Imola GP: Verstappen safely on pole from Piastri and Norris

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme. 18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
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After struggling to find pace on Friday, Max Verstappen was back on form in qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, securing a record-equalling eighth consecutive pole.

McLaren pair Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris pushed him hard and were within a tenth of the Red Bull, while a strangely poor final Q3 run from Ferrari saw Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have to settle for P4 and P4.

Sergio Perez missed the final cut for the first time in 2024, while Aston Martin managed to get Fernando Alonso's car repaired in time to take part in the session only to see him end up slowest in Q1.

It had been a messy finish to final practice earlier in the day, due to a late accident for Sergio Perez meaning a number of drivers including Max Verstappen had not been able to fully show what they were capable of. McLaren's Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris had been ahead of Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, but the truth was that no one had a clue about the real picture.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-24 applauded by fans in the grandstand.
18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Q1: Verstappen comes on strong but Alonso misses the cut in repaired Aston

It was another perfect early summer's afternoon in northern Italy with the track temperature still hovering in the 40s as the cars headed down pit lane. Alpine's Esteban Ocon initially went top with a time of 1:16.645s, 0.074s ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Both were on softs while the two Ferrari cars came out on mediums - but that didn't stop Leclerc going nearly two tenths quicker.

Alex Albon looked to be on a promising run before touching the gravel at Rivazza. Norris also dipped a wheel at the same corner but he was still able to punch in a time of 1:16.194s to go quickest. Verstappen went faster still and then Piastri pipped them both, before Norris' next run put him back on top by 0.025s.

Russell's first time on softs was good enough for third but was soon bettered by Sainz, Gasly and Leclerc, the Ferrari pair still on mediums. At risk of elimination were Haas' Nico Hulkenberg and Sauber's Zhou Guanyu together with the Williams pair of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant yet to set times. Also under threat was Fernando Alonso, whose Aston Martin had been repaired after his FP3 accident only to run wide on his first flier.

Albon went P12 ahead of Hamilton, dropping Kevin Magnussen into the bottom five in his place. Sargeant was unable to follow suit and remained stuck in the drop zone even before his lap time was deleted, while a stunning effort from Hulkenberg put the Haas into the top three behind Verstappen and Leclerc. RB's Yuki Tsunoda was fourth with his team mate Daniel Ricciardo now safe in ninth, showing the track was improving rapidly. Hamilton scraped through on the bubble in P15 with Valtteri Bottas missing the cut. Alonso still wasn't able to wring a proper run out of his repaired Aston and was slowest of those to post a time.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB20.
18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

Q2: Verstappen quickest again but Perez falls short of making it through

Russell was first out in Q2 on used softs, ending up three thousandths behind Hamilton. Both were soon deposed by fast laps from Verstappen and Perez, with Hulkenberg impressing again in P3. Then it was Leclerc on top with a time of 1:15.328s as Piastri, Norris and Sainz inserted themselves into the gap between the two Bulls.

RB were still flying, Ricciardo getting into the top ten as Tsunoda produced gasps going P2 by three hundredths from the Ferrari. That left the two Mercedes drivers straddling the cut with Gasly, Ocon, Lance Stroll and Alex Albon at risk of failing to make the final top ten pole shoot-out round.

After a short intermission, Verstappen went top with a time of 1:15.176s. Albon improved to match Russell's existing time, but that didn't get him out of trouble. Russell himself advanced to P7 with Hamilton just behind before both were pipped by Hulkenberg. An improvement from Ricciardo saw him push Perez out of the top ten, and on his messy final run the Mexican was unable to find the crucial extra hundredths to survive. He was duly eliminated at the end of Q2 for the first time in 2024, along with Ocon, Stroll, Albon and Gasly.

Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren MCL38.
18.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

Q3: Verstappen on pole but pushed hard by Piastri and Norris as Ferrari stutter

After struggling on Friday, things were now back on course for Verstappen to claim pole. Hulkenberg and Verstappen were keenest to get going at the head of the line on pit lane. The Haas was on a used set of softs for a time of 1:16.308s which was substantially slower than Verstappen. Norris was only 0.073s off the pace of the Red Bull, with Piastri two tenths slower after a small mistake early on his lap..

Leclerc and Sainz interleaved themselves around Piastri leaving Russell in sixth ahead of Tsunoda and Hamilton, Ricciardo holding back to make just a single run. The others came back in for fresh tyres and regrouped before their final runs with three minutes remaining.

Both Ferrari cars were out of it with strangely slow first sectors, but there was no stopping Verstappen who slashed the top time to 1:14.746s. Norris pushed hard to come within 0.091s only to be pipped to a front row spot by Piastri. That left Leclerc and Sainz pushed down to fourth and fifth, with Russell sixth from Tsunoda and Hamilton, and Ricciardo getting a late jump on Hulkenberg.

The result means Verstappen has now equalled Ayrton Senna's record of eight consecutive poles split across two seasons, and Alain Prost's for the number of back-to-back poles at the start of a season (seven).

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