Leclerc takes pole ahead of Verstappen at Spanish GP

Charles Leclerc went 1 minute, 18.750 seconds around Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. He dropped Max Verstappen in a Red Bull to second by a margin of 0.323 seconds as Leclerc won his fourth pole of the season and 13th of his career.

AP
Charles Leclerc, who was fastest in all three practice sessions ahead of qualifying, holds a 19-point lead over Max Verstappen after five races.

Formula One championship leader Charles Leclerc recovered from a spin in qualifying to put his Ferrari on the pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in a last-gasp run that bumped reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Leclerc shouted “that was good!” after his run in the closing moments of the third round of Saturday qualifying. His spin earlier in the round had sent him scurrying to the pit for a change of tires. He then tore off for his final run.

Leclerc went 1 minute, 18.750 seconds around Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. He dropped Verstappen in a Red Bull to second by a margin of 0.323 seconds as Leclerc won his fourth pole of the season and 13th of his career.

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He snapped a streak of nine consecutive poles for Mercedes at the 4.6-kilometer (2.8-mile) circuit.

Carlos Sainz qualified third to put both Ferraris at the front.

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Mercedes showed a significant turnaround from the struggles it has had through the first five races of the season with its new car. George Russell qualified fourth and once again outran new teammate Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion qualified sixth, with Red Bull driver Sergio Perez sandwiched between the Mercedes drivers.

Hamilton has won the last five Spanish Grands Prix, and the pole-sitter has won 23 out of 31 times because the track has so few passing zones.

Leclerc, who was fastest in all three practice sessions ahead of qualifying, holds a 19-point lead over Verstappen after five races. But Verstappen has gained momentum from consecutive victories at Imola and Miami, and the Dutchman has three wins to Leclerc’s two victories this season.

Former champions Sebastian Vettel and local favourite Fernando Alonso both failed to advance out of the first qualifying round. When told by Aston Martin team radio that he was 16th, Vettel replied “You must be kidding.”

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Alonso has not had a joyous homecoming so far. He qualified 17th for Alpine, accused the FIA of incompetence in race control, and was penalised during one of Friday’s practices.

Spain’s greatest driver has struggled this season and the two-time F1 champion has scored only two points, while Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon has scored 24.

Qualifying for Sunday's race was held on a warm, sunny day at the track near Barcelona. Although large parts of Spain are under a heatwave alert with May temperatures that rank among the hottest in two decades, it was a still bearable 34 C (93 F) during qualifying.

Over 100,000 fans are expected at the first Spanish GP with full spectators since 2019; the public was not permitted to attend in 2020 and only 1,000 fans were allowed inside in 2021 because of pandemic restrictions.