Red Bull driver Max Verstappen climbed to his first-ever Spanish Grand Prix pole position by comfortably beating Ferrari rival Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris in Saturday’s qualifying session at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Verstappen, who won the event in 2016 and 2022 but never started it from the front of the grid, converted his practice sweep into the P1 for Sunday’s race with a dominant performance across the closing hour.
In fact, after pumping in an initial lap of 1m and 12.272 seconds in the shootout, Verstappen had the luxury of pulling back on his second attempt and was still nearly half a second ahead of local champ Sainz and Norris, who emerged as his closest rivals. In an action packed session.
This included Charles Leclerc pulling out of the Q1 stage amid complaints from cars, another Red Bull from Sergio Perez falling into the second qualifying hurdle after a trip through the gravel, and George Russell also going out in Q2 after a freak accident with teammate Lewis Hamilton. .
Pierre Gasly finished fourth in another strong showing by Alpine, albeit with a stewards’ investigation hanging over him after he got caught in the way of rival cars, with Hamilton and Lance Stroll completing the top six.
Esteban Ocon put the other Alpine team seventh, Nico Hulkenberg led Haas in eighth, Fernando Alonso ninth after running out of sequence with the rest of the field in Q3, and McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri tenth.
Perez followed up his Q1 exit in Monaco with another compromised qualifying session, having spun off the track at Turn 5 during Q2, while Russell could do no more than 12 after hitting wheels with Hamilton on the start/finish straight as the Mercedes duo narrowed the line. Race.
Zhou Guanyu was the leading Alfa Romeo in 13th, with AlphaTauri teammates Nyck de Vries and Yuki Tsunoda recovering from some early laps to finish 14th and 15th respectively – the Dutchman continued to build confidence after a mixed start to the season.
Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen lacked pace compared to their Alfa Romeo and Haas teammates, dropping out in the Q1 stage in 16th and 17th respectively, with Leclerc following closely behind as he complained of car problems from the start.
Leclerc’s first Q1 exit since Monaco 2019 left him 19th on the grid, between the Williams pairing of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, the latter unable to make an impression after mechanics worked hard to fix the car he wrecked during a final crash.
Qualifying Highlights: 2023 Spanish Grand Prix
as it happened
Q1 – Spins galore and Leclerc suffers a shock exit
With rain falling during final practice and continuing into the F2 support race that followed, it initially looked as if qualifying would take place on a wet track, but a break in the weather – and persistent warm temperatures – meant the tarmac was drying up quickly.
All eyes were still high, with more rain arriving just before the start of Q1 and a huge queue of cars immediately heading onto the track for a banked lap on the slick tyres – the chance of a shower during the session sits at around 30%.
There was drama almost immediately as Tsunoda lost control of his AlphaTauri on a wet patch and spun off Turn 11, with Bottas and teammate De Vries doing the same two minutes later, while Alonso ran wide at the final corner and Albon went off at turn 5.
At this point, with gravel on several areas of the track and needing to be cleaned up, a red flag was thrown – after Gasly set the initial benchmark on 1m 14.618s from teammate Ocon, Stroll, Magnussen, Hamilton, Russell and Alonso, he lost Hulkenberg took time to push the track limits.
When action resumed on the track, Verstappen pumped a lap of 1min 13.660sec to go faster than his FP3 time setting the pace from the outside of the field, with Piastri closing in on second from Ocon, Zhou and Sainz, who escaped a near miss as he approached from a slow pace. . – Gasly moved into the penultimate corner in an incident that will be considered after the qualifiers.
Meanwhile, De Vries went on another round of turn 11 lamenting “What am I doing wrong there?” , but the rookie did his thing together next time to jump out of the relegation zone and leave Tsunoda, Russell and Albon, Sargent and Leclerc in danger with six minutes left to run.
Many drivers have had moments when qualifying started in wet patches of track
Leclerc said after an off-track trip into Turn 1, where Monaco then called into the balance on his return to the pits, building up the pressure ahead of what will be the all-or-nothing final run.
But it would go from bad to worse for last year’s native, who couldn’t deliver the needed improvement in the long run to the checkered flag and ended up a barely believable P19, ahead only of Williams rookie Sargeant, who slipped away from the race. Field after his FP3 crash.
At the other end of the timescales, a series of improvements in ever-evolving conditions saw Hamilton come out on top in a race of 1m 12.937s, less than four-tenths behind Norris and team-mate Russell, followed by Sainz, Hulkenberg and Albin. Ocon and Gasly pair, De Vries and Verstappen – another losing time behind Gasly – and Zhou.
Piastri dropped down the order to 11th but still safely made it into Q2 in 11th place, along with Alonso Martins of Alonso and Stroll, Tsunoda and Perez, who had the good fortune not to join Leclerc when another Q1 upset occurred. in Red Bull.
Bottas and Magnussen weren’t able to catch up with their teammates until the second quarter, as they pulled away in 16th and 17th respectively, and Albon fell the other driver at the first qualifying hurdle alongside the aforementioned Leclerc and Sargent.
Sent off: Bottas, Magnussen, Albon, Leclerc, Sargent
Leclerc was a surprise elimination during the first qualifying stage
Q2 – Perez retired as the two Mercedes drivers clashed
When Q2 started, Verstappen picked up where he left off by clocking 1m 12.760s on a set of new soft tyres, with Perez backing him up to second, over eight-tenths, but he completed his first timed effort on used rubber.
After an abandoned lap, Hamilton lit up the timing screens to finish second, 0.239 seconds behind Verstappen, with Alonso, Ocon, Stroll, Russell and Gasly also among the Red Bulls, Sainz and Cho keeping the final passes for Q3.
That left Norris, Bystri, de Vries, Tsunoda and Hülkenberg in the drop zone before the final sequence of laps, which saw him run wide at turn five, then slip through the gravel and leave him with a battle on his hands to make the pole shootout.
Verstappen didn’t need to post again as he wrapped up the lead again, finishing narrowly ahead of Norris and Sainz, with Hamilton leading the Mercedes attack after a bizarre encounter with teammate Russell and seeing Silver Arrows popping wheels on the lead. In the straight – the seven-time world champion was left with front wing damage.
Ocon, Piastri, Aston Martins of Stroll, Alonso, Gasly and Hulkenberg were the last drivers to make it into Q3, with Perez missing after visiting the gravel area and leaving to lament another hacked qualifying session from the back of Q1. accident in Monaco.
Russell apologized over the radio for missing the cut and having to settle for 12th, with the added drama of that in-team showdown with Hamilton, while the Chu and AlfaTauri duo of Alfa Romeo de Vries and Tsunoda brought up the rear in the Q2 division.
Out: Perez, Russell, Cho, De Vries, Tsunoda
Red Bull’s Perez and Mercedes’ Russell were eliminated in the second quarter stage
Q3 – Verstappen attacks the field in the penalty shootout
Verstappen started Q3 with another strong effort on another new set of soft tyres, dropping to 1m 12.272s, nearly a second off nearest rival Hamilton, as Hulkenberg used his only penalty shootout to finish third.
Alonso also went one flying lap, rising to P4 before a string of late laps sent the timesheets passing, but there would be no change at the top as Verstappen secured his fourth pole of the season without having to complete a second lap.
“That last lap would have been very beautiful”, Verstappen commented over the radio, before being told it was “not worth taking the last sector” in a revised layout that now features a fast final corner that puts too much pressure on the tyres.
Sainz and Norris took advantage of sudden eliminations in Q1 and Q2 to finish second and third, followed by Gasly – on his way to the race judges due to blocking incidents with Sainz and Verstappen – Hamilton and Stroll.
Ocon took the two spots in the top 10, followed by Hulkenberg, Alonso – who is facing a long quest for a podium in front of his beloved fans – and Bystry, with the top 10 being covered by just over a second.
No one could stop Verstappen when he finished fourth for the season
“The car was really good,” said first sitter Verstappen. “Qualifying started a little rough with the weather, but by Q3 the car was on the rails. It was a lot of fun driving today. I love the track, I love the fans and I have some great memories here.”
The 2023 Spanish Grand Prix is scheduled to start at 1500 local time on Sunday. Go to Racing Centre Find out how you can capture the action of Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.