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Verstappen wins pole at Canadian Grand Prix on wet track

Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso Max Verstappen, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Max Verstappen doesn’t have a secret for driving in the rain, but it’s something he’s prepared himself for since he was young.

The Formula One leader weathered the storm Saturday and drove his Red Bull into the pole position in qualifying at the Canadian Grand Prix.

“I remember back in the go-karting days my dad was literally standing on the track telling me where to drive in the wet,” said Verstappen. “It's a lot of feeling as well, knowing how to drive it, what lines to take. It's difficult to fully explain why that happens but it's something you have been learning since a little kid.”

The 25-year-old posted a lap of one minute 25.858 seconds on a wet track at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to secure his spot at the front of the grid in Sunday’s race.

It’s Verstappen’s fifth pole of the season and the 25th of his career. The Dutch driver is chasing a fourth straight win and his sixth in eight races overall this year.

With a win Sunday, Verstappen would tie the late Brazilian icon Ayrton Senna for fifth all-time with 41 career wins.

"When I was a little kid I would have never imagined being on that list. So for me, it's definitely an amazing achievement,” said Verstappen earlier this week.

Nico Hulkenberg surprised by finishing in second to give Haas what appeared to be its first-ever start in the front row. However, the German driver received a three-place grid penalty for red-flag infringement hours after the race.

Despite dropping, a fifth-place start is a good result for the seventh-ranked Haas, which is unlikely to finish as high on Sunday.

"We've got to be realistic. Recently, our race pace hasn't been the strongest," said Hulkenberg.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso moved up to second, seven-time Canadian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton, who has never qualified outside the top-5 in Montreal, starts third and Mercedes teammate George Russel is fourth.

All three drivers are in a great position to secure points with several top cars starting from further back in the grid.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, ranked second and seventh in the standings, both bowed out early and sixth-ranked Carlos Sainz received a three-place penalty for impeding Alpine driver Pierre Gasly.

As a result, Leclerc, Sainz and Perez will start 10th, 11th and 12th on Sunday.

“Obviously it's a massive opportunity for us," said Alonso, who’s third in the drivers’ standings. "In terms of points for the constructors and multiple drivers, eventually, if (Perez) is not scoring too many points."

Alonso's teammate Lance Stroll will have a more difficult time securing points for Aston Martin.

The Montreal-born driver finished 13th in qualification and dropped even further to 16th after receiving a three-place grid penalty of his own for impeding Alpine's Esteban Ocon.

“It wasn’t ideal. I’m disappointed with the session,” said Stroll. “But it was a difficult session, it could have gone either way. It’s a bit of a weird order in the grid today. But it’s always possible to overtake here, it’s a long race.”

The session began without rain after showers throughout the day Saturday. But the precipitation returned and got heavier and heavier over the final 30 minutes.

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri slid off the track amid the tricky conditions to delay the final session.

Verstappen, who won last year's Canadian Grand Prix, leads the Formula One drivers' standings with 170 points, 53 ahead of Perez.

Red Bull’s 287 points top the constructors' standings, while Mercedes is second with 152.

After two days of showers, drivers and fans could be in for a dry race Sunday as the forecast calls for a mix of sun and clouds.

It's the 52nd Canadian GP and the 45th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve's win when Montreal hosted for the first time in 1978.

No Canadian has won the race since.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2023.