Carlos Sainz will start from pole at the Belgian Grand Prix, despite not setting the fastest time in qualifying, after a slew of engine and gearbox penalties for drivers who created a wildly mixed grid for Sunday’s race.
In a weird quirk of F1’s rules, this means no driver will start Sunday’s race from the position he qualified.
The confusion is due to the amount of engine components that drivers are allowed to use before sanctions are imposed — the nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit makes it an ideal place to carry out a tactical engine change, as there are plenty of overtaking opportunities to recover from low grid positions.
The seven drivers who received engine and gearbox penalties hope to make it to the end of the season without having to take another shot.
Championship leader and reigning champion Max Verstappen and title rival Charles Leclerc will start at the back of the grid for this reason.
Six of those seven start from the back and their positions were all determined by their final qualifying position. However, Alfa Romeo took advantage of a regulatory loophole to equip Valtteri Bottas with a new drive unit and gearbox without incurring a “back of grid” penalty (explained below).
Running order (and where they qualified):
1. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 2nd qualified
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) Qualified 3rd
3. Fernando Alonso (Alps) 6th qualified
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) Qualified 7th
5. George Russell (Mercedes) Qualified 8th
6. Alex Albon (Williams) Qualified 9th
7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) Qualified 11th
8. Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) qualified 12th
9. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Qualified 14th
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Qualified 16th
11. Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Qualified 17th
12. Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Qualified 18th
13. Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri), Qualified 19th
14. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) Qualified 20th * Punishment
Although Bottas’ total penalty amounted to 20 places on the grid – what would normally be a “back of grid” penalty – because Alfa Romeo spread the penalties with 15 places for the drive unit and five for the gearbox, instead of 20 changes worth a single penalty, he technically has a 20-place penalty instead of a “back of grid” penalty.
As a result, his 20-place penalty means he will start with a “back of grid” penalty for the drivers. The FIA plans to close the loophole for future races.
15. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Qualified 1st * Punishment
16. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Qualified 4th * Punishment
17. Esteban Ocon (Alps), Qualified 5th * Punishment
18. Lando Norris (McLaren) Qualified 10th * Punishment
19. Zhou Guanyu (Alpha Romeo), Qualified 13th * Punishment
20. Mick Schumacher (Haas), Qualified 15th * Punishment
A great spectacle awaits
The mixed grid should make for an exciting event, with a Ferrari and Red Bull sharing the front row and longtime rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton sharing the second row.
Mercedes has had no speed this weekend but will gladly take advantage of the opportunities to take advantage of the two drivers being moved up a few positions, while Alonso will try to attack from third on the grid.
Alex Albon starts from sixth position after a very impressive qualifying performance
Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it to Q3, but he will start from seventh position, just days after McLaren confirmed he will not stay with the team next year.
The Australian driver will be fired upon to prove McLaren wrong with a strong performance.
Ricciardo’s team-mate Lando Norris will also be one to watch from the back of the field after showing strong form in practice.