Hamilton Russell collide as Verstappen takes pole and Leclerc suffers disaster
By Ian Parkes
Sunday 4th June, 2023 - 1:14am
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were involved in a remarkable collision during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
In a dramatic session at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya where Max Verstappen took the 24th pole position of his F1 career, the British pairing astonishingly came together at the end of Q2.
With Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz slowing down the start-finish straight, Russell edged to his left to pass the Spanish driver.
Behind Russell, Hamilton had picked up a slipstream and clearly was carrying greater speed, and so pulled out to overtake.
But in doing so, at the same time as Russell had adjusted his position, he banged wheels with Hamilton, forcing the seven-time F1 champion onto the grass, with his W14 kicking up a stream of dust.
“George just backed off,” said Hamilton over the team radio. “That’s really dangerous. I might have some damage on the car.”
Hamilton was forced to take on a new front wing due to him losing the right-hand endplate, leaving Russell to face an investigation for impeding.
Hamilton could only manage fifth fastest come the end of Q3, with Verstappen joined on the front row by Sainz to the delight of the home crowd.
It was Sainz’s best qualifying result of the season, and his best at this circuit.
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly in his Alpine are on the second row, although the latter faces two stewards’ investigations for impeding.
In complete contrast to Sainz, for team-mate Charles Leclerc, jand ust a year after clinching pole position at this track, qualifying was an unmitigated disaster.
The Monégasque driver will start 19th as he exited Q1 for the first time since his home grand prix in 2019, describing his SF-23 as “undriveable through the left-hand corners”, experiencing “very, very weird behaviour”, and that “there was something off”.
The suggestion is, given the issues with the car, Ferrari will have to investigate under parc fermé conditions, which will result in a pit lane start.
It was a fascinating 70 minutes of track action, with the biggest question mark pre-qualifying centring on whether the session would be affected by rain which had disrupted both final practice and the F2 sprint race earlier in the day.
As the cars emerged for the start of Q1, the pit lane was certainly damp, although with a dry line around the track, the tyre option was naturally for the soft Pirelli tyres.
Russell did report it to be spitting as he sat in the queue to take to the circuit where immediate action unfolded as Yuki Tsunoda initially appeared to catch a wet kerb at Turn 12 in his AlphaTauri, resulting in a long skid before he finally caught the car.
That was swiftly followed by home hero Fernando Alonso taking to the gravel at the final corner before Nyck de Vries spun in his AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas slid off, and Alex Albon in his Williams careered into the gravel.
After three minutes and 47 seconds of Q1 elapsed, race director Niels Wittich red-flagged the session due to the amount of gravel on the track, leading to an eight-minute delay.
At that stage, only seven drivers had managed to put in a banker lap, with Gasly quickest with a time of 1:14.618s, followed by team-mate Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll in his Aston Martin, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Hamilton, then Russell and Alonso, with the latter 1.5s down.
Although a few drops of rain were reported at Turn 1 as the cars returned to the track, it was not long before Ocon’s marker was comfortably eclipsed, with Verstappen, in particular, posting a time of 1:13.660s.
As De Vries spun for a second time at Turn 12, leading to him asking “What am I doing wrong there?”, Gasly found himself under investigation for appearing to clearly block Sainz on the approach to the final corner.
The Frenchman later repeated the feat with Verstappen, and so faces a double investigation that is almost certain to see him handed a penalty.
With just two minutes remaining, Perez and Leclerc both found themselves in the drop zone, with the latter complaining of an issue at the rear and additionally hindered by a call onto the weighbridge.
As track evolution improved rapidly in the closing stages, Perez only just scraped into Q2 by a tenth of a second, but for Leclerc, it was a qualifying to forget
Only Williams’ Logan Sargeant was slower as Leclerc finished just over a second off the 1:12.937s pace posted by Hamilton.
Joining Leclerc and Sargeant in the bottom five were Bottas, Magnussen and Albon.
In Q2, Verstappen set a superb marker with a 1:12.760s on new soft tyres, compared to Perez who was almost nine-tenths adrift on a set of used red-striped rubber.
For the first time in a long time, Verstappen found Hamilton to be his nearest challenger as the seven-time champion finished 0.239s adrift at the end of the first run.
On his initial set of tyres, Hamilton had set a purple first sector before backing out. In opting for a second blast on the same set, Hamilton purpled the first and third sectors but lost all of his time to Verstappen in the middle sector.
It was a time, however, good enough to get Hamilton through into Q3 before his incident with Russell that prevented him from setting another flying lap, with the 38-year-old finishing behind Verstappen, Norris and Sainz.
Despite just escaping Q1, there was no repeat for Perez in Q2 as he suffered an off-track moment that saw him take to the gravel.
Despite enough time to clean his tyres and with enough fuel on board his RB19, Perez could only manage 11th ahead of Russell, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and AlphaTauri duo De Vries and Tsunoda.
In Q3, Verstappen was sublime as he posted an initial lap of 1:12.272s, and that was good enough for pole.
Behind Hamilton, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll managed to out-qualify team-mate Alonso for the first time this season.
Alonso, who had issues with his car, starts ninth behind Ocon and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg, with Oscar Piastri 10th in his McLaren.