Max Verstappen took pole for the 2023 British Grand Prix, his fifth in a row this season, on a day when McLaren’s chrome livery shined.
It was not a straightforward session for the reigning Formula 1 World Champion as the Qualifying started in drying conditions as the track kept on improving over Q1, Q2, and Q3 which meant any slight misjudgment of the situation meant an early elimination.
However in the end, and with the Verstappen/RB19 package operating at the highest level, the double F1 Champion would not be denied his 27th career in what could be a bittersweet afternoon for the Milton Keynes squad with Sergio Perez eliminated in Q2, failing to make it to the top ten for the for the fifth time in a row.
But the stars of the show had to be the McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, the young pair second and third fastest, much to the joy of the crowds as Norris was on provisional pole for a few seconds before Verstappen restored the order.
Nevertheless, a great result for the Woking squad as their upgraded MCL60 seemed to be leaps and bound better than its previous version.
Verstappen spoke about his Qualifying in parc ferme; he said: “It’s been quite a crazy qualifying. It was quite hectic and slippery in some places. We did our laps and then Q3, I was quite surprised to see them two there.
“It’s great for McLaren to be here and very happy from our side to be on pole,” he added.
“Q1 and Q2 there were still a few damp spots. We pushed close to the limit but knowing we have a quick start we didn’t have to go 100% limit.
“That’s why in Q3 when you go for it that’s where we eeked out a little bit. I’m looking forward to tomorrow already,” Verstappen concluded.
An elated Norris added: “I was close (to pole)! Pretty insane. My last lap was a good lap. I could hear Zak (Brown) on the in lap which was the best thing ever. It’s great for both of us, pretty amazing for the whole team.
“Max always ruins everything! No, I’m very happy. It’s been a special day for us,” he joked.
“It makes up for everything, all the hard work we have been putting in – especially here with the new livery, home race for myself and the team. A big thanks to everyone,” Norris concluded.
It was the best qualifying performance for Piastri, making great use of his upgraded car which he was given this weekend while Norris got them in Austria.
The rookie was over the moon; he said: “Very, very, very happy. What a qualifying session – we were almost out in Q1 and then the car was a rocket ship in Q2 and Q3.
“Massive result for the team as well. To have both of us up here is a mega result and now we just have to try and stay here tomorrow.
“Yesterday we had a bit of a rough day, we were a bit quicker than we looked. We did a better job today, these conditions today we do well in them all the time.
“We’ve had a fair few moments like that but to pull that off in Q3 like that was a mega result and both of us have now got the new bits on our car and they’re working really well,” the Aussie concluded.
Q2: Verstappen on pole but the McLarens are the stars
The track was declared dry at the start of Q3, and the ten F1 drivers that made the final stage of Qualifiying were finally allowed to used the DRS.
The first round of laps saw Verstappen post the fastest time over six tenths fastest than second-fastest Hamilton, as the Red Bull driver used a new set of Soft tyres, having saved a set from Q1 and Q2; the rest of the field had used Softs for the first run.
With a little over three minutes remaining, the drivers returned to the pits for new Soft tyres, for the final shootout in Qualifying around Silverstone before Sunday’s race.
While Aston Martin chased Verstappen early on in the season, and then Mercedes, while Ferrari emerged as their closest contenders in Austria, McLaren sprung the surprise and took over that role at Silverstone, and fittingly so as they celebrate their 60the anniversary in front of their home crowds.
As such, Verstappen’s best effort was a 1:26.720, 0.241s faster than Norris in second while Piastri was 0.131s further down the road in third. A superb performance by the rookie.
Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest in the Ferrari, 0.416s off pole, and was chased by teammate Carlos Sainz in fifth, 0.012s separating the pair.
George Russell got the better of Lewis Hamilton this time around, sixth fastest for Mercedes, 0.435s off the pace and 0.056s faster than his teammate who was seventh.
He might not have featured in the top three, but Alex Albon continued his impressive performance and will line up eighth on the British Grand Prix starting grid on Sunday with a 1:27.530, beating the Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in the process by 0.129s.
Alonso was ninth fastest, 0.939s away from Verstappen while Pierre Gasly rounded off the top ten, 0.030s behind the Spaniard.
Q2: A drying track challenges the drivers and teams
Q2 started with Williams informing Albon, who was waiting at the pit exit, that light rain would be hitting the track “any minute now”.
McLaren in the other hand informed Norris that there would be no more rain, while Red Bull informed Verstappen that some light rain will last for only five minutes.
The first lap time set by the drivers indicated the track was getting drier and faster and it would be about who kept their powder dry till the end when the grip levels would be best. In the meantime several driver took turns on the top spot.
The track kept on getting better and better, as Verstappen had to bolt on a new set of Soft tyres and return to the track not taking any chances.
Verstappen was fastest at the end of Q2, 0.143s faster than Piastri who was second fastest with Norris third in the sister McLaren.
The first driver to miss out on Q3 was Nico Hulkenberg who lost out to Russell by 0.114s, while Lance Stroll was 12th in the Aston Martin, 0.039s behind the German.
Esteban Ocon was 13th fastest for Alpine with a 1:28.956, followed by Logan Sargeant in 14th, the American 0.075s behind the Frenchman.
Valtteri Bottas, who broke down at the end of Q1, will line up 15th on the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Q1: Magnussen brings out the Red Flag, Perez out!
Rain continued after FP2 but stopped ahead of Qualifying, so drivers lined up with a mix of Slick and Intermediate tyres bolted to their car as they head out to the drying track, with rain expected later on, the chances – 100%.
Leclerc, Sainz, Sargeant, Kevin Magnussen, Hulkenberg are on the Intermediates while the remaining drivers were on Softs, but soon Leclerc radioed the team that he needed to box for Softs.
Russell reported with six minutes remaining from Q1 that it is raining all over the track as drivers and teams struggled to deal with the low grip and mixed conditions.
With three minutes remaining from the session, Magnussen brought out the Red flag as his Haas stopped in the middle of the track before the pitlane entry.
This would mix things up. If the track dries up, several drivers will have a chance and improve their times, but if the rain intensifies, it would mean no one can improve.
Notably the stars of practice, Williams, were struggling in the damp cool conditions and to make matters worse Albon’s lap was deleted for violating track limits and was sitting 20th when the session was stopped.
Conditions remained dry after the Red flag, and the cars lined up in the pitlane to head out in a final effort to make it into Q2, Perez leading the pack.
Right as Verstappen was exiting the garage, he clipped the wall facing his garage and broke his front wing, as the mechanics wheeled him back in for a new wing.
“I just understeered, and had no grip,” the Red Bull ace radioed.
Oops! Max Verstappen has hit the wall in the pits on his way out to the track
When he set out on track, Verstappen was stuck behind Hamilton trying to overtake him, the latter not keen to let him through, as both drivers almost crashed with the Briton weaving to heat his tyres as the Dutchman tried to overtake him.
And as it turned out, the track dried out nicely after the Red flag and the lap times tumbled and the grid started getting a proper mix.
And in the end Norris was the driver who lead the pack into Q2, while Perez failed to make it into Q2 having been the first driver to set a lap time after the Red flag.
Leclerc was second fastest, Russell third, Hamilton fourth, with Verstappen fifth.
Perez missed out on Q2 by 0.019s to Alonso who made it by the skin of his teeth posting the 15th fastest time.
Yuki Tsunoda was 17th fastest in the AlphaTauri, 0.057s behind Perez while Zhou Guanyu was 18th in the Alfa Romeo 0.098s behind the Japanese driver.
Nyck de Vries was 19th fastest while Magnussen was 20th, while noting that Valtteri Bottas whose car broke down in the dying seconds of Q1 was 11th fastest.
Worth noting a mini-civil ware between Ferrari drivers Leclerc and Sainz over track position amid the chaos that prevailed after the session restart with drivers scrambling to get on track.