Max Verstappen narrowly edged a sensational George Russell to take pole for the Belgian Grand Prix after Q3 was suspended for a high-speed Lando Norris crash at Eau Rouge.
The pole shootout started after minutes of heavy rain lashed the circuit, turning parts of the track treacherous for the volume of standing water.
Norris was just beginning his first flying lap when he lost control of his McLaren at Eau Rouge, and his attempted correction sent him slamming against the left-hand barrier as he crested through Radillon, which spat him across the track.
His smashed chassis came to rest in the run-off area with three of four corners off the chassis, but the Briton was fortunately able to extract himself unscathed. He was later taken to hospital for a precautionary X-ray due to elbow pain.
RED FLAG: Lando Norris is into the barriers – and Q3 is halted
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 28, 2021
Q3 was red flagged, but the rain intensified as the marshals recovered the chassis and repaired the barriers, extending the suspension to 45 minutes.
The drizzle subsided, and the circuit was just about ready for intermediate rubber. The race was on to cross the line as late as possible to set a lap in the driest conditions.
Lewis Hamilton took provisional pole with his first lap, but the Briton was usurped by Russell, who strung together three purple sectors to pip his countryman by just 0.013s. But Verstappen was right on their pace through the middle sector, and a perfectly judged final split on the slick circuit launched the Dutchman to pole by 0.321s.
The Dutchman was elated to take pole in the difficult conditions.
“It’s been a really tricky qualifying,” he said. “It was hard to keep the car on track. Also, you know, the long break in Q2 and Q3, it’s not easy to settle in and learn the track conditions. It’s an amazing track to drive but very challenging in the wet.”
Russell was thrilled to qualify so highly in his ordinarily backmarker Williams and credited the team for its qualifying strategy.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” he said of his first front-row start as a Williams driver. “The car was feeling great. I had so much confidence.
“I think the guys did an amazing job today. I was on the track always at the right time.”
Hamilton was subdued to end up third, lamenting a poor second flying lap that left him out of contention.
“It’s been a very difficult day, I think, for everyone,” he said. “If it’s like this tomorrow, it’s going to be tricky.”
Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth, just over a second off the pace, as the lead McLaren driver after his teammate’s smash.
Sebastian Vettel — who had been vocal over team radio to have the session suspended — before Norris’s crash due to the rain, will line up fifth for Aston Martin alongside AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas qualified seventh and eighth and more than two seconds behind their leading teammates, although Bottas will start 13th with a five-place grid penalty for his role in the first-lap crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Esteban Ocon qualified ninth, while Norris was classified 10th.
Charles Leclerc will start 11th after being edged out of Q3 at the flag, with Nicholas Latifi in 12th for Williams and Carlos Sainz 13th in the second Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso qualified 14th, while Lance Stroll missed the flag for his final flying lap and was knocked out 15th, but a five-place penalty for causing part of the Turn 1 crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix will drop him to last.
A frenetic Q1 session on a drying track meant lap times were improving all the time, and it was Antonio Giovinazzi who was shuffled into the knockout zone without time to respond. The Italian was knocked out 16th, a tenth of a second ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Mick Schumacher was 18th ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin.