Lance Stroll will be the first non-Mercedes driver to start from pole this season after a perfectly judged performance in an extraordinary two-hour qualifying marathon for the Turkish Grand Prix.
In treacherously wet and slippery conditions the Canadian was flawless under pressure to beat Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by 0.29s.
Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth and ninth respectively.
Stroll had only one lap to vie for pole. With the circuit conditions improving after heavy rain suspended the session for almost an hour during Q1, Racing Point made a late call to switch him to the intermediate tire, and his first attempt was blighted by yellow flags. But the RP20 was at ease on the greasy asphalt, and Stroll was able to string together just one unbeatable lap to put himself on pole.
“I can’t really put it into words right now,” he said. “I’m shocked, I didn’t expect to be up here.
“I’m so happy right now. I really put that lap together there at the end. I was under a lot of pressure. I had the confidence in the car and I just nailed pretty much every corner and pieced it together nicely.”
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Up until the final minutes of Q3 pole seemed sure to go Verstappen’s way after the Dutchman comfortably topped the previous two qualifying segments and clean swept qualifying, but a crucial strategic error undermined his efforts.
Having started the top-10 shootout on the full wet tire, a blistering lap by Sergio Perez on the intermediate convinced Red Bull Racing to call Verstappen in for a rubber switch and abandon what was shaping up as a provisional pole lap, the Dutchman having already set two purple sectors. But Verstappen rejoined the track stuck behind Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, preventing him from building temperature in the intermediate rubber and leaving him unable to compete.
“Already in Q1 when we tried to go out on inters we had no grip,” he lamented. “For us, the inters were horrible whereas the extreme tires were good.
“At the moment I’m a bit disappointed of course. There’s the race tomorrow when of course we can do well, but when you’re first the whole time and you come out second, it’s not what you want.”
Perez ended the session third and 1.5s off his teammate’s benchmark after running off track on his final lap, spoiling a strong run of provisional pole times in Q3.
“A great result for the team, something we were not really expecting,” he said.
“In the end we were just unlucky — my final lap when the track was at its best I had [Antonio] Giovinazzi in front and he didn’t move out of the way and I lost my lap.
“Track position was king today to be able to maintain your temperatures in the tires.”
The Mexican, however, is under investigation with Carlos Sainz for a blocking incident from earlier in the session.
Alex Albon qualified fourth for Red Bull Racing ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth, his relatively lowly position down to Mercedes struggling to generate tire temperature this weekend. The Briton is almost certain to win a record-equaling seventh championship this weekend, however, needing only to prevent teammate Bottas from outscoring him by eight points or more to seal the deal.
Esteban Ocon will start seventh in the sister Renault ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in Alfa Romeo’s highest starting position and first Q3 appearance of the season.
Bottas will start ninth on the clean side of the grid ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi in the second Alfa Romeo.
Neither McLaren driver felt he was able to extract any grip from the tires. Land Norris led the way in 11th with Carlos Sainz in 13th. The teammates were split by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in a rare triumph over Charles Leclerc in the sister car, his first since the third race of the season, the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Pierre Gasly qualified 15th for AlphaTauri but was more than two seconds behind Leclerc.
Kevin Magnussen was knocked out 16th, but the Dane complained over team radio that he’d been eliminated by drivers who improved their times while double yellow flags were being waved in the middle sector.
The caution was called for Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, who had spun and beached himself in the gravel on the outside of Turn 8. Stewards will investigate those who improved despite the yellow flags after the session.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 17th for AlphaTauri ahead of George Russell, but the Williams driver but will start last with a power unit penalty.
Romain Grosjean was 19th quickest despite beaching his Haas car in the gravel at turn one of his first flying lap attempt after the red flag, prompting a second brief suspension of the session.
Latifi was slowest of the session after getting stuck in the gravel in the final flurry of flying laps.