Charles Leclerc only had one shot at pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix and seized it with a devastating lap of the Circuit de Catalunya after spinning on his first attempt.
Ferrari’s Formula One world championship leader posted a best 1 min 18.75 secs around the 4.7-km track with Max Verstappen second after again being hit by reliability issues in his Red Bull.
Verstappen was quickest after the first flying laps of third qualifying but reported a loss of power second time round and aborted his lap to leave Leclerc with the 13th pole of his career and fourth of the season.
Carlos Sainz was third in the other Ferrari with the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez fifth between the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, is ninth after posting 1:20.297 in his McLaren
“I feel good, it was a very, very difficult session especially in Q3 when I did a mistake in the first run,” Leclerc said.
“So I only had one lap but it went extremely well.”
Leclerc leads the standings by 19 points but arrived in Spain under pressure from Verstappen, who won the last two races with Red Bull seemingly having the faster car.
But Verstappen has failed to finish twice this season and another problem cost him any hope of claiming a crucial pole this time.
“I couldn’t do my final run, either the DRS didn’t open or I lost power, it is a bit of a shame but overall to be on the front row, for us here looking at the whole weekend so far, it was a good achievement,” said the Dutchman.
Mercedes confirmed their apparent improvement in practice with a solid qualifying, though Russell was still half a second off Leclerc and Hamilton 8 tenths back.
However, Hamilton, despite six previous wins at this circuit, said he was not even thinking of a title tilt.
“I am not really putting my mind to that because I am still way off,” said the 37-year-old.
“My team-mate is fourth so that means I should be at least third or fourth, and I am sixth. I am still struggling with the car and qualifying wasn’t great for me.
“I don’t know how to get around that. I don’t know what I am going to do, but I will just continue to work hard and try to figure it out.”