Verstappen was a fraction of a second off pole for the Spanish Grand Prix, with Mercedes' championship rival Lewis Hamilton edging him out by just under four-hundredths of a second.
Mercedes chose to send its drivers out on medium tyres at the start of Q1, while the majority of the field was on softs, and Valtteri Bottas took the top spot in the session with a lap of 1:18.005. With an opening time of 1:18.090, Verstappen slotted into P2 on softs.
In a departure from the rule, both the Bulls and Mercedes avoided using medium tyres to advance to the final top-10 shootout in Q2. At the start of the second section, they chose soft compound rubber instead.
In the early runs, it was Max who set the tone. Mercedes were first to the finish line, with Bottas clocking a 1:17.400 to beat Hamilton by 0.232 seconds. Verstappen, on the other hand, was soaring and crossed the line almost a second ahead of Bottas with a lap time of 1:16.922.
Though Verstappen remained in the garage for the final runs, Mercedes sent out its drivers, and Hamilton built on the range of softs had used in Q1. With a time of 1:17.166, he finished third behind Bottas.
Verstappen's blistering speed in Q2 suggested that the Dutchman would be unstoppable in the top-10 shootout, but Hamilton replied in the opening runs of Q3 to take provisional pole with a lap of 1:16.741.
Verstappen came the closest to meeting that target, finishing his first flying lap just 0.038s behind Mercedes and a tenth ahead of Bottas.
It set up a nail-biting finish, but it was clear soon after the start of the final flying laps that none of the top three drivers were improving, and Hamilton took his 100th career pole with his first lap, while Max had to settle for his 17th career front-row start ahead of Bottas.
According to the Dutchman, “From my side it was a good qualifying. I’m pleased with my lap with no mistakes and I feel like I extracted the most out of the car. It was very close, but it wasn’t quite enough and sometimes you have to accept that. Mercedes seem to be a little bit ahead of us over one lap but to be on the front row here, especially compared to last year where we really struggled, we can be very happy with that."
He continued, "We know that the start is very important here and it can impact the race result, so of course we are focused on it, but we want to keep it clean as well as it’s a long race."
He concluded, "We will of course give it our best tomorrow and I think we have decent race pace, if it’s enough to beat them I don’t know but we will push them all the way.”