Max Verstappen will start his home grand prix from pole position for the third year in a row after topping a qualifying session that featured six different teams in the top six.
Verstappen’s final flying lap, a 1m11.567, was enough to deny Lando Norris pole by 0.537s in a session that started in wet conditions, but had dried by the time the checkered flag fell in Q3.
“I’m happy still,” said Norris despite missing out on pole. “P2 was a good result, I guess, in these kinds of conditions. Every now and then you hope Max makes a mistake and he doesn’t, so it’s frustrating in a little way but I’m happy. The team did a great job.”
It was those changeable conditions that forced two delays in Q3, the first being a 20-minute stoppage to repair the Turn 2 barriers, damaged after an off for Logan Sargeant. The second came after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc understeered at Turn 9, then hit the wall after being unable to regain control on the wet grass.
“It was a very tricky qualifying, starting of course with the intermediates, but also the track surface is quite slippery with the new tarmac,” said Verstappen. “It was all about putting your laps in and staying out of trouble. I think we managed that quite well but then also the end when we could go onto the slick tires again there was just one dry line in some places and we had to risk it a bit but that last lap was very enjoyable.”
Verstappen admitted that the unknown of the conditions also caught his team out at the start of Q3, when he was one of four drivers to emerge on intermediate tires, although all quickly switched to the dry, soft compound after a sighting lap.
“We’ve been to some other places already where we’ve had wet races, and I think this was the first time that we came here with these kind of conditions and I think we maybe underestimated — with the wind as well and then the sun coming out — how quickly it dried,” he said. “It’s, again, all about experience and lessons you take forward but at the end of the day it didn’t matter we still did the right thing.”
George Russell was third for Mercedes, bettering Alex Albon who was arguably the star of qualifying after topping Q1 and going third fastest in Q2 for Williams.
“Really great session, happy to be here in P3,” said Russell. “Quali was one of my strengths at the start of the year and it’s just been going a little bit wrong recently. So it was good to have that break, came in with a fresh set of ideas, good reset, and we’re a great place tomorrow to fight for a podium.
Fifth went to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, with Sergio Perez seventh. After it looked like McLaren could have been on course for a front-row lockout, Oscar Piastri could only manage eighth, his final flying lap coming too early to make the most of optimum track conditions.
The crashed Leclerc and Sargeant completed the top 10, Sargeant making his first Q3 appearance of his career, and the first top-10 qualifying performance for an American driver since Michael Andretti at the 1993 Italian Grand Prix.
Sergeant made it through after a late Q2 lap which denied Stroll, with Gasly also failing to make it through in 11th.
The biggest casualty from Q2 was Lewis Hamilton, who did his final push lap too early, meaning his tires were overheated by the time track conditions were at their peak for the session. It marked just the second time this season — the other being Miami — that Hamilton had failed to make it out of Q2. Behind him was Yuji Tsunoda and Nico Hulkenberg.
Failing to make it out of Q1 was debutant Liam Lawson, Valtteri Bottas, and Guanyu Zhou, both Alfa Romeo drivers being split by Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon. The quintet were all caught out by the changing conditions, the rain arriving late in the session as they embarked on their final flying laps.