F1 2021 BELGIAN GP: VErstappen takes pole as russell stars
Changeable conditions at Spa continued to wreak havoc amongst the F1 grid in a chaotic and controversial qualifying session for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen’s 6th pole of the season came at a much needed time but no one in their wildest dreams would’ve predicted that the Williams of George Russell would join him on the front row.
However, a nasty crash at Eau Rouge for Lando Norris raised yet more question marks over safety at the circuit.
Heavy rain in the minutes leading up to the session led to a slight delay to proceedings, but it wasn’t long before the timing pages were being lit up in a ever evolving first part of qualifying.
Whilst the rest of the field attempted their opening laps on full wet tyres, the two Williams drivers of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi braved the intermediates. This immediately paid dividends as they lapped several seconds faster than anyone else.
Once the rest of the field recognised this, they were soon in for the inters and the times began to tumble.
Most in danger in the latter stages of the session was Daniel Ricciardo who scrambled himself to safety in P12 as Yuki Tsunoda became the most notable driver eliminated.
Joining him in a Q1 exit were the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen as well as the Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
Q2 ran in much a similar way to Q1, with track conditions continuing to slowly improve in the intermediate conditions.
Alarmingly for the championship leaders, Mercedes struggled in the early stages of the session, and with just a few minutes to go, both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were in danger of elimination.
A quick stop for fresh inters solved that issue as both drivers comfortably moved into the top 10, however it was the McLaren of Lando Norris that was continuing to shine as him and Verstappen traded blows at the top of the standings.
Ferrari were having a difficult weekend, and both drivers would be high-profile Q2 eliminations, Charles Leclerc in particular unhappy with the way his team managed the session, gambling on more rain in the closing minutes.
Joining Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the bottom five were Nicholas Latifi (his best qualifying result in F1) in P12, Fernando Alonso a disappointing P14 and Lance Stroll, who missed the chequered flag to start his final lap.
A huge rain shower in the interval between Q2 and Q3 moved the track back to full wet conditions and drivers cautiously went out, with Sebastian Vettel vocal on the radio that the conditions were now too dangerous to continue.
Unfortunately this message was not acted upon until Norris had a massive accident after losing it at the crest of Eau Rouge, pirouetting into the barrier at almost 200 mph. Vettel behind him stopped his car to check that the Brit was okay, which he fortunately was, but was deeply unhappy that the incident had been allowed to occur.
The red flags were immediately flown and a lengthy clean-up began as the rain slowly began to thankfully ease. Norris went to the local hospital for an X-ray on his elbow and will be deeply disappointed to be starting most likely from the pitlane on Sunday.
As the session resumed, conditions were on the crossover between full wets and inters, with Red Bull and Mercedes gambling on the later as Hamilton set the early pace.
However as the track continued to dry, it would all come down to the final laps and it was Verstappen who took a bit of championship momentum back with a brilliant pole.
George Russell had done a great job to even reach Q3, but he hadn’t finished there, scoring Williams’ best qualifying since Monza 2017 with a stunning front row effort.
Hamilton had to settle for P3, whilst Daniel Ricciardo made up for his teammate’s misfortune with his best McLaren qualifying in fourth with Vettel rounded out the top five.
Pierre Gasly was a solid P6, with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull in seventh. Valtteri Bottas’s P8 will become P13 after his grid penalty from Hungary is applied, whilst Esteban Ocon was the other runner left in Q3 in P9.
A Thrilling Race Ahead
With conditions predicted to be changeable tomorrow as well, a fascinating Grand Prix lies ahead.
Verstappen has a huge opportunity to seize back the championship advantage, however with Russell alongside him, how much risk will the Williams take on the opening lap to take glory?
Hamilton’s wet-weather racecraft usually shines and he can never be ruled out, but could we see another first-time winner join Esteban Ocon in the record books?
Only time will tell.
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||1:59.765|
|5||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1.170|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||+2.347|
|10||4||Lando Norris||McLaren||No Time|
|11||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1:57.721 (Q2)|
|15||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+0.510|
|16||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||2:02.306 (Q1)|
|19||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+2.146|