Charles Leclerc delivered a remarkable final lap in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix to take pole position as Max Verstappen’s hopes were ended by a DRS issue.
Leclerc spun towards the end of his first attempt as he lost the rear entering the chicane, leaving him without a time on the board and provisionally P10 ahead of the final runs. Despite needing to get a lap on the board, Leclerc pulled out a stunning effort to post a 1:18.750 and go over 0.3s of Verstappen, who had set the pace initially.
While Leclerc was improving, Verstappen was unable to respond when his DRS didn’t open on the pit straight and he aborted his lap in Turn 3, but he will still start from second place on Sunday.
Carlos Sainz will start from third ahead of George Russell, with fourth the best result for Mercedes so far this season. However, after looking in the mix for pole throughout Q1 and Q2, Russell was over 0.6s off Leclerc and Mercedes didn’t look a true threat in the final part of qualifying.
Sergio Perez is fifth on the grid after being on the back foot slightly from Q1.
Down in seventh at the time during the first part of qualifying, Perez wasn’t feeling confident and went for a second run early on in but ran through the gravel at Turn 8 and ruined his lap, leaving him facing a nervous wait. While he advanced, it meant he was slightly more limited in terms of tire usage from then on, and only beat Lewis Hamilton to P5 by 0.092s.
Valtteri Bottas was a similar margin behind Hamilton in seventh while Kevin Magnussen’s eighth place was made even more impressive when the gap to Hamilton – 0.17s – and the fact that Haas is the only team not to bring any upgrades to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. It was a strong showing from both Haas drivers, with Mick Schumacher in 10th place behind Daniel Ricciardo.
Mercedes were on on fresh soft tires compared to used for the Red Bull and Ferrari for the first runs in Q2, and Russell and Hamilton duly set the pace early on before slipping back behind Verstappen and Sainz, but it at least gave them the luxury of not completing a second run.
The surprise in that session was the ongoing pace of Haas, and also the elimination of Lando Norris after he was penalized for exceeding track limits on his final run and was demoted to 11th place, saving Schumacher. Norris joined Esteban Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Guanyu Zhou in dropping out.
There were big names that dropped out in the first part of qualifying, too, as Fernando Alonso found himself up behind Norris to start his final lap and unable to improve. The incident was noted by the stewards but then cleared and no further investigation carried out, leaving Alonso 17th on the grid.
Sebastian Vettel was just 0.074s away from a spot in Q2 and when informed he had been eliminated replied over team radio: “You must be kidding”, as Aston Martin’s upgrades failed to deliver a step forward in competitiveness.
Lance Stroll had already been involved in a close call with Norris in the pit lane in which the Aston Martin released alongside the McLaren and the two nearly make contact – with the stewards deciding to investigate after the session – before he dropped out in P18, ahead of Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi.