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Lando Norris overcomes McLaren fire drama to snatch pole ahead of Max Verstappen

Lando Norris celebrates taking pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix (Joan Monfort/AP)
Lando Norris celebrates taking pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix (Joan Monfort/AP)

Lando Norris produced the lap of his life to see off Max Verstappen and take pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix – just five hours after he was evacuated from McLaren’s motorhome following a fire.

Norris, 24, misplaced his racing boots amid the scramble to leave the British team’s hospitality suite when the electrical blaze broke out shortly before midday at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.

Emergency services were quickly on the scene to bring the fire inside the team’s two-levelled suite under control.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown outside McLaren’s hospitality suite after a fire broke out
Zak Brown stands outside McLaren’s motorhome following a fire (Philip Duncan/PA)

McLaren’s staff, and their guests, were safely evacuated, but one employee of the British team was taken to hospital as a precaution. They were later released.

Staff from both Pirelli and Alpine – who occupy the buildings which flank McLaren here in the paddock – were also ordered out. The fire was only fully extinguished in the minutes before qualifying started.

On track, Norris trailed Verstappen by almost two tenths prior to the final runs. However, the 24-year-old pulled out all the stops to beat his rival to top spot by just 0.020 seconds and claim only the second pole of his career.

“Let’s f****** go, baby,” he yelled over the radio. Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes, one place ahead of team-mate George Russell.

“It was a bit of a scare for the whole team and more of a stressful day than I would have liked,” said Norris as he reflected on the fire.

“It was all a little bit messy. I lost my shoes. I have one or two sets of everything and they managed to get some stuff out of the motorhome. But some of it smells pretty bad from the fire.

“I have not been able to relax and chill out as much as I’d normally do. But I have never been the kind of guy to complain about these things.

“Maybe tomorrow it’ll impact me a bit more because I can’t get that quiet time I love, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Unable to occupy his regular driver’s room, Norris took over McLaren CEO Zak Brown’s office prior to qualifying inside the team’s building which adjoins the garage. Brown was granted access to FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem’s quarters.

Norris should have taken his second career win last time out in Canada, only for a poor strategy call condemning him to runner-up behind Verstappen.

But the British driver, 63 points adrift of the Dutchman in the championship standings, will be handed the chance of a reprieve in Sunday’s 66-lap race.

Over at Mercedes, Hamilton survived a nervy moment in the second phase of qualifying when his opening lap left him in the knockout zone.

“That tyre was bad, man,” he complained, with team principal Toto Wolff wearing a face like thunder at the back of the team’s garage.

Hamilton was soon back on track, hanging his Mercedes on rails to haul him up to second. Russell, also on the brink of being eliminated, improved to third allowing the Silver Arrows to fight another day.

On to Q3 and Russell appeared angered by Hamilton’s on-track conduct following his opening tour.

“What the f*** was Lewis doing prepping that lap?” he yelled over the radio. “He was just, it is fine, we will talk about it afterwards,” responded Russell’s race engineer, Marcus Dudley.

Russell’s outburst will add fuel to the fire of an unhappy camp in the week Mercedes reported an anonymous email, which claimed Hamilton’s car is being sabotaged, to the police.

Explaining his radio rant, Russell said he was attempting to take a tow off Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, not realising Hamilton was also trying to use the Frenchman’s car to gain more straight-line speed.

“I was focused on my mirrors, trying not to impede Ocon, and then I looked up and Lewis was right in front of me trying to take the tow from Ocon,” said Russell.

“Obviously in the moment, when you’re trying to give it everything, you’re a bit hotheaded. But nothing gained, nothing lost, and there’s nothing more to it.”