Undeterred by the fire at McLaren’s factory, Norris takes pole ahead of Verstappen at the Spanish GP

British McLaren driver Lando Norris takes part in the qualifying session of the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona on June 22, 2024.

British McLaren driver Lando Norris takes part in the qualifying round at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona on June 22, 2024 during the 2024 Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. | Photo credit: AFP

The McLaren Formula One team escaped a fire in its hospitality suite on Saturday and also celebrated a rare pole position for Lando Norris at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Norris beat championship leader Max Verstappen after the British driver put in a brilliant final run in qualifying.

Norris’s great run was even more impressive given the circumstances. Just hours earlier, McLaren had to evacuate its hospitality suite due to a fire just before the final practice session. McLaren said a team member was taken to a local hospital “as a precautionary measure.” Two firefighters from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya were also treated in hospital for smoke inhalation before being released, track officials said.

“The best thing is that everyone is safe and OK,” Norris said. “The whole team was a little scared, it was just a little more stressful than I would have liked. I lost my shoes, it couldn’t have been worse for me.”

Just before the third practice session on Saturday morning, smoke began to rise from McLaren’s hospitality facility, a multi-story temporary building that serves staff and guests. Firefighters responded and said the fire started in the kitchen. Circuit management said the cause was under investigation but there was no electrical problem.

Norris said the team would not be able to use the facility on race day. In addition to the ruined shoes, Lando said the items he took smelled of smoke. While he stressed he was not complaining, he said the incident cost him the toilet he used to “relax” and concentrate.

“Maybe tomorrow it will affect me a little more when I don’t have the quiet time that I love so much, but it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

In any case, he didn’t let it bother him during the qualification.

Just as Verstappen was seconds away from another pole, Norris raced around the 4.6-kilometer (2.8-mile) track and overtook Verstappen by 0.02 seconds.

Norris earned his first career victory in May when he won in Miami, with his only other pole position coming in 2021 in Sochi, Russia.

“It was basically a perfect lap, so I’m super, super happy,” said Norris. “We’ve been close for the last two months, since Miami. We probably missed the pole because we didn’t get the lap perfect. We made a few changes on the last lap and found room to improve.”

24 of the 33 F1 races north of Barcelona were won by pole sitters.

Lewis Hamilton starts third – his best starting position of the season – just ahead of his Mercedes teammate George Russell. The Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz follow next.

Verstappen, winner of the last two Spanish GPs, is 56 points ahead of Leclerc in the drivers’ championship after winning six of the nine races this season.

“(The weekend) was OK, but clearly not good enough,” said Verstappen. “On this type of track I was hoping to be ahead. But the other teams are catching up and we need to do more.”

“I always want to start first because it’s easier to defend. It all depends on how good our start is.”

Norris will have a slight advantage as he and Verstappen try to reach Turn 1 first on Sunday. If Norris cannot beat Verstappen in that first corner, his pole will have been of little use.

“It’s a long way to the first corner, but for us it’s a chance to win a race,” said Norris.

Fernando Alonso, Spanish sports king, was excluded from the second qualifying round, in which only the top ten drivers are in the race, after setting the eleventh best time.

Things also went badly for RB and Williams after their cars failed to make it past the first qualifying round, where the five slowest cars are eliminated.

Yuki Tsunoda and RB partner Daniel Ricciardo finished 17th and 18th, while the Williams duo Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant finished at the bottom of the timesheets.

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