Winners and losers from the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying

Thomas Maher
Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc

Lando Norris was the big winner of the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying, but who else features on our list?

After a thrilling qualifying session, it was Lando Norris who came out on top after Max Verstappen set a last-second stormer.

Lando Norris clinched pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, defeating Max Verstappen by just 0.020 seconds as the two drivers raised their game for the final flying laps in Q3. Let’s run through our Winners and Losers from the qualifying session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Winners and losers from the Spanish QP qualifying session

Winners

Lando Norris/McLaren

What superlatives can be used to describe Lando Norris’ pole position in Barcelona? Try all of them!

With Max Verstappen breaking the hopes of his rivals with a time three-tenths clear of everyone, having seemingly been within reach of the field through practice and the rest of qualifying, few would have predicted Norris had it in him to go just as far as the reigning World Champion had managed, let alone exceed him.

But that’s exactly what Norris managed, responding to Verstappen’s pace with a stunning lap that underlines the sheer confidence the British driver is now approaching F1 with.

His win in Miami has opened the floodgates, and Norris is very clearly raising his game alongside the improved machinery that he’s been given.

It’s too early to say whether or not the McLaren is now the quickest car in F1, but it’s difficult to point to one that is clearly faster now.

Unfortunately for Oscar Piastri in the second car, his one and only attempt in Q3 was marred by a huge error that has significantly compromised his prospects for race day.

But, on a day that could have gone a whole lot worse for McLaren given the paddock fire the team had to contend with that would have proven a big distraction, as even simple things like figuring out where lunch could be had, first and ninth is a big result.

Max Verstappen

Sure, Max may have been beaten by Norris as the duo both enjoyed last-minute tows to help boost their final flying laps, but the reigning World Champion displayed his usual ability to put in the big lap when it mattered right at the end of Q3.

Of course, on this occasion, another driver was able to do the same – but that doesn’t take away from what Verstappen achieved as the RB20 continues to display somewhat erratic performance that begs the question of just how good the car is.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

The W15 may not have been capable of the same highs George Russell managed to achieve with it in qualifying in Canada, but third and fourth – and clear of Ferrari – was a hugely solid result.

Hamilton well and truly emphasised the stupidity of the pre-race off-track drama provided by the leaked email which had insinuated sabotage as being the reason for his struggles to match Russell this season, with the two drivers separated by just two-hundredths of a second with near-identical lap times.

With some frustration in the Mercedes camp after qualifying after feeling the car hadn’t been as malleable as had been the case on Friday, both Hamilton and Russell said they felt they had a little more time that would have shrunk the three-tenths gap a little had they put in optimal laps.

“The car is getting more enjoyable to drive,” Hamilton said after the session.

“Today, the gap was three-tenths, but I think in reality it was less as we didn’t get everything out of the car on that last lap.”

All the signs are that Mercedes really is joining in the fight at the front – and a good result in Barcelona will be hugely encouraging for quite a few upcoming races.

Alpine

On a weekend in which the team has made headlines for unusual reasons due to the rumours over their long-term power unit supply deal, as well as re-hiring the controversial Flavio Briatore, Alpine continued to show the improved pace that Montreal had indicated.

With Alpine drivers winning in Formula 2 and Formula Academy on Saturday, both Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon managed to make it through to Q3, and are even getting in the mix with battling for the same grid positions as Sergio Perez – linking back to my earlier question of figuring out just how good the RB20 really is.

At the start of the year, Alpine looked to be the team in the worst shape of all and, while the off-track stuff may be something of a distraction, the performance on-track is very clearly going in the right direction – even if it’s not yet anywhere near what the team got used to in recent years.

 

More from the Spanish GP qualifying session

👉 Oscar Piastri dismisses McLaren upgrade theory after huge Lando Norris gap

👉 Explained: Why ‘fast-tracked’ Ferrari upgrade failed to put them in Spain GP pole battle

Losers

Authoritative stewarding

It’s been a season of strange stewarding decisions with some harsh decisions made (particularly towards Fernando Alonso, leading to his complaints over how he felt “nationality matters” when it comes to steward’s decisions).

Practice or not, two drivers behaved beyond the boundaries of acceptability on Saturday when moments of hotheadedness happened on track.

Both Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc intentionally crowded another driver to the point of contact being made and (minor) damage occurring, and both were let off with no more than a reprimand.

The reasoning for this, in the case of both drivers, was simply that they were “upset” at having been held up – triggering the ‘road rage’ incidents.

Found erratic but not dangerous, the fact that two drivers committed pretty much the same crime meant it was the perfect opportunity for the stewards to be authoritative and throw the book at both to make it clear driving into another car with intent is never acceptable – whether it’s in practice or not.

Both Leclerc and Stroll were investigated under Article 33.4 of the Sporting Regulations, which states “at no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically, or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person”.

This is the same rule under which Fernando Alonso was investigated, and punished, for his incident with Russell in Australia.

While Stroll and Leclerc’s incidents ended in contact between the cars, contact which was very preventable if the drivers were in control of their emotions, they were merely ruled as erratic. Alonso, whose actions contributed towards Russell’s loss of control but didn’t cause any direct contact, was ruled as potentially dangerous, leading to the different outcomes.

This is an area of the rules that needs some revision – as the stewards ruling on Leclerc was particularly concerning as they ruled on it “irrespective of any possible intent”.

If the intent is to use your car in a physically intimidating way, resulting in contact, there are no circumstances under which the driver should escape penalty – simple as that.

It was a rare display of immaturity from Leclerc, who is not a driver known for being unfair or dangerous on track. Stroll may end up in more incidents with others but can’t be said to be a danger on track either, but both should have been punished harshly for their behaviour on Saturday.

As it stands, the rulings reveal all a driver now has to do following such an incident is say they were “upset” and it’ll magically be forgiven.

RB

The team has shown up in Barcelona with a significant upgrade package, including a revised engine cover and sidepod, as well as a new rear wing and floor body. But, despite these steps, the performance hasn’t been there so far this weekend.

Curiously, Yuki Tsunoda was actually quite pleased with the lap he was eliminated from qualifying with, leading to a surprised radio message when he found out he had been knocked out.

It’s a huge task facing Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo to bounce back in the race, and Friday’s pace suggests points are a step too far this weekend.

“It’s fair to say that despite the hard work by everyone and changes made overnight, combined with initial feedback on the updates highlighting that on a macro level they have broadly met expectations, we have not been able to extract enough from the car so far here in Barcelona,” said technical director Jody Egginton afterward.

“With the midfield battle being so close, it’s very easy to go to the back of the group if you are struggling, which is what we have unfortunately seen today. In terms of car balance, there has been some improvement.

“This alone has not been enough, so clearly, we have a lot of homework to do tonight, but also ahead of Austria, to extract more from the car and a large part of this work will be analysing in detail the aero data we have gathered here in Barcelona.”

Aston Martin

This year is playing out remarkably similarly for Aston Martin as last year, albeit without the same highs to kick off the season.

Alonso has earmarked Hungary as being where this season might start to turn around for Aston Martin as upgrades come online, but the development programme for the car so far has not shown particularly positively.

With neither Alonso nor Stroll making it into Q3, the Spaniard admitted that the difficulties facing the team are proving quite similar to last.

“When you start understanding and maximising that [upgrade] package, another new package is coming. So you reset things,” he said.

“That’s one of the difficulties that we faced last year already with the 2023 car, we started to face this year on the ‘24 [car].

“But I think, as I said after Imola, there is a very clear picture, black-and-white. So finally, I think we have a good plan ahead.”

He might be optimistic for the future, but the reality of now is quite a few weekends of pain in the lower half of the midfield.

Read next: Charles Leclerc explains on-track incident with Lando Norris at Spanish Grand Prix