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IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit on May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen’s Imola pole winning lap would make Senna proud

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit Verstappen's Imola pole winning lap would make Senna proud May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen’s pole-winning, final lap in Qualifying for the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was sensational, perhaps his best ever, and one that would’ve made Ayrton Senna proud.

Most who ‘lived’ the Senna-era would agree that Verstappen resembles the great Brazilian’s impact on Formula 1 in terms of on-track dominance. And if anyone was going to tie the remarkable record of Ayrton’s eight successive F1 pole position starts, the Dutchman fits the bill perfectly.

And what better time to do it than on the 30th anniversary of the terrible weekend of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix? Made even more incredible by the fact that Verstappen was never happy in the car until he dug deep to do the business yet again.

Over the radio Verstappen’s delight was audible, it was clear he really cherished pole position #39, and declared as much on the cool down: “Come on let’s go! That’s definitely a really good position. What a difficult start but we turned it around. Thank you everyone. That’s fantastic. Really happy.”

Verstappen: The adrenaline is very, very high

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit on May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Later, in Parc Ferme, reflecting on his 39th P1 start, after a couple of days of whinging and moaning about the Red Bull RB20, it was a relieved and smiling Verstappen who said: “A difficult weekend so far, even this morning. Incredibly happy to be on pole here. I didn’t expect that.

“We made some final changes before Qualifying and they seemed to make it feel better. I could push harder. This track is unbelievable. To be on the limit here in Qualifying, close to the gravel, I touched the gravel in the last corner. The adrenaline is very, very high.”

The feat means Verstappen is tied with Senna on eight consecutive F1 pole positions, a fact that did not bypass the triple F1 World Champion: “It’s a great start to the year and very special. It’s 30 years since he 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. A great day for the team. I’m very, very happy.”

Later in the Red Bull report, Verstappen added: “It was a really rewarding pole today and everything ended up coming together for qualifying. This weekend has been tough and we have been lacking pace and balance within the car, however we kept on working at it and trying to improve.

“When we went into qualifying, the balance of the car felt a lot better, so it was a great turnaround. Honestly, it is just a fantastic track and I wish we had more of those on the calendar. It felt unbelievable to drive a qualifying lap here; there are a few old-school tracks that we have remaining on the calendar which are really exciting. They are what I fell in love with when I started watching and racing in Formula 1.”

Verstappen: McLaren is looking strong

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing, Second placed qualifier Oscar Piastri of Australia and McLaren and Third placed qualifier Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren pose for a photo in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit on May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

As for the race on Sunday, Verstappen ventured: “McLaren is looking strong but with the changes that we made on the car, it should be better for the race. I feel a little less prepared than I would like to be going into the race and we don’t expect it to be easy, but we are going to give it a good go.

“It is special. A proud moment to receive eight poles in a row, especially as we have been having a tough weekend. It was a whole team effort but we managed to bring it together today. Very happy!” concluded Verstappen, who now sets his sights on winning a 59th Grand Prix, and second one at Imola.

With the Newey construed Red Bull RB20 proving yet again that the deeper a driver digs with ‘his’ cars, the more they are prepared to risk to be fast, then the higher the rewards. In terms of finding more when more is ‘impossible ‘ to find, you can count on Max defying all and doing just that.

In contrast, teammate Sergio Perez was crushed, The Mexican lacking half a second to his teammate, failed to make it out of Q2. He was P11 and lamented: “It hasn’t been a very smooth weekend overall, and we’ve been playing quite a bit with the car and we just weren’t able to maximize in qualifying.”

Perez: We had the pace to be a lot higher up.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing talks with race engineer Hugh Bird in the garage prior to qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit on May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The Mexican veteran explained: “In Q1 my lap wasn’t good enough and we went out on a new set, which means we started Q2 on a scrubbed set. On my final lap in Q2 I lacked rear grip in Turn 7 and locked up which cost me two and half tenths which would have easily put me into Q3, so I think we had the pace to be a lot higher up.

“We’ve made some good progress with the car as Max showed, but unfortunately from my side I didn’t get the chance to show that in Q3. We will see what we will be able to do come race day as Imola is one of the hardest tracks to overtake on.

“I hope that we can be strong on Sunday and the main target will be to minimize the issues we had today and to have a good, solid race,” ventured Perez whose poor show will be exacerbated by the fact that he was out-qualified by both the ‘juniors’ in their VCARBs.

Horner: It was an outstanding Saturday here in Imola

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing is presented with the Pirelli Pole Position Award by Joshua Zirkzee in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna Verstappen's Imola pole winning lap would make Senna proud Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit on May 18, 2024 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Final word to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner who summed up: “It was an outstanding Saturday here in Imola, especially after we struggled yesterday. The team did a really good job overnight, with Seb Buemi, Jake Dennis and everyone in Milton Keynes working into the early hours on the simulator, and we kept improving the car as we saw the results of in Q3.

“Max had to deliver and he really pulled it out of the bag with a great performance, and you can tell how much it meant to him to be on pole today. That’s 8 poles in a row, equalling the great Ayrton Senna and doing it here in Imola making it all the more poignant.

“Checo wasn’t as fortunate and he lost a bit of time in the first and second chicanes which then put some pressure on the rest of his lap, he recovered some time but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough and he narrowly missed Q3. All to play for tomorrow as we head into race day in Imola,” concluded Horner’s soundbite in the Red Bull qualy report.