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Verstappen takes Imola pole as FIVE red flags halt qualifying

Verstappen takes Imola pole as FIVE red flags halt qualifying

Verstappen takes Imola pole as FIVE red flags halt qualifying

Verstappen takes Imola pole as FIVE red flags halt qualifying

Max Verstappen grabbed pole position at the end of a dramatic qualifying session for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix that had to be red-flagged on five occasions.

The reigning F1 champion is joined on the front row at Imola for Saturday's sprint race by current title pacesetter Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari.

The duo have so far dominated this season, although Verstappen's Red Bull has been hit by reliability issues that have forced him to retire in Bahrain and Australia, leaving him 46 points adrift of Leclerc in the drivers' standings.

With points on offer now down to eighth place in the sprint, every point is crucial for both drivers in their battle to be crowned champion this year, particularly with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell struggling in their ailing Mercedes.

This particular pole shoot-out was not decided until 45 minutes after it was set to conclude given the number of incidents that unfolded across all three sessions.

Initially, it was the right-rear brake on Alex Albon's Williams that exploded in Q1, then Ferrari's Carlos Sainz crashed in Q2.

In Q3, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen spun across the gravel, just avoiding colliding with a barrier, while with less than three minutes remaining, Valtteri Bottas had to park his Alfa Romeo on the grass due to a technical issue.

Finally, McLaren's Lando Norris, who starts third, ran off the track and kissed a barrier at a time when the rain that had dominated Q3 appeared to be falling heavier.

The latter two stoppages proved beneficial for Magnussen who recovered from his earlier spin to line up in a career-high fourth, followed by Alpine's Fernando Alonso.

In a strong session for McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo starts sixth, followed by Sergio Perez in his Red Bull, Bottas, Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel and Sainz.

For Mercedes, it was a session to forget in a season fast falling away from them as for the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, neither car made it into Q3, ending a streak of 187 consecutive races.

Williams brake explodes

It was a qualifying session that was initially interrupted in dramatic fashion when the right-rear brake on Albon's Williams caught fire just five minutes into Q1.

As the Thai-British driver attempted to make his way back to the garage, the brake then exploded, sending burning debris across the track.

With drivers following behind running over the smouldering wreckage, the session was immediately red-flagged, resulting in an 11-minute delay.

Just over seven minutes into Q2, it was Sainz's turn to stop the session as he lost the rear of his Ferrari coming out of the left-hand exit of Rivazza.

It resulted in the Spanish driver spinning 180 degrees and slamming into a barrier with the left-hand side of his F1-75.

It was during the nine-minute delay that rain which had held off over the opening 45 minutes returned to scupper the running of those locked in positions 11 to 15 at the time the red flag was brought out.

That left Mercedes duo George Russell in 11th and Lewis Hamilton 13th, either side of Haas driver Mick Schumacher, with Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu - fourth quickest in Q1 - lining up 14th ahead of Lance Stroll in his Aston Martin.

AlphaTauri disaster on home soil

It was also a qualifying hour that was run in dry conditions between the two red flags after a number of drivers had set off at the start of Q1 on intermediates.

But following Albon's incident, the remaining 19 drivers all then ran on soft tyres, with seven-time champion Hamilton only just scraping into Q2 by four-thousandths of a second ahead of AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda.

On home turf for the Faenza-based squad situated just 15 minutes from Imola, it was a disastrous qualifying as Pierre Gasly finished a quarter-of-a-second behind Tsunoda.

Gasly will start ahead of the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi and surprise Q1 departee Esteban Ocon in his Alpine, with Albon at the back.

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