Leclerc storms to pole from Perez, Verstappen
Former championship leader Leclerc, who hasn’t won a race since round three in Australia, was 0.05s behind Sainz after the first batch of fast laps in the final shootout for pole.
But he remained second as Perez brushed the inside wall entering Turn 5, having already oversteered on the exit of Turn 1, to take third place ahead of Verstappen.
The Ferraris were doing the damage in the first two sectors although the RB18s were 0.2s quicker on the long sprint to the line.
Sainz was the first to go for a flying final lap but was slow in the Turn 5-6 chicane and messy out of Turn 7 to undo his effort.
This drew attention to Leclerc, who set the fastest first and second sectors of the day to have a huge cushion of half a second before the flat run to the line.
Perez was able to use the grunt of the rebadged Honda power unit to shut down a bit after setting two personal best sectors, but failed to match the quick Monegasque across the line by almost 0.3s.
It happened after the Mexican was late for his final lap when the engine struggled to start, something his teammate Verstappen questioned – apparently without a tow.
Verstappen’s tendency to fall slightly behind his winning stablemate Monaco continued as the defending champion ran 1m41.706s, missing Perez by 0.06s.
Lewis Hamiltonwho struggled with his brake pedal, porpoising and was noted by the stewards for driving too slowly in Q2, finished seventh ahead of Yuki Tsunoda. The Briton’s incident will be investigated after the session.
A tense session for Aston Martin ended with Sebastian Vettel ninth in the trap, the four-time champion recovering after coming close to the barriers in Q2 after a blockage at Turn 15 and having been lucky not to damage the car.
Lando Norris was the first driver to miss Q3, having missed the cutoff by 0.022s in the 15-minute Q2 session – his cause was not helped by a late error – which Perez had exceeded by 0.009s on Leclerc.
The Briton’s first effort was hampered by insufficiently cooled tires before being notably held back by Hamilton at the exit of turn 12.
His final attempt to break into the top 10 was undone when he raced straight into Turn 15, tying him to 11th as Daniel Ricardo was still 0.18s behind in 12th.
Stephen Ocon was 13th ahead of the two Alfa Romeos.
It was a night of struggles for Bottas. The Finn had run away at turn 3 in the first part of qualifying, then had to interrupt his next flying lap to let him adrift of Zhou at first.
Spear Stroll pulled out the red flags after a second crash in quick succession in Q1, to pause a session which Verstappen would finish with a 1m42.722s to lead Perez by a tenth.
The Aston Martin driver languished in 19th, as team-mate Vettel raced high into fifth, but pulled out a quick yellow flag when he hit the barrier at Turn 7.
The Canadian locked down the left front and charged into the Tecpro although he reversed and was given the go-ahead on the damage to head straight back out for a quick lap to move into Q2.
But with 2.30m of Q1 with 18 minutes left in Q1, he understeered into Turn 2 and slammed into the outside wall to rip off his front wing and crease his right wheel.
The session was halted for 10 minutes to add to the delayed start, while the cars most at risk of elimination lined up at the end of the pit lane in a bid to find a clear position on the track.
Schumacher was told to “push like hell” and Norris was given the instruction: “elbows out, let’s pass these cars”.
But when the Haas threw itself on the McLaren in Turn 16 of the exit lap, both drivers saw their lines for the 1.35 mile flat sprint to the next Turn 1 braking zone ruined.
Norris fell back from his lap and soon after, as did team-mate Ricciardo, but they were spared elimination (progressing to 13th and 14th) when Fernando Alonso ran away.
The Alpine The driver took the escape route from Turn 15 to pull out a yellow flag, which pursuer Albon deemed a foul play, accusing Alonso of braking early and missing the corner again.
This left Kevin Magnussenthe two Williams and Schumacher drivers at the back of the grid.
The Haas cars are also under investigation for the pit lane incident, which reportedly wound its way through the team garage queue at the end of the pit lane at the start of Q1.
The start of the session had been delayed by 15 minutes to allow Tecpro barriers to be repaired following a series of accidents during the Formula 2 sprint race.
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