Max Verstappen (7/2 Belgian Grand Prix outright) and Charles Leclerc (15/2) will both start near the back of the grid on Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix after being handed penalties for breaching engine regulations.

The two title protagonists will have to work hard if they are to win Sunday’s race with Leclerc, in particular, needing to eat away at Verstappen’s 80-point lead.

Both drivers were slapped with penalties for using too many engine parts and qualifying will therefore be at best a battle for 15th with six drivers slapped with the same penalty.

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It means Carlos Sainz (5/2 Belgian Grand Prix outright) and Sergio Perez (7/1), the definitive number two drivers for each team, will have a great opportunity to claim their second wins of the season.

Sainz was quickest in the first free practice session at Spa, which took place in familiarly changeable weather conditions.

He edged past his team mate with Verstappen taking third place at the legendary circuit with 2022 potentially the last race as no agreement has been reached for future contests.

In FP2, Verstappen was the class of the field with the defending champion more than eight-tenths ahead of Leclerc with Lando Norris – one of the six drivers who will be at the back on Sunday – in third.

It was a real statement of intent by Verstappen who will still be aiming high, with Spa offering overtaking opportunities and long DRS zones.

“I think as soon as we went out, the car was working pretty well,” said Verstappen. “There’s always little things that you want to fine-tune with the balance, but basically from the first run I was happy with the car.

“That’s what we’ll try,” replied Verstappen when asked if was confident he could make up places in the race. “We have to!”

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