“This is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you couldn’t believe all weekend,” said the Briton, who was only 11th in opening practice.
“We’ve moved around, made so many changes, over these two days. Just chasing our tail and it’s been so difficult.”
The first phase of qualifying was twice stopped, with Canadian Lance Stroll smashing his Aston Martin into the barriers at turn 15 and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi following minutes later.
“I was kind of committed to the corner and at that point it just pushed me a bit deep and I hit the wall,” said Stroll, son of team owner Lawrence Stroll.
Hamilton had been fastest in that opening session ahead of the two Red Bulls.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo then crashed his McLaren after locking up at turn three in the second phase, bringing out the red flags for the third time. Ricciardo will start from 13th on the grid.
That crash left Aston Martin’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel cursing his misfortune in 11th place after being denied the chance to go faster.
The final crash involved Sainz and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Tsunoda’s teammate Pierre Gasly, fastest in final practice, starts fourth with Sainz qualified in fifth and McLaren’s Lando Norris sixth on a street circuit with a reputation for drama and where overtaking is possible.
Norris was summoned to stewards afterwards for failing to return to the pits immediately red flags were waved, and was handed a three place grid drop — less than the normal five — with three penalty points.
“Just chaos really,” the Briton said of the session. “I slowed down straight away, I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong.”
Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez will move up to sixth with Tsunoda seventh and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso eighth. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas qualified 10th.
“It was messy, it was difficult to get into the rhythm, into the pace,” commented double world champion Alonso of the session.
“It’s a little bit unfair probably that the people that crashed. They repair the car and they start in that position tomorrow,” added the Spaniard.
It remained to be seen whether Sainz and Tsunoda’s cars had suffered gearbox damage, which would incur grid drops if changed.
AUSSIE CRASHES BUT QUALIFIES SECOND
In MotoGP, points leader Fabio Quartararo set the fastest lap in qualifying for the Catalonia Grand Prix, becoming the first rider in seven years to win five consecutive pole positions.
The Frenchman steered his Yamaha bike through a flying lap in 1 minute, 38.853 seconds on the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit. Australia’s Jack Miller clocked the second-fastest time despite a crash that he emerged from unscathed. Johann Zarco was third.
The 22-year-old Quartararo leads the competition after six races with 105 points, followed by Zarco with 81.
“We know that we still have some margin for improvement, but I am a thrilled to be on pole once again,” Quartararo said.
Reuters, with AP