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Leclerc beats verstappen to Spanish pole as Mercedes rebounds

Leclerc beats verstappen to Spanish pole as Mercedes rebounds

FORMULA ONE: Charles Leclerc will start the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position after title rival Max Verstappen suffered a loss of power on his final lap.

By Michael Lamonato

Sunday 22 May 2022, 10:13AM

Leclerc delivered a late flyer to take pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Leclerc delivered a late flyer to take pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Leclerc has put himself on the back foot halfway through the top-10 shootout with a spin in the final chicane on his first flying lap, leaving him without a time.

Verstappen, whose Red Bull Racing team had sacrificed one-lap pace for superior race pace, seized his opportunity to put his car on provisional pole to suddenly swing the weekend dramatically in his favour.

But Leclerc, pre-session the pole favourite, wasn’t to be deterred by the pressure of a single-lap performance. The Monegasque was rapid in the middle sector in particular to improve on his Q2 time by a significant 1.1 seconds 

The Dutchman attempted to reply, but a DRS problem ‒ the latest in a list of car unreliability issues afflicting Red Bull Racing ‒ put paid to his challenge, and he was forced to settle for second and 0.323 seconds off the pace.

“It was a very, very difficult session, especially in Q3 because I made a mistake in the first run of and obviously had only one lap,” Leclerc said. “I had a bit of a moment on my lap but in the end made it stick.

“It was a very good lap, and the car was amazing too, so I’m very happy.”

But the Monegasque warned that Ferrari wouldn’t have things all its own way in the race, with heavy tyre wear troubling the red car throughout practice.

“I am in a strong position to start the race, but we’ve been struggling with tyres in the last two races compared to Red Bull,” he said. “Max is just behind, so if we don’t manage those tyres, we will lose that win.”

Verstappen was sanguine about being beaten to pole, and his team said afterwards he doubted the car had the single-lap pace to match Leclerc’s flyer, and the Dutchman was optimistic about his Sunday chances.

“It’s a bit of a shame, and I think overall to be on the front row for us here looking at the whole weekend so far was a good achievement, but I would’ve liked to have gone for the final run,” he said.

“In the last two races we seemed pretty decent on the tyres.

“This track will be quite difficult to pass, but let’s see. Hopefully of course our car will be again a bit kinder on the tyres, but a bit difficult to tell at the moment.”

Home hero Carlos Sainz was comprehensively beaten by his pole-getting teammate, but despite having the worse tyre wear between the Ferrari drivers during practice race simulation, the Spaniard was keeping his head up for the race.

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“Today we put in a decent lap that allows us to fight,” he said. “I think the key will be the start [and] the tyre management. Let’s see if we can get a good start and go from there. But it’s a decent position to start.

“I think everything is possible tomorrow. We’re definitely going to try our best to get ahead at the start and lead from there.”

George Russell was an impressive fourth on an important weekend for Mercedes. The German marque says it finally understands why its new car hasn’t been working this season, and throughout the Spanish Grand Prix weekend it’s been only fractionally behind the top two teams in terms of pure pace.

That the Briton was able to jump ahead of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull Racing car was a morale booster, and he said after qualifying that he expected to be a match for at least Ferrari on race pace.

Perez finished fifth ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who struggled with balance in Q3.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas was seventh, again topping the midfield, with Kevin Magnussen sharing the fourth row for Haas.

Daniel Ricciardo was ninth for McLaren ahead of Mick Schumacher in the second Haas.

Lando Norris was eliminated in 11th after having his best Q2 lap time deleted for running wide and off the track at turn 12. His previous best defaulted him to just outside the top 10 with a painful 0.035-second deficit.

Esteban Ocon will start alongside him for Alpine after pipping AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda by just 0.001 seconds.

Tsunoda’s teammate, Pierre Gasly, followed, the Frenchman adamant he gave it his all on a difficult weekend for the Italian team, though he was a comfortably 0.2 seconds quicker than Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo.

Despite the controversy over Aston Martin’s new Red Bull Racing lookalike car, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll managed only 16th and 18th on the grid.

But the bigger shock was the man who was sandwiched between them: home hero Fernando Alonso, who had his Alpine baulked on his preparation lap by Lando Norris, compromising his best time and eliminating him 17th.

Williams teammates Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi will prop up the grid in 19th and 20th.

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