F1 – Emilia Romagna GP – Qualifying

Ciao, MiniFans! For the third and last time this season, we’re racing on Italian soil. However, third time’s the charm and we see ourselves in Imola, one of the circuits almost considered as sacred by fans and crews alike. It also provides us with a new experiment, one in which drivers are only given one free practice before battling it out for pole position. Despite this, the order after this session was similar to that expected, especially if we take the deleted lap times into account.

The air was tense before qualifying. The old memory of Alonso keeping a flying Michael Schumacher behind him in 2005 meant that the fight for starting positions would be fierce so as not to risk not being able to overtake. A track length of less than five kilometres meant that traffic might be key at peak use of the asphalt and drivers, aware of this fact, tried to find their space from the moment they left their boxes. Yellow bananas were mostly avoided, due to having realised they probably weren’t worthy of use to go faster at the risk of losing control of the car for a small period of time.

Slowly, the timing tower started to show an order we’re used to seeing, but track limits prevented us from witnessing it for a long time and offered some fun for the last handful of minutes, as both Bottas and Albon were forced to use a second set of softs. The latter had more problems than the first, although he did make the cut with relative ease. Ricciardo was the other worrying car, sunk in the elimination zone after he had only done one timed lap. The Australian easily made it through. He did not, however, prove that what had been seen in the only free practice of the weekend was not an illusion. Russell did, once again, make it into Q2 with his Williams, while his teammate was second to last. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Grosjean (P16), Magnussen (P17), Raikkonen (P18), Latifi (P19) and Giovinazzi (P20).

The top three teams, if we still dare include Ferrari in this description even if just due to its history, decided to bet on medium tyres for Q2, as everyone else went for softs again. Verstappen loudly complained about lack of power from his Red Bull before gravel was kicked onto the track right before the finish line by Vettel. Albon showed everyone why using the yellow kerbs, commonly known as ‘bananas’ was a bad idea, left unable to control his car after going over one but luckily only spinning and not crashing into the close by wall. Red Bull was rushing to fix whatever was wrong in Verstappen’s car, their only real chance at glory in Imola. Ferrari finally realised their medium tyre bet wouldn’t work and settled for the soft for their second attempt, as did Albon. Verstappen, however, knowing that he was more than quick enough, fitted the yellow tyres for his one and only successful attempt at a fast lap. Racing Point, once considered the best of the rest in this very same season, didn’t get any of its two drivers forward into Q3. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Pérez (P11), Ocon (P12), Russell (P13), Vettel (P14) and Stroll (P15).

One unsafe release by Renault marked the start of Q3. Only two cars, Ricciardo and Sainz, did their first attempt with used tyres as everyone took to the track since the very beginning of the session. Hamilton, being himself, settled into first even while going over the gravel, in the last corners. It was the last few minutes when the excitement shone through. The battle for pole went down to the line, as Bottas beat his teammate by barely a tenth but in both of their last attempts. Verstappen kept his third place and Gasly occupied what should be Albon’s place, joining the Dutch driver in the second row to achieve his best grid position with Alpha Tauri. McLaren didn’t keep up and both cars finished 9th and 10th. Leclerc, once again, extracted something from his car that Vettel hasn’t found yet and managed a miraculous seventh place.

With just a couple hiccups, the worst of them being Verstappen’s car not providing him with enough power, qualifying was smooth sailing even with just one previous free practice. Bottas did what Hamilton tends to do to him: steal pole position in their last breath, while the Dutch man occupied what now has his name set in stone. The best of the rest was Gasly, ever more comfortable in his Alpha Tauri than he ever was in a Red Bull, closely followed by Ricciardo. The prospect of overtakes being difficult might offer a boring race, but it isn’t the first time a circuit of these characteristics offers a maniac race.