Motor racing-Verstappen equals Senna's record eight poles in a row


Formula One F1 - Emilia Romagna Grand Prix - Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola, Italy - May 18, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen during qualifying REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) -Red Bull's Max Verstappen found speed when it mattered to equal Ayrton Senna's record of eight successive pole positions in qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola on Saturday.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri ended the session second but was handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding, dropping the Australian to fifth and promoting his team mate Lando Norris to the front row.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz also moved up to the third and fourth slots at the Italian team's home track.

"Incredibly happy to be on pole here. I didn't expect that," said Verstappen, who came close to the gravel on his final lap with the adrenaline pumping.

Senna's run was set in 1988-89 with McLaren and Verstappen, like the late Brazilian a triple world champion, started his sequence in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season and has dominated qualifying in 2024.

Verstappen's 39th career pole came as Formula One marks 30 years since Senna, who had 65 poles, died in a crash at the Italian circuit on May 1, 1994.

"It's a great start to the year and very special," said the Dutch driver, who also matched Alain Prost's record 1993 seven successive poles at the start of a season.

"It's 30 years since he (Senna) passed away, so very pleased to get pole and in a way it's a nice memory to him. He was an incredible F1 driver, especially in qualifying," added Verstappen.

The champion's fastest lap of one minute 14.746 seconds was 0.074 quicker than Piastri's best and came after he had struggled through all three free practice sessions.

"We just kept on trying to improve the balance of the car because it was shifting a bit all over the place yesterday and this morning," said Verstappen.

"I mean, I honestly went into qualifying and I was like ‘well, if we can get a top five, I would be happy’ because this weekend has been really difficult."

Ferrari had been on top on Friday and Piastri, who was 0.017 faster than Norris in qualifying, had led a McLaren one-two earlier on Saturday.

"We are getting closer. To be ahead of Ferrari is also a nice result for us," said Norris, who took his first grand prix win at the previous race in Miami. "It's going to be close, it's going to be a good race tomorrow."

The stewards ruled that Piastri had unnecessarily impeded Haas's Kevin Magnussen in the first phase of qualifying.

PEREZ STARTS 11TH

Mercedes' George Russell will start sixth and RB's Yuki Tsunoda an impressive seventh for the Faenza-based Red Bull-owned team's home race.

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton lines up eighth for Mercedes and RB's Daniel Ricciardo ninth with Haas's Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10 after giving Verstappen an aerodynamic tow in the final phase.

"He helped me out a few times in Q2 and I returned the favour. You need support sometimes," said the German.

Verstappen's Mexican team mate Sergio Perez, Verstappen's closest rival but 33 points behind, crashed in practice and will start 11th.

"I think we made some good progress with the car, like Max showed, but unfortunately from my side I didn't get to show it in Q3," he said.

Aston Martin won their race to repair Fernando Alonso's car in time for the session after the Spaniard also crashed in final practice but the double world champion made a ragged return and qualified 19th.

Williams's Logan Sargeant, whose place looks increasingly at risk, will start last.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)

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