In arguably the most exciting qualifying session of the season, it was Ferrari’s Leclerc who came out on top of an ever-changing battle to edge Perez to his ninth pole of the year by just 0.022s. 

Hamilton twice sat on provisional pole but the Mercedes driver had to settle with third, just 0.054s shy of a shock pole, for his first top-three appearance this season in qualifying. 

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Meanwhile, Verstappen was left a frustrated eighth on the grid after being forced to abort his fastest run at the end of Q3 to ensure he had enough fuel in his Red Bull to pass the post-qualifying scrutineering checks. 

Verstappen’s first two laps were scrappy but he was on course to snatch pole away from Leclerc right at the end, only to be called into the pits, leaving the Dutchman livid and leading to an expletive-ridden rant. 

“Why? What the f***!” Verstappen asked over team radio. “What the f*** are you guys saying?

"Unbelievable mate, I don't get it. What the f*** is this about?”

Race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase responded: “We’ll talk about it once you are out, Max.” 

The result leaves Verstappen with a mountain to climb if he is to have any chance of securing a second world title this weekend, which already appeared unlikely. 

How did the rest fare? 

Carlos Sainz was fourth, 0.171s adrift of his teammate, while Fernando Alonso turned in a brilliant lap to put his Alpine fifth and just half a second off the pace. 

McLaren’s Lando Norris took sixth ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Verstappen, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and Yuki Tsunoda, who completed a double Q3 appearance for AlphaTauri in 10th.

Having failed to match the pace of his Mercedes teammate throughout qualifying, George Russell suffered a shock Q2 elimination in 11th. 

Aston Martin’s gamble to switch to slicks for the final runs of Q2 didn’t work when Lance Stroll could only set a time good enough for 12th, ahead of Haas’ Mick Schumacher. 

Sebastian Vettel fared no better in the other Aston Martin as he slipped off the track in tricky conditions that weren’t quite ready for slicks. The retiring four-time world champion was 14th-fastest, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, who also opted for slicks. 

Alfa Romeo teammate Valtteri Bottas was a disappointing 16th, ahead of outgoing McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered his third Q1 elimination in the last seven races. 

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was surprisingly knocked out in 18th, while Alex Albon out-qualified Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi by six-tenths on his remarkable return to action following a medical emergency.