Verstappen matches Senna record by narrowly beating McLarens to Imola pole

Max Verstappen equaled Ayrton Senna’s record for eight consecutive pole positions after seeing off a stern challenge from McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris for top spot on the grid at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Verstappen had been deeply uncomfortable with his Red Bull car throughout the practice session and had been tipped to lose his pole streak to either McLaren or Ferrari, but the Dutchman was imperious when it counted, topping all three qualifying segments.

His charge to pole wasn’t completely unchallenged, however. Though Ferrari wilted in Q3, McLaren drivers Piastri and Norris were omnipresent.


Norris led the way for the papaya team at first, getting to within 0.073s of top spot after his first lap, but he couldn’t follow Verstappen through the second runs, when teammate Piastri came to the fore.

The Australian, benefitting from the team’s Miami upgrade package in full for the first time this weekend, improved by enough to take pole position for himself, but his gains were neutralized by Verstappen’s final tour, which restored a 0.074s margin to pinch career pole No. 39.

“Really difficult weekend so far, even this morning,” he said. “I’m incredibly happy to be on pole here, I didn’t expect that.

“We made some final changes before qualifying. They seemed to make it a little bit better. I could push a little bit harder.”

Verstappen also paid tribute to Senna, whose record of eight consecutive victories – spanning the 1988 Spanish and the 1989 United States Grands Prix – he equaled, dating back to last year’s season-ending race in Abu Dhabi.

“Thirty years since he [Senna] passed way at this track — of course I’m very pleased to get pole here,” he said. “In a way it’s a nice memory to him. He was an incredible Formula 1 driver.

“A great day for me, great day for the team, so I’m very, very happy.”

Piastri wasn’t deterred for having been beaten to top spot, the McLaren driver punchily claiming that a second consecutive victory for the team could be on the cards on Sunday.

“I think normally in the past we’d say no, but I think with our recent performances we’ve learned to say yes. We’ve definitely been on the pace all weekend. The confidence is high we can do something good.”

McLaren teammate Lando Norris will back him up from third on the grid, and the Miami Grand Prix winner was similarly optimistic about his team’s standing.

“It’s exciting we’re close, and I can’t wait for tomorrow,” he said. “To be ahead of Ferrari also is a nice result for us. It’s going to be close. It’s going to be a good race tomorrow.”

Charles Leclerc had topped both Friday practice sessions but slumped to fourth in Q3 and 0.224s off the pace. Teammate Carlos Sainz fared worse in fifth, where he shipped almost half a second to pole.

Mercedes qualified sixth and eighth with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who sandwiched and impressive Yuki Tsunoda in seventh.

Tsunoda’s RB teammate, Daniel Ricciardo will line up ninth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in 10th.

Sergio Perez will start a surprise 11th after failing to improve enough following Q1. The Red Bull Racing driver needed to find just 0.015s to earn a Q3 berth, but a small mistake through Variante Alta was enough to put paid to a shot at pole position.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon qualified 12th ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Williams driver Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly in the other Alpine.

Sauber teammates Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu will start 16th and 17th ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who was frustrated by what he felt was a block by Piastri that will be investigated after the session.

Fernando Alonso was a shock 19th at the end of Q1, the culmination of an unusually scruffy day for the Spanish veteran.

Alonso had crashed in final practice earlier in the day, forcing his team into a race against time to prepare his car for qualifying, but he lacked pace by the time he hit the track. Appearing to lack front-end bite, Alonso once ran through the gravel at Tamburello and later abandoned the session altogether, pitting before he could complete his final lap. The uncharacteristic performance put him 0.063s behind Magnussen, 0.313s short of a spot in Q2 and 1.155s off the pace set by Verstappen in Q1.

Logan Sargeant will prop up the grid from 20th after having his fastest lap deleted for exceeding track limits, though his best time would have been quick enough for only 17th place.

Story originally appeared on Racer