Max Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull in a nailbiting qualifying session ahead of the inaugural F1 Sprint of 2022 at Imola. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took P2 after being hampered by a late red flag, while Lando Norris managed P3 on the grid for McLaren.
After Leclerc topped FP1 the rain subsided well before Friday’s qualifying session and the field emerged on soft tyres for Q1, in which he again set the fastest time to go half a second ahead of Verstappen. Q2 saw a greater threat of rain, Verstappen topping those timesheets before Sainz crashed from P2 – and then the clouds unleashed.
Intermediates would have to be donned for the final shootout and it was there that Verstappen set the early benchmark of 1m 27.999s – just as Valtteri Bottas crashed to bring out the fourth red flag of the afternoon with three minutes remaining.
WATCH: Dramatic brake fire curtails Alex Albon’s qualifying in Imola
Nearly eight-tenths off, Leclerc had one last chance to pry provisional pole away from the reigning champion but was left second and 0.799s off after the red flag. Norris took third for McLaren but slid off track in the final seconds of Q3, while Kevin Magnussen finished a fine fourth for Haas and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top five for Alpine.
In sixth was Norris’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo while Sergio Perez could only manage P7 for Red Bull, ahead of Bottas – who was eighth before crashing his Alfa Romeo. Vettel, managing Q3 in his Aston Martin, took P9 to leave Ferrari’s Sainz in a de facto P10 after crashing out of Q2.
Mercedes missed out on Q3, both George Russell (P11) and Lewis Hamilton (P13) in the drop zone before rain hit in Q2. Mick Schumacher split the Silver Arrows for Haas in P12 while Zhou Guanyu was 14th, despite going P4 in Q1. That left Lance Stroll 15th for Aston Martin.
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Nicholas Latifi missed out on Q2 in P18 for Williams, behind both AlphaTauris – Yuki Tsunoda P16 and Pierre Gasly P17 – in a less-than-ideal start to their home weekend.
Esteban Ocon suffered a suspected gearbox issue and ended up 19th, while Alex Albon was eliminated from Q1 when his right-rear brake caught fire and spread debris on the track, putting the Williams a provisional P20 on the grid for the Sprint.
More to follow
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Qualifying Highlights: Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Q1 – Leclerc shows ominous pace while Zhou stars
Though the clouds were hanging thick and low over Imola, the rain had stopped and a mix of slicks and intermediates were used early in Q1, Hamilton one of the only intermediate runners before following suit and switching to softs.
Dry line now clear, Lance Stroll set the first benchmark for Aston Martin – before the session was red flagged with 12 minutes remaining, Albon’s right-rear brake up in flames and spreading red-hot debris in its wake. He limped it back into the pits but the Williams was out of qualifying.
WATCH: Dramatic brake fire curtails Alex Albon’s qualifying in Imola
After the pause in proceedings, the track was abuzz with activity and times would soon tumble, Leclerc setting the best time of 1m 18.796s – Verstappen half a second behind and Sainz close in P3. Zhou was next up for Alfa Romeo, leaving Perez fifth for Red Bull.
McLaren’s Ricciardo took sixth, Norris eighth, sandwiching Haas driver Magnussen. Alonso took P9, just behind Norris, while the Aston Martins were next up, Stroll 10th and Vettel 11th.
Russell finished 12th ahead of Mercedes alumnus Bottas, who put his Alfa Romeo 13th. Schumacher shrugged off an off-track excursion to take P14 in Q1, safely through by 0.050s.
Hamilton’s last-gap effort put him into P15, 0.004s ahead of AlphaTauri’s Tsunoda, who missed out on Q2. “How far are we off, man, that’s crazy?!” exclaimed Hamilton before learning of the 1.6s gulf between himself and P1.
Tsunoda’s team mate Gasly could only take P17, making it an early elimination for both of AlphaTauri’s drivers at their home circuit. Latifi spun after the red flag and finished 18th for Williams, ahead of Alpine driver Ocon – who aborted his final effort with a suspected gearbox issue – and Albon.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Gasly, Latifi, Ocon, Albon
Q2 – Sainz hits trouble before rain hits the track
“You will get one timed lap before the rain is coming,” said Sainz’s engineer over the radio. That set the stage for a mad dash to set a slick-tyred benchmark. The Spaniard went second, 0.197s off then-leader Verstappen, but spun and crashed going into the final left-hander.
The red flag was called with 11 minutes left, and the clouds hanging lower and lower – Russell, Schumacher, Hamilton, Zhou and Stroll in the drop zone. The umbrellas soon unfurled, and those drivers’ fates were essentially sealed.
Though the session restarted, Verstappen’s time of 1m 18.793s would therefore prove the Q2 benchmark, Sainz second but his Scuderia stricken, while Norris was third – half a second off for McLaren. Perez took P4 (0.002s behind) and Leclerc rounded out the top five, another 0.3s back in his Ferrari.
READ MORE: ‘The car surprised me’ says Sainz, as he reflects on costly Imola qualifying crash
Alonso finished sixth with another solid time for Alpine, Magnussen 0.3s back in P7 for Haas.
Vettel sealed Aston Martin’s first Q3 appearance of 2022 in P8 (and emerged for a late intermediate run alongside Leclerc), Ricciardo and Bottas rounding out the top 10. That left the aforementioned quintet, including both Mercedes, unable to make it to Q3.
Knocked out: Russell, Schumacher, Hamilton, Zhou, Stroll
Q3 – Verstappen snatches pole between red flags
The nine remaining drivers donned intermediates for the final segment of qualifying, the rain having ceased but the track still damp.
Magnussen then brought out a red flag with nine minutes left, seemingly beaching his car at Acque Minerale to mirror Bottas’s FP1 excursion – but rescued his Haas from the gravel to soldier on to the joy of his pit crew. The rain then returned to ensure a damp finish to Friday evening.
AS IT HAPPENED: All the action from qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Five minutes left and the lap times began to file in, Leclerc going top with a 1m 28.778s – Verstappen just 0.020s behind – at the first attempt. Verstappen then improved to a 1m 27.999s, just after Bottas crashed to bring out a red flag going into Turn 16. Leclerc was 0.779s behind, with enough on the clock for one more timed lap.
Verstappen led Leclerc out but, given how difficult their out-laps seemed, it was clear that neither driver would improve. Norris would soon render this stand-off academic when he crashed out with 40 seconds left, leaving Verstappen in P1, Leclerc P2 and Norris himself third.
Magnussen took a brilliant P4 for Haas, Alonso a rapid fifth for Alpine, and Ricciardo sixth in the other McLaren – leaving Perez seventh for Red Bull and Bottas eighth after crashing his Alfa Romeo.
Vettel secured P9 for Aston Martin while Sainz starts a provisional P10 for the Sprint after his Q2 crash.
“It was tricky out there with the rain… It was very slippery to get the tyre temps to work. It was a hectic, long qualifying but of course at the end happy to be here. It’s an amazing track, it also really punishes you if you make a mistake, you know you can go in the wall. That’s what we like to make it really hard and difficult.
“Very pleased of course with pole position. I know tomorrow and Sunday will be different in terms of weather conditions but at least it’s a good start to the weekend” – Max Verstappen, Red Bull
Teams will have one more practice session to get their eye in ahead of the Sprint, starting at 1630 local time – where the grid will be then be set for Sunday’s showpiece Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
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