seems to be on the go with McLaren. After Alonso’s flight in the summer of 2022, Renault quickly declared him a regular pilot and announced this promotion in a press release. The Australian immediately objected, rejecting Renault’s claim that he was contractually bound to Alpine. An investigation confirmed it.

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Allegedly, Alpine has now hired a first-class lawyer. Bruno Famin is to lead the racing team as interim team boss. He justified the separation from Szafnauer in Spa: “I don’t think we have exactly the same view of how we approach things.” Alpine should have 100 races to become a candidate for the World Championship. The racing team is currently in sixth place in the constructors’ championship, 405 points behind the leading team Red Bull. A reduction in the 56th Grand Prix since the restart is hardly conceivable. In twelfth place, Pierre Gasly (12th) showed what the car was capable of: mediocre at best, at least the weakest engine in the industry. This is not an estimate. The World Automobile Association came to this conclusion in its own investigation.

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