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Norris snatches Spanish GP pole from Verstappen

Lando Norris celebrates taking pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix by holding up his index finger
Lando Norris beat Verstappen to pole by 0.020 seconds [Getty Images]

McLaren’s Lando Norris pipped Max Verstappen’s Red Bull to pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix in a gripping qualifying session.

Verstappen had appeared out of reach when he improved his own time, which was already fastest, by more than 0.2 seconds on his final run.

But Norris crossed the line a few seconds later to beat Verstappen and take his first pole of the year.

And Lewis Hamilton out-qualified team-mate George Russell for only the second time this season as the Mercedes drivers took third and fourth.

Their performance underlined Mercedes’ re-emergence as contenders close to the front after a series of car developments as they beat the Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to fifth and sixth place, despite an upgrade on the Italian cars.

Norris, for whom this was a second career pole and his first for three years, said: "It was pretty much a perfect lap. You know when you’re on a good lap and you’re getting excited. Close still but super happy. I would say my best pole position. I’ve not had many but I’d say the best.

"We have been quick since Miami but missed out on pole by not doing a perfect lap and today we did a perfect lap."

Verstappen said: "The whole weekend we have been trying to find a connected balance, I was quite happy in qualifying. In Q3 I got a nice little tow from Checo (Perez) in Turn One to extract everything we could but unfortunately it was just not enough. But all in all we can be very happy with this."

The pole for McLaren came after a fire in their hospitality area before final practice, which forced Norris, other staff and guests to evacuate the area.

McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one member of staff had to go to hospital but had been released, adding: "Happy to report everyone is fine."

Firefighters deal with the incident in the McLaren hospitality area
It is understood four fire marshals were assessed at the track for smoke inhalation, with two of those then taken to hospital [Getty Images]

Finally a breakthrough for Hamilton

Hamilton had left the last race in Canada saying he had to "start driving with my head" to get better results.

He had not out-qualified Russell in a qualifying session for a grand prix since the Japanese race back in April, and in recent races had even expressed doubts whether he would be able to do so again.

But he found his form again in Spain and edged Russell out by just 0.002secs as they completed their final laps one after the other.

Hamilton: "I’m really happy. It has been quite a difficult year. Huge amount of work from everyone back at the factory and finally we are seeing those incremental steps. I didn’t expect us to be fighting for pole but we’re getting close."

Alpine’s Pierre Gasly impressed with eighth, ahead of another disappointing performance from Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull in eighth.

The Mexican will start 11th as a result of a three-place grid penalty for driving a damaged car at the last race in Canada.

Gasly’s team-mate Esteban Ocon was ninth ahead of the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri, who made mistakes on both his laps and failed to set a time in the final qualifying session.