2023 Belgian Grand Prix Roundup
Car News 3 Aug 2023

2023 Belgian Grand Prix Roundup

Round 13 on the Formula 1 calendar took the teams to one of the most iconic circuits of them all, the demanding Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The legendary track has it all, high speed sections, slow tight corners, big differences in elevation, a location that often means very changeable weather conditions, and one of the most famous sections in motorsport, Eau Rouge. The high speed, elevation changing section is the ultimate test of a driver’s bravery and talent as it drops down and sweeps up and over a steep incline with a blind summit, all whilst under full acceleration and finishing at speeds over 200mph.

As a Sprint Race weekend it also meant even more opportunity for racing action and a chance for unpredictability with the often changeable conditions. Something fans would welcome with the recent dominance of Red Bull and in particular Max Verstappen’s ‘Matrix’ like driving and apparent rocket powered car that is quicker than everyone else’s.

As is the way with a sprint weekend, Qualifying for the race moves to the Friday, Qualifying for the Sprint Race is early in the day on Saturday, with the Sprint Race happening later the same day and the Race happening on the Sunday as usual.


Race Qualifying was an unknown for the drivers at least as the only Free Practice session of the weekend on Friday had limited running due to heavy rain. This meant that it was unclear as to who would have the best set up and the strongest car without the ability to test and change aspects prior to Qualifying that took place on a wet track yet eventually under blue skies.

Intermediates were the tyre of choice for the field with the track still very wet and spray the issue when following another car, especially through the faster sections of the circuit. Mercedes set the initial pace in Q1 with McLaren performing strong until Norris took a detour through the gravel trap, but it was Leclerc in his Ferrari setting the pace for Q1 followed by Verstappen and Hamilton. Ricciardo meanwhile fell foul of the dreaded ‘track limits’ voodoo and saw his P6 time deleted to be relegated to the drop zone with Albon, Zhou, Sargeant and Hulkenberg.

Q2 remained with Intermediates as the go to tyre option to start the session, before it was decided that Soft slick tyres were worth a try on the drying out track. Initial struggles to get the tyres up to temperature saw Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes occupying the elimination places however as the session was coming to a close they kicked into life. Piastri finished Q2 in P1 ahead of the two Ferrari drivers, whilst Perez made it into Q3 again much to his relief, whilst Verstappen ended the session an even more relieved guy in P10. Despite showing promise earlier in the session Tsunoda ‘s Qualifying ended in 11th ahead of Gasly, Magnussen, Bottas and Ocon.

A delay to Q3 to remove gravel from the track from Q2 was occupied solely by the top 5 teams in the championship, Red Bull, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Ferrari and McLaren. Leclerc looked set to upset the order with a fantastic lap, over a second quicker than the rest of the field, before Verstappen restored the order by over 8 tenths. Teammate Perez took P3 followed by Hamilton, Sainz, Piastri, Norris, Russell and the Aston Martins of Alonso and Stroll. Verstappen knowing in advance that a gearbox change would cost him 5 grid places and he would start P6, promoting Leclerc to pole position and teammate Perez to the front row.

2023 Belgian Grand Prix Roundup - Wet Weather Racing

Sprint Race Qualifying

Verstappen’s dominant performance in yesterday’s Qualifying session (as well as the last 7 races) meant that he would surely repeat the performance for Saturdays Sprint Qualifying. Even for him though, he would have to up his game as the conditions for Sprint Qualifying were even worse than Qualifying, to such an extent that it had to be postponed for 35 minutes. With full Wet tyre running seemingly not a option these days due to the driver’s safety concerns, the running was delayed until Intermediate tyres could be used to start the session.

As the water on track would lessen throughout the session, times would tumble as the Sprint Qualifying running went on, so quick times early on were not going to be enough to see drivers through to the next session. As the SQ1 time ran out there was pressure on Norris and Alonso as they needed a last gasp lap to get them out of the elimination zone.

Verstappen had no such problems as he posted the fastest time so far, with Hamilton in second and Alonso managed to handle the pressure well eventually ending the session in third place. Haas would surely rue the fact that they had limited running in SQ1 and as such both drivers missed out on a place in SQ2, Hulkenberg not posting a time in the end, himself and Magnussen eliminated alongside Tsunoda, Bottas and Zhou.

By SQ2 the track had dried out significantly compared to the start of the previous session, however the session started with Intermediates the choice of tyre to be on the safe side. Aston Martin were the first to try their luck, putting Stroll on the Medium tyre, despite sending Alonso out on Intermediates. As it turned out, it wasn’t the best call as Stroll found out when his car careered across the gravel and into the barrier bringing out the red flags.

With the session unable to be restarted, the current lap times would decide the drivers for SQ3. Verstappen and Hamilton topping the order yet again, with Russel the lucky driver in tenth place. Ricciardo was unlucky to not make the cut and was joined by Albon, Sargeant and surprisingly the Aston Martin’s of Alonso and Stroll.

For SQ3 the track was slick tyre ready, with the field sporting Soft tyres and a dry line starting to appear on the racing line. As the early markers were put down it was Hamilton who was setting the pace, with Verstappen less than a tenth of a second behind followed by Norris.

As the track dried out further the times continued to tumble. Piastri set a very strong time as he shot to the top of the timing sheets and looked like it could be enough for pole position. Verstappen had other ideas despite only just making the line before the time elapsed and he could get a last lap in. He eventually crossed the line just 11 thousands of a second ahead of the unlucky Piastri, with Sainz just 14 thousands further back in P3.

Sprint Race

Later on the same day the Sprint Race also fell foul to the changeable weather, with the start of the race pushed back by 30 minutes in order to let the worst of the rain pass. However, by the time the race start arrived it was to begin behind the Safety Car and with mandatory full Wet tyres fitted to the cars. The initial planned single lap turned in to several and by the time the Safety Car left the track the sun was shining on the circuit.

With the number of laps now reduced to 11 due to the Safety Car parade, the race start was met with a dive into the pits for 10 of the cars looking to immediately switch to Intermediates, with the remainder doing the same next time around due to the fully Wet tyres not performing on track now that the rain had subsided.

Verstappen’s decision to hold off pitting immediately once the Safety Car had come in meant that Piastri’s pace on the Intermediate tyres put him ahead of the Dutch driver once he had rejoined from the pits. The pit lane itself was a scrabble of cars trying to get in and out of their pit boxes with so many near misses and potentially unsafe releases. With Piastri now in P1, his gap to Verstappen stood at 2 seconds but the reigning world champion began reeling the McLaren in highlighting the straight-line speed of the Red Bull.

On Lap 4 Alonso’s spin into the gravel trap sparked the Safety Car yet again halting Verstappen’s attack on Piastri at the front. A lap later, and with the Safety Car departing, Verstappen took his chance and blasted past the McLaren with some very brave driving through Eau Rouge and along the Kemmel Straight.

Gasly hung on to P3 whilst Hamilton and Perez did battle for fourth. In the commotion they banged wheels and damage was caused to the Mexican’s sidepod causing him to not only to lose further positions to both Ferrari’s, but after a trip through the gravel, he was also passed by Norris and Ricciardo.

With an empty track in front of him, Verstappen built his lead to over six seconds by the time the chequered flag appeared, but Piastri will be more than happy with a fantastic P2 result. Gasly completed the Sprint Race podium in P3 and a fantastic result for Alpine, whilst Hamilton finished P4 yet gained a five second penalty for causing the collision with Perez earlier in the race. This demoted him to P7 and moved Sainz to P4, Leclerc to P5 and Lando Norris to P6. Russell took the final point on offer by passing Ocon and an unlucky Ricciardo late on in the race.

2023 Belgian Grand Prix Roundup - Could Leclerc Take Advantage Of Pole Position

The Race

With the furore of the Sprint Race Shootout and Sprint Race out of the way, Sunday was Race Day and resorted to the order of Friday’s Qualifying session. Verstappen would have to fight his way up from sixth after his grid place penalty, whilst Leclerc would look to hold off the Dutchman’s teammate Perez and take advantage of his pole position.

The weather was cloudy, but the track was dry, and the grid was a mix of Soft and Medium compounds with drivers poised for the possibility of needing Intermediate tyres at some point throughout the race. With lights out, Leclerc managed to hold on to first position to the first corner, yet Perez had other ideas and used the straight-line speed to pass the Ferrari driver as Verstappen had done to Piastri in the Sprint Race.

Meanwhile Sainz and Piastri tussling at the beginning meant they banged wheels, and the Australian clipped the wall causing damage to the McLaren and him to drop down the order and eventually have to retire from the race. Sainz himself also sustained damage and despite continuing on had dropped to P10 after just a few laps.

Teammate Leclerc had become under pressure from Verstappen before Lap 10 and was duly passed by the Red Bull driver making it 1-2 for the team whilst still in the early stages of the race. Perez was a couple of seconds further ahead and within a few laps the pair had a gap of more than three seconds over the rest of the field.

Red Bull had reiterated the earlier message of Mercedes to their drivers that the potential for rain was not too far away, yet their existing tyres may struggle to make it that far. Risking that they may have to change soon after, with both drivers pitting for a fresh set of Medium tyres within a couple of laps. Once they had both resumed it wasn’t long before Verstappen had reeled Perez in and showed why he leads the championship by some margin with a clean pass on his teammate. Stroll, Russell and Gasly looked to extend their stints just in case the rain arrived requiring Intermediates.

By Lap 19 there were reports of rain at one end of the circuit yet Norris and Stroll decided to switch to a new set of slick tyres. As the rain set in for what Ferrari predicted would be a ’10-minute long shower’, conditions became precarious as drivers began to slip and slide at certain sections. Thankfully for those who had fresh slick tyres, the rain didn’t last long and those who had fresh slick tyres were lapping at the fastest times.

Verstappen had stretched his lead at the front to over six seconds, with Leclerc remaining some way back in P3. Sainz meanwhile was forced to retire as the damage to his car was affecting his race too much to continue. On Lap 28, Hamilton pitted from P4 for a new set of Soft tyres and saw him rejoin in P5 yet a lap later regained P4 from Alonso.

A couple of laps later Leclerc had pitted and remained in P3, Perez pitted for his second stop along with Alonso, with Russell, Stroll and Gasly as the only cars who had only pitted once so far, once Verstappen had pitted a lap later.

With just 12 laps remaining the reigning world champion had a 10 second advantage over his Red Bull teammate. Yet despite being told by his team to think about saving his tyres as much as possible to make it to the chequered flag unscathed, he still managed to extend his lead over Perez in P2 to 22 seconds. Leclerc took the last place on the podium a further 10 seconds further back, but in the end a good result for Ferrari despite Sainz having to retire earlier on.

Hamilton used his relatively uneventful position to make a late switch for fresh tyres and in doing so managed to pick up an extra point in addition to finishing in P4 for the fastest lap of the race. Alonso took a solid P5, Russell recovered well to end up P6 ahead of Norris, Ocon, Stroll and Tsunoda rounding up the points finishes.

2023 Belgian Grand Prix Roundup - Race Winner Max Verstappen

The Results

With just 12 laps remaining the reigning world champion had a 10 second advantage over his Red Bull teammate. Yet despite being told by his team to think about saving his tyres as much as possible to make it to the chequered flag unscathed, he still managed to extend his lead over Perez in P2 to 22 seconds. Leclerc took the last place on the podium a further 10 seconds further back, but in the end a good result for Ferrari despite Sainz having to retire earlier on.

Hamilton used his relatively uneventful position to make a late switch for fresh tyres and in doing so managed to pick up an extra point in addition to finishing in P4 for the fastest lap of the race. Alonso took a solid P5, Russell recovered well to end up P6 ahead of Norris, Ocon, Stroll and Tsunoda rounding up the points finishes.

Tsunoda’s single point for AlphaTauri was their first points scored since Round 4 in Azerbaijan, he has scored all of AlphaTauri’s points this season. At the front, Verstappen secured his 8th win in a row and is just one short of the all-time record set by Sebastian Vettel in 2013. Speaking of the retired German driver, the Dutchman’s points tally so far is already more points than Vettel had when he won the championship in 2010 and 2012. Whilst Verstappen’s latest victory means that by the time the action resumes at the end of the month after the summer break, he won’t have been beaten in a Race or Sprint Race for almost 4 months, since Azerbaijan on April 30th.

Away from Red Bull, Hamilton’s P4 means that he has scored points in every race this season, and with his extra point for the fastest lap, he is now just a single point behind Fernando Alonso for third place in the championship. Meanwhile pole starter Charles Leclerc has now unfortunately failed to win the last 9 races that he has started from pole position.

What’s Next?

Next up on the Formula 1 calendar is a hop over the border for the Dutch Grand Prix at the recently refurbished Circuit Zandvoort. But not before the teams and their drivers have a well earned summer break of 3 weeks before the second hectic half of the season gets underway.

Red Bull will be rightly confident of another driver and constructor’s championship at the half way mark, considering their drivers sit at P1 and P2 in the championship and their team tally is more than double that of nearest rivals Mercedes. Mercedes will be feeling a bit more confident at their recent progress, with the team now firmly in P2 in the championship and Hamilton now just a single point behind Aston Martin’s Alonso.

Aston Martin themselves will be looking to rekindle some of their earlier form as they have Ferrari hot on their heels and just 5 points further back in the constructor’s championship. McLaren are now firmly in fifth place and will be looking to join the fight for P3 in the championship with their recent increase of competitiveness.


Find out more about the race and the calendar for the 2023 season here: F1 – The Official Home of Formula 1

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