Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen takes pole for Montreal Grand Prix

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MONTREAL — Rising young star Max Verstappen will line up alongside celebrated veteran Fernando Alonso on the front row of Sunday's Montreal Grand Prix — a fitting finale for Formula One's return to Canada.

The 24-year-old Verstappen, the series points leader and reigning world champion, overcame soggy conditions to win his second pole of the season. Alonso secured his first front-row start in a decade with a fast final lap.

"I used to look at F1 as a little kid, and seeing Fernando being up there and winning his races and championships and putting it on poles. So, to be sharing the front row is a nice thing," Verstappen said.

"Of course, Fernando is getting a little bit old, but he's still very fast," he added with a laugh. "I know he starts very well, so I have to be ready."

Verstappen, who won last weekend in Baku, Azerbaijan, posted a time of one minute 21.299 seconds in the battle against the elements.

"It was very tricky out there," Verstappen said after securing his second pole of the season and 15th of his career. "Especially (in the first session), visibility … and you were really on the edge with the grip. But then it started to be more and more enjoyable when the track started to dry. And you started to have a little bit more grip in the wet."

The 40-year-old Alonso, who won the Canadian Grand Prix in 2006, posted a time of 1:21.944 on his final lap.

"It is an unbelievable weekend so far for us,'' said the two-time world champion. "The car was mega. I was so comfortable driving this car, and the fans pushed me to make an extra push.''

Alonso, who was fastest in a soggy morning practice session, last lined up on the front row in Germany in 2012. His last victory was in 2013 in his home race in Spain.

"I think we'll attack Max in the first corner," Alonso said with a laugh. "(Red Bull) are in a different league for sure. And it was not in our wildest dreams to be on pole position, and so we take the first row for sure, and that's maybe better than any expectations."

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third (1:22.096).

The Montreal Grand Prix hasn't been won from outside the front row in nearly a decade.

"It doesn't really matter the positions today. It's all about the race (Sunday)," Sainz said. "I think if we get a good start, and we put pressure in the guys in front, then anything can happen."

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton moved up to a season's-best fourth with his final lap. He shared "the biggest hug" with his physiotherapist Angela Cullen, he said, in the back of the garage after the race.

"Because we've both been working so hard and obviously this past week was a real challenge, and I’m so grateful to have her with me every day to work through the pain and get my body right," said Hamilton, who suffered severe back pain last weekend.

"To get top 5 in qualifying in those conditions is awesome."

His Mercedes' teammate George Russell paid the price for switching to soft tires as he slid off the track and onto the grass at Turn 2, which was one of the slickest areas of the track. Russell finished eighth.

"High risk, high reward," Russell said. "It didn't pay off today."

Verstappen said he never considered switching to slick tires.

"It was just too wet in some places … you cannot take that gamble in qualifying," he said.

The soggy conditions also proved costly for Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who was done for the day when he locked up and sailed straight into the wall between Turns 2 and 3.

Perez, who starts 13th on Sunday, had to climb through some underbrush as he walked back to the pits outside the track walls.

Williams' Alex Albon similarly skidded into the wall at Turn 6, but he still made the cut in the second session.

The conditions were miserable, with pounding rain, high winds and a chilly 12 C at start time. High spray off tires made visibility difficult. It was tough to even discern one driver from another as they splashed past the finish line.

"Can't see a lot ahead of me," Hamilton said early in qualifying.

The rain eased off and conditions improved markedly late in the second of the three qualifying sessions. A dry stretch of track appeared for drivers to follow.

Sunday's race will see Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who captured his fourth straight pole last week in Baku, starting at the back of the grid despite finishing 15th overall. He's serving a grid penalty after an engine change, as is Yuki Tsunoda.

Sunshine and 20 C is forecast for Sunday's race.

Montreal's Lance Stroll, who's known to perform well in poor weather, was 18th in his Aston Martin, one place better than last week. Toronto's Nicholas Latifi (Williams) was 19th.

"We were pretty competitive in (practice) this morning, so it was disappointing not to follow that up in qualifying," Stroll said. "It will be tough to start towards the back of the grid, but free practice showed our car has good pace, and we will try our best to get points (Sunday)."

The Montreal Grand Prix makes its triumphant return at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve after COVID-19 forced its cancellation in both 2020 and 2021.

Unfortunately for the sea of fans wearing slickers and huddling under umbrellas Saturday, the weather hasn't been so festive this week.

A storm rolled in moments after Friday's practice session, sending fans scrambling for cover.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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