His opposite number at Red Bull, Christian Horner, also had some sympathy for the FIA’s Michael Masi, “It’s tough because things change so quickly. I mean, just a few minutes earlier we were discussing whether to run intermediates, so it’s incredibly difficult for the race director.”
The session was red-flagged while the debris from Norris’s accident was cleared. Lando himself was checked at the medical centre and then despatched to hospital for a precautionary X-ray on his elbow, the team hopeful that he can still race tomorrow.
When the session restarted, it was Lando’s buddy and fellow Brit George Russell who stole the headlines. The surface had dried a little but was still incredibly challenging, with lap times about 1.5sec slower than in Q1. With a little over a minute to go, Russell’s Williams was on pole, with a lap in 2min 00.086sec. Behind him, Hamilton was on a lap but when the No44 Mercedes broke the timing beam, it was a hundredth down on Russell!
Which left Verstappen. Slower than Hamilton on his first lap, Max got the job done and stopped the clock in 1min 59.765sec to take his sixth pole of 2021. He was delighted, and so was his team principal.
“Sessions like that are high pressure and it’s a case of threading your way through, following conditions, not trying to pre-empt anything and it’s all about getting that last lap. Max did that superbly. But George’s lap was phenomenal too, and all credit to him.”
At Williams they were delirious.
“What a stonking lap!” Russell was told over the radio. It was too. He committed to Eau Rouge flat, which was brave, felt the car go light over the crest, hung onto it and knew he was on for a great first sector. For the rest of the lap he concentrated on precision, not taking too much wet kerb — although he still used a considerable amount, betraying his natural confidence in such conditions – got on the throttle as early as he dared and appeared not to make a single error.”
“If Toto hasn’t got the decision done yet, this puts him further towards a Mercedes!” commented Williams team principal Jost Capito. “He deserves to be in a car capable of winning championships.”
With the whole paddock pretty much taking it as read that Russell will be in a Mercedes next season, it will be intriguing to see his approach to racing Hamilton tomorrow, starting, as he does, between the title contenders!
And, as I said, wing levels will be key. A car that leads out of Eau Rouge on the opening lap can be vulnerable to a tow down the long Kemmel Straight into the chicane at Les Combes. And Hamilton may be well-placed to mount an early bid.
“You try to go for the best downforce set-up, which might not be best for today…” Lewis allowed. A hint that if the race is dry, he might be better positioned than a Red Bull running a bit more wing. Does George really want to be in the middle of all that? You bet he does!
Some eight-tenths behind Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth for McLaren, his best qualifying position for the team, with Vettel’s Aston just 0.07sec behind. Pierre Gasly qualified his AlphaTauri in the top six for the ninth time in 12 races, with Sergio Perez seventh in the second Red Bull. Valtteri Bottas could only managed eighth with the second Mercedes, which means starting 13th when his five-place penalty for the Budapest shenanigans is applied.
Esteban Ocon partied all-night in Budapest after his Hungarian triumph and hadn’t been to bed when it was time to fly home, but has recovered sufficiently to put his Alpine into the top 10 and move to 6-6 in his personal qualifying battle with Fernando Alonso. He will line-up eighth, with poor Norris ninth if he’s fit, and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari 10th due to the Bottas penalty.
Two wet weather aces who are further down than might be expected, are Carlos Sainz, who starts 12th after he and Leclerc found the Ferrari tricky in the conditions, and Lance Stroll, who qualified 15th after failing to get his important second Q2 lap in, much to his displeasure.
This being Spa, predicting a winner is a mug’s game, but Verstappen needs to stop the rot and you just have a feeling he will do just that, at what is practically a home race, with Zandvoort next
2021 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying results
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1min 59.765sec|
|2||George Russell||Williams||2min 00.086sec|
|3||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||2min 00.099sec|
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||2min 00.864sec|
|5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||2min 00.935sec|
|6||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||2min 01.164sec|
|7||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||2min 02.112sec|
|8||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||2min 02.502sec|
|9||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||2min 03.513sec|
|10||Lando Norris||McLaren||No Time|
|11||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1min 57.721sec|
|12||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1min 58.056sec|
|13||Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||1min 58.137sec|
|14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||1min 58.205sec|
|15||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1min 58.231sec|
|16||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo|
|19||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo|