Smiles and long faces in Imola | Pirelli

Smiles and long faces in Imola


Imola delivered a very closely contested qualifying session with tiny gaps, as exemplified by the 91 thousandths of a second separating the top three and an uncertain outcome until the very end, when once again Max Verstappen came out on top. The Dutchman thus added another record to his collection, this time equalling the number of consecutive poles, held up until today by Ayrton Senna alone.
There a certain poignancy that Max matched the eight in a row here at Imola
where thirty years ago the Brazilian champion lost his life.

So it was all smiles in the Dutchman's garage, as indeed it was over at McLaren, both of whose drivers ran the three-time world champion pretty close for the number one grid slot, confirming that the step forward they had made in Miami in terms of performance had clearly carried over to the first European round of the year. Later there was a smidgin of disappointment as Oscar Piastri was hit with a three place grid penalty. 

The Racing Bulls were also delighted with the day as it was the first time both its drivers had made it through to Q3 this season, indeed the first time since Singapore 2022, back when the team was known as AlphaTauri. Nico Hulkenberg also had plenty to smile about as he made into the top ten for the fourth time with the Haas that, going into the season, was not expected to be that competitive. 

One is spoilt for choice when it comes to looking for long faces in the paddock today. One can start with Sergio Perez who failed to make the cut into Q3, his lap time over half a second slower than his team-mate. Or what about Fernando Alonso who, having gone off the track in FP3, didn't even make it out of Q1, making yet another mistake on his final attempt?
The many Ferrari fans who packed out the grandstands in the hope of celebrating a Red pole position, as the team had performed so well in the three free practice sessions, thanks to ample updates introduced on the SF-24, were definitely left disappointed. But when it mattered most, Carlos Sainz and particularly Charles Leclerc could not replicate that earlier form, gradually dropping back from the top of the time sheet. In Q1 the Monegasque was second, 61 thousandths down on Verstappen, with the excuse of having run the theoretically slower Medium tyre, reckoned to lose out to the tune of four to five tenths compared to the Soft used by the Dutchman. In Q2, on the same tyres, the gap grew to 152 thousandths and in Q3 it had reached 224, which saw Leclerc drop from second to fourth place. There was a slight consolation in that Piastri's three place penalty means the second row of the grid tomorrow will be a Ferrari lock-out, but the disappointment is nevertheless palpable in the Ferrari camp.
As all the team PRs love to tell us without fail, today is Saturday and the points are given out tomorrow, at least on a weekend like this running to the standard format. Now we just have to wait 24 hours to see if there will be any changes in the expressions on the faces up and down pit lane.