Verstappen rises above wreck-strewn Imola GP qualifying

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Verstappen rises above wreck-strewn Imola GP qualifying

Formula 1

Verstappen rises above wreck-strewn Imola GP qualifying

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Max Verstappen snatched pole position for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix from Charles Leclerc in a chaotic qualifying session that featured five red flags and several bands of rain.

The Dutchman had just snatched to spot in Q3 with a time of 1m27.999s when the penultimate of those red flags was thrown, for Valtteri Bottas’s stopped Alfa Romeo car at Variante Alta with just under three minutes remaining.

The suspension proved decisive. Drivers had been needing multiple push laps to generate tire temperature on a track that was struggling to reach 60 degrees F, and a new band of rain arrived just minutes before Q3 was set to resume.

Combined, it meant there was little prospect of Leclerc or anyone else usurping Verstappen at the top of the time sheet, and just to make sure of it, Lando Norris parked his car in the gravel shortly after the session got back underway, causing a session-ending fifth red flag to hand Verstappen his first pole position of the season and Red Bull Racing’s 75th pole as a constructor.

“It was tricky out there with the rain, dry, rain,” he said. “It was very slippery to also get the tire temps to work — it was hectic.

“I’m very pleased of course with pole position. I know tomorrow and Sunday will be a bit different with weather conditions … we’ll try to have a good weekend here.”

Title leader Leclerc will start the sprint alongside the Dutchman from second, his 0.779s deficit a result of the rapidly improving track conditions prior to the red flag.

“It was all about putting the laps in and waiting for Q3 to put everything together,” Leclerc said. “This is why it’s even more frustrating for me, because when it counts in Q3 I did the wrong choice.

“But that’s life. We’ll learn from it. And in the end P2 is not a disaster. Everything to play for tomorrow and after tomorrow, and we’ll give it everything.”

Norris will start an excellent third for McLaren despite his late spin and beaching in the gravel, in doing so atoning for losing third on the grid for last year’s race here for exceeding track limits.

“These conditions made a big difference for us today, and I think that’s why we’re in the position we are,” he said. “I think if it was completely dry, we wouldn’t be in third place.

“It’s a shame it ended like that, but a good position for tomorrow, so I’m happy.”

Kevin Magnussen qualified fourth for Haas after triggering the session’s third red flag when he appeared to be beached at Acque Minerali, though he was able to find reverse gear and return to pit lane for the resumption. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren followed in fifth and sixth.

Sergio Perez couldn’t master the difficult conditions on his way to a disappointing seventh and 1.8s off his teammate’s pole-getting pace.

Bottas was eighth after his Alfa Romeo car stopped by the side of the road, while Sebastian Vettel was ninth for Aston Martin.

Carlos Sainz will start 10th after a crash in Q2 while second on the time sheet caused a red flag that prevented anyone else from bettering his time. The Spaniard lost control of his car at the second Rivazza, spinning backwards into the barriers. The session was suspended to recover the car, but the rain resumed during the red flag, slowing the track and pushing Sainz into Q3, during which he was unable to set a time and therefore qualified 10th by default.

George Russell led the way for Mercedes in 11th, with teammate Lewis Hamilton 13th. Both were caught short when Sainz triggered the red flag, but neither driver had been able to fire up the tires in the cold and damp conditions anyway.

It’s the first time in an impressive 186 races that at least one Mercedes driver hasn’t featured in Q3, a record dating back to the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.

Mick Schumacher slotted between the Mercedes drivers in 12th, while Zhou Guanyu and Lance Stroll were 14th and 15th when the rain arrived.

AlphaTauri teammates Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly were eliminated 16th and 17th in the frantic final moments of Q1 as the drying track improved rapidly.

Nicholas Latifi qualified 18th for Williams ahead of Esteban Ocon, who wasn’t sent out for a final lap in the final minutes of the segment.

Alex Albon will line up at the back of the grid for the second straight race after his right-rear brake duct caught fire on his out-lap and the exploded in a shower of flaming carbon fiber, causing a red flag as he limped back to his Williams pit box.

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