Verstapen survives marathon qualifying to claim Imola F1 pole

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen has claimed pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix following a marathon qualifying session that saw five separate red flags and lasted nearly two hours.

The Red Bull driver mastered tricky changeable conditions to head Charles Leclerc on the grid for Saturday’s Sprint Qualifying session.

Lando Norris, who triggered the final red flag, will start third while Carlos Sainz spun out in Qualifying 2, but will still start 10th courtesy or worsening weather.

A damp track with drying line greeted drivers as qualifying began, though many still initially opted for intermediate tyres.

Bucking that trend were Sebastian Vettel and his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll, Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu, and a smattering of others.

On intermediate tyres, Lewis Hamilton set the initial pace with a 1:27.214s, while Zhou mustered a 1:27.745s on the soft compound slicks.

Ferrari sent its pair out on the red-walled tyres, which Stroll and Vettel proved had the pace, the former recording a 1:23.419s to move onto provisional pole.

With 12 minutes remaining in Qualifying 1, the red flag was shown when Alex Albon’s right-rear brake caught fire.

Even through he was able to get back to the pits, the car looked to have dropped a brake line before the drum explode while he limped back around, littering the circuit with debris.

Running resumed with all 19 remaining drivers immediately heading out, Esteban Ocon the first to set a time with a 1:23.240s before Vettel bested it with a 1:23.095s.

Stroll then went half a second quicker despite what looked a comparatively steady lap aboard the Aston Martin.

That was evidenced by Fernando Alonso who went 1.2s faster moments later, and Lando Norris going another 0.1s quicker still.

Having been quick in practice earlier in the day, the two Ferraris soon shot to the top, Sainz with a 1:20.319s over Leclerc on 1:2.590s.

Times continued to tumble as track conditions improved, the pace dropping to 1:19.545s for Leclerc inside the final three minutes.

Sainz then went faster with a 1:19.305s to usurp his team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo rising to third for McLaren over Kevin Magnussen in fourth.

They were all demoted on spot when Verstappen went fastest, a 1:19.295s, only to lose out when Leclerc set a 1:18.796s.

At the other end of the timesheets, eliminated were Albon, Ocon, Nicholas Latifi, Pierre Gasly, and Yuki Tsunoda.

It was a frenetic finale, with Hamilton and Russell both narrowly avoided an early exit, the former finished the segment in 15th, just 0.004s quicker than Tsunoda.

Rain was predicted to start falling shortly after Qualifying 2 commenced, which saw a race to get out on track from all 15 drivers left in the session.

To a man they had the soft compound tyres fitted, Sainz recording a 1:18.990s out of the gate to claim provisional pole.

Verstappen then went quicker, the Dutchman setting a 1:18.793s to claim top spot by 0.197s.

Sainz triggered the second red flag of qualifying as he found himself off the road at Rivazza with just under 11 minutes remaining.

He sat second at the time, only to lose the rear as he turned into the final corner, impacting the barrier with the left side of the car.

By the time the session resumed, the predicted rain had arrived, dousing the circuit and consigning all drivers to their fates.

As a result, nobody headed out when proceedings got going once more, the clock ticking down to a silent racetrack.

That was broken by Vettel, who headed out on intermediate tyres if only to gain a sighter lap in damp conditions ahead of Qualifying 3.

A handful of others followed suit, Leclerc, Perez, Alonso, and Bottas, though none improved on their earlier efforts.

Both Mercedes were therefore eliminated, Russell in 11th ahead Schumacher, Hamilton, Zhou Guanyu, and Stroll.

It marked the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix that neither Mercedes had progressed into the final phase of the session, a 187-race streak.

Intermediates were the order of the day when Q3 began, all nine remaining runners heading out immediately as the session commenced.

A spin from Magnussen drew another red flag when he Haas driver left the road at Acque Minerali, keeping the car out of the fence and able to recover to the pits.

Nobody had set a time to that point, the session resuming with 8:51 remaining.

Unsurprisingly it was a busy restart once the green flag was shown, Magnussen among those heading out.

Ricciardo went fastest with his first complete lap in Q3, a 1:29.742s, but was quickly shuffled down the order as Verstappen and Leclerc both went faster.

Verstappen then improved to move into provisional pole moments before the red flag was shown, with just 2:58 left on the clock.

The stoppage was the result of Bottas on the exit of Variante Alta, the Finn climbing out of the car after he pulled off the road on the run out of the chicane.

The field headed down the lane some 90 seconds before pit exit opened, Verstappen at the head of the queue and unwilling to cede that spot to Leclerc as they headed back out on track.

Conditions had worsened slightly under the Bottas red flag, with running never really getting going before Norris left the road at Acque Minerale to trigger the fifth interruption of the session.

With just 38 seconds left on the clock, the session was not restarted.

It means the history books will record Max Verstappen as the pole position sitter this weekend, regardless of the outcome of Sprint Qualifying on Saturday.

He’ll line up with Leclerc in second from Norris in third, then Magnussen fourth from Alonso, Ricciardo, Perez, Bottas, Vettel, and Sainz, who never took part in Q3.

While Qualifying set the order for the Sprint Qualifying session on Saturday, the order from that session will ultimately dictate the grid for Sunday’s race.

Results: Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Qualifying

Pos Num Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:19.295 1:18.793 1:27.999
2 16 Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 1:18.796 1:19.584 1:28.778
3 4 Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team 1:20.168 1:19.294 1:29.131
4 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team 1:20.147 1:19.902 1:29.164
5 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine F1 Team 1:20.198 1:19.595 1:29.202
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Team 1:19.980 1:20.031 1:29.742
7 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:19.773 1:19.296 1:29.808
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo F1 Team 1:20.419 1:20.192 1:30.439
9 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin F1 Team 1:20.364 1:19.957 1:31.062
10 55 Carlos Sainz Scuderia Ferrari 1:19.305 1:18.990 0:00.000
11 63 George Russell Mercedes-AMG F1 Team 1:20.383 1:20.757
12 47 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team 1:20.422 1:20.916
13 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG F1 Team 1:20.470 1:21.138
14 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo F1 Team 1:19.730 1:21.434
15 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin F1 Team 1:20.342 1:28.119
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:20.474
17 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:20.732
18 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing 1:21.971
19 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine F1 Team 1:22.338
20 23 Alex Albon Williams Racing 0:00.000

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