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Verstappen claims maiden Spanish GP pole

By AFP - Jun 03,2023 - Last updated at Jun 03,2023

First placed Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen waves at the end of the qualifying session for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix in Montmelo on Saturday (AFP photo by Josep Lago)

MONTMELÓ, Spain — Defending double world champion Max Verstappen claimed his maiden Spanish Grand Prix pole position with some ease on Saturday after a topsy-turvy qualifying saw both his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Lecerc fail to progress. 

In changeable conditions at the Circuit de Catalunya, the series leader recorded an early fastest lap of one minute and 12.272 seconds to outpace nearest rival and local hero Carlos Sainz of Ferrari by 0.462 seconds. 

Lando Norris was third for McLaren with a thrilling late lap to go ahead of Pierre Gasly of Alpine and Mercedes’ seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton.

It was the 24th pole position of his career for Verstappen.

“Not bad,” said Verstappen, with his customary understatement. “It’s very nice to come here and get my first pole. I like the circuit and I have a lot of good memories here.”

Gasly faces a stewards’ investigation into two blocking incidents and may face a grid penalty.

Lance Stroll was sixth for Aston Martin, the first time this year that he had out-qualified two-time champion Fernando Alonso, ahead of Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg.

Alonso was ninth and Oscar Piastri 10th in the second McLaren. 

After earlier showers, the track was damp and the conditions warm under a partly-cloudy sky — allowing for slick tyres — when the session began. 

“It’s spitting,” said Russell as he pulled away for the first session. “But only lightly.”

Yuki Tsunoda immediately lost control of his Alpha Tauri at Turn 12, but continued before Bottas went off at the same corner prompting a red flag. 

Verstappen then immediately stamped his authority on proceedings in 1:13.660 as Leclerc struggled and Sainz claimed he was impeded by Gasly at the final corner, an issue noted for investigation by the stewards. Gasly was later accused of also blocking Verstappen. 

Perez was also struggling for pace while Leclerc improved, but only to 16th — leaving him in the ‘drop zone’ with five minutes remaining — before leaping to fourth on new tyres. 

 

‘Undriveable’

 

The final minutes saw improved conditions and tumbling lap times as Hulkenberg, Norris and then Hamilton went top, but Leclerc — on pole in 2022 — failed to do the same and ended up 19th and out. 

It was his first first session elimination in 83 Grands Prix since the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix. “We are out, right? Unbelievable,” he said, having grumbled out a lack of rear end grip. 

Later, he added: “I don’t have the answer for now.. the left corners are undriveable. We need to analyse and understand it... No grip at all.”

Hamilton’s lap in 1:12.937 ended Verstappen’s weekend domination while Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant joined Leclerc in missing the cut. 

Verstappen was first out in Q2 to clock 1:12.760, a lap 0.9 seconds quicker than Perez, but Hamilton had to abort his first run before improving to take P2 ahead of Alonso. 

On his final run, Perez, slid off at Turn Five and emerged from a gravel trap to continue. Russell also struggled and joined the Mexican in missing the top ten shootout. 

As expected Verstappen topped it ahead of Norris, as out went Russell and Perez along with Guanyu Zhou, De Vries and Tsunoda. 

To add to Russell’s misery, he collided with Mercedes team-mate Hamilton, pulling across and damaging his front wing in the closing laps. 

Russell, who admitted his error and apologised, was added to the list for stewards’ investigations. 

The third session shootout began with McLaren’s Oscar Pisasti on top briefly before Ocon and then Verstappen took command, the champion on new softs clocking a 1:12.272, the fastest lap of the day.

Hamilton, with a new wing, slotted into second on his first run, nine-tenths adrift on used tyres to set up a tense finale for the big crowd.

 

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