Max Verstappen sprinted back to the top of the Formula One world championship with a historic home win at the Dutch Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton questioned Mercedes' scrambled strategy.

Verstappen had claimed a precious pole position at Zandvoort, where the tight confines of the circuit make overtaking extremely difficult.

So it proved on Sunday, even as Mercedes sought various different paths to glory.

Hamilton pitted twice and appeared to intimate he would like to stop again, but the sheer pace of Verstappen's Red Bull kept him in the clear, becoming the first Dutch driver to win in his own country.

It was comfortable from the first corner, where Verstappen moved across to block Hamilton before racing away into the distance, soon passing 1,000 laps led in F1.

Hamilton pushed hard before stopping, yet Verstappen responded immediately and gained 0.9 seconds in the pit lane.

With Valtteri Bottas starting from third, Mercedes were at least able to slow Verstappen for a time by having their second man hold the race up for around two laps.

But Verstappen passed Bottas in front of the grandstand to the delight of the orange-clad crowd and quickly again opened up a gap to Hamilton that had closed to under a second.

With that deficit only increasing, Mercedes gambled and brought Hamilton in again to make use of his second set of medium tyres, yet he returned to the race in traffic among the back markers, meaning any advantage was minimal as Verstappen again followed his rival in – although having to switch to hards.

Red Bull retained control of the race, which Mercedes finally conceded, calling in Hamilton for a third time to claim the additional point for the fastest lap – still not enough to keep Verstappen off the summit.

'We've gone too soon'

Sergio Perez's miserable performance in qualifying meant he spent his Sunday attempting to close on the midfield, leaving Verstappen alone at the front.

Meanwhile, Mercedes had two men in contention, and Toto Wolff outlined plans for a split strategy.

It was Hamilton who stopped early in Mercedes' first tactical manoeuvre and, when that did not work, the Silver Arrows soon called the defending champion in again – another failed move that frustrated Hamilton.

"We haven't got an advantage," he said. "We've gone too soon on this. There was still so much life left in that last tyre and we rushed it."

More Russell regret

George Russell was bidding to become the first Williams driver to earn back-to-back podiums since Bottas in 2014, although simply collecting points in a third consecutive race was a far more realistic objective after his crash in Q2.

Even that proved beyond the Briton, though. A five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane all but ended his hopes.

There may be news to lift the spirits in the coming days, with an announcement from Mercedes regarding their 2022 line-up anticipated, but this was a weekend to forget.


IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +20.932secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +56.460
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1 lap
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +1 lap
6. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1 lap
7. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1 lap
8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +1 lap
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1 lap
10. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1 lap

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 224.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 221.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 123
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 114
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 108

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 345
2. Red Bull – 333
3. Ferrari – 182
4. McLaren – 170
5. Alpine – 90

Lewis Hamilton knows strategy will be key in a "tough" Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, having agonisingly qualified in second.

The tight confines of this track mean pole position is key, and it was home hopeful Max Verstappen who took it by 0.038 seconds – his seventh of the year and 10th in Formula One.

Hamilton has work to do then, and he does not have the benefit of past experiences at Zandvoort.

The Mercedes superstar is one of only three drivers on the grid who was born when the event was last in F1 in 1985, while he has not raced at this circuit since the 2005 F3 Euro Series.

Having broken down on Friday and missed a session, too, Hamilton's knowledge of the likely race pace is very limited.

"I haven't done any long running, so I don't really know too much of what the track's like with heavy fuel," he explained in a news conference.

"I only have my reference from 2005, and I don't remember that.

"I have no doubt it's going to be tough tomorrow, just from watching these guys – I think Max and his team were quicker than us on the long run.

"It's not a track that you can particularly overtake in, so it's going to be [about] strategy tomorrow and how you can utilise the tyres."

Zandvoort became just the fourth of 34 tracks Hamilton has raced at in F1 without taking pole, but he still enjoyed the experience.

"What a track," he said. "Wow. It is absolutely incredible driving this track, with the banked corners, and today was one of the sessions I've enjoyed most.

"Qualifying here is just phenomenal with the light car. [It was] so close at the end, but obviously yesterday didn't help. I'm glad we got back to where we needed to be today."

Further improvement and a victory on Sunday would make Hamilton the first man to reach 100 F1 wins, but Verstappen is chasing history of his own.

Having last week, at the Belgian Grand Prix, become only the second Benelux driver to win in the region, he could now break new ground as the first Dutchman to celebrate a home victory.

Verstappen acknowledged the importance of his qualifying performance but forecast challenges ahead.

"It's still very difficult to pass around here," he said. "Even in qualifying, everyone was trying to find a gap, not like some other tracks where everyone's trying to find a tow. I do think it's going to be tough.

"But also it's quite tough on tyres around here with all the high-speed corners, so it's not a very straightforward race. There are a lot of laps around here.

"Of course, it's important to be up front."

A grinning Max Verstappen celebrated taking a home Dutch Grand Prix pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton on Saturday, while George Russell and Williams endured a day to forget.

Verstappen is only three points behind Formula One world championship leader and defending champion Lewis Hamilton after last week's controversial Belgian GP, and he has the backing of a fervent crowd this weekend.

No Dutch driver has ever won this event, but Verstappen will attack the race from pole position on its return after 35 years away.

The Red Bull superstar edged out Hamilton, who recovered well from missing a session on Saturday after breaking down, and another Mercedes in Valtteri Bottas.

Sergio Perez failed to even escape Q1, though, meaning Verstappen will not have the support of his team-mate at the front of the grid.

"It's an amazing feeling of course to get pole position here," Verstappen said over a significant din. "The crowd is incredible, and today was very enjoyable.

"The car was really nice to drive, and this track as well for qualifying, once the fuel comes out, it's really cool."

Verstappen had escaped a penalty for a potential red-flag breach when overtaking Lance Stroll in FP2 on Saturday.

And pole is set to be especially important at Zandvoort, where overtaking is always difficult.

The Dutchman's final run of one minute and 8.885 seconds increased his Q3 advantage, but Hamilton's late dash – 0.038 seconds slower – at least put him on the front row, enjoying a better outing than countryman Russell, who was second last time out.

It had looked like being another positive day for Williams – even with team principal Jost Capito absent as a precaution after contact with Kimi Raikkonen prior to his positive coronavirus test.

The team came into this race having had both drivers collect points in back-to-back races for the first time since 2016.

And Russell and Nicholas Latifi each again advanced through to Q2.

But there their day took a turn, with Russell prompting a first red flag when he lost the rear of his car heading into the final corner.

The short delay did not give the Briton enough time to resume the session, as he explained there was "a bit of damage on the rear suspension" but "nothing the guys won't be able to fix overnight".

Russell told Sky Sports: "We weren't quite on the pace this week as much as we would have hoped, and I was on a really good lap.

"I was just pushing too hard and ultimately just attacked that last corner too much and lost the rear. I'm sorry to the team, because that's not how we wanted to end qualifying."

By the time Russell faced the media, the session had been disrupted again, with team-mate Latifi careering into the barrier.

That brought a premature end to Q2 that at least gave Russell P11 as a consolation, knocking Lando Norris out.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:08.885
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.038secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.337
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.593
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.642
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.652
7. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +0.705
8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.048
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.071
10. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.281

Kimi Raikkonen will not take part in the Dutch Grand Prix after testing positive for coronavirus. 

Raikkonen confirmed on Wednesday that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the 2021 season. 

Heading into the weekend there were just 10 races - including Sunday's trip around the Circuit Zandvoort - left in Raikkonen's F1 career, though he is now having to skip the event, which has been reintroduced to the calendar this year. 

The 41-year-old Alfa Romeo driver is isolating in his hotel, with the team confirming he is not showing any symptoms and is in good spirits. 

Robert Kubica, who has not raced in F1 since Abu Dhabi in 2019, will stand in for the 2007 world champion. 

"Robert has been reserve driver of Alfa Romeo Racing since the start of the 2020 season and has driven the team’s C41 in three practice sessions this year," Alfa Romeo said via Twitter. 

"With 97 Formula One starts to his name and experience with 2021 Formula One machinery, he will be ready for action and to give his best for the team." 

Raikkonen will require a negative test result in order to return to the paddock, so his status for the Italian Grand Prix remains uncertain for now. 

A joint FIA and F1 statement read: "The FIA, Formula 1 and Alfa Romeo Racing can today confirm that during onsite PCR testing for the 2021 FIA Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen has tested positive for COVID-19. 

"In accordance with COVID-19 protocols he will take no further part in this Event. All contacts have been declared. The procedures set out by the FIA and Formula 1 will ensure no wider impact on the Dutch Grand Prix." 

Lewis Hamilton knows Mercedes are "on the back foot" after he broke down in practice at the Dutch Grand Prix on Friday.

Hamilton set the pace in the first session at Zandvoort, but lost power after completing just three laps of an FP2 that was halted by a red flag due to Nikita Mazepin going into the Turn 11 gravel.

The seven-time Formula One world champion, who leads Max Verstappen by only three points in the battle for the title, was not overly concerned by the setback as Mercedes investigated the issue.

Asked if he knew what the cause of the problem was, the Brit replied: “Not yet. I was just in there [the garage], I just lost power, so they just told me to stop, but it’s not the end of the world.

"It's been a beautiful day in terms of weather, it's amazing to see the crowd – there's so many people here – it's good to see people hyped and the first time we’ve see the full, full energy.

"Not full yet, but we’ll probably see it in the next few days – all the energy the Dutch fans bring.

"It's more annoying that we only got like 20 minutes of running with that red flag. It naturally puts us on the back foot, but Valtteri [Bottas] looked like he had a good session so probably tomorrow we can try and fill in, make up for some of the time, hopefully.”

Charles Leclerc was fastest in the second session, but Verstappen believes he could have been top of the timesheets in his homeland if the red flag had not been waved.

Red Bull driver Verstappen, who was fifth-fastest, said: "I don’t think it looks very representative from our side in the short run. My lap was on a used set, and the lap I had to abort I think would have been good enough for first.

"Already after one lap, the tyres do drop off a bit. Nevertheless, we will work on a few things where we were not entirely happy in the short runs. But long run looks competitive, so that is always very important."

Christian Horner has revealed that Williams and Alfa Romeo have expressed an interest in signing Alex Albon for the 2022 Formula One season.

Albon lost his Red Bull seat to Sergio Perez at the end of last season and was relegated to the role of reserve driver.

With Kimi Raikkonen retiring and George Russell strongly fancied to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, Albon could be back on the grid next year.

Red Bull boss Horner hopes Albon gets another chance and will help the 25-year-old kickstart his career.

Horner said: "I think Alex, he deserves a seat in Formula One next year and I think there's quite a bit of interest in him for next year and we'll do whatever we can to try and enable that.

"I hope that nothing prevents him from realising one of those opportunities. He's a talented driver; it's subject to George moving. Kimi's retiring – that does open up opportunities – so I am sure it will get resolved over the next week or so.

"We're looking at external teams. Williams and Alfa have both expressed interest and yes, we're keen to see him back racing in Formula One, and hopefully that can get resolved over the next few days."

Horner added: "We’ll be supportive of [Albon] racing elsewhere. I hope that Mercedes don't prevent that from happening. He deserves that chance. So, we're doing our best to help him and we’ll see what happens."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insisted he would not stand in Albon's way of a place on the grid despite their backing of Nyck de Vries, the 2019 Formula Two champion who is vying to make the step up.

"I would never block someone like Alex Albon," said Wolff. "He's a fantastic guy, personality is great, I was personally sad to see him going [in 2020], and if he has a chance in a Formula One car I think that's the right thing to do.

"But equally, maybe Nyck has. So we'll have to look at the open spaces at Alfa and at Williams and try to find a solution."

Kimi Raikkonen says he "wouldn't change a single thing" about his Formula One career and does not expect to miss racing once he retires at the end of the season. 

The 2007 world champion announced on Wednesday that this will be his final campaign. 

Finn Raikkonen made his debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix and has gone on to start a record 341 races, winning 21 and finishing on the podium 103 times. 

The 41-year-old Alfa Romeo driver insists he will walk away with no regrets. 

Asked what his biggest strength as a driver is, he said: "I don't know if I have one! I had a good run, I'm happy with what I achieved. 

"Obviously you want to win and it's not easy to win. I wanted to win a championship, I got close quite a few times and managed to win it with Ferrari, so happy that it happened, especially with them. 

"But the rest, strength or not strength, I don't care. I had fun and I did it my way, and I wouldn't change a single thing even if I could, because otherwise then maybe we wouldn't be sitting here today if you changed one thing along the way. No complaints – I cannot really complain." 

Raikkonen has not thought about what comes next – and is certainly in no rush to commit to anything other than his family. 

He said: "No plans. I don't want to have some schedule put on, because obviously the last 18, 19 years in F1, since I started, I did rally in those two years [away from F1 in 2010 and 2011], there was always a schedule, always what is coming next and what is this date and that date. So I don't want that. 

"That's for sure one of the big reasons why I want to also do something else. Obviously, there's other schedules: family, the kids' schools and kindergartens and that stuff. 

"But I don't want the family life to be dictated by when is the next race or test or flight or next work. I'm not in a rush, and I've not even thought about it at all. 

"Obviously I've known this situation for quite a while, so there's always obviously opportunities to do this or do that, but right now I'm not interested to even think about it." 

He added: "Will I miss the racing? I don't know. I've done it so long that I doubt that I'll start to miss it that much." 

Max Verstappen believes George Russell will make life "very difficult" for Lewis Hamilton if he replaces Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year.

Williams driver Russell has been tipped to take Bottas' seat, with Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff having revealed his desire to finalise his driver line-up for 2022 this month.

Russell stepped in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year after the seven-time Formula One world champion tested positive for coronavirus.

The 23-year-old also conducted a Pirelli tyre test for Mercedes ahead of the mid-season break and Verstappen thinks his arrival would keep his fellow Brit Hamilton on his toes.

"If he joins then for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by three points in the battle for the title, said ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend.

"He jumped into the car in Bahrain and basically from lap one he was making it very difficult for Valtteri, so you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car and the more you get accustomed within the team, naturally you're going to get faster.

"When you do your first race you're guided by the team about setup direction because you just don’t know what to do really, initially, with the car.

"I remember my first race at Red Bull, the thing I said was is that we will just follow a bit what Daniel [Ricciardo] is doing because I have no clue about what this car needs to go quick because even though F1 cars look pretty similar, the way of setting them up can be very different.

"I am very confident - already what you could see with the performance he did in Spa was really good.

"Of course, they set up the car a bit more for wet conditions but nevertheless to do that in a Williams was very impressive. I do expect him to do very well if he gets that seat."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc echoed Verstappen's sentiments.

“I have actually been team-mates with George for a year in karting and I think what I have seen of him since that time, is just that he is extremely talented," he said.

"Every time he gets into the car he's just quick straightaway, so his talent makes him special.

"If he goes to Mercedes next year, and I hope he does because I think he deserves a chance there, I'm pretty sure he will perform very, very well and impress more than one person."

Kimi Raikkonen has announced his impending retirement from Formula One.

The 41-year-old, who won the world title with Ferrari in 2007, will call time on his career at the end of the 2021 season.

Raikkonen made his F1 debut with Sauber at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix and spent five seasons with McLaren before a three-year stint with Ferrari.

He took a break from F1 but returned with Lotus in 2012, going on to join Ferrari again before moving to Alfa Romeo in 2019.

The Finn, who has 21 race wins and 103 podium finishes to his name, confirmed his decision in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

"This is it. This will be my last season in Formula 1," the post read.

"This is a decision I did during last winter. It was not an easy decision but after this season it is time for new things. Even though the season is still on, I want to thank my family, all my teams, everyone involved in my racing career and especially all of you great fans that have been rooting for me all this time.

"Formula 1 might come to an end for me but there is a lot more in life that I want to experience and enjoy. See you around after all of this! Sincerely Kimi."

Speculation mounted earlier on Wednesday that Alfa Romeo were considering making a move for Valtteri Bottas, whose is waiting to discover if he will remain Lewis Hamilton's team-mate next year.

Mercedes future is in doubt, with George Russell a potential replacement as Lewis Hamilton's team-mate for next season.

A Belgian Grand Prix washout only increased the intrigue in the two biggest battles in Formula One this season ahead of a return to Zandvoort.

The Dutch GP is back on the calendar for the first time since 1985 – when only three drivers on the current grid had been born.

There should be more racing this week than at Spa, where rain wrecked the weekend, and plenty of drama is in store.

The two biggest beneficiaries from the two-lap procession last time out were Max Verstappen and George Russell.

Verstappen closed to within three points of Lewis Hamilton thanks to his position on pole, while Russell claimed a first career podium as he bids to beat Valtteri Bottas to the second Mercedes seat.

Existing Silver Arrows stars Hamilton and Bottas will aim to respond on Sunday, although time may have run out for the Finn to make his mark.

LAST TIME OUT

Verstappen just pipped Russell to pole on Saturday at Spa but could not have known then how crucial that final dash would prove.

Sunday's race was delayed and delayed by awful weather, finally starting under the safety car only for a red flag to bring the drivers in once more.

With two laps fulfilled, it was enough to declare a result, giving Verstappen a precious win and Russell an improbable podium.

Until the Hungarian GP, immediately prior to the mid-season break, Russell's only F1 points had come in Hamilton's Mercedes as a reserve last season.

But an eighth-placed finish was followed by his best result yet, capping a great weekend for Williams, who also had Nicholas Latifi in the points for a second straight race.

Bottas was at Williams, alongside Felipe Massa, the last time they had two drivers do that back in 2016, but the team are eager to see Russell now get his chance at Mercedes.

Toto Wolff confirmed in Belgium the call had been made on their 2022 driver, and Williams team principal Jost Capito told Channel 4 of Russell: "I do not want to hang on to him.

"As he, the driver, can win the championship, he deserves a car that can win the championship, and he can do that in the Mercedes.

"And I am convinced he will come back in a couple of years and win the championship with us."

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NETHERLANDS

Some racing would be nice, and Hamilton and Bottas will not be the only men out to make amends.

Lando Norris' crash in qualifying cost him dear as he was unable to recover on race day, finishing 14th to continue a mini-slump after retiring in Hungary.

Focus will again be on the top two and on Russell, though.

With Williams having collected more points from their past two grands prix (20) than their previous 71 (15), he will be eyeing another unlikely challenge.

Russell could become the first Williams driver to claim consecutive podiums since Bottas' three in a row in 2014.

"Obviously off the back of last weekend in Spa, everyone just wants to get racing again and put on a show for all of the supporters at the circuit and for those watching around the world on TV," he said.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Return to form for Ferrari? – Back when Zandvoort was a regular on the F1 calendar, Ferrari registered more wins (eight), fastest laps (10) and podiums (24) than any other team at the Dutch GP.

Max out to make history – Verstappen could become the first Dutch driver ever to celebrate a win in his own country in F1. It would be only the third home Benelux win after Verstappen's triumph in Belgium and Jacky Ickx's 1971 Dutch GP success.

Red Bull front row regulars – After Spa, Red Bull have as many pole positions this season (six) as in the rest of the hybrid era combined. Another would take them level with Lotus on 47 all-time, tied fifth.

Hamilton hunting milestones – Still one win shy of 100 in F1, victory would also see Hamilton become the first driver to 4,000 points and give him his 175th podium.

Another to tick off – Hamilton has wins (29) and pole positions (30) at the most different circuits as he prepares to tackle his 34th. Meanwhile, fellow Zandvoort debutant Fernando Alonso has earned points at each of the prior 32 tracks at which he has appeared.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 202.5
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 199.5
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 113
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 108
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 303
2. Red Bull – 291
3. Ferrari – 163
4. McLaren – 163
5. Alpine – 77

Ross Brawn has defended the FIA's handling of the Belgian Grand Prix and insisted drivers deserved to be awarded points from the shortest race in Formula One history.

Torrential rain prevented any competitive racing at the Spa-Francorchamps track on Sunday, with Max Verstappen awarded the victory when the red flag was raised after just two laps were completed behind the safety car.

Lewis Hamilton, who was third behind George Russell, branded the event a "farce" and claimed the drivers were only sent out for financial reasons.

Regulations ensured only half the usual points were awarded, but Fernando Alonso stated it was "shocking" that any were given out on a "terrible day”.

F1 managing director of motorsport Brawn knows the outcome was "not ideal" but did not see any alternative.

"I feel terrible for the fans, who turned out in their thousands and braved consistently wet conditions in the grandstands to support their heroes," said Brawn in his column. "They showed such dedication and will never forget this weekend.

"Unfortunately, the weather worked against us. It was relentless. The FIA tried everything they could, sending the cars out twice behind the safety car to assess the conditions. It wasn't so much the intensity of the rain that was the problem, more that it was consistent which led to very poor visibility.

"It's pretty rare to see a weekend where the weather has been so intense, so consistently. Every effort was made to get the race under way safely and normally, there is a window when you can bring the safety car in, but that wasn't possible.

"At the end of the day, safety comes first. And it wasn't safe enough to continue the race. So the FIA did the best they could in what have been very challenging circumstances, of which we've not seen in decades.

"Half points were awarded. It's not ideal but if you can't reward someone for the race, reward them for the bravery in qualifying.

"A lap like George Russell did in qualifying in the absence of a full race should be rewarded. As I say, it's not ideal, but it's where we are. The weather just wasn't in our corner on Sunday."

Lewis Hamilton hit out at Formula One bosses as he claimed "money talks" after a farcical Belgian Grand Prix was aborted after only two laps.

Heavy downpours prevented any competitive racing from taking place in the shortest F1 race in history at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Sunday.

Following an initial delay of half an hour due to the poor conditions, the start was eventually put back by over three hours, with two failed attempts to get under way after Sergio Perez had crashed while making his way out onto the grid.

The crowd were not rewarded for their patience, as a red flag was flown after only two and a half laps with the drivers behind the safety car.

Max Verstappen was declared the winner ahead of George Russell, with Hamilton third – the positions they started on the grid.

With only half points awarded due to F1 regulations, Red Bull's Verstappen cut Hamilton's championship lead to only three points.

The seven-time F1 world champion felt the drivers were only sent out for financial reasons and fans should be given refunds.

"Money talks, and literally the two laps to start the race was all a money scenario," Hamilton told Sky Sports.

"Everyone gets their money – and I think the fans should get theirs back too. Unfortunately, they didn't get to see what they paid for.

"It's a shame we couldn't do the race tomorrow. I love this track as well, so [I am] sad we couldn't do this. Today wasn't a race. I think the sport made a bad choice today.

"Of course, we wanted to race but this minimum of two laps you need to do to count as a race, between the gap [between the race stopping and resuming] it rained consistently.

"There was only one reason why they sent us out. That's why I feel more bad for the fans."

George Russell rejoiced in achieving a maiden Formula One podium finish, even if the circumstances of his second place at the Belgian Grand Prix were a little unorthodox.

The race was called off at a rain-soaked Spa after just two laps behind a safety car, with pole-sitter Max Verstappen declared the winner as British duo Russell and Lewis Hamilton completed the top three.

Heavy rain had delayed the start by over three hours as Sergio Perez had crashed while making his way out onto the grid.

The conditions ultimately made competitive racing impossible, but a two-lap procession was enough to declare a result, with half points awarded.

Williams driver Russell, who performed wonders to qualify second on the grid, felt it was a suitable reward.

"We don't often get rewarded for great qualifyings, but we absolutely did today," said the 23-year-old.

"It was a shame we did not get the race under way but, from my side, and the team's side it's an amazing result.

"The whole team deserve it because there has been so much hard work going into work over the last few years and there has been nothing to show for it, but we absolutely nailed it yesterday."

Red Bull's Verstappen is now just three points behind defending champion Hamilton and he reflected on a crucial performance in Saturday's qualifying, which also took place on a sodden track.

He said: "Now, in hindsight, it was very important to get that pole position. It's a shame to not get proper laps, but the conditions were very tricky.

"At 3.30pm the conditions were decent but the visibility was very low. I think if we'd started at 3pm we would have had a decent chance.

"Big credit to the fans for staying here all day."

Hamilton added: "They knew, at the end, the track wasn't any better and they did it just so they could do two laps and declare a race. I really hope the fans get their money back.

"You couldn't see even five metres in front of you on the straight. You couldn't even see the flashing light in front of you."

The Belgian Grand Prix was called off at a rain-soaked Spa after just two laps, though that was still enough racing for Max Verstappen to claim a victory that cuts Lewis Hamilton's championship lead.

Heavy downpours ruined Formula One's return after the mid-season break, with the start delayed by over three hours after Sergio Perez had crashed while making his way out onto the grid.

Eventually the cars did get out onto the track with the plan to stage a one-hour race amid time constraints, only for the red flag to again be waved after the field had tip-toed around behind the safety car.

However, having managed to successfully get around the circuit twice, a final result was declared with half points awarded.

Having claimed pole position in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen was awarded the victory, his sixth of a hugely impressive 2021 campaign for Red Bull.

Hamilton, meanwhile, had to settle for third place, behind fellow Briton George Russell. It means the reigning world champion leads the driver standings by just three points with 10 rounds to go.

"It's a win but not how you want to win. Today a big credit goes to all the fans around the track for staying here the whole day in the rain, the cold, windy conditions. They are actually the bigger winners today," Verstappen said.

Racing had already been pushed back from the scheduled start of 15:00 local time (14:00 BST) when Perez provided a further complication. The Red Bull driver lost control in the tricky conditions and skidded into a barrier. Unable to reverse out, he climbed out and appeared set to be out of the race.

But, with his team having time to work on the damage amid the lengthy stoppage, the Mexican was cleared by race director Michael Masi to resume from the pit lane.

In the end, the entire grid returned from the pits behind the safety car to try and get under way, only for the red flag to be waved again. Not long after, it was confirmed racing had been stopped, bringing a rather damp and disappointing end to proceedings.

 

George Russell earned a front-row spot for the Belgian Grand Prix as it was revealed Mercedes have decided whether to recruit him for next season.

The young British driver defied expectations of what the Williams car could achieve by producing a stunning qualifying lap in the rain at Spa.

Only a last-ditch effort by title hopeful Max Verstappen denied Russell a first career pole, while Lewis Hamilton took third place on the grid.

It may be that Hamilton and Russell become team-mates next season, if Mercedes decide to part ways with Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed on Saturday that the team have chosen their line-up for 2022, but that they will keep it private for now.

According to multiple reports, Wolff twice replied "Yes" in a media call when asked if that big call had already been made.

"Today doesn't make any difference," Wolff said. "We know what we have with George."

Russell is a part of Mercedes' young driver programme and was recalled to his parent team to replace a COVID-19 affected Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix last season, an indication of Wolff's high regard for his ability.

Wolff said of Mercedes' recent quandary over Bottas and Russell: "If it would have been an easy decision, we would have made it earlier, because we know what we have with Valtteri and we know what we have with George.

"Both of them deserve being looked after. Both deserve to be looked after in the best possible way, because both of them are part of the family, and we hold them up high."

Russell said there "probably should be" points awarded for qualifying performance, as he reflected on the fact he has taken no such reward yet this weekend. But the 23-year-old believes he can be a force in Sunday's race, particularly if the track is again wet.

He said: "We've obviously got to be realistic, we've got incredibly fast cars behind us, but if the conditions stay the same, we've got a car that's probably quick enough on merit in the top 10.

"But if we're starting from the front row, there's no reason why we can't try to hold that position for the majority of the race. I don't think I’m going to do anything stupid with the cars around me that are clearly going to be faster than us – but there's no reason why we can’t finish, if conditions are like this, top five, and just maximise it. Points is an absolute minimum."

Verstappen said: "This track is amazing to drive in the dry and when you then have a wet qualifying, it's pretty ... I wouldn't say scary but it's really interesting and quite extreme in Q3 when you know that you have to push and try to go to the limit in the wet here."

Championship leader Hamilton said the Mercedes race pace "should be a little bit stronger" than in practice. "But I still think it's going to be a handful, particularly if it's going to be these conditions," he added.

 

The season broke for summer after the Hungarian Grand Prix at the start of August, and Saturday marked a return to the thrills and spills of the sport.

The conditions were particularly tough in the third and final stage of qualifying as heavy rain arrived at the circuit, with Lando Norris crashing out early and leaving his McLaren a heavily damaged heap.

Norris, who had shown excellent pace up to that point, was given the all-clear after an elbow X-ray in hospital and looks set to race.

He had complained of aquaplaning moments before crashing badly, his car sliding into the barrier on the left side of the track at Eau Rouge and spinning out of control across the track.

He said over the team radio: "I let you down, my bad."

However, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had wanted the session red-flagged before the crash happened and told his team on hearing of the crash: "What did I say, red flag? It's unnecessary. Is he OK?"

Vettel was quickly on the scene and stopped to check Norris was safe before driving on past the damaged McLaren.

There was succour for McLaren as Daniel Ricciardo took fourth on the grid, just ahead of Vettel, but it was a shocker of a day for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz qualified in 10th and 12th respectively. 

Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies said: "Our qualifying performance was well below our usual standard and so far this whole weekend has proved very difficult for us."

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