Max Verstappen takes Canadian F1 GP pole in wet with Leclerc near the back

Relentless in both reliability and form of late, Max Verstappen can only expect to leave the Canadian Grand Prix with what is swiftly becoming an ominous lead after claiming pole position in Montreal. Quick all weekend the Red Bull driver was nailed on at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, while his title rival Charles Leclerc can hope at best only to minimise the damage as he was compromised by penalties that will see him start from 19th on the grid on Sunday. Verstappen’s teammates Sergio Pérez, second in the championship, went out in Q2 and finished 13th.

For Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes a weekend of experimentation on their car delivered no progress but the team at least held their place as the third fastest, with Hamilton in fourth. However his teammate George Russell managed only eighth after taking a gamble on slick rubber in the final minutes. Fernando Alonso was a superb second for Alpine, the double world champion at 40 years old showing his class in wet conditions. Carlos Sainz was in third for Ferrari with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in fifth.

Verstappen was majestic in Montreal in very tricky wet conditions while Leclerc, stymied by Ferrari’s reliability issues, seems powerless to halt the world champion once more extending his lead. The Monegasque driver took a swathe of new power unit components before qualifying after his engine failure in Baku. With the fourth engine units, he has already surpassed the maximum three permitted and there are still 14 races to go.

Verstappen in contrast could not be more confident with four wins from the previous five races. Leclerc has suffered two DNFs and a Ferrari strategic meltdown in Monaco in the last three. He did have a 46-point lead after the third round in Australia but Verstappen now holds a 21-point lead over his Pérez and 34 points over Leclerc. With Red Bull having made it clear they are backing Verstappen as their No 1 driver this year, the gap to Leclerc is the one that counts and it is becoming a chasm.

Verstappen put himself in the best possible position to expand it further with a mighty performance in difficult conditions on Saturday. With the track wet the final laps require commitment and care and with a natural touch the Dutchman found it.

Lewis Hamilton in the pits in Montreal
Lewis Hamilton will start in fourth on the grid in Montreal. Photograph: Jim Watson/EPA

Qualifying opened after heavy rain, with drivers tiptoeing round a treacherous track. With it drying in Q3 they stayed out looking for the final moments offering the most grip, in an old-school shootout. Verstappen pushed to the limit, negotiating the testing, high kerbs, looming walls and heavy braking zones that define this track with precision on a drying surface. Setting a time of 1min 21.299sec he was a full six-tenths up on Alonso.

Given his form of late, Red Bull’s formidable race pace and Verstappen’s exceptional tyre management, he may well be unassailable out front on race day.

Hamilton returned his best qualifying of the season but was still 1.5sec back from Verstappen. After the FIA announced on Thursday there were to be concessions in the rules to combat the porpoising that has plagued some teams, including Mercedes, this season, their efforts to adapt the car on the fly in Canada have been painful. Hamilton said it was undriveable in practice on a circuit where he loves racing and has seven wins. Reverting to a previous setup has worked but he remains in no position to challenge the leaders.

Mick Schumacher was in sixth for Haas, Esteban Ocon in seventh for Alpine, Daniel Ricciardo in ninth for McLaren and Guanyu Zhou in 10th for Alfa Romeo.

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Pérez crashed out after locking up in Q2 causing a brief red flag delay. McLaren’s Lando Norris had a power unit issue and finished in 14th, in front of Leclerc, with Ferrari opting for their driver to not set a time in Q2. Valtteri Bottas was in 11th for Alfa Romeo and Alex Albon 12th for Williams.

Pierre Gasly was in 16th while his AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda was in 20th, his place at the back of the grid cemented with a grid penalty for taking new power unit elements. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were in 17th and 18th for Aston Martin and Nicholas Latifi in 19th for Williams.

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