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Formula 1

Verstappen beats Leclerc in Imola qualifying with five red flags

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Max Verstappen took the first pole position of his Formula 1 world championship defence in an incredible Emilia Romagna Grand Prix qualifying session that was red-flagged five times.

Points leader Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari joins the Red Bull on the front row.

The session sets the grid for F1’s first sprint race of the 2022 season at Imola, with the result of that then deciding the line-up for Sunday’s main event.

Given the field was going into qualifying – which began on a dry track – with just one wet hour of practice behind it and with more rain looming, the session was always likely to be eventful.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

But it proved rather more than that as it produced Mercedes’ worst F1 qualifying since 2012 as both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton departed in Q2, and also featured a crash for Carlos Sainz that leaves him 10th on the grid.

Fresh from agreeing his new Ferrari deal and eager to get his season back on course after his disappointing Melbourne weekend, Sainz was instead left profusely apologising to his team after losing it at Rivazza 2 in Q2.

He was second at the time, three places ahead of Leclerc, but spun into the barriers.

Rain falling straight afterwards meant Sainz’s time held up to get him into Q3, although his car was too badly damaged to participate.

Q3, in which all cars ran on intermediates, was then even messier, with three stoppages.

The first came when Kevin Magnussen spun his Haas at Acque Minerale and appeared to be stuck, only to pull off a superb effort to get out of the gravel and return to the pits.

Valtteri Bottas parking his Alfa Romeo on the run towards Rivazza caused another interruption, and then during the two-minute dash after that – during which the track looked too wet for anyone to improve anyway – Lando Norris crashed at Acque Minerale. With only 38 seconds left on the clock, that was session over.

In between the three stoppages and two trips off the road himself, Verstappen managed to put in a 1m27.999s that earned him pole by nearly eight tenths of a second over Leclerc.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

Norris ends up an amazing third on the grid on the basis of the time he set before his accident, with Magnussen an even more remarkable fourth for Haas.

Sergio Perez only managed seventh for Red Bull, which puts him behind an unlikely row three of Fernando Alonso’s Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel got struggling Aston Martin into Q3 for the first time this year, but only managed ninth between the troubled Bottas and non-runner Sainz.

Mercedes was the most prominent victim of the circumstances created by Sainz’s Q2 crash.

But even without that, it had been struggling – both Russell and Hamilton only just getting out of the Q1 dropzone at the last moment when they squeezed up to 11th and 15th respectively.

The forecast rain arrived during the red flag Sainz caused, meaning the Q2 order was set on the laps set in the opening five minutes. Russell and Hamilton were only 11th and 13th at that point and stayed there.

Alfa Romeo rookie Zhou Guanyu could also feel aggrieved over the Q2 stoppage. He’d been fourth in Q1 but only managed 14th in the brief meaningful part of Q2.

Mick Schumacher (12th for Haas) and Lance Stroll (15th for Aston Martin) were the others exiting at that point.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

The first of the session’s red flags had come when Alex Albon’s rear brakes caught fire – a problem also seen on the Williams in testing, though the team believes this one had a different cause – during Q1.

Though he made it back to the pits, his car was shedding debris along the way.

Esteban Ocon didn’t get out for a final run in Q1 with a gearbox problem so his Alpine joins Albon on the back row.

AlphaTauri had an awful qualifying at its home grand prix, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly out in Q1 from 16th and 17th.

Nicholas Latifi escaped an out-lap spin on the exit of Rivazza but couldn’t do any better than 18th in the only Williams running at the end of Q1.

Qualifying Results

Pos Name Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m19.295s 1m18.793s 1m27.999s
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m18.796s 1m19.584s 1m28.778s
3 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1m20.168s 1m19.294s 1m29.131s
4 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m20.147s 1m19.902s 1m29.164s
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1m20.198s 1m19.595s 1m29.202s
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1m19.98s 1m20.031s 1m29.742s
7 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 1m19.773s 1m19.296s 1m29.808s
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m20.419s 1m20.192s 1m30.439s
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m20.364s 1m19.957s 1m31.062s
10 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1m19.305s 1m18.99s
11 George Russell Mercedes 1m20.383s 1m20.757s
12 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1m20.422s 1m20.916s
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m20.47s 1m21.138s
14 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m19.73s 1m21.434s
15 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m20.342s 1m28.119s
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1m20.474s
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1m20.732s
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1m21.971s
19 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1m22.338s
20 Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes
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