British Grand Prix qualifying: Norris delights British crowd with second, Verstappen masters changeable conditions to take pole09 July 2023
In an unpredictable qualifying session, conditions were changing by the minute, producing excitement and drama in abundance. Emerging through the chaos and turbulent weather though, was the seemingly indomitable Max Verstappen who mastered the conditions, hustling his RB19 around the Northamptonshire circuit to take his seventh pole of the season, and his fifth in succession. The biggest cheer, however, went to local hero Lando Norris who came within two tenths of the fastest time.
Q1 results at the British Grand Prix
Since the wet support races earlier in the day, the circuit had dried considerably meaning that most drivers opted for slick tyres when the session was green-flagged. The Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were among the first on track, but that meant it was a journey into the unknown – as Hamilton found out to his peril – going off at Stowe and into the gravel on his first flying lap. Mercifully, he managed to keep momentum in his F1 W14 E Performance and lived to fight another day.
Despite all of the uncertainty the weather provided, Verstappen went fastest early in the session but was then displaced by the Aston Martins; Fernando Alonso slotted into first with Lance Stroll in second. With 10 minutes remaining, Charles Leclerc then took the second spot, followed by Esteban Ocon in fourth and Norris in fifth. Russell then went quickest by two hundredths, but Alonso quickly responded by going six tenths clear. Recovering from his earlier spin, Hamilton catapulted himself up the order to third. Then, the times began to tumble rapidly, and the top five changed as quickly as the skies above.
In the final five minutes, the drizzle that had persisted since the start of the session got heavier whilst Kevin Magnussen’s Haas ground to a halt on the exit of Stowe, bringing out the red flags. As the cars returned to their garages, Verstappen had a brush with the pit wall but occupied the top slot, Alonso was second, then Leclerc, 2022 race-winner Carlos Sainz, Hamilton and Russell. After the team’s encouraging pace in practice, the two Williams languished down in P18 for Logan Sargeant and P20 for Alex Albon – after a lap time deletion – leaving them with three minutes to improve when the session restarted.
With all eyes on the skies, there was the briefest respite from the rain, and the threat of ever-faster lap times brought all 20 cars out on track for a thrilling crescendo to the session. On the out lap, Verstappen and Hamilton went wheel to wheel in a battle for track position, providing a fleeting reminder of their 2021 rivalry. Sergio Perez was under pressure, sitting on the cusp of the bottom five but set the fastest time, quickly followed by Albon and Sargeant, then Norris headed to the top of the table. The times continued to tumble in the closing minutes but an on-track stoppage for Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo meant there’d be no last-minute improvements. As the session concluded, Norris was fastest with Leclerc second and Russell third. The most high-profile knockout was Perez in the Red Bull who ended the session in P16 – the fifth Grand Prix in succession that he’s qualified outside the top ten.
Q2 results at the British Grand PrixThe threat of rain once again loomed over Silverstone ahead of Q2, so much so that a queue formed at the end of the pit lane, headed by the always opportunistic Alonso. The Spaniard set an early benchmark of a 1:30.660, which Norris duly bested to take over at the top of the table. Frenchman Pierre Gasly was just half a tenth behind in second, then came Verstappen, Piastri, Sainz and Ocon after the initial runs. As is stood, the top six were separated by just one tenth.
Just five minutes remained on the clock and eight-time Silverstone winner Hamilton seized the opportunity for a clear track. The clean air proved invaluable as he went fastest, a lap that was met by a thunderous roar from the British crowd heard all around the circuit. Norris then overhauled his compatriot with three minutes remaining, also receiving an ecstatic reaction from the fans. It was anyone’s game behind as Leclerc took second, only to be beaten by Sainz, who was then in-turn beaten by Albon. It was once again Verstappen who pulled out a scorching lap when it mattered most to top the session at its conclusion. The nine drivers that followed the championship leader through to Q3 were Piastri, Norris, Albon, Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Hamilton, Gasly and Russell.
Q3 results at the British Grand Prix Miraculously, the thick cloud cover dispersed above the circuit, making way for the afternoon’s first rays of sunlight as the third and final stage of qualifying commenced. Russell was the first to venture out and set an initial time of a 1:28.184, but after the first runs had been completed, he was back in ninth. With the first laps completed, the field headed back into the pits for fresh soft tyres – a mid-session ritual which had been absent from the frenetic first two parts of qualifying. Verstappen was top of the pile, seven tenths clear of second-placed Hamilton, then came Piastri, Leclerc and Sainz.
A suitably dry track and the last runs of Q3 heralded only one thing, ultimate pace from all ten drivers. Leclerc was the first to cross the timing beam, recording the second-fastest time with Sainz not far behind in third. In the dying moments of the session, Norris brought the crowd to its feet by going fastest of all, but their hopes of a home pole were dashed when Verstappen snatched back the top spot by two tenths. Piastri put in a stellar performance, finishing just behind his team mate in third whilst Russell and Hamilton’s final times were good enough for sixth and seventh respectively.
The home crowd will be hopeful of rapid reaction times from Norris on the front row as the lights go out for the 2023 Aramco British Grand Prix.