He had made it through Q1 to continue his streak of escaping the opening segment at every race so far in 2021 but at that stage in proceedings was only ahead of Aston Martin's Lance Stroll in 14th.
But a gain of 0.441-seconds on his sole run in Q2 to set a 1m27.080s got Russell through to Q3, where his single flying lap ended with a time of 1m26.971s and the Briton beating Carlos Sainz Jr and Sebastian Vettel.
Speaking to reporters – including Autosport – in the Silverstone paddock after Friday qualifying, Russell noted that "it's not the first time I've noticed that I improve probably more than I should during a session".
He added: "I think I just like to get an understanding of what the car is doing before then fully knowing how to extract the maximum from it.
"And I guess if you're in a top car that's going to sail through to Q2/Q3 that's exactly the strategy you want.
"But it was really coming towards us. My first lap in Q2 was fine, but nothing great. And then the second lap I made a massive step."
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