Max Verstappen has fond memories of the Circuit de Catalunya, located 25 kilometers northeast of Barcelona. In 2016, as a 19-year-old, he won his first Grand Prix here. The signs are excellent that he can celebrate again this Sunday (3 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for Formula 1 and on Sky) in Catalonia, about the 40th triumph of his career.
“It was great fun to drive today,” said the world champion happily after winning the time hunt on Saturday afternoon: “The car is really good.” Verstappen will start from pole position for the first time at the Spanish Grand Prix .
In changeable conditions, the Red Bull driver needed 1:13.615 minutes for the 4.657 kilometer lap. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz was second, a whopping 0.462 seconds down, Lando Norris (McLaren) third, 0.520 seconds off the fastest time. Charles Leclerc experienced a debacle in the second Ferrari: he failed in the first round and finished penultimate. Nico Hülkenberg from the Rhineland finished eighth in the Haas, ahead of local hero Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin. Because Alpine pilot Pierre Gasly was given a six-place penalty, Hülkenberg from Emmerich even moved up to seventh place. Gasly had first blocked Carlos Sainz and later Max Verstappen.
Record world champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished fifth in the Mercedes, had to endure a moment of shock: at top speed he collided with his stable mate George Russell, but was able to avoid hitting the wall.
“It’s dripping in the pit lane,” radioed George Russell, just as the traffic light turned green and the drivers were about to start chasing the times. Expecting a heavy shower, the whole field rushed to do a quick lap before the feared rain would make further improvements impossible.
There was no heavy downpour, but the drivers still struggled on the 24 degrees Celsius cool asphalt, looking for grip and some spun off the track. On one of these outings, Valtteri Bottas scattered so many pebbles on the track that the first section of the hunt for times was interrupted early on.
After ten minutes of sweeping, things continued – and one of the Ferrari drivers was in trouble: “Something’s wrong with my rear tires,” radioed Charles Leclerc, who had claimed pole position last year, to his pits. Now his best lap was canceled because he left the track illegally in turn two. Even with a fresh set of soft Pirellis, the Monegasque wasn’t fast enough ؘ– and failed as 19th and penultimate in the first round.
“The car was undriveable in the left-hand bends,” Leclerc said afterwards on Sky. “I thought it was a problem with the first set of tyres, but after the tire change it didn’t get any better,” continued the visibly frustrated Leclerc. “I don’t want to say too much, we have to wait and check the car, but it felt strange.” The two Williams drivers Alex Albon (18th) and Logan Sargeant (20th) also finished early, as did Haas- Pilot Kevin Magnussen (17th) and Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa-Sauber (16th).
In previous years, a chicane in the final sector slowed the drivers down, but this has since been removed. Now they can gain momentum unhindered and shoot into the ultra-fast last corner at 270 km/h, but they have to be careful that the bump at the corner entrance doesn’t throw them off course.
Otherwise things quickly get dicey, as Fernando Alonso had to experience, who was dug out in the first round and robbed through the dirt. But the old master, who draws everyone’s attention at his home game, found his way back onto the tarmac without touching the barrier. Overall, the two-time world champion struggled on the slope where he had clinched his last Grand Prix victory to date ten years ago. The majority of the 110,000 spectators expected on Sunday are hoping for the 41-year-old’s 33rd triumph.
Pérez slides into the gravel bed
The second round also claimed two prominent victims: Sergio Pérez in the Red Bull slipped into the gravel bed, ruined his tires and was unable to improve to make it to the last section, he retired early in eleventh place. “Incredible” radioed the Mexican, who had to accept the next setback for his title ambitions. And Red Bull Motorsport Director Helmut Marko put it in the lace: “Sergio has to concentrate on driving and not on the world title,” said the Austrian on Sky. “I hope he wakes up and finds himself.”
Things got dangerous between the two Mercedes drivers. George Russell suddenly pulled to the left on the start-finish straight and collided with record world champion Lewis Hamilton at 300 km/h. “It’s really dangerous,” Hamilton called into the onboard microphone. He kept control of his company car, but ruined his front wing. Russell failed prematurely in 12th place.
Russell admitted his mistake from the cockpit, the race stewards waived a penalty and only issued a warning. “No one does that on purpose,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff on Sky. “It was a misunderstanding.”
Zhou Guanyu (13th) in the Sauber and the two Alpha Tauri drivers Nyck de Vries (14th) and Yuki Tsunoda (15th) also did not make it into the final of the qualification. Sunday’s race covers 66 laps (307 kilometers). It seems as if the forecast rain alone could make life difficult for the superior Max Verstappen – the competition is not able to do this.