Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021

Verstappen denies Russell his first pole position in wet Spa qualifying

2021 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying

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Max Verstappen snatched pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix at the last moment, denying George Russell in a wet and disrupted qualifying session.

A wet qualifying session saw Q3 delayed for over half an hour after a heavy crash at Radillon for Lando Norris. Verstappen and Russell will line up on the front row ahead of Lewis Hamilton in third.


The steady rain that had consistently fallen throughout the day meant the track was wet as the scheduled start of qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix approached.

The green flag was delayed to allow the race director to assess conditions, with the session eventually starting after a 12 minute delay.

While the majority of the field ventured out on full wet tyres, Williams opted to send George Russell and Nicholas Latifi on intermediate tyres, which appeared to backfire when Latifi spun into the grass at turn 12. However, the pair went quickest of all on their next laps, forcing all those on full wet tyres into the pits to swap to the intermediates.

With drivers warned that more rain was imminent, it became crucial to set a quick time on the intermediates before the track began to lose even further grip. Laptimes started to tumble as drivers began completing laps with the faster tyres, with Lando Norris going quickest of all in the McLaren.

In the final minutes, Sebastian Vettel was in serious danger of being eliminated before successfully moving up into tenth place. Daniel Ricciardo was able to improve as the chequered flag flew, moving up into 12th place – albeit over three seconds slower than team mate Norris, who went even faster at the top of the times.

After all cars had crossed the line, it was a case of usual suspects in the drop zone. Antonio Giovinazzi was the first driver eliminated in 16th, with Yuki Tsunoda knocked out in 17th.

Mick Schumacher out-qualified Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo, with Nikita Mazepin the slowest of the 20 drivers after complaining of traffic.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari2’02.306
17Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda2’02.413
18Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari2’03.973
19Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari2’04.452
20Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari2’04.939

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There was no rainfall when the second qualifying session began, leading to a queue of cars at the end of the pitlane awaiting the green light.

Lando Norris was again the early pace-setter ahead of Max Verstappen as laptimes immediately improved compared to the first session.

The Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled for relative pace, however, with the two only able to go seventh and ninth quickest, respectively. Mercedes’ concerns were compounded when Bottas fell into the drop zone and Verstappen improved to go fastest of all having started the session on used intermediates before switching to new rubber.

With both Mercedes at serious risk of being eliminated, the team brought both of their drivers in for a second fresh set of intermediates, leaving them time for only a single flying lap to secure safe passage through to the final shootout. In the closing moments, both Mercedes sat in the dropzone with Latifi and the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso the other drivers under pressure.

Fortunately for Mercedes, the new intermediates had the desired impact, with Hamilton improving to go second-fastest, with Bottas able to improve to third. Mercedes’ gain was Ferrari’s loss, with Carlos Sainz Jnr knocked out in 13th place, followed by Charles Leclerc falling out of the top ten as Daniel Ricciardo and Ocon improved to ninth and tenth, respectively.

The Ferrari drivers were joined by Latifi, eliminated in 12th, as well as Alonso in 14th and Lance Stroll the last driver knocked out in 15th place.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11Charles LeclercFerrari1’57.721
12Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’58.056
13Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’58.137
14Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’58.205
15Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’58.231

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The rain had arrived once again in the interval between Q2 and Q3, meaning that full wet tyres were a necessity for the ten remaining drivers in qualifying.

Norris radioed his McLaren team to warn them he was at risk of aquaplaning due to the volume of standing water on the circuit. As he drove through Eau Rouge and up through Radillon, Norris lost control of his McLaren and skidded into the inside barrier, sending him spinning violently back onto the circuit.

The race was immediately red flagged. Sebastian Vettel – who had complained that race control should have stopped the session due to the conditions prior to the accident – stopped alongside Norris’s stricken car to ensure that his rival was okay.

Norris was thankfully able to climb out of his wrecked McLaren into the medical car unaided. There was a lengthy delay while the marshals cleared the debris from the top of the hill, but with an undrivable level of standing water still on circuit, it took over 40 minutes before qualifying eventually resumed.

Esteban Ocon was the first driver out on full wet tyres, but was quickly back into the pitlane to move onto intermediates. Hamilton was the first driver to set a fast time, over 1.5s faster than team mate Bottas, before Verstappen moved into second place, almost a second slower than his championship rival.

Hamilton and Verstappen both opted to take a cool-down lap before attempting a final flying lap at the end of the session. Meanwhile, Perez jumped up to second place after his first attempt of the session.

As the chequered flag flew, George Russell in the Williams began setting purple first and sector sectors and jumped up to provisional pole position. Remarkably, neither Hamilton, Perez or Bottas were able to better Russell’s time.

The only man left who could deny Russell a stunning maiden pole position was Verstappen and with a superb final sector, the Red Bull driver took pole position at the final moment. Russell secured the first front-row start for Williams since the 2017 Italian Grand Prix.

Hamilton took third on the grid, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly. Sergio Perez could only manage seventh on the grid, with Bottas eighth-fastest – dooming him to start 13th on the grid for tomorrow’s race following his grid penalty for causing the opening lap collision at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Esteban Ocon qualified in ninth place, with Norris classified in tenth following his heavy Radillon accident.

Top ten in Q3

1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’59.765
2George RussellWilliams-Mercedes2’00.086
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes2’00.099
4Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes2’00.864
5Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes2’00.935
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda2’01.164
7Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda2’02.112
8Valtteri BottasMercedes2’02.502
9Esteban OconAlpine-Renault2’03.513
10Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes

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2021 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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61 comments on “Verstappen denies Russell his first pole position in wet Spa qualifying”

  1. Well that settles who should get the Mercedes seat next year.

    1. Yeah

    2. Toto could barely hold it in hahaha 😅

    3. @red-andy
      I think that was already settled in Sakhir GP last.

      1. * last year.

    4. The speed and skill diference isn’t even debatable at this point. However, to use fowl language, Merc don’t know the pecking order for 22, and they may think having two roosters in the henhouse could be too risky.

      1. Hahaha, having Russel alongside Hamilton may ruffle some feathers.

      2. @ifiamnotwerymuchmistaken
        The risk of losing Russell to a competitor without having a decent driver to lead the team after Hamilton’s retirement and to lose the WCC mainly because of the second driver is underperforming is greater than the risk of having two roosters in the same henhouse.

        Wolff has been refraining from promoting Russel earlier because Mercedes were so far ahead of the competition that even with Bottas underperforming by his own poor standard, they were still running away with both championships. No one thought that RBR would gave them such a strong challenge this year because of the stability of rules.

        2022 is the biggest regulation change in decades and anything can happen especially with teams like Ferrari and Alpine that could theoretically end up as well in the mix since they have started developing their cars earlier than the competition without forgetting to mention RBR who are already a championship contender. Wolff has no choice but to sign Russell otherwise he would have kept Bottas.

        1. I agree, and if I were Wolff, I’d be knocking on Russel’s door with a shiny new contract with a Mercedes logo in the header.
          But Wolff might think otherwise, and think that a stable driver lineup for a brand new formula might be better for the team in the long run, thinking that Russel can wait one more year, to judge the new car.
          I hope I’m wrong, but if speed was the only factor, Russel would already be in the Merc.

    5. Yes, Bottas. He won’t trouble Hamilton the way Russell would.

    6. If it wasn’t settled, it is now. Ironically, this will now immediately make the team dynamic thing they are worried even worse since GR out qualified Lewis himself. Kind of humiliated him actually.

      I hope be doesn’t lose five places from a bad get away like usual.

      1. Lewis would be praying for Bottas to be signed up if this is what we have seen today.

      2. Humiliated? I guess that’s how yousee it. From that perspective, you’d think only Lewis ended up behind him in Q3. I’d imagine anyone that knows anything about F1 would see the facts as they are – Lewis and others did multiple laps on the same tyres while George did his at the best possible time. Not to take away anything from the excellent lap he put in but it should be possible to celebrate his performance without making it about Lewis.

    7. Ob course, George and his wingman Valtteri

  2. Russell will lose positions tomorrow if the race is dry.
    If rainy, anything is possible.

    1. I doubt he can keep cars like Hamilton, Perez, probably Ricciardo or even Gasly behind for long @jerejj, even if it is wet.

      1. Yeah I’d fully expect him to be Leclerc-ed at the start of the race.

      2. I fear he might even drop out of the points, if it’s dry tomorrow. Ferrari should be stronger in the race, same for Alpine, Bottas and Norris (regardless of his grid position).

      3. Who knows, I think the weather will be key. Williams, at least with Russel, could’ve gone for the full wet setting. If others went for some kind of compromise, and the rain is consistent, Russel could be up there.

    2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      28th August 2021, 16:29

      This is one of the only times Russell has been really good in the wet. in other wet races (Germany 2019, Imola 2021 and Hungary 2021), he’s either been beaten when points were available (or at least after penalties) by his team mates, or crashed. We’ll just have to hope he has a good start, because about a lot the time he seems to have a worse launch than most of the grid, including his team mates.

      1. @thegianthogweed Imola 2021 was an accident, but he was fighting a Mercedes in the points at that point. And as for Hungary, it was wet for like half a lap before the race got red flagged. It was dry after that, so I don’t know how you can base his wet weather skills on that. He qualified P12 in the wet (less than a tenth off Q3) in the Styria GP last year, in what was comfortably the worst car on the grid. So your statement this is the first time he’s been good in the wet is inaccurate.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          28th August 2021, 19:47

          i said this was one of the only times russell has been really good in the wet.

          I admittedly hadn’t been including qualifying until today. He was doing well in Imola, but the fact is, it was a huge misjudgement of the conditions, so i think it is fair to count that one against him.

          Hungary, you are correct there that it was mostly dry after the first lap, but he still slipped behind Latifi on that lap – when it was wet.

          Overall, I would say he’s a bit hit and miss in the wet given what you have said then.

        2. Agree with this, while russell hasn’t always performed well in the wet, he’s getting up there as well.

      2. The Williams car is getting better with more downforce added via updates. The car of past seasons was probably a dog in the wet as well as on dry track, so you can’t really blame George for not shining in a car that was subpar

  3. Perez and Bottas not doing any favors for their teams. Maybe the decision was already made and Russell is driving an undercover W12…. which would be scarier for tomorrow after what happened in the last two races…

  4. So I guess Merc has the third-fastest car this weekend behind Red Bull and Williams.

    1. Yes, crazy how much better that Williams got, great work by the engineers on the latest update

    2. Latifi starting p11 should tell you williams is clearly great in the wet. Latifi is awful. The way i judge it is gaps to teammates Ham and Max same gap to there teammate. Russel and Norris the real stars of qually imo. Max and Hamilton did what was expected. I was shocked as anyone seeing Hamilton in p1 after the first runs they never once looked quick enough to get p1.

    3. In the wet conditions…yes

  5. Sadly this is a track where overtaking is possible… Overtaking a Williams during the race, that is!

    Hopefully it is rainy tomorrow, otherwise it’ll be heartbreaking seeing George go backwards quickly.

  6. It would have been norris pole right? Great stuff from Russell.

    1. I hope Norris really is ok, and they manage to build a car in time for the race.
      I was hoping for Norris’ maiden pole, and victory tomorrow, but I’ll have to wait a bit more. Not long, hopefully.

    2. Certainly a good claim for pole for norris, he seemed to be quicker than verstappen in all sessions.

    3. @tungdil12 I would say almost certainly, judging by Ricciardo’s position. Such a shame.

  7. It was surprising to see Mercedes misreading the conditions and tyres in qualifying. For all the pace they have, sometimes their strategies leave much more for the drivers to do in the last minute.

  8. …But Mr. Brown will still pushing for his Super Ultra Mega Hyper Crypto Sprint Qualifying Offered to
    you by Freddo.

    1. Whose Mr. Brown?

  9. Hope Lando is OK. He was looking good for pole today. Amazing last lap there by Russell.
    A dry race tomorrow could be boring with a boring Max win. Hoping for interchangeable conditions tomorrow.

    1. I’d much prefer a steady, manageable rain comming down, a proper wet race, but without need for red flagging. We haven’t had one of those for ages now.

      1. I don’t remember red flags well, but I think turkey 2020 was pretty close to this, they never used slick tyres and were on intermediates for pretty much all race.

        1. George, do you know something you’d like to share with your fans? Fernando is correct.

    2. It could also be a dry race with a boring Hamilton win.

  10. Bottas’ days are numbered.
    Won’t be surprised if Toto will follow RB practice to change lineup mid-season.

    1. Maybe he will do it in a different way?

  11. According to DAZN Spain, Mercedes is holding an announcement in order to “not screw up Bottas’ birthday (today)”…

  12. Incredible lap by Russell, the guy is going to be around at the top for a long time when he finally gets that chance!
    No coincidence that the best drivers are at the top in those conditions while others are a couple of seconds off.
    It’s seems like Merc have gambled with a low downforce wing, but conditions look equally as bad tomorrow. If it’s sunny tomorrow they’ll be rapid on the straights if not they could be in some trouble

    1. Yeah, no surprise it launched Michael’s career.

      However, because of how long the laps are, you need to cut those gaps in half for what they would like on an average length track. Just like some of those crazy short tracks are misleading when you see F1’s most average drivers only tenths away.

  13. Lewis to Toto: I want Bottas. No no I ‘NEED’ Bottas. Bottas completes me!!!

    1. If George isn’t getting the seat yet and he knows it, he’ll release a starement saying be relishes the challenge. Conversely, if he knows he’s signed and can plausibly deny he knew later when he’s announced, he’ll say “I’d have no trouble welcoming George. I relish the challenge!” Either way he looks so noble. lol

      nows George is already signed he’ll make one of gi

    2. Why would Lewis be afraid to have Russel as a teammate? he’s had Alonso,button and rosberg as teammate’s…Russel did a good job,but he was on fresh tyres,and did his lap at the right time with an improving track..max also did his lap at the right time in those conditions.

      1. Senna and Lewis are the ONLY drivers to have had 3 wdc teammates.

        1. No they aren’t. Massa had Schumacher, Raikkonen and Alonso. Arguably an even stronger lineup than Hamilton’s team mates.

        2. As another poster pointed out a while ago.
          Prost raced within the same team against
          Rosberg Sr
          Hill Jr.
          That is 5 champs and 9 titles.

          Hill Jr himself raced against Prost, Senna, Mansell and Villeneuve Jr.
          Hill Sr faced Clark, Stewart, Rindt and Andretti.
          Of the current drivers, Alonso faced Hamilton, Button and Raikkonen.

  14. Ambrogio Isgro
    28th August 2021, 16:55

    Looks like Russell, Norris and Leclerc will be the threats to Verstappen domination, after Hamilton’s retirement.

    1. Definitely a grid with several strong drivers.

  15. Are the speed-trap times available anywhere?

  16. Simply awesome by Russell

  17. That was Vettel 2008 Monza esque.

  18. George having his Senna “arriving” at Monaco moment today putting that car in a position it had no right to be. Amazing to see such an iconic moment in real time.

    F1 has a really bright future if the 2022 cars really do give us much closer racing.

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