Hamilton unswayed by Russell’s front-row start

Henry Valantine
Lewis Hamilton on free practice day for the Belgian GP. Spa-Francorchamps August 2021.

Lewis Hamilton arrives in the paddock on free practice day for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps August 2021.

Lewis Hamilton said George Russell‘s stellar qualifying performance in Belgium had done nothing to change his opinion about his potential 2022 Mercedes team-mate.

The seven-time World Champion will start behind Russell for the Belgian Grand Prix after a brilliant display in the wet by the Williams driver.

Russell is to line up alongside Max Verstappen on the front row in second place – the same position he had captured when he deputised for Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes was only eighth fastest in qualifying and will start 13th having incurred a five-place grid drop for causing a collision at the first corner in Hungary last time out.

With an announcement imminent about who will partner Hamilton next season, the reigning champion has recently declared a loyalty to Bottas, with whom he has secured four consecutive Constructors’ Championships for Mercedes.

The other driver in the mix is Russell and although the 23-year-old served up another outstanding advertisement of his talents at Spa, this time in the wet, Hamilton maintained it had not influenced his stance.

“I don’t feel any different,” Hamilton told reporters. “I mean, George has been doing a great job all year. This just doesn’t really change anything.

“I’m sure he’s got pressure on him just as Valtteri does to do the job. And it’s great to see him delivering. I can’t fault him for it.”

The wet and unpredictable weather around Spa led to a dramatic qualifying session with Lando Norris crashing out at the start of Q3 as he aquaplaned at Eau Rouge, which led to a red flag.

Hamilton acknowledged it was tough going for the whole grid on Saturday.

“It’s been a very difficult day for everyone. I just tried to stay positive, tried to stay focused and calm,” Hamilton said in the immediate aftermath of qualifying.

“But well done to Max, he did a great job in the end. My first lap was really good [and] my second one, I struggled a little bit. And also a great job by George – fantastic.”

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The rain is expected to linger throughout race day and Hamilton, who leads Verstappen by eight points in the Drivers’ standings, said the conditions had made choosing the right set-up difficult.

“If it’s like this tomorrow, it will be tricky – this balance of straight-line speed versus the mid-section downforce,” he said.

“I think we’ve tried to strike the best balance possible. Maybe it’s not the best for today, but we’ll see tomorrow exactly how good it is.

“Otherwise, I’m really grateful to the team for just keeping their cool during this session.

“Tomorrow is another day. Hopefully we have better weather, hopefully for the fans particularly – they’re probably drenched out there.”