Max Verstappen took his fourth pole position of 2023 and his first at the Spanish Grand Prix as he beat Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz by almost half a second at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Lando Norris qualified in third place for McLaren as Charles Leclerc exited the session in Q1, qualifying in 19th position.
With the threat of rain in the air, a queue formed at the pit exit in anticipation of the start of the session, and when the lights turned green a steady stream of cars flowed out on track. The early pace was set by Alpine’s Pierre Gasly who posted a time of 1:14.618 ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
However, three minutes into the segment the red flags were out. A number of drivers had off-track moments and with a large amount of gravel on track, Race Control briefly brought the session to a halt.
After a delay of eight minutes the session restarted and this time Verstappen jumped to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:13.660.
Verstappen then improved, lowering the benchmark to 1:13.615. The Dutchman’s team-mate, Sergio Pérez, was in trouble though. His second lap, a 1:15.122, saw him slide into the drop zone. The Mexican returned to the pit lane, bolted on a new set of soft tyres for his final run and as the clock ticked down he jumped to fourth place with a lap of 1:13.874.
The track was improving in leaps and bounds, however, and as the flag came out the time began to tumble. Verstappen, whose final flyer was compromised by traffic, eventually went through in P9, but Pérez slid all the way back to the edge of the drop zone before making it through to Q2 in 15th place.
Top spot in the session went to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, with a 1:12.937, a second clear of the first driver to be eliminated, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas who exited in P16, a tenth behind Pérez. The Finnish driver qualified ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and the Williams of Albon. The big casualty of Q1, though, was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver was unhappy with his car and exited in P19 ahead of Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
In Q2, Verstappen was first out on track and he took P1 with a lap of 1:12.760. Pérez was next across the line but on used tyres the Mexican was more than eight tenths off his team-mate. Sainz couldn’t get close either and the home favourite slotted into P3, a full second behind Verstappen.
Sainz’s compatriot, Fernando Alonso, fared better and he rose above Pérez to take P2 with a lap of 1:13.278 before but the Aston Martin driver was then shuffled back to P3 by Hamilton who posted a lap of 1:12.999 to sit a little over two tenths of a second off Verstappen.
As other first-run times arrived, Pérez again slid back, and ahead of the final flyers the Mexican was down in P8. On what should have been his final flyer the Mexican made a mistake at Turn 5 and slid off into the gravel. He managed to rejoin, and tried again. However, he couldn’t find the pace necessary and he was ruled out in P11, just 0.051s behind the 10th-placed Haas of Nico Hülkenberg.
As Verstappen eased through to Q3 in P1 there was further drama elsewhere. Mercedes’ George Russell, eliminated in P12 behind Pérez, moved across the track to avoid a slower Mercedes, but the British driver was unaware that Hamilton was behind and closing fast. Hamilton was forced to the track edge and shipped front wing damage as he clipped his team-mate’s car. Ruled out behind Russell, who faced investigation after the session, were Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and the AlphaTauri’s of Nyck de Vries and Yuki Tsunoda.
Verstappen’s march to pole position was sealed on his first run in Q3. With new softs onboard Verstappen showed blistering pace to take provisional pole with a lap of 1:12.272 – more than nine tenths of a second clear of second-placed Hamilton.
And the Dutchman might have gone even quicker on his final run. Up on his opening time midway through his final flyer, but with Sainz only getting to 0.462 behind the Verstappen, GP told the champion to abort the lap and in the end Verstappen eased to his 24th career pole position.
With Sainz second, third place went to McLaren’s Lando Norris, with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly in fourth place. The French driver was due to be investigated after the session for potentially impeding Verstappen during the session. Hamilton qualified fifth ahead of Stroll, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in seventh ahead of Hülkenberg, Alonso and the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:12.272
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:12.734 0.462
3 Lando Norris McLaren 1:12.792 0.520
4 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:12.816 0.544
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:12.818 0.546
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:12.994 0.722
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:13.083 0.811
8 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:13.229 0.957
9 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:13.507 1.235
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:13.682 1.410
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:13.334 1.062
12 George Russell Mercedes 1:13.447 1.175
13 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:13.521 1.249
14 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:14.083 1.811
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:14.477 2.205
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:13.977 1.705
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:14.042 1.770
18 Alex Albon Williams 1:14.063 1.791
19 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:14.079 1.807
20 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:14.699 2.427S