Russell excelled in treacherous wet weather conditions to haul his uncompetitive Williams into the final part of qualifying, and then so nearly take what would have gone down as one of the greatest pole laps in F1 history.

The British driver’s outstanding sole Q3 effort saw him briefly hold provisional pole position, having outpaced Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes by 0.013s, before Verstappen usurped him by just three tenths right at the end.

"I was in the fortunate position that I had nothing to lose,” said a delighted Russell in parc ferme directly after qualifying had concluded.

"We just had to go for it. We saved the full maximum engine mode for the last lap, but I’m buzzing, absolutely buzzing.”

It came after a lengthy delay to qualifying after Lando Norris suffered a scary high-speed shunt on his first flying lap of Q3.

As the rain fell heavier at the start of the top-10 shootout, the McLaren driver lost control on the run up Eau Rouge and speared into the barriers. The violent impact destroyed his car and resulted in immediate red flag.

Norris has been cleared to race after a precautionary trip to hospital confirmed he had escaped injury but the accident served as a reminder of the risks associated with such incredibly challenging conditions.

Russell had himself experienced a major scare when he aquaplaned flat-out along the Kemmel Straight just seconds before Norris crashed a few hundred metres behind him.

Having managed to keep his car pointing in the right direction, Russell gathered himself during the stoppage and banked on his previous knowledge of driving the Spa circuit in wet conditions from his junior days.

“I have good confidence in the wet around this circuit, it’s a place I enjoy in the conditions,” Russell explained. “Throughout the junior ranks you get the chance to drive this place a lot and more times than not it is wet.”

But the most impressive aspect of his incredible, committed lap that secured a shock second place was the fact Russell - unlike most of the Q3 runners (Verstappen included) - had been on used intermediates after burning through all of his new sets on his journey to the top 10.

“Getting into Q3 was an achievement in itself,” Russell said. “We had no more new inter tyres, so we were actually on a used set of inters for Q3. So I was expecting P9, P8 or P7 really.

“When my engineer came on the radio telling me all the drivers who were slotting in behind me I thought ‘Crikey, this could be a good one!’ and then obviously Max just pipped me.

“We’re in a great position but obviously no points for qualifying, so eyes on tomorrow.”

The result not only marked a personal highlight for Russell, it gave Williams its first front-row starting berth since the 2017 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Williams team principal Jost Capito explained his side had so much faith that Russell would deliver it decided to “put everything” into a single flying lap.

“In Q3, we didn’t have anything to lose,” Capito told Sky Sports F1. “Getting into Q3 is already a huge success for us.

“Then if you can do a strategy that you say ‘okay, you put everything into one lap’, you get it or you don’t.

“And with George knowing he can do it, George can put it in, even in these conditions, in one lap. And this is incredible for his performance as well.”

Russell’s latest starring performance for Williams in qualifying comes as he finds himself increasingly linked with a promotion to Mercedes for 2022, something his current boss believes would be fully deserved.

“We would like to keep him of course, but this result today, if Toto [Wolff] hasn’t got the decision done yet, I think this will push him even more to Mercedes,” Capito said.

“Then we are – especially me – very happy to see him in a Mercedes. George’s talent is so great for his age and he deserves to be in the car that is capable of winning the championship and we fully support him in that.”

And Russell’s heroics did not go unnoticed by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

Wolff joked he was “a little bit disappointed because [Russell] should have been on pole” and went on to reveal that Mercedes has now taken a decision on who will partner Hamilton in 2022, though it will remain a closely-guarded secret for the time being.

“At La Source, he just gained so much time to everybody else because he’s the only one who is on the apex,” Wolff said of Russell’s lap.

“That’s definitely a fact of driving and also a fact of having the right setup and the tyre temperatures and the window.

“The way Williams has approached qualifying was very clever. But it needs a driver to exploit the full potential of the package, or overperform the package.

“All that came together today and we still saw a brilliant lap from a brilliant young driver.”