MONTREAL: World champion and series leader Max Verstappen drove expertly in difficult wet conditions in his Red Bull on Saturday to secure pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix. In an intriguing and entertaining qualifying session, the 24-year-old Dutchman clocked a best lap in one minute and 21.299 seconds, beating nearest rival two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Alpine by seven-tenths of a second. Verstappen will start his 150th race from the prime start place after claiming his 15th pole in pursuit of a 26th career victory. His pole ends a run of four in a row by title rival Charles Leclerc who starts Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after taking a new power unit on his Ferrari. “We stayed calm, we made no mistakes, so of course super happy with that, with pole position here – and also to be back here in Montreal,” said Verstappen. The 40-year-old Alonso put in a dazzling late lap to delight the crowd and outpace fellow-Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Ferrari who qualified third ahead of a reinvigorated Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. Kevin Magnussen wound up fifth ahead of his Haas team-mate Mick Schumacher, Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine and George Russell in the second Mercedes. Firsts for Schumacher, Zhou: It was Schumacher’s best qualifying performance since arriving in Formula One last year. Daniel Ricciardo was ninth for McLaren ahead of Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo, the Chinese driver reaching the top ten for the first time on a day of the unexpected. After heavy rain overnight and through the morning, the temperature was only 11 degrees when Race Control declared the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to be an official ‘wet track’ for the session. Another big crowd turned out, bedecked in colourful plastic ponchos and anoraks to greet the return of F1 after a Covid-caused three-year absence. All 20 drivers went out immediately to test the conditions in the opening qualifying session, the entire field running on full-wet tyres. The track appeared to be wetter than it had been in final practice when Alonso was quickest. Russell set the early pace before Verstappen and Sainz took over only for the Mercedes man to respond again before Magnussen went quickest for Haas. As a dry line began to emerge, Valtteri Bottas took over on top as the times tumbled with dramatic affect, Sainz again taking his Ferrari top before running on at Turn Three and reversing to re-join the fray. Amid the chaos, Verstappen stayed calm to go quickest again ahead of Alonso while, unexpectedly after shining in third practice, both Aston Martin men, local star Lance Stroll and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, were eliminated. Out with them went AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Canada’s second hope Nicholas Latifi of Williams and Yuki Tsunoda in the second Alpha Tauri. The second session began with some drivers, including Sainz and Perez, trying intermediate tyres only for Alex Albon to go off at Turn Six in his Williams and then Perez to slide into the barriers, more heavily, at Turn three. Perez’s crash prompted a red flag to halt the action, wrecking his hopes of beating Verstappen in qualifying for a third consecutive weekend to boost his title bid. The session resumed with nine minutes remaining, a wider dry line and everyone on intermediates except Leclerc who remained in the pits, knowing he will start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after taking a new power unit. In a frantic finale, Verstappen pipped Alonso at the top while Bottas of Alfa Romeo, Albon, Perez, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Leclerc missed the cut. Russell set an early marker in 1:24.006 before Verstappen flexed his might in 1:22.701. It was a statement lap. On his second run, Russell gambled on taking slick tyres as the Dutchman trimmed his best time to 1:21.620 – a gamble that failed as he spun off at Turn Two.