Max Verstappen has beaten Carlos Sainz by almost half a second to take pole for the Spanish Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver set a 12.272 saying the car was on rails as he looks to continue his strong run of form, Verstappen set his fastest time on his first run in Q3 then no driver could get close enough to challenge for pole.
The world championship leader maintained his impressive form to be fastest at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and was even able to abort his final flying lap with no other drivers capable of beating his first Q3 effort. Verstappen showing his dominance as well as the challenge faced by his teammate Sergio Perez, his most likely challenger for the title.
Sainz was the only Ferrari driver into Q3 as his teammate Charles Leclerc was a early casualty, the Monacan failing to improve and was shuffled down to nineteenth and out in Q1. A strong performance for his best qualifying session of the year.
The Spaniard moving onto the front row on his final run in Q3 which saw him set personal bests in all three sectors and go ahead of his former teammate Lando Norris by six hundredths. But Ferrari’s upgrades didn’t close the gap to Red Bull with Sainz nearly half a second off Verstappen.
Verstappen said: “The car has been really nice since the beginning of the weekend and I have only made small adjustments. It has just been really enjoyable to drive and when you have that you can really push it to the limit.”
Sainz said he was encouraged by the performance of Ferrari with their revised side pods and floor introduced this weekend. He complained that the car felt odd from the start of qualifying, and said: “I was completely sure I was out after the feeling I had in Q1. We will check the car tonight but I would be very surprised if the car was fine. It is the left-hand side. It was a disaster. The balance was extremely difficult.
In Q1, Ferrari looked to get its timing wrong or make a mistake, all the teams played it safe with the threat of rain sending the cars out for bankers, not Ferrari. They then found themselves dropping down the order and out.
Leclerc explained, “We were just completely slow, I was not even that surprised when they told me I was out of Q1. I was very surprised with the feeling, which is why I said ‘unbelievable’. When they told me I was out of Q1 with the car I had today I was not surprised.”
Pierre Gasly once again highlighted the competitive midfield pace that Alpine have, he was fourth fastest, just over two hundredths behind Norris and ahead of Lewis Hamilton by two thousandths of a second. Hamilton had looked like the closest challenger his first lap in Q3 put him second, and after topping Q1, but he couldn’t improve on his final run in the final sector leaving him fifth ahead of Lance Stroll.
Hamilton and teammate George Russell are under investigation for a collision in Q2, when starting a lap Russell appeared to pull over in front of Hamilton after completing his lap. It looked as if Russell was trying to find more temperature in his tyres but the 200mph incident damaged Hamilton’s front wing.
However, Gasly is likely to be demoted for two incidents of impeding other drivers. A mixed day for Mercedes following the upgrades in Monaco, but the team looks to have made a step forwards being Verstappen’s closest challenger
One of the most competitive qualifying of the season so far saw seven teams covered by nearly a second and take the top six positions, with Esteban Ocon seventh nearly a tenth behind Stroll. Already this season the racing in the midfield has been tight and once again proved to be about being on track at the right time in changeable conditions, resulting in several improvements at the end of each segment.
Fernando Alonso couldn’t really fight for the front row as damage caused by an off at Catalunya in Q1. That would have lost him performance through the corner and along the main straight and Aston Martin having to patch up the car, also resulting in him being out qualified by his teammate Stroll for the first time.
Oscar Piastri made it two McLarens in Q3, the Australian rounding out the top ten a tenth an three quarters behind Alonso. Perez was fastest of those knocked out in Q2, the Red Bull driver had improved on his last attempt in all three sectors, but was still five hundredths off Hulkenberg in tenth.
Perez, whose form has dropped off since he appeared to ignite a title challenge with victory in Azerbaijan last month, narrowly escaped a Q1 exit, but went off into the gravel when under pressure in the closing stages of Q2, ruining his tyres and confining him to eleventh on the grid.
The second week in a row Perez has underdevlivered his mistake resulted in a trip through the gravel and heaped the pressure on him to complete a lap before the session timed out. Ultimately, he fell short and faces another battle back the field on Sunday after qualifying last in Monaco one week ago.
The Mexican just over a hundredth ahead of Russell, who along with the incident with Hamilton complained that his tyres were not working as expected – the Briton saving a big snap out of Turn Eleven, where Nyck de Vries had spun twice in Q1. Guanyu Zhou was thirteenth ahead of both Alpha Tauri’s, de Vries and Yuki Tsunoda.
Like in FP3 the wet weather hung around as Q1 began the circuit was in the difficult stage between being too wet for slicks but too dry for inters, that created several off moments through out the first part. A frantic session saw every driver out for most of the session and a few red flags. Valtteri Bottas was fastest of those knocked out, that was despite him spinning off and bringing out the red flag at Turn Five. But the Finn was seven hundredths ahead of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
Alex Albon was eighteenth ahead of Leclerc by sixteen thousandths of a second, with the Ferrari driver splitting the Williams’ with Logan Sargeant six tenths behind. Leclerc normally seen as the fastest driver in qualifying looked to struggle to find pace in the damp and as others improved couldn’t bounce back.