Max Verstappen claimed his ninth career pole position in a rain-affected Belgain Grand qualifying session ahead of surprise front-row starter George Russell of Williams and third-placed Lewis Hamilton. Sergio Pérez will meanwhile start from seventh on the grid.
After a short delay due to heavy rain in the run-up to Qualifying, Q1 got underway on a wet track and most teams sent their drivers out on full wet Pirelli tyres. The exception was Williams which sent George Russell and Nicholas Latifi out on intermediate tyres.
Initially the times set on the two compounds were comparable but when Verstappen took P1 with a time of 2:07.574 and was quickly beaten by Russell to the tune of five full seconds it became clear that intermediates were the right choice. Drivers immediately returned to the pits to switch to the green-banded tyres and with the conditions improving but rain forecast, the session then became one of endurance as drivers stayed out to try to catch the best of the conditions.
In the end it was Lando Norris who made the most of the intermediate tyres in Q1. The McLaren driver crossed the line after the chequered flag to take top spot with a lap of 1:58.301. Verstappen eased through to Q2 in second place with a lap of 1:58.717.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was the first driver eliminated, in P16, and the Italian was followed out of the session by AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Haas’ Mick Schumacher, the second Alfa of Kimi Räikkönen and the second Haas of Nikita Mazepin.
Though rain was forecast for Q2, the track stayed dry and the remaining drivers took to the track on inters. That meant progress was relatively straightforward for the Bulls, with Max posting a lap of 1:56.559 to secure fifth place at the flag. Checo, meanwhile, went through in seventh place.
Mercedes made heavy work of claiming Q3 berths, however. The team sent Hamilton and Bottas out on old intermediates but neither driver could make them work and they abandoned their runs to pit for new green-banded tyres. Again both struggled and a final set was called for.
In the drop zone in the closing moments Hamilton and Bottas needed big laps to jump to safety and both delivered. Hamilton jumped to P2 with a lap of 1:56.229 and Bottas erased any worries in the Mercedes camp by claiming P3 with a tour of 1:56.295.
The final moments weren’t as kind to Ferrari, however. Charles Leclerc was eliminated in P11, with team-mate Carlos Sainz exiting in P13. The man in the Ferrari sandwich was Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, while Alpine’s Fernando Alonso was ruled out in P14 ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
The expected rain began to fall in the minutes leading up to the start of Q3 and by the time the lights went green conditions had substantially deteriorated. The risk became clear when Norris lost control of his McLaren at the start of his first push lap of the segment and crashed heavily at Raidillon. The red flags were immediately displayed.
A long delay followed and when the final eight minutes of the session got underway rain was still falling. Red Bull opted for intermediate tyres and after his first lap Verstappen was in P2 but a second off provisional pole sitter Hamilton.
The conditions were improving rapidly, however, as evidenced by Russell suddenly putting in purple sector times. The Williams driver’s timing was good and his final lap was enough to put him ahead of Lewis Hamilton by 0.013s.
Verstappen’s timing was marginally better, however, and when the Dutch driver crossed the line he was the only man to dip below the two-minute mark with a lap of 1:59.765 that secured him his ninth career pole and Red Bull’s first at this circuit since 2011.
Behind the top three McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel. Pierre Gasly quaklified sixth and Checo secured seventh place on the grid. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas placed eighth but will take a five-place grid penalty tomorrow. Esteban Ocon qualified ninth for Alpine with Norris tenth after failing to set a time.
2021 FIA Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:59.765 6 210.532
2 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 2:00.086 0.321 0.268 7 209.969
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2:00.099 0.334 0.279 6 209.946
4 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 2:00.864 1.099 0.918 6 208.617
5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 2:00.935 1.170 0.977 7 208.495
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 2:01.164 1.399 1.168 6 208.101
7 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 2:02.112 2.347 1.960 6 206.485
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 2:02.502 2.737 2.285 6 205.828
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 2:03.513 3.748 3.129 7 204.143
– 4 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 2
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:57.721 1.696 1.462 8 214.187
12 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:58.056 2.031 1.750 8 213.579
13 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:58.137 2.112 1.820 7 213.433
14 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:58.205 2.180 1.879 8 213.310
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:58.231 2.206 1.901 7 213.263
16 Antionio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 2:02.306 4.005 3.385 9 206.158
17 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 2:02.413 4.112 3.476 9 205.978
18 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 2:03.973 5.672 4.795 9 203.386
19 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 2:04.452 6.151 5.199 9 202.603
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 2:04.939 6.638 5.611 8 201.813