George Russell took a sensational pole position for Macau’s qualification race with a late effort in Friday’s final session to decide the grid positions.
The Macau rookie made steady progress through the session but produced the best laps of the weekend when they really counted to knock early pace-setter Callum Ilott off the top spot.
Ilott had appeared to be in control of proceedings as the session ran for 30 minutes without any major incident, but the first red flag was brought out with 10 minutes remaining after Daiki Sasaki crashed at Maternity Bend and stopped on the track.
Just moments after the restart, and before many drivers had even crossed the line to start a lap, Prema’s Maximilian Gunther ran wide at the final corner and swiped the barriers.
He spun back across the circuit and, with debris left on the track, a second red flag had to be brought out.
At the restart, Ilott was at the top of the timesheets but it was Russell in his Hitech who made progress as he delivered two brilliant laps to secure pole position.
Russell’s main rivals were all gearing up to knock Russell off the top spot after switching to fresh rubber, but the session was cut short when a red flag was brought out after Indian Arjun Maini crashed into the barriers at Lisboa.
That meant Russell’s pole was secure, with Ilott finishing second and Antonio Felix da Costa third.
Russell said he always planned to produce his best in final qualifying, but had gone into the session with low expectations after some frustrations in practice.
“I went into this weekend thinking I would just take it easy and focus on Q2 and that is exactly what I did – but I was just further down the order than I expected in P1, Q1 and P2," said the Briton. "So I was getting a little bit worried.
"But we made some changes to the car, and I was confident about things. I did a really good lap after the last red flag for pole. I was on my own in clear air and I managed to pull out one of the best laps of my life – and smashed P1 by three tenths. I couldn’t have imagined this after the sessions we had but what an awesome result.”
Ilott admitted to being upset that he had lost the pole position spot, after feeling he had more performance to come prior to the red flag coming out and curtailing proceedings.
"I went out and there were slippery surface flags and the threat of rain," said the van Amersfoort driver. "So I took a bit of time and thought I had two laps to come – but I only had one unfortunately.
"I was building up and I think it would have been a good lap – maybe as close as George but I don’t know. Honestly though, I was so disappointed because my radio wasn’t working.
"The last I knew I was P1 and, with the rain, I thought no one would beat it. So when I came in and hear he is on pole it is a bit of a disappointment. But I am happy for him, he has done a good job."
Sergio Sette Camara finished up fourth, ahead of Kenta Yamashita and Jake Hughes.
Reigning Macau champion Felix Rosenqvist ended up eighth overall after losing his best lap of the afternoon because it was completed a moment after a red flag came out - which meant it got deleted.
He later suffered a big lock-up at Lisboa which meant he was unable to respond to the quicker times being set by other drivers.
Lando Norris and Nick Cassidy completed the top 10.
Macau GP qualifying results:
|1||George Russell||Hitech GP||2'10.100|
|2||Callum Ilott||Van Amersfoort Racing||2'10.470||0.370|
|3||Antonio Felix da Costa||Carlin||2'10.501||0.401|
|4||Sergio Sette Camara||Carlin||2'10.716||0.616|
|5||Kenta Yamashita||Threebond with T-Sport||2'10.731||0.631|
|7||Maximilian Gunther||Theodore Racing by Prema||2'10.996||0.896|
|8||Felix Rosenqvist||Theodore Racing by Prema||2'11.054||0.954|
|10||Nick Cassidy||Theodore Racing by Prema||2'11.341||1.241|
|11||Dani Juncadella||Hitech GP||2'11.470||1.370|
|12||Alexander Sims||Double R Racing||2'11.597||1.497|
|13||Dan Ticktum||Double R Racing||2'11.674||1.574|
|14||Anthoine Hubert||Van Amersfoort Racing||2'11.751||1.651|
|15||David Beckmann||Mucke Motorsport||2'11.775||1.675|
|18||Nikita Mazepin||Hitech GP||2'11.987||1.887|
|20||Guan Yu Zhou||Motopark||2'12.465||2.365|
|21||Pedro Piquet||Van Amersfoort Racing||2'12.609||2.509|
|22||Tadasuke Makino||Toda Racing||2'12.838||2.738|
|24||Andy Chang||Threebond with T-Sport||2'12.897||2.797|
|25||Jann Mardenborough||B-Max Racing Team||2'13.673||3.573|
|26||Daiki Sasaki||B-Max Racing Team||2'13.772||3.672|
|27||Hong Li Ye||B-Max Racing Team||2'14.012||3.912|
|28||Keyvan Soori||Mucke Motorsport||2'14.803||4.703|
|29||Sho Tsuboi||Team TOM'S||2'14.868||4.768|