Emilia-Romagna GP: Verstappen takes the lead at Imola, ahead of Leclerc

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IMOLA, Italy – Max Verstappen has clinched the lead ahead of Saturday’s sprint race at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna.

The Red Bull driver braved the rain and set a time of one minute and 27.999 seconds on the legendary Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit of Imola.

“It was difficult on the track, because it was sometimes wet, sometimes dry, so it was very slippery. It was chaotic, and the session was very long, but I’m happy to be here right now. It’s a nice track, and I know the conditions will be different tomorrow and Sunday, but it’s a good start for the weekend,” said Verstappen, who also claimed his first pole position this season.

Charles Leclerc, who dominates the standings after winning two of the opening three races of the season, recorded the second fastest time in his Ferrari, 0.779 seconds behind Verstappen.

“It was difficult, especially when the car wasn’t on rain tyres. You had to turn and wait for Q3 to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Second place is good, but we will have to give everything tomorrow,” summed up the Monegasque.

All the other drivers conceded more than a second to the time of the Dutchman, the reigning F1 world champion.

McLaren driver Lando Norris will start on the second row, alongside Haas driver Kevin Magnussen. Norris lost control of his car after setting the third fastest time, and his car hit the crash barrier on the exit of the ‘Acque Minerali’ corner.

The qualifying session was also marked by numerous losses of control, due to bad weather conditions.

“I’m happy because we’re quite surprised to finish in the top-3. I could have done even better, but I pushed too hard on the warm-up lap. We could have warmed up Charles, because the car was good and I was confident. The track conditions worked in our favor today because if it had been dry then we would never have finished in third place,” Norris explained candidly.

As for Magnussen, his fourth time allowed him to record the best result of the American team in F1.

Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) and Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari) completed the top-10, in order . Sainz, who agreed to a two-year contract extension with Ferrari on Thursday, was notably the victim of a track exit which proved costly for the ‘Scuderia’.

It should be noted that no Mercedes driver broke through the top-10. George Russell set the 11th fastest time, while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton followed in 13th place.

For his part, the Quebecer Lance Stroll, could not do better than the 15th time. The Mont-Tremblant driver nevertheless looked optimistic for the rest of the weekend.

“I’m happy with our performance, because we had a lot of pace. We snuck into the top 10 in Q1 but were unlucky in Q2. After locking the wheels in the chicane, there was a red flag, followed by rain, and we were never able to improve our time. It’s disappointing, but I remain optimistic for tomorrow (Saturday),” Stroll said in a statement.

Driving his Williams, Torontonian Nicholas Latifi ended up in 18th place. His teammate, Alexander Albon, suffered a mechanical failure at the level of the right rear wheel and as a result he could not register a time. He will start last on the starting grid for the sprint race on Saturday.

The sprint race will be spread over 21 laps, and the first eight drivers to complete it will earn ranking points. In addition, the finish order of the sprint race will be used to determine the starting grid for the classic race, which will take place on Sunday.

Leclerc is the latest Ferrari driver to secure a victory for the Italian team in his backyard. He had accomplished the feat at the Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, in 2019.

The Monegasque has 71 ranking points, far ahead of his closest pursuers, including Russell (37), Sainz (33), Perez (30) and Hamilton (28). Stroll is still trying to get a first point this season, as are Vettel and Latifi for that matter.

Starting grid for the qualifying sprint race:

1st line:

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull)

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)

2nd line:

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)

3rd line:

Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault)

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes)

4th line:

Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo)

5th line:

Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari)

6th line:

George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)

Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari)

7th line:

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)

Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo)

8th line:

Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes)

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri)

9th line:

Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri)

Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes)

10th line:

Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)

Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes)

1st free practice session:

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:29.402 (24 laps)

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Ferrari) 1:30.279 (25)

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:30.867 (21)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 1:32.439 (23)

Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:32.988 (23)

Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull) 1:33.012 (17)

Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:33.160 (13)

Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:33.365 (22)

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Red Bull) 1:33.611 (18)

George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) 1:34.262 (21)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo) 1:34.615 (19)

Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Red Bull) 1:35.104 (19)

Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:35.420 (14)

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.502 (12)

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:35.625 (15)

Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:36.033 (23)

Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes) 1:36.461 (17)

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:36.464 (17)

Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo) 1:37.450 (22)

Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:39.698 (15)

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