George Russell almost pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Formula 1 history when he came within a whisker of taking pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix with the uncompetitive Williams team.
Ultimately, the 23-year-old Briton was pipped by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with the final lap of the session, but to put a Williams second on the grid in such treacherous wet conditions on one of the world’s most demanding tracks is a performance that will go down in history regardless.
It was the sort of lap of which legends are made, which motorsport aficionados will discuss in awed tones for years to come.
When this was put to Russell after the session, as he sat in the news conference alongside Verstappen and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, he said he was “quite surprised to hear that – there have been some pretty stellar qualifying performances and especially from these two guys to the left of me”. But he did concede: “It was definitely a very good lap.”
To put it into some kind of context, the Williams is the eighth quickest car on the grid. The team are eighth in the constructors’ championship, with 10 points, compared with the 303 of leaders Mercedes.
At the previous race, they were thrilled to collect points with team-mate Nicholas Latifi and Russell in seventh and eighth places. Russell has made it into the lower reaches of the top 10 a couple of times this season, but his average grid position is 12.9.
This was so far out of the ordinary that it was almost impossible to believe what you were seeing, or to find words to describe it.
“The car was really on it in these wet conditions,” Russell said, “and there is so much that has to go right – all the little details to give the driver confidence. You have to extract the most. I could put it all on the table and absolutely go for it.”