Max Verstappen reigned supreme in the treacherous conditions that prevailed over Qualifying for the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix and took pole, ahead of an impressive Nico Hulkenberg who was second.
Verstappen never seemed to be under any pressure throughout the Qualifying, and would’ve led every session had it not been for Williams’ masterstroke of sending Alex Albon out on Soft tyres in Q2, which meant the Williams driver topped that round.
In the end, Canada delivered a thrilling Qualifying, that saw many big names like Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez missing out on Q3, while the stewards will have a long night ahead of them looking into impeding incidents that happened in Q1, which would mix up the starting grid for tomorrow’s race.
The Dutchman’s time set at the start of Q3 was enough for him to take his 25th career pole position and set himself up nicely for a 41th career win – Red Bull’s 100th – which would make him equal Ayrton Senna’s tally.
What the top three said after Qualifying
Verstappen said after Qualifying: “Yesterday maybe wasn’t fantastic, so we made a few changes to the car, of course today was completely wet, so it’s a little bit different but I do think the car improved in general to drive.
“In the wet you just have to stay on top of the conditions. It was super slippery out there in some places, but we just made all the right calls, the right time on the track to do the lap times, and I’m very happy to be on pole here.
“I like driving in the wet. I come from Holland, so we are used to driving in the wet,” the reigning Formula 1 Champion joked.
“Let’s see, maybe it’s dry tomorrow and then it can be a bit different, but normally we have a good race car,” he concluded.
Hulkenberg added: “It was a wild Qualy, crazy. Changing conditions are tricky, especially around here. Wet, dry and back to wet, you have to readjust all the time. This was a bit unexpected but I’m very happy and proud. It was super smooth, so very happy.
“In this weather it’s just a lot of communication. A lot of radio going back and forth. We did it well today, no major mistakes and that’s why we are standing here now.
“First row is nice, let’s see how long we can keep that. A dry race will be very different. I just want to go out there, race as hard as I can and hopefully get a nice result,” the German, who took pole for Williams in 2010 in Brazil, concluded.
Third-placed Alonso commented: “It was a very tricky Qualifying in terms of choosing the right tyre at the right time. P3, we will take it. I think it’s a good starting position.
“The fans are amazing. It’s not only the race track, but the city. I love Montreal how they embraced the Grand Prix. Yesterday, unfortunately they had to wait for us to go out. Today, I hope they enjoyed it and tomorrow they will.
“Tomorrow we have a chance to put some pressure on Red Bull. They have had easy wins until now, hopefully they have to push a bit more,” the double F1 Champion concluded.
Q3: Hulkenberg springs a surprise
The rain was even harder in Q3, and the drivers raced to the track to set a time, but with seven minutes remaining in the session, Oscar Piastri binned his McLaren getting out of Turn 7, bringing out the Red flags.
At that point, Verstappen had registered the fastest time, with Hulkenberg a surprise second with Alonso third fastest. The start of Q2, Alex Albon did not manage to set a time before the Red flag at that point.
But with even seven minutes remaining when the session was restarted, the rain increased so much so that no driver had a hint of chance to improve his time.
In the end, Verstappen set a lap time of 1:25.858 to take pole in Canada, while Hulkenberg reminded everyone of his impressive wet weather skills – which got him pole in a Williams in 2010 in Brazil. He was second, 1.244s behind.
Third place went to Alonso, who was strong throughout the session. He was 1.428s off the pace, and ahead of Lewis Hamilton who was fourth, 0.341s behind the Spaniard.
George Russell was fifth fastest in the sister Black Arrow with a 1:27.893 ahead of Esteban Ocon who was sixth fastest for Alpine, 0.052s behind the Briton.
Lando Norris did a decent job to put his McLaren in seventh, capitalizing on the mixed conditions yet again. He was 2.188s off the pace.
Carlos Sainz, who binned his Ferrari in FP3, was able to take part in Qualifying after his mechanics fixed his SF-23 on time, and finished eighth with a 1:29.294. However he is under investigation for impeding Pierre Gasly in the mess at the end of Q1.
Piastri was ninth fastest with Albon rounding off the top ten.
Q2: Leclerc and Perez out
The track was drier in Q2, but all the drivers went out on Intermediate tyres, except for Albon who ventured out on Soft slicks, while many driver reported a potential to drop the green-banded tyres.
Early on, Lance Stroll had a moment at Turn 6, his AMR23’s nose hitting the wall, the Canadian heading back into the pits for repairs and fresh boots.
STROLL CLIPS THE WALL 😬
Lance loses it and goes for a big spin and slide 😲
Several drivers, with nine minutes remaining, switched to the Soft tyres as some parts of the track dried out, other still wet, as rain started to increase.
It was mixed up session with the rain coming back just after most of the drivers switched to slicks, with Leclerc and Perez returning back for Intermediates having failed to set decent laps on the dry tyres.
In the end, Williams’ gamble on the soft tyres paid dividends as Albon was the fastest driver in Q2, with Verstappen second fastest, 0.367s behind the Thai driver, while Norris was third fastest, 0.255s further behind.
The first, and probably biggest, casualty of Q2 was Leclerc, who will start the race on Sunday from 11th on the grid, after missing out on a chance of setting a lap time on the dry tyres, another mess from the Ferrari pit wall who delayed the switch.
The next big name to miss out on Q3 was Perez, who was 12th fastest in the Red Bull, followed by Stroll in the Aston Martin in 13th.
Kevin Magnussen was 14th fastest for Haas while Valtteri Bottas was 15th.
Q1: A traffic mess towards the end
Q1 started in rainy and cool conditions, with ambient temperatures of 16C while the track temperature 18C, and the Intermediate tyres were the choice for the drivers.
The drivers will need to make sure they get their tyres up to temperature, a tough ask in such cool conditions, and try to set a time just in case the rain increases, but if the track begins to dry out, the last driver to set a time will benefit the most.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu reported loss of power on his car as soon as he hit the track, bringing out a Yellow flag, which soon became a Red flag. But soon after that, the Chinese driver’s car got going and he limped back to the pits.