Rain threatened to interrupt Q3 at the end of an already slippery qualifying hour. A downpour was on the radar, and most of the drivers vying for pole were desperate to get in one clean lap on slick
Haas was quickest to respond to the forecast, getting Magnussen to the front of the queue of cars waiting to exit pit lane and set their first laps.
With rain started to fall, the Dane was in the best position to use the track when it was driest, and he duly delivered, pipping Max Verstappen by 0.2 seconds.
But Magnussen warned his team not to celebrate yet, and for good reason. George Russell behind him had just started his second lap, and with his slick tyres up to temperature, he’d set a personal-best time in the first sector.
But Russell’s lap came undone at the fourth turn. The Briton locked up and skated across the gravel, where his car beam beached.
A red flag was waved to winch the stricken Mercedes from the stones. And then the heavens opened.
By the time the session resumed, the track was too wet for any driver to improve their time.
Magnussen’s pole position for today’s sprint race was confirmed, his first in 140 races.
“The team put me out on track at exactly the right moment,” he said. “We were the first out in the pit lane, I did a decent lap and we’re on pole.
“It’s incredible. Thank you to (team owner) Gene Haas and Guenther (Steiner, team principal) and the whole team for this opportunity.
“I got back here after a year out and it’s been an amazing journey.”
When asked how he’ll approach the sprint race lining up first alongside Verstappen, the Dane said he would target victory.
“Maximum attack,” he said. “Let’s go for something funny.”
Verstappen said he locked up into turn 8, costing himself a chance to overhaul Magnussen, but was pleased to qualify ahead of his main frontrunning rivals.
“Compared to the proper opposition for tomorrow it’s looking good,” he said. “In these conditions anything can happen, and we’re still up front, so that’s what’s most important.”
Russell held third place despite spinning off the track and was optimistic about his chances of improving that position in the sprint.
“Massive congrats to Kevin,” he said. “What an awesome job he did, and Haas, and they deserve it for all the effort they’ve been putting in.
“P3 is not necessarily where we want to be but a good place to start.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris will line up fourth alongside Russell in a potentially important position in his team’s battle to close the seven-point gap to Alpine for fourth in the constructors championship.
Carlos Sainz qualified fifth ahead of the Alpine teammates, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, while Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez will line up eighth and ninth.
Charles Leclerc was a frustrated 10th after being the only driver in Q3 to choose wet-weather tyres in Q3 while everyone else opted for slicks. He pitted to change tyres after a slow lap but couldn’t set a representative time when Russell caused a red flag.
Thai driver Alex Albon was knocked out 11th ahead of Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel in the dry but damp Q2 session.
Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll qualified 14th and 15th after being unable to stitch together a lap on softs in the conditions.
Nicholas Latifi braved the damp Q1 conditions as one of the first drivers on dry-weather tyres, and though he helped set the trend on the drying track, it wasn’t enough to overcome the limitations of his Williams car, leaving him 16th.
Alfa Romeo teammates Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas couldn’t convert their dry-weather practice pace into something more competitive in the damp and were eliminated 17th and 18th respectively.
Yuki Tsunoda was knocked out 19th in his AlphaTauri ahead of Haas driver Mick Schumacher.