MONTMELO, Spain—Max Verstappen took his first victory at the Circuit de Catalunya years ago, but on Saturday at the same venue, the Dutchman took his first pole at this circuit, his 24th of his career, ahead of home hero Carlos Sainz in his Ferrari with McLaren’s Lando Norris a surprising but well-deserved third.

Verstappen clocked a 1:12:272 best time midway through the final session, with many others taking quick times, but could not catch Verstappen, who the previous day, set a new track record in free practice.

"The car was really good.” Verstappen commented afterwards. “Qualifying started tricky with the weather but as it started to dry out the car was on rails. I love coming here in general. I have a lot of great memories here and hopefully tomorrow we can add another one."

Things got going rather quickly as far as upsets were concerned, as the damp conditions were tough for many, as four drivers slid off the track, with one, Williams Alex Albon, returning to the circuit and taking many pieces of gravel onto the track. This, at 14:13 left in the opening session, brought out a red flag that lasted for no more than ten minutes. As the qualifying resumed, another big surprise came about as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc failed to move on, and will begin the race from 19th, complaining that the left rear of the car was not working properly.

Along with Leclerc and Albon, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen and the second Williams of Logan Sargant exited the opening session.

Another upset occurred in the second session, as Red Bull’s Sergio Perez ran wide in the middle of the circuit and went into the gravel, ruining a good lap. Perez returned to try again, but it fell short of making it into the final session, and Mercedes George Russell was another big name that was also out, along with Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, and the Alpha Tauri pair of Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck De Vries.

Mercedes drivers George Russell (right) and Lewis Hamilton collided at the conclusion of the second session, which damaged the seven-time world champion's front wing. Hamilton recovered to finish fifth. Planet F1 Photo

Pierre Gasly ran a great qualifying lap near the end of the final session to take fourth, but the Alpine driver might face a possible twO penalties for impeding Verstappen and Sainz early in the opening session. Mercedes Lewis Hamilton was improving, even taking the opening session, before dropping back to finish fifth. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll took sixth, which was a better performance for qualifying in comparison to teammate Fernando Alonso, who disappointed his home fans by taking ninth.

Esteban Ocon put another Alpine in the top ten by finishing seventh, while Haas F1’s Nico Hulkenberg continued his good qualifying run in eighth. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri had his best qualifying to date by finishing 10th.

By Mark Gero

Alpine driver Pierre Gasly could be more confused after finishing a fine fourth, after impeding both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen early in qualifying, which could put him in the back of the grid for race day. Planet F1 Photo