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

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IMOLA, Italy — Max Verstappen secured the lead ahead of Saturday’s sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Formula One Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver braved the rain to clock a time of 1 minute 27.999 seconds at the legendary Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit in 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 glad to be here now. It’s a nice track and I know the conditions will be different tomorrow and Sunday, but it’s a good start to the weekend,” said Verstappen, who also took his first pole position of the season.

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

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

All 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 guardrail on the exit of Acque Minerali corner.

Qualifying was also characterized by numerous losses of control due to the weather.

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

As for Magnussen, his fourth time allowed him to get 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 that order. Sainz, who agreed to a two-year contract extension with Ferrari on Thursday, was notably the victim of a track exit that 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, Quebec’s Lance Stroll couldn’t do better than the 15th time. The Mont Tremblant rider nonetheless looked optimistic for the remainder of the weekend.

“I’m happy with our performance because we had a lot of pace. We crept into the top 10 in Q1 but were unlucky in Q2. After the wheels locked 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.

Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi finished 18th with his Williams. His teammate Alexander Albon suffered a mechanical defect in the right rear wheel and was therefore unable to set a time. In the sprint race on Saturday he will be last on the starting grid.

The sprint race is 21 laps long and the first eight drivers to complete it earn ranking points. In addition, the finish order of the sprint race is used to determine the starting grid for the classic that takes 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 in 2019 at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

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

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)

1. Free Practice:

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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