Formula One: Verstappen matches Senna pole record at Imola

AFP , Saturday 18 May 2024

Max Verstappen secured his eighth consecutive pole position in qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola on Saturday to equal the record of Ayrton Senna.

Verstappen
Red Bull Racing s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the pole position in the qualifying session of Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track in Imola on May 18, 2024. AFP

 

The Red Bull three-time world champion's dominance in qualifying drew him level with Senna's run of eight poles, poignantly three decades after the late great Brazilian's tragic death at the Italian circuit in 1994.

"It’s a great start to the year but also very special 30 years since he passed away at this track," said Verstappen.

"Of course, very pleased to get pole here and in a way it's a nice memory to him (Senna), he was an incredible Formula 1 driver especially in qualifying laps as well, so a great day for me and a great day for the team, I’m very very happy."

Oscar Piastri's McLaren will start alongside the unstoppable Dutchman on Sunday after posting the second-fastest time 0.074 seconds behind in a tight qualifying session.

The Australian's teammate Lando Norris, winner last time out in Miami, posted the third best time to fill the second row alongside the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari will set off on the third row with the Mercedes of George Russell for company.

Yuki Tsunoda's RB, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Daniel Ricciardo (RB), and Nico Hulkenberg (Haas) rounded out the top 10.

The glaring absentee from the first five rows was the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who went out in the second qualifying session, the Mexican muttering "what a mess" on the team radio.

'Tiny margins'
 

Piastri in contrast was thrilled to get so close to taking pole.

"My lap was a bit scruff in the final corner, but it is so difficult to do a perfect lap at this circuit but I'm very happy."

Norris, who claimed his maiden victory two weeks ago, said: "P3 is not a bad job and both of us are within a tenth of P1, so it is all about tiny margins. We’ve had a good day and a good weekend so far."

After a chaotic third practice on a beautiful sunlit day at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Verstappen was swiftly on the pace and went top after eight minutes in 1:16.013 only to be outpaced within a minute by Piastri and then Norris, the McLarens endorsing their practice speed.

Fernando Alonso's difficult day continued when his Aston Martin went off at the exit of Tamburello, taking a dive through the gravel, but avoiding any contact with the barriers. He pitted, accepting he could not improve on 20th and last on the grid.

Hulkenberg then went top for Haas before Verstappen outpaced him along with Leclerc as Q1 ended with Valtteri Bottas of Sauber, Logan Sargeant of Williams Zhou Guanyu of Sauber and Kevin Magnussen, in the second Haas, exiting with Alonso.

Hamilton was out early to top Q2 ahead of Russell before the Red Bulls finally found their pace, Verstappen going top in 1:15.386, despite running wide at Rivazza, with Perez second. All were running on softs.

Leclerc then took the initiative with Tsunoda slotting into second place, all proof that Red Bull were not having it their own way – and the top seven all within half a second of the pace.

On their second runs, Verstappen improved to take the top spot, but team-mate Perez missed out on the top-ten shootout and was eliminated in 11th along with Esteban Ocon of Alpine, Lance Stroll of Aston Martin, Alex Albon of Williams and Pierre Gasly, sporting a Senna-yellow helmet, in the second Alpine.

Hulkenberg was first out for Q3, as the temperature fell, with Verstappen revelling in the cooler conditions. He clocked 1:14.869 to go top with Norris second on his first timed run ahead of Leclerc, Piastri and Sainz.

The top four were separated by four-tenths of a second for the final runs which saw Verstappen, digging into his reserves of talent, grab pole with a dazzling lap in 1:14.746 – a clear example of an outstanding driver delivering beyond the potential of his car.

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