Max Verstappen (EVS Race Winner) may have drawn first blood at the Emiliana Romagna Grand Prix by winning the sprint race to ultimately qualify on pole, but the world champion is wary that the result on Sunday will not necessarily be straightforward.
The Red Bull driver, who has failed to finish two of the first three races to surrender a sizeable early advantage of 46 points to Charles Leclerc (4/7 F1 Drivers’ Championship) in the drivers standings, posted the fastest time in Friday’s qualifying to start the sprint race from the front, only to then lose the initiative at the very start to the Ferrari ace, who had qualified second.
Although it looked as though Leclerc had a pace advantage in the sprint race, the championship leader paid for tyre consumption late on with a patient Verstappen retaking the lead on the penultimate lap to claim the eight points and pole position for Sunday.
Leclerc (11/8 Race Winner) still finished second to pick up seven points, while the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez (12/1) improved from seventh in qualifying to finish third, with Carlos Sainz (12/1) fourth after starting the sprint from 10th.
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Verstappen was delighted to have achieved the maximum in the sprint after a poor getaway but was understandably aware that he still has his work cut out to take the chequered flag in Sunday’s race.
Verstappen said: “I don’t know what happened at the start, it was just really bad. Initially it looked like Charles had a bit more pace but then he ran into trouble with the tyres.
“I am happy about today but I know tomorrow – with other tyre compounds coming in – it will be different.”
Leclerc refused to be too downhearted about the outcome of Saturday’s action, although he acknowledged Ferrari need to solve their tyre issues going into the race.
Leclerc said: “It is still a front-row start, we struggled with the tyres at the end, so we need to analyse that for tomorrow. But the pace was good until then. We started to have some graining at the end.”
McLaren will form the third row on Sunday’s grid with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo fifth and sixth respectively, while Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen claimed the last of the points by finishing seventh and eighth.
Mercedes’ woes continued as George Russell (10/1 Points Finish) could only match his starting position of 11th while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton (12/1) dropped a place to 14th.
Hamilton insists that everyone at the team is working as hard as possible to turn around their fortunes but he has already conceded defeat in the championship battles.
“We stick together, we try to motivate everyone, and this is the situation that we are faced with,” Hamilton said. “But everyone’s got their heads down and everyone’s working as hard as they can.
“We’re obviously not fighting for this championship, but we’re fighting to understand the car and improve and progress through the year.”
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