Carlos Sainz to start Belgian Grand Prix on pole

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Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz will start Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix from the front of the grid despite Max Verstappen obliterating the field in qualifying.

World champion Verstappen took pole position by almost seven tenths, but he will be relegated to 15th after serving a penalty for an engine change.

Leclerc, who trails Verstappen by 80 points and is also penalised after taking on a new power unit on Formula One’s return to action following the summer break, is demoted from fourth to 16th.

Sergio Perez moves up to second. Despite the penalties for Verstappen and Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will start only fourth and fifth respectively.

Hamilton finished an eye-watering 1.8 seconds down on Verstappen, with team-mate Russell three tenths back.

Hamilton might have thought the plethora of grid penalties would provide him with his best shot of ending a losing streak which stretches back to the penultimate round of last season in Saudi Arabia.

But the seven-time world champion has not been in the same post code as the front-runners this weekend, with Red Bull and Ferrari holding a significant edge over the Silver Arrows.

And to make matters worse for both Hamilton and Russell, the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso also qualified ahead of them. Ocon will also be thrown to the back of the pack for engine penalties.

After he crossed the line, Hamilton was informed he had qualified only seventh. “How far are we off?” he said.

His race engineer, Peter Bonnington replied: “1.8 seconds to Verstappen.” A disbelieving Hamilton repeated the time back.

Verstappen, the man who denied Hamilton an eight title in controversial fashion last season, has been in imperious form this year – winning eight of the 13 rounds.

And despite his penalty, the Dutchman’s speed over one lap, suggests he could yet become a major player in Sunday’s race.

Leclerc’s challenge has faltered through mistakes by man and machine. Here, the Monegasque’s blundering Ferrari team sent him out on the wrong rubber for his opening run in Q3.

“What are these tyres,” said a confused Leclerc. “Sorry, it is a mistake,” came the response.

Elsewhere, the London-born Alex Albon continues to impress. He hauled his Williams into Q3 for the first time this year, qualifying ninth, before being bumped up to sixth on the grid.

Sebastian Vettel missed out on Q2 by two thousandths of a second. “No f****** way,” said the four-time world champion who will call time on his career at the end of the season.

However, Vettel will take advantage of the copious penalties to move up to 10th on the grid.

Lando Norris finished 10th, but is one of seven drivers to serve a grid sanction here for exceeding the number of allocated engine parts. He lines up 18th.