[F1 British GP: Verstappen on pole as McLaren drivers star
Verstappen drew first blood in Q3, the only driver among the 10 to set their first lap on fresh soft tyres having saved a set earlier on in qualifying, and logged a 1m27.084s.
This was over 0.6s clear of Lewis Hamilton’s next-best time, a 1m27.717s, as the Briton beat a rapid Oscar Piastri after the opening array of laps.
But Verstappen’s pole time seemed up for grabs and, although Charles Leclerc looked mighty in the opening sector of his tilt, he was unable to maintain enough momentum to leapfrog the Dutchman with his time.
Carlos Sainz was also unable to make the difference and folded in behind Leclerc, while George Russell and Lewis Hamilton could not make any further inroads and settled in behind the Ferraris.
But Norris sent the British crowd into raptures having reeled across the line with a 1m26.961s, moving up into provisional pole, but his chance of a first pole at home was denied by Verstappen’s final gambit.
Nonetheless, Norris booked a place on the front row with a much-improved McLaren, and his team-mate Piastri added to the team’s joy with third on the grid after inching past Leclerc’s lap.
Leclerc thus qualified fourth ahead of Sainz, while Russell outqualifying Hamilton to take sixth on Sunday’s grid.
Alex Albon worked his way into Q3 as Williams showed greatly improved form during its 799th grand prix weekend, and collected eighth on the grid. Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly completed the top 10.
Although weather worries permeated the field during the opening part of Q2, the circuit remained dry for the second part of qualifying to ensure that the track kept improving throughout.
This set up a last-lap dash to the line to break into the top 10 and earn progression into the final part of qualifying, which became closely contested among the regular midfield runners.
Logan Sargeant, having lost two laps through track limits violations, had managed to get up to ninth, but was subsequently displaced into 10th and sat on the bubble as those in the drop zone tried to break out.
Esteban Ocon moved up to 10th to knock Sargeant out but was displaced by Lance Stroll – whom the Frenchman had an out-lap contretemps with on the exit of Stowe.
Stroll himself was succeeded by Nico Hulkenberg before Gasly chiselled the German out of the top 10 to cement his place into the final part of qualifying.
Valtteri Bottas was also eliminated from Q2, having come to a halt at the end of Q1 at the exit of Luffield.
The earlier rain that had affected practice and the Formula 2 race had stopped in time for Q1, although wet patches of tarmac ensured that a quarter of the cars began practice on the intermediate tyre – including the two Ferraris.
But the circuit was sufficiently dry enough for them to pit for soft tyres, although pockets of damp track precipitated a Lewis Hamilton spin at Stowe, where he was able to prise his car out of the gravel and continue with his session.
The circuit began to improve although the resumption of rain looked imminent, prompting the drivers to hurriedly collect lap times on the softs lest any further rain interrupt the final vestiges of the session.
Despite their latent pace in qualifying, both Williams drivers sat in the elimination zone with just over three minutes to go, after Albon’s best run was deleted for a track limits violation.
To compound the team’s misery, Kevin Magnussen came to a stop at Vale as his Haas gave up the ghost on the exit of Stowe, producing a red flag in response to wheel the Dane’s car away. This committed him to a Q1 exit.
Four places were thus left up for grabs as the session restarted for a final set of laps, and the circuit had dried slightly more during the intermission prompting a 19-car shootout to make it through into Q2.
The timing tower thus resembled a slot machine with positions shuffling around with each lap, and the session came to rest with Sergio Perez becoming the biggest scalp from the opening part of qualifying.
Alonso ended the session on the cusp of the bottom five but managed to progress while Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu, and Nyck de Vries joined Perez and Magnussen in the elimination zone.