BARCELONA:

Lando Norris brushed aside the drama of his McLaren team’s hospitality unit catching fire to produce “the best lap of my life” and deprive Max Verstappen of pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in qualifying on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell.
Verstappen looked sure to set off for Sunday’s 10th round of the season from the front of the grid.
But in the last throw of the top-10 shoot-out Norris denied the Red Bull ace by a mere two hundredths of a second.
“Today was the perfect lap,” said Norris after only his second career pole.
“My best lap by a long way, I knew I had to do something perfect, it was probably my best lap ever.”
Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one staff member had to go to hospital but had been discharged, adding: “Happy to report everyone is fine”.
“I lost my shoes. It’s all been a bit messy,” said Norris.
“I like to listen to my music loud beforehand, but didn’t have that this time. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to complain about it.”
Turning back to a vintage qualifying session, Norris, whose only other pole came in Russia in 2021, reflected: “It’s been a while since Sochi!
“Max seemed a bit stronger today, but we made some changes,” added the Briton who won his maiden Grand Prix in May in Miami.
“I’m super happy to be on pole, it’s going to be tough but we’re here to win!”
Verstappen, targeting a fourth straight world title, leads the championship by 56 points from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who starts Sunday’s race in fifth, with Norris seven points back in third.
“I think the whole of qualifying was better than practice for me,” said Verstappen, who won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2016 and is on a hat-trick after wins in Catalonia in 2022 and 2023.
“It all clicked much better. The other teams are catching up, we need to bring more performance to the car.”
Ferrari-bound Hamilton was happy to be towards the front of the grid as he out-qualified his teammate Russell for only the second time this year.
“It’s good to be back up here, great to see we are progressing,” he said.
“We are slowly climbing closer to the guys in front, it’s really on a knife edge.
“I’m really happy to be in P3 with that long straight to turn one.”
Joining Leclerc on the third row will be his Ferrari teammate and home favourite Carlos Sainz.
Next came the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who has a three-place grid penalty from Canada, Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
After only a tenth of a second had covered the top four in final practice earlier the stage was set for an intriguing pole battle.
Complicating matters was a sizeable drop in temperature, with morning sunshine giving way to heavy cloud cover with the wind picking up.
The action on track though was anything but cool, as drivers scrambled to eke out every last ounce of performance for a Grand Prix won from pole in 24 of 33 races run at the circuit.
After clipping the McLaren of Norris at the end of final practice Leclerc tuned up for qualifying with a trip to the FIA’s headmaster’s study as the race stewards investigated the incident.
Leclerc was arguably fortunate to escape with only a reprimand rather than a grid penalty, announced just before qualifying got under way.
Hamilton grabbed the honours in the first qualifying run, jumping from 14th to first, with Verstappen leading the Mercedes duo after the second session.
Verstappen came alive when it counted most – after a quietish time in the three practice sessions he led Q3 after the first flurry of laps.
All the drivers pitted to prepare for one last attempt at depriving the Red Bull ace from Sunday’s pole, with Norris nailing it to end a trying day on a high.
This is the 10th round of the 24-race season and the first of a triple header with Austria and Silverstone coming up over the next two weekends.

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