Qualifying for the British Grand Prix saw the return of the “smooth operator” as Carlos Sainz set a lap good enough to take pole for Sunday’s race.
Qualifying in Silverstone was wet all the way through and the drivers, desperate to avoid being on the unfavourable extreme Wets, remained on the Intermediates for all three sessions.
Fernando Alonso and Sir Lewis Hamilton were in the mix for Alpine and Mercedes, but it was looking like a front-row lock-out made up of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc after the Dutchman recovered from a Q3 spin to go fastest.
But Sainz put together a stunning lap to topple Verstappen’s time and claim his maiden pole position in Formula 1 as the reigning champion and Leclerc both failed to improve.
“P1 baby, let’s enjoy,” said Sainz’s engineer over the radio.
“Oh ***, I didn’t expect that one,” said a thrilled Spaniard, adding “I felt terrible out there, how did I do p1?!”
“No, you kept it together like a smooth operator!” was the reply.
When he got out of the car, the 27-year-old revealed that he did not actually think his lap was that good when he crossed the line.
“First of all, thank you for the whole crowd for cheering,” said Sainz after qualifying.
“Thanks everyone for staying out there with this rain and Spaniards, we struggle a bit more with this rain but you can tell that you guys re used to it so thank you for being there.
“It was a good lap, and I was struggling a lot with the standing water on the Intermediates; there was a lot more standing water on the racing line.
“It was very easy to get snaps and lose the lap, also more difficult to get temperature into the Intermediates with these conditions.
“In the end I put together a lap, but I didn’t think it was anything special, but just put it on the board and see how it is and pole position came as a bit of a surprise.”
It was the second time this season that Sainz has out-qualified team-mate Leclerc and, having gone 149 race starts – including nine this year – without a win, he sees no reason why he cannot push for the win on Sunday.
“I think so yeah,” he said when asked if a victory was on the cards.
“The pace has been there all weekend except for FP3 [when] we had some issues that we think we have corrected for quali.
“But if I base myself on my FP2 pace then we should be in a good position to try and hold onto it.
“I’m sure Max and Charles will put a lot of pressure but I will try my best of course.”