Qualifying: Nico Hulkenberg lands shock grid spot as Max Verstappen clinches pole position

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen rounds the final chicane in qualifying. Montreal June 2023.

Max Verstappen hops over the kerb at the final chicane. Montreal June 2023.

Max Verstappen has taken pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix, with Nico Hulkenberg putting himself on the front row in qualifying.

It was quite the turnaround for the Haas driver, who went from what he described as a “barbecue” from a smoking engine in Friday practice to a rare front row start following an entertaining wet qualifying session around Montreal on Saturday.

Fernando Alonso rounded out the top three, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell behind the Aston Martin driver.

There were problems for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc was knocked out in Q2 for a second race in succession, as was the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, whose World Championship hopes took another blow by qualifying P12.

With wet conditions set to last throughout the qualifying session, and the threat of further rain looming as it progressed, the drivers were keen to get out on track and make the most of the time available around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Q1 – with their first laps potentially being vital.

But only three minutes in, Zhou Guanyu was seen crawling in his Alfa Romeo and was forced to park up, bringing out the red flag. With his car only having a software issue from the looks of things, however, he was able to fire his C43 back up again and find his way back to the pits – with the delay in the session only being short before the drivers headed back out.

Verstappen and Alonso were clearly the most confident in their cars with their early efforts, with nobody able to set a lap time within half a second of the two heading into the final five minutes of Q1.

The Red Bull driver took a further huge chunk of time out of his best effort, before Leclerc put himself into contention among the quickest.

But attention soon turned to the five slowest drivers to eliminate, and with mixed conditions and a rapidly improving track surface, the leaderboard was shuffling all the time.

But after a scramble to try and start a final flying lap involving Carlos Sainz, who had already been investigated for impeding in FP3, Yuki Tsunoda was knocked out alongside Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who both took avoiding action against the Ferrari driver.

Gasly took to team radio to say Sainz “should be banned for such a thing”, approaching the final chicane at full pelt before braking – and the stewards swiftly confirmed they would investigate after the session.

Nyck de Vries, Logan Sargeant and Zhou and also went out, whose return to he garage to get going again was ultimately in vain.

Q2 started with a dry line on track, and Alex Albon was the first driver brave enough to head onto the track on slick tyres, with Leclerc and Lando Norris also believing soft tyres were the way forward – with a rain shower expected only a few minutes into the session, though Ferrari opted to keep their driver out for a banker lap before swapping.

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But the dangers were still present, though, as Lance Stroll spun his way through Turn 5, pirouetting 360° with a graze against the wall, though he was able to get going again with a new front wing.

The remaining drivers soon poured into the pits for dry tyres, but the move from Albon and Williams to go on slicks from the outset looked inspired – lapping a full second faster than anyone else at one point and finishing Q2 fastest of anybody.

Mercedes were the last to switch to slicks however, even after rain began to fall again, with several high-profile drivers at risk after not making the most of the dry tyre window.

This included the likes of Leclerc and Perez, who were forced back onto intermediates for one final lap with wetter conditions once again, but when they could not improve, the Monégasque driver let out a shout of frustration at his situation, and Perez aborted his lap altogether.

The pair will share the sixth row on Sunday, with Stroll also eliminated, along with Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas.

This set up an intriguing Q3 session, with the track fully back to intermediate conditions and a mixed-up order on the cards, with eight of the 10 teams represented for the final shootout.

The worsening rain made lap times several seconds slower than they were in the first two parts of qualifying, but the red flag was brought out after Oscar Piastri’s session ended prematurely.

The McLaren driver went backwards into the wall on the exit of Turn 7 as his MCL60 lost traction when he accelerated, but just in the nick of time before the red flag was shown, Nico Hulkenberg put his Haas on the provisional front row.

Seven minutes remained for when the session resumed, but with the weather worsening, lap times improving was far from guaranteed.

And so it proved, with the drivers almost unanimously agreeing that they would not be able to go faster, with Hamilton reporting that the conditions were worthy of full wet tyres.

This left the provisional grid set for the race, then, with Hulkenberg putting himself on the front row alongside Verstappen in a superb result for Haas, and an Alonso-Hamilton second row lining up just behind in what will be an intriguing grid on Sunday.

Qualifying classification

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:25.858
2 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +1.244
3 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.428
4 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +1.769
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +2.035
6 Esteban OCON Alpine +2.087
7 Lando NORRIS McLaren +2.188
8 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +3.436
9 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +5.491
10 Alex ALBON Williams NO TIME
11 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:20.615
12 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.344
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.869
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.063
15 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.206
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:22.746
17 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.140
18 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +0.391
19 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.591
20 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.596