Max Verstappen takes Canadian F1 GP pole in wet with Leclerc near the back

  • Ferrari’s Leclerc relegated to 19th by power unit penalties
  • Lewis Hamilton in fourth and Fernando Alonso second

Relentless in both reliability and form of late, Max Verstappen can only expect to leave the Canadian Grand Prix with what is swiftly becoming an ominous championship lead after claiming pole position in Montreal. However, Formula One’s young charger will have fierce company off the start line from the old guard, with Fernando Alonso showing all his experience and class to claim second place in treacherous wet conditions at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Certainly Verstappen’s lap was a magnificent performance for pole but Alonso, at 40, 16 years senior to the Dutchman, also delivered a masterclass, an object lesson when a wet track proved the great leveller over car performance. Alonso was last on the front row in Germany in 2012 and knows his Alpine will not be able to challenge for the win but was clearly revelling in showing off his sublime touch during qualifying.

“It feels great, it was an unbelievable weekend so far for us,” he said. “The car was mega and the fans pushed me to make an extra push. I think we’ll attack Max on the first corner.”

Verstappen remains strong favourite over race pace but admitted he would take nothing for granted alongside the Spaniard. “I used to follow Fernando as a kid, he’s getting a bit old but I know he starts really fast so I will have to be ready,” Red Bull’s lead driver said, smiling.

His title rival Charles Leclerc, however, can hope at best only to minimise the damage this weekend as he was compromised by penalties that will see him start his Ferrari from 19th. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez, second in the title standings, crashed in Q2 and will start 13th.

For Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes a weekend of experimentation on their car delivered no progress but the team at least held their place as the third fastest, with Hamilton in fourth. However, his teammate George Russell managed only eighth after taking a gamble on slick rubber in the final minutes. Carlos Sainz was in third for Ferrari with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in fifth.

Verstappen was undeniably majestic in very tricky conditions while Leclerc, stymied by Ferrari’s reliability issues, seems powerless to halt the world champion once more extending his lead.

The Monégasque driver took a swathe of new power unit components before qualifying after suffering an engine failure in Baku. With the fourth engine unit he has already surpassed the maximum three permitted with 14 races to go.

Verstappen, by contrast, could not be more confident. He has four wins from the previous five races while Leclerc has suffered two DNFs and a Ferrari strategic meltdown in Monaco in the last three. Verstappen now holds a 21-point lead over Pérez and a full 34 points over Leclerc. The gap to Leclerc is the one that counts and it is becoming a chasm.

Verstappen put himself in the best possible position to expand it further with a mighty performance. With the track wet the final laps required commitment and care and with a natural touch the Dutchman found it.

Lewis Hamilton in the pits in Montreal
Lewis Hamilton will start in fourth on the grid in Montreal. Photograph: Jim Watson/EPA

Qualifying opened after heavy rain, with drivers tiptoeing round a treacherous surface. With the track drying in Q3 they stayed out looking for the final moments offering the most grip. Verstappen pushed to the limit, negotiating the testing high kerbs, looming walls and heavy braking zones that define this mighty track with precision.

Setting a time of 1min 21.299sec he was a full six-tenths up on Alonso, who emerged from his car to cheers echoing round the circuit. Given Verstappen’s form of late, Red Bull’s formidable race pace and his exceptional tyre management, he may well be unassailable on Sunday.

Hamilton returned his best qualifying of the season but was still 1.5sec from Verstappen. After the FIA announced on Thursday there were to be concessions in the rules to combat the porpoising that has plagued some teams including Mercedes this season, their efforts to adapt the car on the fly in Canada have been painful. Reverting to a previous setup has worked and he was pleased with the performance and may be in with a shot of a podium but is more than aware Mercedes remain on the back foot.

Mick Schumacher was in sixth for Haas, Esteban Ocon in seventh for Alpine, Daniel Ricciardo in ninth for McLaren and Guanyu Zhou in tenth for Alfa Romeo.

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Pérez crashed out after locking up in Q2 causing a brief red flag delay and finished in 13th. McLaren’s Lando Norris had a power unit issue and finished in 14th, in front of Leclerc, with Ferrari opting for their driver to not set a time in Q2. Valtteri Bottas was in 11th for Alfa Romeo and Alex Albon 12th for Williams.

Pierre Gasly was in 16th while his AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda was in 20th, his place at the back of the grid cemented with a grid penalty for taking new power unit elements. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were in 17th and 18th for Aston Martin and Nicholas Latifi in 19th for Williams.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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