Helmut Marko explains controversial Sergio Perez decision

Max Verstappen claimed victory in the Belgian GP sprint race on Saturday.

Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko has admitted that the team pitted Sergio Perez first during the Belgian Grand Prix sprint race on purpose, after “expecting chaos”.

As the Safety Car peeled into the pits after the first four laps of Saturday’s sprint race, several drivers entered the pitlane immediately to ditch the Extreme Wet tyres, in favour of the Intermediates.

Race leader Max Verstappen remained out on track though, with Perez having been pitted first by Red Bull.

Verstappen pitted at the end of the next lap but was overtaken by Oscar Piastri, who pitted on the same lap as Perez.

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The Intermediates were considerably quicker than the full wets, something the drivers have since complained about.

Verstappen did quickly catch Piastri and regain the sprint lead, something he maintained right to the end.

The conditions certainly made for a challenging race, which Marko admits wasn’t “easy strategically”.

The Austrian went on to explain why Perez pitted first, before adding his surprise at McLaren’s performance.

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“It was not easy strategically. We deliberately chose to get Checo in first because we were expecting chaos in the pit lane. That’s why we fell back to behind Piastri,” Marko told ServusTV.

Max immediately saw that Piastri was skidding quite a bit and overloading his tyres. Then you saw that he passed him with ease, although McLaren had more downforce. We expected them to be stronger in the rain.”

Winning Sunday’s race will likely be much harder for Verstappen, who’ll start from sixth despite having claimed pole.

The Dutchman has a five-place grid penalty for taking a fifth gearbox, demoting him to the third row.

He still enters the race as the clear favourite, due to his immense pace this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.

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Marko believes Verstappen can win the race on Sunday, but that it depends on how quickly the Dutchman overtakes Lewis Hamilton.

“Max was sovereign with an eight-tenths lead, but we have some tough opponents. Hamilton was very fast, I assume he will be as well tomorrow. You know those two are not the best of friends,” Marko said.

“The main task is to pass Hamilton. Then I think it should be possible. In terms of tyre wear and overall performance, our car is in a class of its own, especially if we have DRS.”