Lance Stroll will be the fifth-youngest pole sitter in the history of Formula 1 when he lines up on the grid for Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix. 

The 22-year-old Canadian caused a shock during qualifying on F1’s first trip to Istanbul Park in nine years by claiming a scintillating first-ever pole position of his career in perilous wet-weather conditions in Turkey. 

Stroll’s pole appeared to come out of nowhere as he sensationally upstaged pre-qualifying favourite Max Verstappen, who had topped every single session across the weekend heading into Q3. 

But it was ultimately Stroll’s day as he beat the Red Bull driver to his maiden pole by 0.290s in the hugely challenging conditions on a treacherously slippery resurfaced track. 

It marked the perfect response to bounce back from a difficult spell in what has otherwise been Stroll’s best F1 season since he joined the grid with Williams in 2017. 

Stroll sat a career-high fourth in the championship after claiming his second podium finish with third-place at Monza in September, but he has since slipped down to 11th having failed to score a single point since the Italian Grand Prix. 

The Racing Point driver suffered a high-speed crash following a late puncture at Mugello, was taken out by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the first lap in Russia, and missed the Eifel Grand Prix when he contracted coronavirus. 

Further tough events followed in Portimao and Imola but Stroll recovered in comprehensive style with arguably his most impressive performance yet in an F1 car. It made his first pole all the more special and emotional.  

“It’s such a great way to bounce back after a few rough weeks,” Stroll said after qualifying. 

“It’s a pretty special moment for me. Especially after the last couple of months. It’s been a rough ride for me, since Mugello I haven’t scored a point, I haven’t scored a point since my podium in Monza. 

“It’s been a rough run just with incidents, Covid and so much has been going on. But to bounce back like this and put it on pole position today is very special for me.” 

The key to Stroll’s stunning lap was his own crucial call to switch onto Intermediate tyres when track conditions improved for the final minutes of qualifying. 

Both Racing Point drivers were able to get temperature into their Intermediate tyres, unlike the Mercedes duo who slumped to a seven-year low in qualifying as Lewis Hamilton struggled to sixth and Valtteri Bottas could only manage a time good enough for ninth. 

It was Sergio Perez who was initially the quicker of the two, with the Mexican surging onto provisional pole after the first runs of Q3, before he encountered traffic on his final flying lap which ultimately cost him a shot of claiming his own first P1.

That opened the door for Stroll to capitalise with an improvement, while Verstappen did not have the same levels of grip or confidence in his RB16 as he did when the field was all running on the extreme wet weather compound. The Dutchman ultimately fell short in his bid to be the driver who ended Mercedes’ qualifying supremacy in 2020, with that honour instead going to the ‘Pink Mercedes’. 

“In these wet conditions it was just so slippery the whole way through qualifying,” Stroll said. “It was really just about being on the right tyre at the right time in the end there.

“I had one lap to deliver it at the end of qualifying, and I felt like I had the confidence in the car and the consistency in my driving to do it, and at the end of the session, I really pieced my lap together quite nicely, didn’t make any mistakes, and I’m sitting here on pole position.”

Explaining his decision to take on Intermediates, Stroll admitted he had to fight back the temptation to stick with the safer option of running on full wets.

“I expected to be on wets till the end of qualifying with the track conditions being so poor and the surface being so slippery,” he added. 

“But in Q3 on that wet tyre, I was really feeling poor grip and I just knew that the track was drying out and it was time to go on inters. So we pitted for inters with a few laps to go, and immediately when I got on the intermediate tyre it was a lot better so that was definitely the right tyre to be on.

“But in these conditions, it’s so tricky. It’s so hard to tell whether it’s best to stay on the full wet or go to the intermediate, especially with the track being so slippery, everything’s telling you, ‘Full wet, full wet!’ But I was much better off on the intermediate there at the end, and the result says it all.” 

Stroll’s effort marked the first pole for a Canadian since Jacques Villeneuve topped qualifying at Jerez in 1997, while it was the first of the Racing Point era and the second for the Silverstone outfit, with Giancarlo Fisichella taking pole for the team under its previous Force India guise at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. 

Stroll has often excelled in the wet throughout his career, with another notable qualifying performance coming as he made the front-row of the grid for Williams at Monza back in his rookie F1 campaign in 2017. 

With rain also forecast for race-day, could Stroll pull off the unthinkable and hold off a fired-up Verstappen? Stroll insisted he is not getting carried away as he attempts to soak up the monumental feat he has just achieved. 

“I haven’t really looked at the conditions yet for tomorrow,” Stroll said. “But I heard there was a chance of rain at the start of the race, so we’ll see what happens. That could mix things up.

“But I’ll deal with that in a couple of hours when I’ve let this sink in. I’m going to enjoy the moment for sure, it’s a very special moment for me, first pole position in Formula 1, so I’m going to digest that for a couple of hours – then focus on the race.”

With a mixed up grid, the Turkish Grand Prix has set up a tantilising prospect for more excitment and unpredictability to follow in the race. 

 

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