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Verstappen wins pole in Canada on wet track as he chases Senna in win column

Red Bull Racing Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, proctescts his ears while in his garage prior to hitting the track for the third practice session for the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday, June 17, 2023 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Max Verstappen won the 25th pole of his career and moved one step closer to tying the late Ayrton Senna for Formula One victories as the two-time reigning world champion overcame wet conditions in Saturday qualifying at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Verstappen, who has won five of seven races this season, will lead the field to green Sunday as he attempts to win his 41st career race. It would tie him with Senna for fifth on F1’s all-time winners list.

Rain in Montreal hampered most of Saturday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and although the track was only slightly slick at the start of qualifying, it was absolutely pouring by the pole-deciding third session. The 10 drivers who advanced into the round tried to get a clean lap down, but Oscar Piastri of McLaren crashed and Alex Albon of Williams didn’t get on track.

Most of the drivers returned to their garages with time still on the clock.

“I like driving in the wet. I come from Holland and we are used to driving in the wet,” said Verstappen, who competes under the Dutch flag.

“I feel in general it helps if you’re confident in the wet. It’s sort of a feeling, knowing how to drive it, what lines to take and it is difficult to fully explain,” Verstappen said. “It’s something you’ve been learning since you were little kids. I remember back in the karting days, my dad was standing on the track telling me where to drive in the wet because I think back in the day he was also quite good in the wet. So I think it’s just learning and understanding yourself what is going on and what you have to do and how to drive fast in the wet.”

Verstappen will start on the front row alongside Nico Hülkenberg of Haas.

“It was crazy, the changing conditions are tricky. It was wet to dry to back to wet, so you have to readjust all the time,” Hülkenberg said. “Obviously this comes a bit unexpected, but obviously very happy and proud to do this.”

Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin was third and believes if it rains Sunday, he has a shot at challenging Verstappen.

“We have a chance to put some pressure,” Alonso said. “They have had it very easy winning and hopefully (Sunday) they have to push.”

Red Bull is a perfect 7 for 7 so far this season, with Sergio Perez winning the two races that Verstappen did not. The Red Bull dominance has been jarring because of the massive margin of victory race after race.

Asked what kind of pressure Alonso planned to put on Red Bull, he said: “Two seconds behind them. Not 20 seconds behind them.” He also noted that Perez and Charles Leclerc starting in the back should help other teams challenge Verstappen.

Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell qualified fourth and fifth, and were followed by Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Lando Norris of McLaren. Carlos Sainz Jr. of Ferrari was eighth but summoned to the stewards after the session for “unnecessarily impeding” Pierre Gasly during qualifying.

Gasly was livid over his radio at Sainz for most of qualifying.

Charles Leclerc qualified 11th for Ferrari and was disappointed in team strategy for the changing weather conditions.

“This time it wasn’t hard to read that it was a dry track,” Leclerc said. “I said that on the out lap. I don’t know why stayed with intermediates (tires) on a dry track. We went on slicks when it started to rain. It was supposed to be an easy session, so I don’t agree with the team.”

Perez of Red Bull will start 12th.