IF George Russell can do something, ANYTHING to top the buzz of securing his best ever qualifying for Williams in front of a massively enthusiastic home crowd at Silverstone at last weekend’s British Grand Prix then I for one can’t wait for the rest of the season!
Arriving at the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire circuit (is there another circuit in the world that spans two counties/regions? The old Silverstone pit straight is in Northants and the new pit straight in Bucks) it was already clear that the capacity crown were determined to have a great weekend, the 2021 British Grand Prix having been recently designated a ‘COVID-19 test event’, meaning Silverstone could allow as many people to attend as it liked providing they could prove they’d been double jabbed or had recently tested negative for COVID.
As such, this was the first event of its kind that many racegoers had attended since the outbreak of COVID in early 2020, and you could feel it in the air even as you approached the queue to get through the gates on Friday morning, people cheerfully chatting with one-another as they waited.
The usually fairly low-key vibe on Friday was heightened too by some glorious sunshine, and the promise of a competitive session on a British Grand Prix Friday for the first time in living memory, as the introduction of ‘spring qualifying’ shunting actual qualifying back to Friday evening.
In front of a crowd that some Grand Prix organisers would be delighted with on race day, the cars took to the track at 6pm and it was abundantly clear who the partisan British crowd were behind – the three British drivers, Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris and Williams’ George Russell, with most fans cheering on all three each time they roared past.
For Mr Saturday, read Mr Friday as George Russell slid into his customary Q2, and then with all eyes on him in Q2 proved he could perform under pressure by planting his Williams into Q3 for the second race in a row.
Naturally the Silverstone crowd took to their feet with rapturous support, but better was to come.
Having already seen off Alpines, AlphaTauris and an Aston Martin – cars that on paper should have beaten him quite comfortably, George then put in a stellar solitary qualifying lap to finish in 8th place, ahead of a Ferrari and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in an Aston Martin, and a full ten places ahead of team-mate Nicholas Latifi in 18th.
“It was our best qualifying session, and to do it in front of a home crowd was such an amazing feeling. This morning in FP1 I had no confidence with the car, and here we are in P8! Following practice, we had a decision to make to try and improve the car or stick to our guns and hope the track came towards us, which it did. Everything got in a much nicer window and I felt confident and comfortable out there which allowed me to get that extra tenth or two. Ultimately, we did a fantastic job to get there and it is about tomorrow now. It is not going to be easy, but we need to be aggressive and get on the front foot.” George told Williams F1 after the race.
A 9th place finish in sprint qualifying (a race that’s not a race, and where only the top three score any points, which is the archetypal time for the seemingly luckless Russell – in races at least – to finish in the top 10) followed, before a contretemps with Sainz’s Ferrari earned him a three place grid penalty for Sunday’s Grand Prix put him back in the pack, eventually bringing his FW43B home 12th.
However forgettable Sprint qualifying was – for everyone concerned – and though the race followed a now familiar pattern, Friday night qualifying will live long in the memory for all those who were there. It definitely felt like we were at the dawn of something quite special!