IMOLA: Formula One world champion Max Verstappen put Red Bull on pole position in a wet and crash-interrupted Emilia Romagna Grand Prix qualifying on Friday to secure top slot for the first sprint of the season.
The pole was his first of the 2022 campaign.
Ferrari’s championship leader Charles Leclerc, thwarted by a late stoppage, will line up alongside the Dutchman on the front row for Saturday’s 100km race to decide who starts first in Sunday’s main Grand Prix at Imola.
Verstappen goes into the Formula One record books as the pole setter for the weekend, however, regardless of where he starts on Sunday.
The winner of the sprint will take eight points instead of the three available at each of last season’s three such weekends.
Leclerc has a 34 point lead over Mercedes’ George Russell in the championship after winning two of the three rounds to date and taking all three bonus points available for fastest laps.
Each of Friday’s three qualifying phases had to be halted after incidents, with the red flags brought out five times in total and the pole contenders ultimately splashing around on intermediate tyres and with plumes of spray.
The final one, triggered by McLaren’s Lando Norris becoming stuck in the gravel runoff, brought an end to the proceedings with 38 seconds remaining and the Briton qualifying a strong third.
Kevin Magnussen was fourth for Haas, ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez seventh and Valtteri Bottas eighth for Alfa Romeo. Sebastian Vettel starts ninth for Aston Martin.
Verstappen’s best time of one minute and 27.999 seconds was 0.779 quicker than Leclerc’s quickest, although the final session was interrupted three times.
Carlos Sainz had already spun and smashed his Ferrari into the tyre barrier in the second stint, bringing out red flags and sending the Spaniard back to the paddock on a scooter. He qualified 10th.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton had scraped into that phase by the skin of his teeth, the seven-times world champion only 15th and just 0.004 of a second quicker than AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda on a drying track.
Russell also ran dangerously close to missing the early cut and both then failed to make the final top 10, the first time that had happened to the team since 2012.
Leclerc had been fastest in Q1, before the rain came, and ahead of Verstappen and Sainz. The Monegasque had also set the pace in practice.
Alex Albon failed to set a time after the right rear brake of his Williams caught fire with the tyre then exploding, scattering flaming debris on the track and bringing out red flags.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon qualified 19th after a suspected gearbox problem.