Red Bull driver Max Verstappen made it five pole positions in a row, and seven for the 2023 season so far, during Saturday’s action-packed, wet to dry qualifying session at the Silverstone Circuit, beating McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri to the top spot.
Verstappen overcame the changeable conditions – and a moment in the pit lane that saw him damage his front wing – to emerge with the landmark pole, finishing two-tenths clear of fired-up home favourite Norris and a further tenth up on Piastri.
Ferrari and Mercedes followed line astern in positions four to seven, with Charles Leclerc edging out Carlos Sainz and George Russell getting the better of Lewis Hamilton, who survived a huge spin at the beginning of qualifying.
After flirting with a Q1 exit on a slippery track, Alex Albon converted his and Williams’ strong practice pace as the session developed, emerging with P8 ahead of Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso and the Alpine of Pierre Gasly.
Nico Hulkenberg ended qualifying as the fastest of the Haas drivers in 11th, in front of Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon, who were unable to make it two Aston Martins and Alpines in the top 10 shootout after getting in each other’s way at the end of Q2.
Williams rookie Logan Sargeant had several lap times deleted en route to 14th position, meaning he also had to watch on as team mate Albon starred, with Valtteri Bottas making it through to the second phase but unable to contest it due to his Alfa Romeo stopping on track in Q1.
After a Q1 exit in Monaco and Q2 exits in Spain, Canada and Austria, the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez could not make it beyond the first qualifying segment, missing the cut by two hundredths of a second in the tricky conditions.
AlphaTauri pair Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries also fell at the first hurdle in 17th and 19th respectively, sandwiching the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, who will be investigated post-session after appearing to get in the way of Ocon at the high-speed Maggots/Becketts complex.
Kevin Magnussen brought up the rear in 20th position, the Haas driver having lost power and come to a halt at the exit of Stowe in a moment that brought out the red flags and led to a host of improvements when the action resumed.
After a rain-hit final practice session, the inclement conditions continued in the build-up to qualifying as more showers fell and produced a wet F2 race, but another break in the weather meant the track was only damp for the start of Q1.
With more rain in the air, drivers were quick to head out and get some laps in when the first phase began, bringing an intriguing mixture of tyre choices as the Ferrari drivers, Haas cars and Williams rookie Sargeant went for intermediates, while the rest of the field went for soft slicks.
Leclerc immediately called for a switch to dry tyres and the quintet returned to the pits to bolt on softs, though Hamilton showed how precarious the conditions still were with a wild slide and spin into the gravel at Stowe – the seven-time world champion managing to recover and continue.
A flurry of lap times followed, with Alonso and Stroll briefly forming an Aston Martin one-two after Verstappen’s first effort was deleted over track limits, only for the Dutchman to pump in another and split the green machines, just as reports of more rain came in.
Alonso and Verstappen continued to trade fastest times over the next few minutes, with the Red Bull man clocking a 1:30.719s to sit 0.011s clear, as Leclerc held third from Russell and Ocon. At the other end of the order, Magnussen, Zhou, Sargeant, Bottas and Albon (losing a time over track limits) were in the drop zone.
“It’s raining everywhere at the moment,” came the next weather update from Russell, as replays showed Sargeant taking a trip through the gravel, Ocon almost running into a slow-moving Zhou at Maggots and De Vries being released into the path of Piastri in the pit lane – the latter two incidents to be looked at after the session.
Moments later, the red flags were thrown when Magnussen came to a halt at the exit of Stowe. This meant a three-minute shootout when the session resumed amid further drops of rain, with Verstappen needing a new front wing for his final run after clipping the pit wall.
At the end of another frantic spell, with improvements coming left, right and centre, it was an inspired Norris who led the way on a 1:28.917s, ahead of Leclerc, Russell, Hamilton and Verstappen, with Stroll, Albon, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Ocon also getting into the top 10.
Bottas brought out the yellow flags after the chequered flag by stopping in the middle sector with “no power”, meaning he would not be able to take part in Q2 despite making it through in 11th, followed by Sainz, Sargeant, Piastri and Alonso, who squeezed through by just a couple of hundredths.
Alonso’s progression came at the expense of Perez, who endured yet another early qualifying bath, having now failed to reach Q3 for five races in a row, with Tsunoda, Zhou, De Vries and Magnussen joining him on the sidelines.
Knocked out: Perez, Tsunoda, Zhou, De Vries, Magnussen
When Q2 got under way, with the sun breaking through the clouds, drivers were told that no more rain was on the way – all 14 of them (minus Bottas) going for more soft tyres as they looked to book a spot in the pole position shootout.
Norris continued where he left off in Q1 with an early Q2 benchmark of 1:29.427s, leading Gasly by just under half a tenth, with Verstappen, Piastri, Sainz and Ocon also in the mix as the sun lit up the track and a clear dry line emerged.
A host of drivers spent phases in P1 in the minutes that followed, with Norris lowering the target again to a 1:28.042s, leading Hamilton, team mate Piastri and Verstappen by half a second. Meanwhile, Sargeant lost two lap times over track limits, and Stroll lost one of his own, leaving them in the drop zone alongside Ocon, Hulkenberg and the sidelined Bottas.
When the clock stopped, it was Verstappen who held the quickest time on a 1:27.702s, as he and Red Bull began to show their hands, followed by the high-flying McLarens and Williams machines of Norris (who had a lap time deleted), Piastri and Albon respectively, with the Ferrari drivers, Mercedes drivers, Alonso’s Aston Martin and Gasly’s Alpine the others to make it through to Q3.
Hulkenberg’s qualifying session ended in 11th, with Stroll and Ocon winding up 12th and 13th after replays showed them squabbling over track position. Sargeant could not replicate team mate Albon’s pace as he took 14th, having lost those earlier laps over track limits, with Bottas rounding out the Q2 order.
Knocked out: Hulkenberg, Stroll, Ocon, Sargeant, Bottas
With two fresh sets of softs at his disposal, Verstappen laid down the early Q3 marker on a 1m 27.084s, a whopping six-tenths up on nearest rival Hamilton, followed by Piastri, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz, Alonso, Albon and Gasly, as Russell and Norris held ninth and 10th.
After a brief spell in the pits, the entire field emerged on new rubber and delivered one more exciting spell of lap time improvements – the track surface as dry as it had been, and the temperatures as high as they had been, since the start of qualifying an hour earlier.
Norris sparked roars in the grandstands and on the grass banks that lined the circuit by clocking a 1m 26.961s to grab provisional pole, and threaten a first P1 start since Russia in 2021, but Verstappen was also improving and took it back with his 1m 26.720s.
P2 nonetheless marked a superb return for McLaren and their upgraded MCL60s, with Piastri joining the party to take third, ahead of the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz, and the Mercedes cars of Russell and Hamilton.
While it was not another top-three, having been inside that bracket in FP1, FP2 and FP2, Albon and Williams secured a fine eighth for Sunday’s race, with Alonso and Gasly completing the top 10 positions on the grid.
The 2023 British Grand Prix is set to begin at 15:00 local time tomorrow. Can Norris defy the odds and take the fight to Verstappen and win on home soil or will the Dutchman continue Red Bull’s 100% win record.