How Verstappen and Red Bull reversed uncompetitive Imola form to take surprise pole

Max Verstappen averaged over half a second behind leaders Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri across F1 free practice at the Emilia Romagna GP before taking pole

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Max Verstappen revealed he would’ve been happy with fifth place in qualifying for the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and said his hair-raising pole was made possible by constant tinkering with his Red Bull after poor form throughout free practice.

Verstappen averaged 0.543 seconds behind the leader across the three practice sessions but left everything on the tarmac on Saturday afternoon at Imola to produce a memorable pole lap less than a tenth ahead of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

Verstappen‘s breathless post-pole team radio reflected the all-out nature of his performance, but the Dutchman had topped all three qualifying sessions and fully deserved all the plaudits.

“We kept on working,” Verstappen told select members of the press, including Total-Motorsport.com. “Even this morning it wasn’t good and 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.

“I honestly went into qualifying thinking if I can get a top-five I would be happy because this weekend has been really difficult. There really was no reference going into qualifying but straightaway it got a lot better, I felt more comfortable, I could finally attack corners a bit more and it all started to come together.”

Verstappen: Q3 was all out

Max Verstappen during practice ahead of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen during practice ahead of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

After Verstappen was beaten on track for the first time since September 2023 at the 2024 Miami GP after the hammer blow of Adrian Newey announcing his exit, Red Bull‘s struggles appeared to be compounded by their free practice struggles at Imola.

Sergio Perez kept up his end of that as he was knocked out in Q2, but Verstappen clearly hadn’t got that memo when it really mattered as he scorched to pole position having topped the first two qualifying sessions in a stark departure from that early weekend form.

While Piastri could be demoted due to a Q1 incident with Kevin Magnussen, Perez‘s poor result means Verstappen will still be fighting solo against at least one McLaren and both Ferraris in the top five.

However, the Dutchman refused to let that ruin his sunny Saturday outlook as he saved his best until last in qualifying.

“It’s just following the track to be honest, you try to hook up the corners a bit better,” Verstappen added. “Then of course, the final lap is all out. You try to risk it all which I think you could see in the final corner, I had a bit of a moment there but just really trying to get everything out. 

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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