Max Verstappen took his fourth F1 pole position of 2023 and his first at the Spanish Grand Prix as he beat Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz by almost half a second at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya Saturday. Lando Norris qualified third for McLaren as Charles Leclerc exited the session in Q1, qualifying in 19th position.
With the threat of rain, a queue formed at the pit exit in anticipation of the start of the session, and when the lights turned green a steady stream of cars flowed out onto the track. The early pace was set by Alpine’s Pierre Gasly who posted a time of 1:14.618 ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
However, three minutes into the segment the red flags were out. A number of drivers had off-track moments and with a large amount of gravel on track, Race Control briefly brought the session to a halt.
After a delay of eight minutes the session restarted, and this time Verstappen jumped to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:13.660.
Top spot in the session went to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, with a 1:12.937, a second clear of the first driver to be eliminated, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas who exited in P16, a tenth behind Pérez. The Finnish driver qualified ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and the Williams of Albon. The big casualty of Q1, though, was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver was unhappy with his car and exited in P19 ahead of Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
In Q2, Verstappen was first out on track, and he took P1 with a lap of 1:12.760. Pérez was next across the line but on used tires the Mexican was more than eight tenths off his teammate. Sainz couldn’t get close either and the home favorite slotted into P3, a full second behind Verstappen.
Fernando Alonso fared better, and he rose above Pérez to take P2 with a lap of 1:13.278 before but the Aston Martin driver was then shuffled back to P3 by Hamilton who posted a lap of 1:12.999 to sit a little over two tenths of a second off Verstappen.
As other first-run times arrived, Pérez again slid back, and ahead of the final flyers the Mexican was down in P8. On what should have been his final flyer the Mexican made a mistake at Turn 5 and slid off into the gravel. He managed to rejoin and tried again. However, he couldn’t find the pace necessary and he was ruled out in P11, just 0.051 of a second behind the 10th-placed Haas of Nico Hülkenberg.
As Verstappen eased through to Q3 in P1 there was further drama elsewhere. Mercedes’ George Russell, eliminated in P12 behind Pérez, moved across the track to avoid a slower Mercedes, but the British driver was unaware that Hamilton was behind and closing fast. Hamilton was forced to the track edge and shipped front wing damage as he clipped his team-mate’s car. Ruled out behind Russell, who faced investigation after the session, were Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and the AlphaTauri’s of Nyck de Vries and Yuki Tsunoda.
Verstappen’s march to pole position was sealed on his first run in Q3. With new softs onboard Verstappen showed blistering pace to take provisional pole with a lap of 1:12.272 – more than nine tenths of a second clear of second-placed Hamilton.
And the Dutchman might have gone even quicker on his final run. Up on his opening time midway through his final flyer, but with Sainz only getting to 0.462 behind Verstappen, the team told the champion to abort the lap and, in the end, Verstappen eased to his 24th career pole position.
“I have to say, from the start, the car was pretty good,” Verstappen said. “I only made like tiny little adjustments, but I felt comfortable straight away – long runs, short runs.
“It’s never easy to get to the limit in a Formula 1 car, but it’s been very enjoyable to drive, it gives me a lot of confidence and when you have all that, you can really push it to the limit.”
Sainz secured second.
“I needed it!” he said. “Even getting through Q1, Q2, putting in a good lap with only one set of tyres in Q3 – it was one of the most tricky qualifying sessions I can remember. I felt like I was driving very well, I was pushing everything, and I didn’t leave anything on the table today.”
Third place went to McLaren’s Lando Norris.
“I’m surprised to be here but an amazing job, P3, almost P2,” Norris said. “A home race for Carlos [Sainz] so I thought I’d give him a tenth. I’m very happy, difficult qualifying but always i these tricky ones we seem to do well.”
After the session Gasly, who had qualified fourth, had to report to the stewards twice after qualifying to explain two separate incidents – and was later hit with two three-place grid penalties.
In the first incident, he seemed to impede Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari midway through Q1, the Spaniard angrily exclaiming on the radio that he had had to “lift off” and implying that his lap was ruined. Later on, Gasly then found himself with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull on his tail, mistakenly thinking the Dutchman was on a slow lap rather than a push one.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix – Qualifying
- Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:12.272
- Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:12.734 0.462
- Lando Norris McLaren 1:12.792 0.520
- Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:12.818 0.546
- Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:12.994 0.722
- Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:13.083 0.811
- Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:13.229 0.957
- Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:13.507 1.235
- Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:13.682 1.410
- Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:12.816 0.544
- Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:13.334 1.062
- George Russell Mercedes 1:13.447 1.175
- Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:13.521 1.249
- Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:14.083 1.811
- Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:14.477 2.205
- Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:13.977 1.705
- Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:14.042 1.770
- Alex Albon Williams 1:14.063 1.791
- Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:14.079 1.807
- Logan Sargeant Williams 1:14.699 2.427
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