Verstappen beats McLarens to take Imola pole

Max Verstappen clenches his fist to celebrate taking pole position at Imola
Max Verstappen has qualified on pole for every race so far this season [Getty Images]

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen beat McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in a tight battle for pole position at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Verstappen was just 0.074 seconds quicker than Piastri, who pipped Norris by 0.017secs with the final lap of the session.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth, 0.224secs behind Verstappen, but 0.263secs quicker than team-mate Carlos Sainz who is right behind him.

Mercedes’ George Russell took sixth ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

It was Verstappen’s eighth pole position in a row, matching the all-time record set by Ayrton Senna across the 1988 and 1989 seasons, 30 years after the great Brazilian was killed on this circuit at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

But it came as a surprise, because Red Bull had appeared to be struggling all weekend - and his team-mate Sergio Perez could qualify only 11th.

Verstappen said: “Really difficult weekend so far, even this morning, so incredibly happy to be on pole. I didn’t expect that. We made some changes before qualifying and it seemed to feel a bit better and this track is unbelievable.

“To be so fast, so close to the gravel. I touched the gravel a little on my final lap. I’m still pumping. The adrenaline is incredible.”

Norris, who took his maiden grand prix victory in Miami last time out, said: “Tiny margins, but as a team we have done a great job so far. Exciting we’re close and I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

Piasti faces an investigation for impeding Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in the first part of qualifying.

Sixth and eighth is around the new normal for Mercedes, but Hamilton was unhappy to be 0.270secs slower than Russell when the two had been almost impossible to separate for most of the weekend.

At the back, Fernando Alonso paid the price for an unusually error-strewn day in his Aston Martin.

His team had a race against time to prepare the car for qualifying after the two-time champion crashed at Rivazza in final practice.

Alonso then went off again early in the first qualifying session, this time at the Tamburello chicane, and qualified down in 19th place.

He said that he had been caught out because the distance boards approaching the first chicane had been wiped out by a crash at the start of the Formula 2 race which preceded the F1 qualifying.

“I was lacking laps today and we put fuel in the car for qualifying and just to be able to do some pit stops. Eventually I did my best lap on the very first lap with a lot of fuel in the car so I think there is more pace, but one of those days.”

Oscar Piastri, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris pose for photographs after qualifying at Imola
Verstappen was beaten by Lando Norris (right) in the previous race in Miami [PA Media]