Max Verstappen answers the call in qualifying at F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

In a week that saw the Formula 1 world pause to honor two legends at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, it seems fitting that Saturday’s qualifying session was captured by one of the sport’s latest legends.

Max Verstappen.

Despite struggling throughout Friday’s dual practice sessions, which the reigning Drivers’ Champion called “a bad day,” Verstappen captured pole position in Imola Saturday with a thundering performance, making history along the way. It was the eighth-straight grand prix pole for Verstappen, dating back to last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

It was a result that saw the often stoic both elated — and surprised — when the session came to a close.

“Yeah, really difficult weekend so far, even this morning,” said Verstappen trackside to Davide Valsecchi. “So I’m incredibly happy to be on pole here.”

Those eight straight pole positions match a record set by one of the legends the sport is honoring this week, Ayrton Senna. Verstappen discussed what matching that mark meant to him following qualifying, given that this week marks 30 years since the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, when Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives.

“So of course, was very pleased, you know, to get pole here,” said Verstappen trackside. “And in a way, it’s a nice memory to [Senna], you know, he was an incredible F1 driver,

Beyond that mark, Verstappen now has seven straight pole positions to start the season, matching a record set by Alain Prost in 1993.

Verstappen’s performance on Saturday is another chapter in the book of greatness the driver is writing. The storyline heading into Saturday was that it was truly ”game on” for the qualifying session, given how Verstappen’s struggles were contrasted with the pace shown by teams such as Ferrari and McLaren. But as we have seen so many times before, when the threat is truly put to Verstappen, the driver can push himself and his car to the limits, and beyond, answering the call.

That is what the great ones can do.

Now we wait to see what chapter Verstappen writes next in that book of greatness.

Here are the full qualifying results from Saturday at Imola, as well as some other winners and losers:

Winners: McLaren

Heading into Saturday’s qualifying session, a major storyline was whether Verstappen and Red Bull had truly left the door open at the front and if so, which team would storm through that door.

While Verstappen closed that door with his thunderous performance, McLaren certainly made him earn it.

Oscar Piastri qualified second on Saturday, with teammate Lando Norris coming in third. Not only does that guarantee a McLaren will be on the front row when the lights go out on Sunday — more on that in a second — but it shows that in the battle behind Red Bull between McLaren, Ferrari, and Mercedes, Team Papaya might certainly hold the current edge.

“A little bit of a scruffy last corner. But I think around here it’s so difficult to do a perfect lap. So, really happy,” said Piastri trackside after his qualifying effort. “I’ve been really comfortable with the car from the moment we put [it] on track yesterday and so close to pole, but very happy. It’s been a little while since I’ve been back up here.”

Norris hailed the result as part of a “very good weekend” so far for McLaren.

“But I think for us as a team, we’ve had a very good day, a very good weekend so far. Oscar’s done a great job and so did I. So exciting,” said Norris to Valsecchi trackside. “Yes, we still need to get used to it but we’re getting closer to Red Bul and to be ahead of Ferrari is also a nice result for us, but it’s gonna be close. It’s gonna be a good race tomorrow.

“Hopefully it’s an exciting one to watch.”

Still, there is a chance that it is Norris on the front row alongside Verstappen, instead of Piastri. The second-year driver was summoned to meet with race officials following qualifying, due to an incident at the end of Q1 where it appeared as if Piastri may have held up Kevin Magnussen. Should officials find that Piastri impeded the Haas driver, he could be facing a three-place grid drop, which would promote Norris to P2.

Either way, on Saturday McLaren demonstrated that they truly have the pace to put pressure on Verstappen, and perhaps to challenge Red Bull in the races to come.

Loser: Fernando Alonso

A crash in Saturday’s FP3 saw the team at Aston Martin working until the final seconds before qualifying to make sure Fernando Alonso could take the grid for Q1.

The team did fantastic work to get Alonso out on the circuit, but unfortunately, his day ended in Q1. For the first time all season, Alonso failed to advance into Q2, and he was eliminated after finishing 19th in Q1.

The struggles Alonso showed in FP3 continued into Q1, as he went off the racing line and into the gravel on one of his laps while working through the twisty Tamburello section of the track:

Complicating matters for Alonso? Overtaking comes at a premium at Imola, so starting at the back of the grid could see a long Saturday turn into an even longer Sunday for the veteran driver.

Winners: VCARB

Following Friday’s practice sessions, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team Sporting Director Alan Permane declared that the goal on Saturday was to see both Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo in Q3 for the first time all season.

Mission accomplished.

Tsunoda turned in a thunderous performance of his own, finishing Q2 in P3 and showing tremendous speed in his RB01. He is set to start the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in P7. As for Ricciardo, who struggled a bit with the car during practice on Friday, he made the most of his day on Saturday, holding off Sergio Pérez in Q2 to advance to Q3, where he finished ninth.

On social media, the team hailed the performance as both drivers advanced to Q3:

With Tsunoda set to start seventh on Sunday, and Ricciardo ninth, VCARB has a chance to secure a host of points in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The team currently sits sixth in the Constructors’ Championship standings with 19 points, 12 points clear of seventh-place Haas. While they trail fifth-place Aston Martin by 23 points, with both Lance Stroll and Fernando Alons starting behind them on Sunday, VCARB has a chance not only to extend their lead over Haas, but to cut into their current deficit to Aston Martin.

Loser: Kevin Magnussen

Nico Hülkenberg, in his first race weekend at Imola, advanced to Q2 after finishing an astonishing P3 in the first qualifying session.

It was much different for his Haas teammate, as Kevin Magnussen failed to advance out of Q1, placing 18th.

Magnussen might have a complaint with Oscar Piastri, as replays showed that the Haas driver was likely held up by the McLaren while Magnussen was on a push lap. Race officials noted the incident immediately for “further investigation,” but a potential three-place grid penalty for Piastri will be little comfort for Magnussen, as he is set to start Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the back of the pack.

F1 Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna - Qualifying

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Winners: The fans

Dating back to the Miami Grand Prix, F1 fans have seen an enjoyable couple of weeks.

Miami brought Norris’ maiden F1 victory, a result that many fans — McLaren fans or otherwise — have been waiting to see. Norris’ victory was celebrated throughout the paddock, from fellow drivers to journalists and fans of the sport.

But this week is delivering in a different, yet equally thrilling, manner.

Saturday may have ended the way so many other qualifying sessions have recently, with Verstappen atop the timing sheets, but not only was the Red Bull driver pushed to the brink by the chasing pack, but teams such as McLaren and Ferrari have shown over the past three days a true ability to put their cars where they need to, and true pace as they wind around Imola.

It made for thrilling stuff during yesterday’s practice sessions, and thrilling stuff again on Saturday as Verstappen earned that eight-straight pole position.

Verstappen may very well hold off the chasing pack again tomorrow, and power through to his fifth grand prix victory of the season. But what we are seeing right now is a field that is doing everything they can to reel him in, and slowly chipping away at his advantage at the front.

It may not result in a true title fight — at least this season — but that day is coming. And there is something special in seeing an athlete pushed repeatedly to the limit, and answer the call when they need to.

That is what we saw from Verstappen on Saturday, and it is as compelling as it gets.

Loser: Logan Sargeant

Logan Sargeant’s weekend began with Williams Team Principal James Vowles making it clear that the second-year driver’s position with the team for 2025 was “at risk” due to his struggles this season.

His Saturday ended without posting a lap time, as his laps in Q1 were all deleted due to exceeding track limits.

It is likely a frustrating day in a season filled with frustration, especially given how Sargeant looked in FP3 on Saturday morning. During the final practice session at Imola Sargeant was up as high as P10 on the timing sheets, before finishing the session in P15. That gave Williams hope that Q2 could be in the cards for Sargeant, who reported during FP3 that the car was in a very good place for him:

Given the pressure facing Sargeant, this could have been a huge day for him.

Instead, he is left to wonder what could have been.

This post was originally published on this site