Russell made it through to Q3 for the third time in four races in the wet conditions, and was forced to pit to switch to intermediates early in the final session after starting on wets.
But Russell opted to save up his engine power and modes for his final lap in Q3, and lit up the timesheets to take provisional pole by 0.013 seconds from Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
A fairytale pole was snatched away by Max Verstappen, who finished three-tenths of a second clear for Red Bull, sparking wild celebrations from his army of fans in the Spa grandstands.
Russell’s lap was nevertheless good enough for second place on the grid, marking Williams’ first front row start since Italy 2017, and matching his best F1 qualifying from his one-off appearance for Mercedes in Sakhir last year.
“I don’t know what to say to be honest,” Russell said in parc ferme after qualifying.
“I thought we had done a good job to get out of Q1 [after] how we got on yesterday and now we’re standing here on the front row.
“I think the guys did an amazing job today. We were on the track always at the right time. The car was feeling great, I had so much confidence so onto tomorrow now.”
George Russell, Williams FW43B
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Russell felt he had “nothing to lose” heading into his final lap of the session after already reaching Q3, with Lando Norris’s crash before the red flag meaning he was guaranteed at least ninth.
“I was in a fortunate position of there’s nothing to lose,” Russell said.
“We were in Q3 which is not the norm for us, and we just had to go for it. We saved the full maximum engine mode for the last lap, and we just thought, you know what, let’s go for it and I’m buzzing, absolutely buzzing.
“But obviously tomorrow is the important one and I’ve got to go out there and score some more points.”
Russell scored his first points for Williams at the last race in Hungary, finishing eighth, and will look to build on the result from the front row tomorrow.
Asked if he could “have a nibble” at Verstappen and try to take the lead on the run to Les Combes on the opening lap, Russell replied: “That is the plan, if it is there for the taking, we will go for it. So yeah, mega.”