Verstappen beat his main rival and championship leader Charles Leclerc to pole for the Saturday sprint race by 0.779s in a wet qualifying that was interrupted by five red flags amid ever-changing conditions. 

A pair of late red flags caused by Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris prevented the drivers from having a proper second run at improving their times as the rain intensified. 

There is a slight question mark over Verstappen’s lap as the reigning world champion set his best time under yellow flags when passing Bottas’ car, though the Dutchman appeared to lift through the relevant zone. 

"I did a massive lift where the yellow flag was," Verstappen reported to his team over the radio. 

It marks the first pole of the season for Verstappen, who currently trails Leclerc by 46 points in the championship. 

Norris will start the sprint race from third on the grid despite ending up beached in the gravel, while Kevin Magnussen was a brilliant fourth to secure Haas’ best-ever qualifying result. 

Fernando Alonso took fifth for Alpine, ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez’s Red Bull, Bottas, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz. 

The Spaniard will line up only 10th for the sprint after a disastrous qualifying saw the Ferrari driver end up in the barriers at the final corner following a crash in Q2. 

Shocker for F1 seven-time champ Hamilton and Mercedes 

Mercedes’ miserable start to the season continued with the team failing to reach Q3 for the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.

George Russell was the fastest Mercedes driver in 11th, while teammate Hamilton was four-tenths down in 13th - behind Mick Schumacher’s Haas - after a scrappy first lap in Q2. 

While neither Mercedes driver looked able to progress into the top-10 shootout on outright pace, Sainz’s crash and subsequent red flag period just as heavy rain fell dashed everyone’s hopes of improving. 

That meant Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou (14th) and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll (15th) were also eliminated in the second segment of qualifying. Prior to the return of the rain, the track had been drying out rapidly in Q1, with the entire field running on slicks.

AlphaTauri endured a woeful qualifying with Yuki Tsunoda only 16th-fastest ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi. 

A suspected gearbox issue kept Esteban Ocon in the garage and prevented the Alpine driver from completing a final run in Q1, eliminating him from qualifying and leaving him only 19th on the grid for Saturday’s sprint race. 

Alex Albon will start the sprint from last place having failed to set a lap time before his Williams suffered a right-rear brake fire which led to a dramatic explosion and littered the track with debris, causing a red flag early in Q1.