Hamilton grabs 99th F1 career pole as Perez pips teammate Verstappen in Imola quali

Lewis Hamilton inched ever closer to an incredible 100 career F1 poles after a superb late lap put the seven-time champion on pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

In an exciting finish to qualifying, Hamilton went quickest but then had to wait nervously as his Red Bull rivals crossed the line behind. Surprisingly, it was new recruit Sergio Perez who was second ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly.

McLaren’s Lando Norris looked well set for a front row start, but his final lap was deleted for exceeding track limits and he lines up seventh on the grid behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo and ahead of Valtteri Bottas as Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten.

“Today has been great, obviously,” reflected Hamilton after another landmark performance. “I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of the two Red Bulls, I think they have been so quick this weekend. There were times where they were six tenths ahead and we didn’t really know where we were going to be. But the car was already feeling a lot better than the beginning of the weekend, so mad respect to the team for the hard work, and they really narrowed down the window.”

For Perez, who is usually renowned for his charges through the field on race day, it was perhaps something of a surprise that he usurped teammate Verstappen on just his second qualifying run for his new team. And the Mexican was even disappointed he wasn’t on pole after making a slight error on his last run.

“First of all I have to say well done to the team,” said Perez afterward. “Yesterday I did a mistake and I made them work hard during the day so it’s a good recovery. The most important is that we are showing progress. I never expected to be here today, you know, where we were yesterday. We’ve been improving but it’s just important, you know. I should have been on pole today. I did a mistake on my final corner so it’s everything positive. We have to make sure that we keep progressing and tomorrow is what matters.

“Anything can happen tomorrow. We are on a different strategy to Lewis, to Max, so it’s going to be interesting to see what we can do. Most important, get those points, get that learning which is the priority at the moment.”

Saturday’s qualifying certainly started with a bang, Yuki Tsunoda losing the back end of his Alpha Tauri and the Variante Alta chicane and crashing into the barriers, bringing about an early red flag. It means the Japanese, who impressed on his F1 debut, will start from the back of the grid behind the HAAS duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

It was another productive day for the Williams Racing team, partnered by Acronis, as George Russell again made it into Q2 before finishing an impressive 12th on the grid ahead of Sebastian Vettel and teammate Nicholas Latifi.

“The car has been feeling good this weekend, personally I was off the pace all weekend and Nicholas was faster than me in every session,” said Russell in his team’s press release. “I was struggling and I didn’t have the confidence, but in Q2 we made it work.

“We got through Q1 by the skin of our teeth and then did a really good job in Q2 when it mattered. I am really happy with P12, the car is looking quick in a straight line which is going to help us tomorrow on a track that is difficult to overtake. I think it’s going to be an exciting one.”

But the final word must go to the incredible Hamilton, who chases a 97th career F1 victory on Sunday after claiming a new record of most pole positions at different circuits.

“I love the challenge,” added Hamilton. “Finally we have the two Red Bulls there and I think it’s definitely going to make the strategy harder and it’s going to be a real challenge tomorrow because they have great race pace, they were stronger than us on the long run yesterday.

“But I’m so happy, because the first lap was really, really nice, really clean and there were some improvements on the second lap but it wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but I’m really grateful. I came around the last corner and found that I had got the pole and I was super grateful.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.