The Belgian Grand Prix looks set to be an absolute thriller, with title protagonists Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc starting P14 and P15 respectively.
Both have taken grid penalties due to an engine change after exceeding their allowed limit, with Leclerc having exceeded the number of legal power units back at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Had it not been for the penalties, then Leclerc would be starting fourth with championship leader Verstappen on pole.
The Dutchman has looked phenomenal all weekend and set the fastest time on Saturday by over six tenths of a second from Carlos Sainz in P2.
The reigning World Champion appears to be making time up on everybody at virtually every corner, with many of the drivers left “puzzled” by his blistering pace.
For most, starting P14 would see the lower end of the points places as the target by the end of the race, for Verstappen this simply isn’t the case.
The Red Bull Racing driver is aiming for “at least” the podium; however, a comfortable victory looks to be very much on the cards.
“With the pace we have in the car I want to move forward and be at least on the podium,” the Dutchman said.
George Russell is one of the many drivers who expect Verstappen to “slice through” the field to claim an easy victory, with the Dutchman’s pace this weekend looking like something never seen before.
The Mercedes F1 Team driver starts Sunday’s race from P5 following seven drivers being awarded grid penalties, incredibly, though, Russell was 2.1 seconds off Verstappen’s time in qualifying.
The British driver deems that Red Bull are simply “miles ahead” of the entire field, with Verstappen all but certain to claim victory should he not be tangled up in the midfield early on.
“Max is probably going to slice through and win the race pretty comfortably,” Russell declared.
“I think he and Red Bull are just miles ahead of everyone.”
Sainz fully agrees with everything Russell said regarding Verstappen being the favourite to win the race.
The Spaniard inherited pole position due to Verstappen’s penalty, but is fully expecting to see the Dutchman in his mirrors early on in the race.
“Especially with the pace Max has,” Sainz said, “as soon as there is a safety car, or even with the pace he has, with 42 laps he can come back and we have seen him do it before.”
Verstappen has been dominant across every tyre compound; the Red Bull driver is simply driving on another planet compared to the rest of the field.
Sainz finds the 24-year-old’s pace “a bit puzzling – he was more than 0.5secs ahead of us in every [tyre] compound and every situation.”
Leclerc will be hoping to follow Verstappen for as long as possible, with the Dutchman potentially to be in the top 10 by the end of the first lap.
Red Bull have clearly found something over the summer break, with the Monegasque driver recognising that the big gap is “quite impressive”.
Despite the race having not even happened yet, Leclerc is already looking ahead to the Dutch Grand Prix next weekend, where he hopes the gap will be considerably smaller.
“0.7secs is a lot,” said Leclerc when asked about the gap between Verstappen and Sainz.
“They found something this weekend that is quite impressive. It is a big gap.
“I hope in Zandvoort [next weekend] it will change but before that we have the race tomorrow. We seem to be a bit more competitive [on a long run]. Let’s see how it goes.”