FULL GRID: Max Verstappen matches Ayrton Senna’s pole record at Imola

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.

The race is due to start at 15:00 (SA time) on Sunday.

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.

Grid penalty for McLaren’s Oscar Piastri

“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 was to have started alongside the unstoppable Dutchman on Sunday after posting the second fastest time 0.074 seconds behind in a tight qualifying session.

However, the Australian was docked three grid places for impeding the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.

That promoted McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, winner last time out in Miami, to the front row.

The two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will set off from the second row with Piastri now alongside the Mercedes of George Russell on the third row.

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 had initially been 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,” he said before the penalty was handed down.

Norris added: “Not a bad job, it’s all about tiny margins.”

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 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 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.

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.

Grid for Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola after qualifying on Saturday:

Front row

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull)

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren)

2nd row

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)

Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari)

3rd row

Oscar Piastri (AUS/McLaren)

George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)

4th row

Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/RB)

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)

5th row

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/RB)

Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Haas)

6th row

Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)

Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine)

7th row

Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin)

Alex Albon (THA/Williams)

8th row

Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpine)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Sauber)

9th row

Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Sauber)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas)

10th row

Fernando Alonso (ESP/Aston Martin)

Logan Sargeant (USA/Williams)

By Garrin Lambley © Agence France-Presse