Daniel Ricciardo finally out-qualified his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, but not the way he wanted …
Ricciardo was left to pick up the pieces when Norris, who had dominated the first two sessions of qualifying, crashed during a Q3 deluge and sent himself to the medical centre and his car to the skip.
The Aussie did a brilliant job, taking fourth place in his best performance yet for McLaren, as Max Verstappen took a predictable pole position for Red Bull Racing ahead of a stunning George Russell of Williams and his championship rival Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes.
“Firstly, I was pleased to see Lando get up and out of the car quickly, and it’s great to hear he’s been cleared to race tomorrow,” says Ricciardo.
“Otherwise, that was a really tricky qualifying session. The weather was changing regularly, which made it difficult to judge the conditions and get the choice of tyre right, but I think we did a great job and obviously I’m really happy with P4, my best start with McLaren.”
Verstappen was always the favourite for pole position in the wet on a track which he loves, but things got easier when Norris eliminated himself and the Mercedes cars failed to show the pace they had in earlier practice. Meanwhile, Russell – who is strongly tipped to become Hamilton’s new team mate for 2022 – drove the wheels off his Williams on a day when skill and bravery counted for more than usual in high-tech F1.
This was reflected in the efforts of the wing men at the two title-fighter teams, as Serio Perez could only lap seventh for The Bulls and Valtteri Bottas was back in eighth for Mercedes, although he will start 13th as a penalty for triggering the first-lap melee at the previous race in Hungary.
“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,” says Verstappen.
“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.”
Hamilton, who is becoming more and more presidential in the later stages of his career, was surprisingly complimentary to his rival.
“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,” he says.
“You live and you learn, and I gave it everything I had today. It’s been a very difficult day for everyone, just trying to stay positive, focused and calm. 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.”
There were some surprisingly poor performances in qualifying, as neither of the Ferraris showed their recent speed and Fernando Alonso, who was cracking along in Friday practice with Alpine, only managed 14th although his team mate – and last-start winner – Esteban Ocon will line up eighth.
The McLaren crew face a massive amount of work to get Norris into the race, but the driver himself is putting the crash behind him.
“First of all, I’m doing good, but I’ve been better,” says Norris. “Obviously, it was quite a big impact and I think my body’s just been thrown around a little bit but I’m good. I’m ready to race tomorrow and I want to get back on track already because it didn’t end the way I wanted it to.
“Everything was going extremely well. I felt confident with the car. It was tricky going out in Q3 because, even on the out-lap, I was saying how wet it was because I was aquaplaning quite a bit.
“It was just a difficult situation to be in. How much do you want to push? How much do you not? I think a combination of pushing a bit too much for the weather at that point and aquaplaning a little bit in the middle of Eau Rouge obviously didn’t end too well.
“I feel bad because things were going very well. I think I could have fought for pole position, but I’ve now given the team a lot of work to do. We’ll see where we start tomorrow and try to score as many points as possible. Finally, a big thanks to all the marshals and medical staff for their help and hard work today.”
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull
- George Russell, Williams
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
- Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull
- Esteban Ocon, Alpine
- Landon Norris, McLaren
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Nicholas Latifi, Williams
- Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
- Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
- Fernando Alonso, Alpine
- Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
- Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
- Mick Schumacher, Haas
- Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
- Nikita Mazepin, Haas
- Lance Stroll, Aston Martin