Charles Leclerc has taken his ninth pole position of the season after title leader Max Verstappen was forced to abort his final flying lap by the team
The qualifying hour started wet enough for intermediate tires after heavy rain earlier in the day, but ended will all 10 drivers in the pole shootout on slicks despite some standing water still on track, particularly in the final sector beneath the grandstands.
Rather than plan for two separate runs, most drivers were fueled for one long stint to build tire temperature, meaning provisional pole constantly changed hands as grip ramped up.
Lewis Hamilton was an early leader before Leclerc pipped him by half a tenth, and Sergio Perez slotted between them as the clock counted down to zero.
But Verstappen was on track to blow all three out of the water. He was almost a full second up at the end of the second sector, but when he rounded the final two corners he was urgently called into the pits by his team.
“What the f***?” he replied. “What the f*** are you guys saying?
“Unbelievable mate. I don’t get it. What the f*** is this about?”
Red Bull Racing said afterwards that it was concerned the Dutchman was about to run out of fuel. If a car can’t provide a fuel sample to scrutineering, it’s thrown out of qualifying and forced to start at the back.
Instead of contending for pole, it left him eighth on the grid ahead of a race in which overtaking will be challenging.
Verstappen’s concession confirmed Leclerc’s second successive pole and puts him in a strong position to grind out a victory on Sunday.
“It’s been a very, very tricky qualifying,” he said. “Overall I managed to do quite a clean lap and it worked very well.
“It was really, really special.
“If we do the perfect execution, I’m sure we can win.”
Sergio Perez was just 0.022s shy of his second career pole position, but the Mexican hoped he could turn a front-row start into victory.
“I think it’s a good opportunity tomorrow at the start to attack Charles and go for the win,” he said. “It’s quite disappointing to miss out on pole by 0.02s, but at the end of the day it’s a great team result.”
Lewis Hamilton missed his first pole of the year by 0.054s but secures his first top-three start of the season.
The Briton was thrilled to have had a shot at pole and was optimistic he could be competitive in the grand prix.
“I was pushing so hard,” he said. “It was so, so close. I was trying so hard.
“I really though maybe with a perfect lap, which was really hard to get, that we could be fighting for first place. I just didn’t have the grip.
“Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.”
Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari and 0.171s off the pace, ensuring Ferrari has a numerical advantage early in tomorrow’s race.
Fernando Alonso was best among the midfielders in his updated Alpine, lapping half a second off the pole pace and more than 0.6s quicker than Lando Norris, who rescued sixth in tricky conditions on what looked set to be a painful day for McLaren.
Pierre Gasly was seventh of AlphaTauri ahead of the infuriated Verstappen.
Kevin Magnussen will start ninth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in 10th, both having used the intermediate tire early in Q1 before switching to slicks.
George Russell was a shock victim of Q2, pipped by Kevin Magnussen by just 0.006s. The Briton said he was struggling with the same issue that afflicted his car in first practice on Friday, when he had issues with braking over the bumps.
Lance Stroll was an early adopter of the slick tire but to no avail, leaving him 12th ahead of Mick Schumacher. Sebastian Vettel and Zhou Guanyu also risked slicks but found themselves knocked out 14th and 15th.
Valtteri Bottas will start 16th for Alfa Romeo after a later improvement from Schumacher pushed him into the knockout zone.
Daniel Ricciardo was 17th, 0.3s slower than teammate Norris in his old-spec McLaren.
Esteban Ocon was Q1’s surprise elimination in 18th. The Frenchman complained he “had no brakes” on his final lap, suggesting a temperature issue at a circuit that is extremely testing of braking material.
Williams teammates Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi will start on the back row of the grid in 19th and 20th.