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Spanish GP Qualifying: Charles Leclerc salvages epic pole after spin as Max Verstappen suffers late issues

Charles Leclerc salvaged his fourth F1 pole position of the season after a stunning final lap in Spanish GP qualifying, with Max Verstappen left to bemoan a late Red Bull issue to end his hopes of battling his title rival.

In a dramatic Barcelona finale, Leclerc spun on his first lap of Q3 but regained his composure soon after to nail an epic 1:18.750 when it mattered most, eventually beating Verstappen by three-tenths of a second.

"That was a champion’s lap," said Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle about the title leader.

Verstappen had led Q3 before that Leclerc lap but did not get a chance to respond as, on his own final flyer, he said he "lost power" on team radio, before returning to the pits.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner confirmed to Sky F1 after the session that Verstappen didn’t have an engine issue, but his DRS did not open to cost him speed. Either way, he said Verstappen would have struggled to edge out Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz qualified third in the other Ferrari with Mercedes, while improved, not able to join the fight for pole.

George Russell did get on the second row in fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, with Lewis Hamilton beaten by his team-mate in sixth, 0.8s off Leclerc.

Valtteri Bottas was best of the rest for Alfa Romeo, while Haas had both cars in the top-10 for the first time since 2019.

McLaren also looked likely to get both cars into Q3. But Lando Norris was agonisingly knocked out in 11th after his final Q2 lap, good enough to advance, was deleted for the slightest of track limits infractions.

Fernando Alonso had a home qualifying to forget, meanwhile, eliminated in Q1 along with both Aston Martin cars.

Spanish GP Qualifying: Top 10
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
6) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
7) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
8) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
9) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
10) Mick Schumacher, Haas

Leclerc recovers but is Max race favourite? | Merc savour best 2022 qualifying

Qualifying for the Spanish GP, while F1’s sixth shootout of the season, was the first where the top three teams were all touted as potential pole-sitters, and it did not disappoint in terms of competitiveness from start to finish.

Mercedes had looked to be in contention before the closing stages and were particularly fast in Q2, albeit with drivers such as Leclerc not fitting fresh soft tyres for that segment.

That highlighted Leclerc and Ferrari’s confidence, and it was eventually the Monegasque who stole the show.

It was not without its scares, thanks to a spin at Turn 14 as he came into the corner with too much speed. But with all the pressure on him, Leclerc bounced back to produce the lap of the weekend.

"It was an amazing lap," admitted Leclerc.

Verstappen will ultimately be relieved to start on the front row behind the man he trails by 19 points in the standings after his late issue. The Dutchman had capitalised on Leclerc’s spin to take provisional pole, but when trying to respond to the Ferrari’s lap reported "no power" at the start of his lap. While a DRS issue is not as serious engine, it is another reliability mishap for Red Bull, which continue to crop up in 2022 to hamper Verstappen, who has two DNFs, in his title push.

Mercedes, on the other hand, will probably be a bit disappointed with the final timesheets given their encouraging pace through the session. But they still have their best qualifying result of the season with Russell fourth, while Toto Wolff also hailed a step forward in Barcelona, stating that the team have solved the porpoising issues which have plagued their campaign.

Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, said afterwards he felt the team could challenge Ferrari in the race.

Race pace will be crucial come lights out on Sunday, live on Sky Sports F1 at 2pm on Sunday, and Ferrari fear Red Bull are both quicker and have better tyre degradation.

Verstappen will be aiming for his third win in a row, ready to hunt down Leclerc from the front row.

More to follow…

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