Lewis Hamilton took pole for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. The Mercedes driver beat the Red Bulls of Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen into second and third place. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was impressive in fourth, as was Pierre Gasly in fifth for AlphaTauri. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was in eighth.
Hamilton’s pole lap was a stunning run through the glorious parkland of the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari. He strung together a near perfect sequence through the fast, flowing challenge of this decidedly old-school circuit that punishes errors but rewards drivers who can place their car on the limit while holding the very edge of the line required.
On his first hot lap in Q3 Hamilton laid down a marker with a time of 1min 14.411sec, nine-hundredths in front of Verstappen. Hamilton had the edge through sector one with the Dutchman quickest in the final two, so nip and tuck across the lap, and there was nothing in it for the final runs as the track reached peak condition. Hamilton could not improve but briefly it appeared McLaren’s Lando Norris had pulled off a coup with a superb second-placed run, only to see his time deleted for exceeding track limits, relegating him to seventh.
Verstappen and Pérez pushed to the limit on their final laps but could not beat the world champion’s time. Indeed Pérez did superbly to beat his teammate, who made a small error, the Mexican finishing just three-hundredths down on Hamilton with Verstappen eight-hundredths back.
Bottas led Q1, over a tenth up on Hamilton. In Q2 Pérez was quickest but the frontrunners set their times on the medium tyres with which they will start the race.
This is Hamilton’s first pole at Imola after he was out-qualified here last year by Bottas. However, having also taken the top spot last season at Mugello and Portimão, circuits that have not hosted F1 before, he has now reached the extraordinary and unmatched tally of having scored pole at 31 different circuits around the world in his 15 years in F1. Achieving it against what was a marginally superior Red Bull car was a remarkable feat.
The pole is a big result for Mercedes, who will consider it scored against expectations. Verstappen took pole at the season-opener in Bahrain but was denied the win after Hamilton and his team pulled off an unlikely victory with a tactically astute and skilfully driven race. Of significance here is that this is the first time this year the teams have run on a different track to Bahrain, having also conducted pre-season testing at the Sakhir circuit.
Imola presents a different prospect, with a fast, flowing lap in contrast to the staccato high-speed and heavy braking of Bahrain. To come back and deliver on a track with different demands and characteristics will be of great satisfaction to Mercedes and give them confidence that their car is much closer to the Red Bull than it had appeared. Upgrades to the W12 have been effective in improving its balance and the grippier track at Imola has suited their car.
With overtaking very hard on the narrow circuit here, track position will be all. Hamilton is in the best position to exploit it and will do everything not to concede it through the stops, as Red Bull did to their cost in Bahrain. However, with Red Bull having two drivers at the very front of the mix and Bottas languishing in eighth, Mercedes’ rivals for once have the strategic advantage.
Hamilton is attempting to secure a record eighth world championship this season and is closing in other milestones too. This is his 99th career pole, within one of the century no other driver has reached, while he has 96 wins, four off another unique ton. He drove an exceptional race here last year to win from second on the grid.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was in sixth. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was in ninth and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in 10th.
Carlos Sainz was disappointed to go out in 11th for Ferrari as were former world champions Sebastian Vettel in 13th for Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso in 15th for Alpine. George Russell and Nicholas Latifi did well for Williams in 12th and 14th.
Alfa Romeo Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were in 16th and 17th for Alfa Romeo. Haas’s Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were in 18th and 19th. Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda went off in Q1, into the barriers after losing his rear at Variante Alta, finishing in 20th place.