George Russell bolsters Mercedes claim as Verstappen takes Belgian F1 GP pole

  • Russell goes second-fastest, Lewis Hamilton third
  • Lando Norris crash in heavy rain prompts safety fears

Max Verstappen took pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix but it was George Russell who shone through the gloom and torrential rain. Russell was a mighty second to Verstappen in a Williams to beat Lewis Hamilton into third.

Russell and Valtteri Bottas are the only candidates to join Hamilton at Mercedes next season and the team principal, Toto Wolff, admitted in Spa the decision had already been made but is yet to be made public. Nonetheless this was an unmistakable reminder of Russell’s credentials to take the drive and he acknowledged how tough it had been. “It was incredibly difficult out there, the conditions were changing every single lap,” he said. “It was about really pushing right to the limit but not going over it. It was definitely a very good lap.”

The session, which took place in treacherous conditions, was gripping but also dominated by concerns over safety after McLaren’s Lando Norris suffered a huge accident at the high-speed Eau Rouge corner. He was taken to hospital for an X-ray on his elbow but has been given the all clear to race on Sunday.

In Q3, as the grey, overcast skies above the Ardennes mountains unleashed a mighty downpour, the rain was the great leveller. With the performance differentials of the cars largely negated, the drivers made the difference and Russell was immense.

Russell is generally strong in qualifying, and at Spa he delivered the best run of his career. On used intermediate tyres , because Williams had no new set for him, he flew on his final lap, slicing through the spray and finding seemingly invisible grip.

On his final lap he put in a time of 2min 00.086sec that briefly gave him pole until Verstappen spoiled the party with a perfect lap of 1:59.765s, leaving Hamilton three-tenths behind.

The rain had been persistent, falling heavily again just as Q3 began, forcing the drivers to adapt once more to very difficult conditions. With the full wet tyres Norris went out first. He was fastest in Q1 and Q2 but on his hot lap had a huge off at Eau Rouge. Norris climbed out of his car but the session was stopped immediately.

Race marshalls and technicians clear Lando Norris’s McLaren after he crashed in qualifying
Race marshalls and technicians clear Lando Norris’s McLaren after he crashed in qualifying. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Norris had noted that the car was aquaplaning while Sebastian Vettel, who had warned the conditions were too wet, was furious the FIA had not stopped the session. He followed Norris up the hill and pulled up alongside the wreckage to ensure the British driver was OK.

That the FIA race director, Michael Masi, had allowed the session to start was controversial and Vettel was damning in his assessment. “I think Michael is not proud of what happened either,” he said. “There’s plenty of things we could have done better. I think it’s better to be safe one time too many than one time too little.”

Norris lost the rear going up the hill and then overcorrected, pitching off to the left into the barriers and careering back across the track. It was in almost the same spot as a six-car accident occurred in the W Series on Friday ,when cars were projected back into one another. All the drivers were unharmed but Beitske Visser took three separate impacts in the incident.

Several weeks earlier atAt the Spa 24 Hours, the Williams development driver Jack Aitken suffered severe injuries after a major accident at the same spot while in 2019 Anthoine Hubert was killed and Juan Manuel Correa suffered serious injury in an accident at the top of the hill at Raidillon. Norris’s incident has once more brought into question the safety of the corner.

Spa is planning to reconfigure the run-off, including using gravel traps and moving the barriers for Eau Rouge and Raidillon for 2022 Verstappen believed the improvements were necessary. “The changes that are going to happen look very good,” he said. “It is a very fast corner. The problem is the barrier is so close if one person hits it’s very easy for the car to bounce back on to the track and collect another car. When you go over the crest it’s blind as well.”

The McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo was in fourth with the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel in fifth. Pierre Gasly was in sixth for AlphaTauri with Sergio Pérez in seventh for Red Bull. Valterri Bottas was in eighth for Mercedes but will start in 13th having received a five-place grid penalty for causing a collision at Hungary. Esteban Ocon was in ninth for Alpine with Norris in 10th.

The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz went out in Q2 in 11th and 13th. Nicholas Latifi was 12th for Williams. Fernando Alonso was in 14th for Alpine and Lance Stroll in 15th for Aston Martin.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was in 16th with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 17th and 20th for Haas. Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen were in 16th and 19th for Alfa Romeo.

F1 announced has its plans for a revised calendar, cutting the planned number for races from 23 to 22 and to now include a race in Qatar. After the recent cancellation of the Japanese GP the sport has once more had to adapt to circumstances given the pandemic.

After a meeting with principals at Spa the race at the Losail in Qatar has been scheduled awaiting confirmation for 21 November to conclude a triple header after Mexico and Brazil. The Turkish GP will now take place on 10 October with the teams then likely to go straight to the United States to see out any quarantine period before the US GP on 24 October.


Giles Richards at Spa-Francorchamps

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