A perfect start from Max Verstappen enabled the Red Bull driver to take the lead of the sprint qualifying race from Lewis Hamilton, which he held on to for the rest of the race to clinch pole position for the British Grand Prix.
Hamilton will start alongside him on the front row of the grid tomorrow with Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc behind them, and Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo making up an all-McLaren third row. Fernando Alonso picked up four positions on a soft tyre gambit and will start from seventh.
Carlos Sainz dropped out of the top ten after a first lap clash with George Russell. But the biggest casualty was Sergio Perez who spun out at Becketts and damaged his car, forcing the team to retire him before the finish as a precaution. He will now have to start tomorrow's race from the back of the grid.
As more than one driver had put it, Saturday afternoon at Silverstone was truly a step into the unknown for Formula 1 with the first-ever sprint qualifying race consisting of 17 laps to decide the grid for tomorrow's British Grand Prix. The question on everyone's minds was whether teams would see this as an opportunity to secure an elevated starting position - or whether they would decide to put safety first and ensure that a mishap didn't demote them to the back on Sunday.
Despite the lack of the usual pre-GP razzamatazz, it still felt very much like the start of a regular race as the 20 cars completed their formation lap and took their positions for the start of the race, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the head. They were both starting on medium tyres, but Valtteri Bottas right behind them was gambling on the soft compound - a choice shared only by Fernando Alonso (from 11th) and his Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon (13th), and by Kimi Raikkonen (starting from 17th) despite the challenge of making them last the distance in today's scorching conditions.
When the lights went out, Verstappen got a perfect start and immediately took the lead, despite visible flames licking around his brakes. Hamilton was able to hold on to second from where he made multiple attempts to attack the Red Bull to reclaim the position over the course of the opening lap but to no avail, Verstappen successfully able to parry every strike from the world champion.
Behind them, Bottas settled into third place ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, while Alonso had put his soft tyres to excellent use to vault up to fifth ahead of Lando Norris, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo who had all tangled early. George Russell and Carlos Sainz had also made contact at turn 6, and while Russell was able to recover and hang on to tenth place it was a disaster for Sainz who plummeted to 16th place. Behind him there was also contact between Haas team mates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin that ended up sending the Russian spinning at turn 2
Having survived the early pressure from Hamilton, Verstappen has now pulled out of DRS range and by lap 5 he had a 1.5s lead. But there was disaster for his teammate as Perez spun off all by himself at Maggotts/Becketts: while he just kept the Red Bull off the wall it sent him to the back of the order, a disaster for the Mexican's prospects in tomorrow's race. There was better fortune for Norris, the McLaren finally able to pick off Alonso to put him into fifth place. He was quickly able to pull away, but the top four were now some way down the road meaning that any further progress up the order in the short time available was never viable. Two laps later, Ricciardo was also able to dispatch the Alpine down the inside of turn 3, Alonso now paying the price of the early gains provided by the soft tyre gambit.
Lap 11 saw Hamilton punch in the fastest lap of the race so far, but he was already 1.8s behind Verstappen and his hopes of holding on to pole for tomorrow's race increasingly out of reach. "I'm giving it everything, I need more power!" he told his race engineer on the pit wall over the team radio. Both drivers were starting to show signs of blistering on their tyres, while Bottas had fallen back as he had to look after the soft compound without risking falling into the clutches of Leclerc.
As the sprint neared its finish there were few drivers prepared to take any big risks. Verstappen was told to play safe and stay off the kerbs as be brought the Red Bull home in first place and successfully captured pole for tomorrow's Grand Prix, Hamilton having eased off to settle for second place on tomorrow's grid.
Bottas brought the second Mercedes home in third ahead of Leclerc with no dramas, leaving Norris and Ricciardo to clinch an all-McLaren third row. Alonso was able to hold off Sebastian Vettel for seventh place at the finish, with Russell crossing the line in ninth ahead of Ocon. Sainz had recovered to 11th place ahead of Pierre Gasly with Raikkonen finishing in 13th ahead of Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Yuki Tsunoda and Nicholas Latifi. Schumacher and Mazepin were the final finishers after Red Bull opted to retire Perez due to damage on the RB16B after his earlier spin.
2021 British Grand Prix, Silverstone, sprint qualifying