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Verstappen pips McLarens for Imola pole to match Senna record

Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team poses with Australian Oscar Piastri (L) from Team McLaren and British Lando Norris of Team McLaren after the qualifying sessions at the Autodromo  Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hasan Bratic/dpa

World champion Max Verstappen rebounded from practice problems when he maintained his 100% Grand Prix qualifying season record at the Emilia Romagna weekend and tied a Formula One record from Ayrton Senna.

Red Bull's Verstappen clocked 1 minute 14.746 seconds around the 4.909-kilometres Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari for his seventh season and 39th career pole just ahead of the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

Verstappen found some extra pace after coming fifth, sixth and seventh in the three Imola practice sessions, saying via team radio "What a difficult start but we turned it around."

Verstappen pipped Piastri a fraction of .071 of a second, with Norris also within one-tenth. But Piastri could face a grid penalty for impeding the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in Q1.

Verstappen has won pole for all seven grands prix this term, and having also topped qualifying in the 2023 season-ender matched the eight poles in a row the late Senna achieved in 1988 and 1989 before dying in crash on the same Imola track in 1994.

"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," Verstappen said.

The Dutchman, who was only beaten only in qualifying for the sprint race in China last month by Norris, added: "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."

There was bad news for team-mate Sergio Perez who missed the final shoot-out and will start from 11th place on Sunday, and even more for Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso who had to settle for 19th after both crashed earlier in the day in final practice.

Ferrari, who had dominated Friday practice, had to be content with fourth place from Charles Leclerc and fifth from Carlos Sainz in front of an Italian home crowd.

Red Bull have won all but one of the 22 races held in 2023, but have already been beaten twice in six events this year thanks to Sainz in Australia and Norris last time out in Miami.

"So, so close to pole, but very happy," Piastri said. "We’ll see what we can do. I think we’ve definitely been on the pace all weekend. You can never count out Max and Red Bull of course, like we’ve just seen, but I think the confidence is high."

Norris added: "We are getting closer. To be ahead of Ferrari is also a nice result for us. It's going to be close, it's going to be a good race tomorrow.

"Hopefully it's an exciting one. Tough, especially when the lap times are so tight. A lot of it is down to Lap One, strategy and the pit stops. It's going to be a tough race"

Verstappen leads the championship, 33 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, with Leclerc another five back.

British driver George Russell of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team during the qualifying session at the Autodromo  Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hasan Bratic/dpa
British driver George Russell of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team during the qualifying session at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hasan Bratic/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team in action during the qualifying session at the Autodromo  Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hasan Bratic/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team in action during the qualifying session at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hasan Bratic/dpa