Verstappen takes Canadian GP pole as Piastri crashes
By Mat Coch
Sunday 18th June, 2023 - 7:17am
Max Verstappen has taken pole for the Canadian Grand Prix in a session that saw Oscar Piastri crash out and Alex Albon star.
Albon found himself on provisional pole at the end of Qualifying 2 while Piastri recorded the fourth-best time in the driest of the conditions.
The Australian then came unstuck in Qualifying 3 as the rain returned in what proved to be a dramatic session.
An early problem beset Zhou Guanyu as he rolled to a stop out of the pit lane, the Chinese driver reporting a lack of drive.
It forced him to pull up at Turn 7 to draw a red flag with Logan Sargeant, Alex Albon, and Valtteri Bottas the only drivers to have completed a lap.
Moments later, Zhou was able to refire the car, driving it back to the pits with the red flags out.
It was a brief interruption and, with rain incoming, a queue formed at pit exit two minutes before the session resumed.
All were on intermediate rubber, the track slippery but without standing water – in many places a dry line even present.
In the line was Carlos Sainz after Ferrari completed a rebuild on his car following his Free Practice 3 crash.
Zhou was also able to immediately head back out, Alfa Romeo Sauber having resolved whatever issue had blighted him earlier.
As it had been in practice, confidence and tyre temperature were the greatest performance differentiators, with a healthy helping of track evolution.
That even saw drivers begin to move off line, onto damp patches of the circuit, to cool their tyres down the Casino Straight.
Mercedes was struggling for tyre temperature, while Williams was enjoying the opposite as Alex Albon sat comfortably in the top 10 for long periods.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell required multiple laps to generate the heat they needed to bank a lap.
The key was simply being on track as it continued to dry, with the usual order beginning to emerge as it did so.
McLaren was the exception, the MCL60 working well in the 19-degree ambient conditions to see Lando Norris rise to second inside the final two minutes.
There was a battle to be last across the line, Pierre Gasly compromised by Sainz as the Frenchman completed his lap as the chequered flag waved.
The dramatic conclusion saw Yuki Tsunoda, Gasly, Nyck de Vries, Logan Sargeant, and Zhou eliminated.
Gasly was furious by his elimination, his lap having been heavily compromised by the shenanigans approaching the final chicane with Sainz in the middle of the road.
The Ferrari was in a tricky situation with a Scuderia AlphaTauri diving up the inside as they both rushed to the line to start their final flying lap.
As they squabbled at less than racing pace, Gasly arrived on the scene with nowhere to go, having to take to the run off to avoid a collision that negated his lap.
Unsurprisingly, officials noted the incident before confirming they would investigate, while Gasly suggested: “he should be banned for such a thing.”
“It’s ridiculous, in a word… I think Pierre would have been P6 and now he’s out in Q1,” added team boss Otmar Szafnauer.
Conditions continued to improve as Qualifying 2 began, tempting Albon onto slicks almost immediately.
Things remained tricky; Lance Stroll had a moment at Turn 5, spinning and brushing the wall on driver’s left with the front wing before sliding broadside down the track to Turn 6 where he was able to recover and carry on.
Meanwhile, Albon on slicks was beginning to set purple mini sectors though his first lap left him outside of the top 10.
Next time around, he move onto provisional pole, improving that next time by as well.
Others had moved onto the slicks but had not built the confidence on them, Verstappen included, while Alonso sat second on intermediate tyres.
Sainz was involved in another near miss as he was again parked in the middle of the road, driving at a snail’s pace, as others approached the final chicane – including Albon – at full speed.
Somewhat unsighted, Albon came closer to the Ferrari than was comfortable in a scenario that was arguably more dangerous, though had less sporting impact, that the Gasy moment.
Sergio Perez missed the window as conditions turned, stuck outside the top 10 on a set of the intermediate rubber.
Charles Leclerc was in a similar situation, the Ferrari driver eliminated from the session together with Perez.
They were joined by Stroll, Magnussen, and Bottas.
Meanwhile, Albon topped the segment from Verstappen, with the McLaren’s locking out third and fourth.
It was a disastrous session for Leclerc and Perez, both who should easily have progressed in normal circumstances.
In both instances, the decision on tyres was the critical factor; the third time Perez has missed Qualifying 3 in the last three races.
The remaining 10 runners reverted to intermediate rubber as the final phase of the session began.
With teams covering off the risk of conditions worsening, it saw a queue appear at pit exit two minutes before it opened.
Verstappen headed that queue, sacrificing tyre temperature from the blankets, while Sainz remained in the garage until the line began to move.
Getting an early lap on the board was critical as the rain increased.
Verstappen was the first to do so, managing a 1:27.059s, Alonso going second best with a 1:27.286s.
Half a lap behind Verstappen, Hamilton managed a time 0.568s slower than the Dutchman, who improved on his second lap with a 1:25.858s.
That was set just seconds before the red flag was shown for Oscar Piastri, who found the fence at Turn 7.
He reared the McLaren into the concrete barrier in what was his first mistake of his rookie season, the car getting away from him as the tarmac changed to tag damage the right-rear wheel.
Like Verstappen, Hulkenberg had crossed the line before the red flag to set the second-fastest time.
The session restarted, but the rain had grown heavier, effectively locking in the order that was set prior to the interruption.
That left Verstappen on pole from Hulkenberg, with Alonso third from Hamilton, George Russell, Russell, Esteban Ocon, Norris, Sainz, Piastri, and Albon who didn’t get a lap in prior to the red flag.