Lance Stroll captures first F1 pole in chaotic qualifying session for Turkish Grand Prix

F1 Lance Stroll pole
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Lance Stroll took the first pole position of his Formula One career at a rain-soaked and chaotic F1 qualifying session Saturday for the Turkish Grand Prix.

Racing Point teammate Sergio Perez will start a career-best third as the team got its cars hooked up in the wet while championship heavyweight Mercedes and Ferrari struggled.

“I can’t really put it into words right now,” said Stroll, whose previous best start was third earlier this season and had only two top-five starts in 74 previous starts. “I’m shocked. I didn’t expect us to be up here after P3. A lot of things we weren’t sure of coming into qualifying. We didn’t look too competitive

“It’s a special moment for me. One of the biggest highlights of my career. We dream about these moments growing up. It’s pretty special.”

The Canadian driver placed 0.3 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who looked certain to take pole after topping the first two sections of qualifying and had the leading time in Q3 when his team aborted the lap to switch him from wet tires to intermediate tires.

The move backfired and Verstappen was left feeling bitter and angry at the call, using an expletive over the team radio to describe the tires.

“I tried to go out on inters in Q1 and had no grip,” Verstappen said. “For us, the inters were horrible. Yeah. Not good.

“Just at the moment, I’m a bit disappointed. When you’re first all the time and come out second, it’s not what you want. Hopefully, we’ll just have a good race (Sunday).”

Perez was third, and Red Bull’s Alexander Albon finished fourth ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.

It was a miserable day for Mercedes, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton qualifying sixth and teammate Valtteri Bottas only ninth.

Hamilton still needs to finish only ahead of Bottas to clinch his seventh F1 title and equal Michael Schumacher’s record.

“The track feels terrible; it’s just like driving on ice,” Hamilton said. “This whole weekend has been a nightmare. The grip’s so poor.”

Both Ferraris failed to make it into Q3, with Sebastian Vettel in 12th place and Charles Leclerc 14th. Embarrassingly for Ferrari, Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi both made it into Q3 — using Ferrari engines.

 Earlier, Verstappen was again fastest in a cold and rain-soaked final practice on a slippery track that Hamilton compared to an “ice rink” after Friday’s two practice runs.

Verstappen was quicker than Leclerc and Albon on a resurfaced Istanbul circuit last used in Formula One in 2011.

Hamilton did not set a lap time in the last practice. Bottas pushed hard in a bid to get some heat into the tires and was eighth quickest but a huge seven seconds off Verstappen’s time.

Verstappen, who was fastest in both sessions on Friday, did well in treacherous conditions that caused several drivers to spin. Leclerc lost control early on and bumped Esteban Ocon’s Renault off the track and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. went off the track into the grass.

Barely 20 minutes into the session, Leclerc slid off and narrowly avoided hitting the crash barriers.

The race is being held without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the 14th race of the season and only three have been held with spectators.

A small number of healthcare workers will be allowed to attend the next two races in Bahrain as a reward for their efforts in fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Both Stroll and Perez have bounced back from missing races earlier this season with COVID-19. Stroll returned after missing the Nurburgring round Oct. 11, and Perez missed two races in Silverstone because of a positive test during the summer.

Nico Hulkenberg filled in at all three events for the Racing Point drivers.

“I’m so happy now,” Stroll said. “I really put that lap together. We had one lap at the end to do it. I had the confidence in the car. I just nailed pretty much every corner, pieced it together nicely. It’s been a few rough weeks. Since Mugello (where he crashed in the Sept. 13 race), it’s been a rough ride for me. Feels really good.”