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5 Unexpected Qualifying Performances In Recent History

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Written by- Dylan Free, Edited by- Harshi Vashee

After watching George Russell’s heroics in last Saturday’s qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, where he put his Williams Racing car, which has been a back marker car for the last few years, onto the front row, out qualifying everyone but Red Bulls Max Verstappen, who was 3 tenths of a second quicker than George. It got me thinking about previous times where drivers shocked the F1 world by qualifying much higher than expected.

Sebastien Vettel (Toro Rosso), Italian Grand Prix 2008

Sebastien Vettel started his first full Formula One season in disappointing fashion, with 4 retirements in all of the first 4 races. But then the results started coming in fast, peaking with a pair of 5th places in Monaco and Belgium, but no one would of thought about what happened in Monza on the 13th of September when the young German put his Torro Rosso on pole with a lap time of 1.37.555 in the soaking wet conditions. The race the next day was in similar conditions leading to Vettel winning by +12.512 seconds to Heikki Kovaleinan in the McLaren.

Nico Hülkenberg (Williams), Brazilian Grand Prix 2010

Nico Hülkenberg’s debut season in Formula One wasn’t much to shout about. He peaked with a 6th place in Hungary but his best performance was on the 6th of November when in greasy conditions, the rookie put his car on pole by a full second after choosing the perfect time to go out on track in Q3 when the track was at its driest. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to hold position in the race when he fell to 8th place and eventually got lapped.

Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Spanish Grand Prix 2012

Pastor Maldonado will be remembered for 2 reasons. The first is for causing many incidents in his F1 career. The second is for denying Fernando Alonso a home victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. It all started on the Saturday when the Williams driver silenced the home fans when Maldonado beat Alonso’s best time to put him onto provisional pole. His time was beaten by Lewis Hamilton, but Hamilton was later disqualified due to fuel irregularities, gifting Pastor pole, and later the win.

Lance Stroll (Racing Point), Turkish Grand Prix 2020

When billionaire Lawrence Stroll took over a bankrupt Force India team in 2018, it was obvious that his son Lance would get a seat at the renamed Racing Point. Whether it was liked by the fans or not, Lance came along and took Esteban Ocon’s seat. Since he joined he has been inconsistent, but occasionally proving he is worthy of the seat. He also showed his wet weather ability when he surprised everyone by putting his pink Racing Point car on pole in last year’s Turkish Grand Prix. When all the other cars struggled for grip on the wet and newly resurfaced Istanbul Park, the Racing Points fired up their intermediate tyres and Stroll did it best by putting it on pole ahead of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Lance’s teammate. Lance led the early stages of the race until he pitted for the 2nd time onto a set of intermediates that just didn’t work for him and he slowly dropped down the field ending the race in 9th.

Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Monaco Grand Prix 2021

The 2020 season for Ferrari was perhaps their worst season in their F1 history. They managed just 3 podiums and finished 6th in the Constructors Championship. Coming into 2021, to think that they would be back fighting for a win would be a bit optimistic. But in Free Practice 2 for the Monaco Grand Prix, when Ferrari finished 1-2 and then were 2-3 in FP3, people started to believe that they might be in for big points, but not many would have predicted that they had a chance at the win. That all changed in qualifying when Charles Leclerc finished 2nd in Q1 and then was quickest in Q2. When it came to Q3, Leclerc put his Ferrari SF21 on provisional pole, but he then crashed out of qualifying in the closing stages, bringing out the red flags, ending the session and putting him on pole. Unfortunately for Leclerc and Ferrari, on the way to the grid the left driveshaft broke. This was caused by the crash in qualifying, and couldn’t be fixed in time for the race, meaning his efforts on Saturday were pointless.

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