F1 preview: A lap of the Belgian Grand Prix
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George Russell’s shock front-row qualifying result for the Belgian Grand Prix “doesn’t really change anything” for Lewis Hamilton in the debate over whether or not the young Briton should replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes. After regular hints that he would like the Finn to continue as his team-mate, Hamilton said he doesn’t feel any different about the situation after the Williams man’s stellar lap at Spa.
Only Max Verstappen went faster than Russell in a turbulent qualifying session packed with suspense and drama caused by ever-changing weather conditions in Belgium.
It looked as though the 23-year-old might have even done enough for a maiden F1 pole, but Verstappen was the last man to cross the line in Q3 and was quick enough to pip him by just over three tenths of a second.
It was still an incredible result for Russell, the first man to put a Williams on the front row of the grid for a race since Lance Stroll managed it in 2017.
Qualifying ahead of Bottas in a less competitive car – the Finn was eighth fastest in Q3, but a five-place grid penalty will see him start outside the top 10 – will have done Russell’s chances of snatching a seat at Mercedes in 2022 no harm at all.
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But, according to Hamilton, it has done nothing to change his mind about who should be the one to fill that second seat with the Silver Arrows.
“I don’t feel any different,” he said when posed the question after qualifying.
“I mean, George has been doing a great job all year. This just doesn’t really change anything.
“I’m sure he’s got pressure on him just as Valtteri does to do the job. And it’s great to see him delivering. I can’t fault him for it.”
Russell was understandably delighted with his performance on Saturday, and is hoping to see more rain for the race.
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“If the conditions are like this, overtaking and racing will be really difficult and really tricky,” he said. “All of us hope for something consistent, whether it’s wet or whether it’s dry.
“But I’m pretty confident we won’t have that tomorrow and it’ll be a tricky race for the guys on the pit wall. We’ve got to make sure we’re there at the end. You’ve got to be in it to win it.”
And, regardless of how the race goes for the Williams starlet, he knows he has to keep impressing if he is to fulfil his obvious potential.
“I think Formula 1 is a pretty ruthless sport. There’s only opportunity for 20 drivers in the world and there’s probably plenty more drivers who are deserving to be in Formula 1.
“So, regardless of my personal experience in these contract talks, at the moment you’ve to keep showing what you can do and never lift your foot off the throttle because if you do there will be a youngster coming through trying to take your seat.
“You can never be complacent.”
Lando Norris had looked set to be a contender for pole after going fastest in Q1 and Q2, but was a victim of the conditions as he span at Eau Rouge and hit the wall hard as the rain worsened at Spa.
A furious Sebastian Vettel, who stopped to check his fellow racer was okay, made his feelings clear over the radio and was adamant the session should have been red-flagged before that incident happened.
The McLaren ace was taken to hospital for scans, and was given the all-clear to take part in the race.
It’s likely Norris will have to start from the pit lane, though, with extensive damage done to his car by the 185mph impact with the tyre wall at F1’s most infamous incline.
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