Max Verstappen has taken pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix after beating Nico Hulkenberg by a second. The Red Bull driver set his fastest time midway through Q3 before the rain intensified in the closing minutes of the session following a late red flag caused by Oscar Piastri who beached his McLaren with two minutes to go.
Red Bull went into qualifying as the team to beat, Verstappen timed his lap perfectly to optimise the best of the conditions going two-tenths faster than Fernando Alonso. Then Hulkenberg managed to maximise his lap to go almost two tenths faster than the Aston Martin and go second. That allowed Hulkenberg to take his first front row since his only pole position in Sao Paulo in 2010.
The Haas usually fighting just to get through to Q3 appeared to excel in the changeable conditions which allowed Hulkenberg to push Fernando Alonso, who has often been Verstappen’s closest challenger off the front row, by going nearly two-tenths faster than the Aston Martin.
Hulkenberg got the timing of his final lap right going second just before Piastri slid into the wall midway through Q3. That then brought out the red flag and then the rain intensified, and the track got slipper, bringing any chance of improving to an end. Alonso looked to be going faster than the German as he went through the Wall of Champions the red flag brought the session to an end.
However Hulkenberg later received a three-place grid penalty for speeding under the red flag following Oscar Piastri hitting the wall at Turn Seven towards the end of Q3. The session was stopped as Hulkenberg hit the opening pair of corners, and as a result he was a second and a half over the delta time which he was unable to rectify.
The timing of Piastri’s crash and the timing of the wet weather returning prevented others from improving.
Mercedes have looked to struggle against Ferrari and Aston Martin in qualifying to get close to Red Bull this season, but the wet weather coupled with Lewis Hamilton’s incredible stats in Montreal allowed him to go fourth. But the six-time pole sitter in Montreal, was three and a half tenths behind Alonso, and two and a half tenths ahead of teammate George Russell.
Esteban Ocon counited to show that Alpine are strong midfield contenders he was a tenth faster than Lando Norris. Ferrari has often challenged near the front in qualifying but the changing conditions saw Carlos Sainz only go eighth on his first run that left him ahead of Oscar Piastri and Alex Albon.
Piastri was not the only driver to suffer as conditions started damp, and became drier through the first one and a half sessions before the rain began to come down, at first lightly and then more heavily into the final part of qualifying.
However Sainz was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Pierre Gasly in Q1. The Alpine driver had to take avoiding action through the Wall of Champions and cut the chicane to narrowly avoiding a high-speed crash as cars backed up at the end of the session. The Frenchman in Barcelona received two three-place grid penalties last time out for impeding in qualifying.
Albon took a huge risk in Q2 going out on the soft tyres at the start of the session catapulted the Williams to go fastest. But then the rain returned meaning no one could challenge Albon after he went about a quarter of a second faster than Verstappen. While he couldn’t repeat his heroics in Q3 tenth is Williams’ best of the season so far. The British-Thai was unable to repeat the heroics in the final session but a ninth-place start is Williams’ best of the season so far.
Both Ferrari and Red Bull failed to get both cars through to Q3, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez both failing to use the narrow window to post their best laps. That left Leclerc eleventh three and a half tenths ahead of the Mexican. Leclerc had been pushed into the drop zone by Hulkenberg, while Perez lost the best of the weather to improve.
Perez went into the weekend saying he could not afford any more “bad weekends” after seeing his title challenge fall away with poor displays in Monaco and Barcelona. The Mexican looked to be caught out by the changing conditions and was the last onto the dry tyres then the rain returned. Then switching back to inters he locked up through the final chicane, and by the time he could go around again, the track was too wet to improve.
Perez said, “Once we went on the slick tyre track position wasn’t great. We were half a lap late. We definitely could have been a lot higher, in the top three.”
Leclerc also fell early and vented his fury at his Ferrari team over the radio, claiming they had not got the tyres ready when they were needed. Once again, the Monacan fuming at Ferrari’s strategy.
He told Sky Sports, “When the track is so dry and we are staying on intermediates, we are not making our life any easier. We will discuss with the team but it’s not the first time it’s happened. We are quite often on the wrong side of making those decisions in those tricky situations. I had a clear opinion and we went for something opposite.”
Lance Stroll recovered from a spectacular spin at Turn Five where he missed the wall on exit to go thirteenth. That put him nearly two-tenths ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas, the Finn slowest of those knocked out in Q2. But the Canadian picked up a penalty for impleading Ocon.
The end of Q1 was about being last over the line as the circuit continued to continually improve. Yuki Tsunoda a tenth quicker than an already frustrated Gasly after being impeded by Sainz, venting his fury over the radio to suggest that the Ferrari driver “should be banned”.
The incident forced Gasly off onto the escape road, which meant that the Frenchman stayed seventeenth and was eliminated, rather than improving his lap time to book a comfortable spot into Q2. Sainz’s defence was that he was impeded by Tsunoda, who had overtaken him before the chicane and therefore forced the Ferrari man to start his flying lap later than planned.
The stewards ruled “The driver of Car 55 (Sainz) stated that he was surprised that the driver of Car 22 (Tsunoda) overtook him into Turn Thirteen and as a result he accelerated late to start his fast lap. The driver of Car 10 (Gasly) stated that the driver of Car 55 (Sainz) could have and should have “gone earlier”. Telemetry showed a significant speed differential between Cars 55 (Sainz) and 10 (Gasly)”.
“Although the overtaking move by Car 22 (Tsunoda) took the driver of Car 55 (Sainz) by surprise, it is our determination that the driver of Car 55 (Sainz) was predominantly to blame and unnecessarily impeded Car 10 (Gasly).”
Tsunoda was demoted from sixteenth to nineteenth, while Stroll dropped from fourteenth to seventeenth.
Tsunoda missed out on the cut having been a hundredth shy of Hulkenberg in fifteenth, who felt the Japanese driver had impeded him during the session. Nyck de Vries could not improve upon eighteenth on his final lap, as Logan Sargeant joined Zhou on the final row of the grid as the Chinese driver was able to return to the circuit but couldn’t improve