By Robert Haile
Max Verstappen returned to the front of the grid as he took pole position for Red Bull at Spa for the Belgium Grand Prix today, Saturday 28.
As the rain came down there were always going to be winners and losers, with penalties for Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll from the Hungarian Grand Prix.
In a reminder of how dangerous Spa can be in the qualifying session for the W Series on Friday, 27 there was a six car pile up with all the drivers walking away from the crash.
Verstappen, in what is considered a second home Grand Prix, secured pole ahead of Williams George Russell with title rival Lewis Hamilton third.
Second place in the Championship and pole setter Verstappen said: “I am very happy with pole position here at a home Grand Prix, but it was not easy out there. It was very hard to nail a lap, I was just trying to find the right lines at the right times and judging how fast to go into corners after such a long red flag was tricky.
“It was so important to get the tyres up to temperature because that could give you a few seconds of lap time around a long track like this. Tomorrow we don’t know if it will be a dry or wet start, I think if it’s wet I don’t mind if I start first because at least I should have clear vision but I just hope that we have a good and clean start.
“I also hope that Lando is feeling okay and that he doesn’t have any serious injuries because that didn’t look like a good impact at all, he’s a good friend of mine so I hope he can race tomorrow.”
In the first session Williams led the way early on having started on intermediate tyres, both drivers sat one and two, compared to the other teams with full wet tyres.
Shock second place qualifier Russell said: “It is an amazing feeling and we definitely did not expect to be starting on the front-row. The team did an incredible job to have me on the track at the right time, on the right tyres, with the right strategy.
“The driving is one thing, but you need to have everything right around you and often in these moments, that is what it’s all about. I’m so happy for everyone as it’s such a team effort and they did a fantastic job.
“We obviously had a great result in Hungary, and it feels like our hard work is starting to pay off and people are starting to recognise that. I knew my last effort was a good lap. It was so tricky out there but because we’re not in Q3 (qualifying 3) every week, I had the luxury of really being able to put everything on the line and go for it.
“I had a really good feeling from lap one in FP3 (Free Practice 3) in the wet and when it mattered, we put everything together and that was exceptional. This feeling is exactly what Formula One is all about. Qualifying is over now though and the race is tomorrow, so we need to make sure we have a good one.”
Mick Schumacher, with his change of helmet commemoration his father Michael’s debut in Formula 1 30 years ago at this track, finished eighteenth for Haas with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo splitting the Haas pair.
In a bad session for the Alfa Romeo team Antonio Giovinazzi also went out in sixteenth with Yuki Tsunoda in seventeenth for AlphaTauri.
The second session almost provided on of the biggest shocks of the season as Hamilton was in the elimination zone as the chequered flag dropped before finishing second.
Ferrari were not so lucky as both drivers went out as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were separated by Nicholas Latifi for Williams as Fernando Alonso, his first race since signing a contract extension with Alpine, and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also went out.
In a fairly dry second session the final session was very wet with Sebastian Vettel saying over the radio it should be red flagged due to the rain.
Lando Norris, who had also said about aquaplaning, crashed Red flagging the session with Vettel stopping to check on his fellow driver.
With the chequered flag dropped to finish the session Hamilton was leading as the teams finished their final lap, Russell was the first to take pole then Verstappen came through to burst Williams bubble.
Defending champion and third place qualifier Hamilton said: “It’s been a very difficult day for everyone, just trying to stay positive, focused and calm. Max put in a strong lap so well done to him, and George also did a great job.
“For me, my first lap was really good, but I lost some tyre temperature on the slow lap in between my runs, so I think there was a little bit left on the table with that final lap. You live and you learn, and I gave it everything I had today. But we’ll look to move forward tomorrow.
“I’m hoping for better weather and a dry day, that’d be great for the fans and also interesting to see where everyone stands with the wing level. We’ve tried to find the right balance between straight-line speed and downforce.
It might not have been the best for today, but we’ll see tomorrow exactly how good it is. Nevertheless, we’ll do everything we can.”
McLaren’s other driver Daniel Ricciardo came in fourth, Vettel fifth and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly sixth.
Sergio Perez, with a fresh contract at Red Bull, came in seventh ahead of Bottas and Esteban Ocon for Alpine in ninth.
Norris has been cleared to race after been checked over by the doctors, Bottas will start from thirteenth and Stroll from the back due the five place penalty for causing the crash at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Q1 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull), George Russell (Williams), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Lando Norris (McLaren)
Q2 – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
Q3 – Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Mick Schumacher (Haas), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), Nikita Mazepin (Haas)