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Slipstream Saturday: Lewis Hamilton Claims 99th Career Pole at Imola

After a lengthy break following the action packed season opener in Bahrain, the Formula 1 world championship made its way to Imola for round two of the season.

Last year, Lewis Hamilton claimed the victory in the championships’ first visit to the famed circuit since 2006. Hamilton looks to continue his strong start to 2021, after scoring his 99th career pole on Saturday for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Q1

Q1 got off to a rocky start for rookie sensation Yuki Tsunoda. The AlphaTauri driver lost control and impacted the barrier quite hard in the Alta chicane, all coming during his first flying lap. Not setting a time, the Japanese driver will start last pending any penalties from up the grid. Following the Max Verstappen, Hamilton track limit controversy, the FIA announced it would be policing track limits even harder this week. The Alta chicane was the spot they were most monitoring, nabbing Pierre Gasly, Nicholas Latifi and Sergio Perez on their first flying laps.

When it was all said and done, defending Imola pole sitter Valtteri Bottas went quickest over Hamilton and Lando Norris. Both Alfa-Romeos, both Haas cars as well as Tsunoda were ousted after Q1.

Q2

The Red Bull team of Sergio Perez opted for a different strategy, using the soft tires while most of the other front runner looks mediums. It worked out well for the Mexican, as he would top the charts ahead Norris and Hamilton.

In an impressive showing, the Williams team managed to get both of its cars into Q2 for the first time since Hungary last year, and only the second time since 2018. George Russell edged out teammate Latifi on his final lap, keeping his streak of out-qualifying his Williams teammates alive.

Moving to a new team didn’t seem to help Carlos Sainz much, as the Spaniard in the Ferrari was the first car ousted from Q2. Being edged out barely by Gasly and Esteban Ocon, Sainz will have to start 11th on raceday. Joining Sainz and the two Williams cars in being eliminated were Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

Pole Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton had a monstrous gain on his first sector time, placing him on provisional pole with a  time of 1 minute 14.411 seconds. With everyone in chase, it was up to the Red Bulls to see what they could do. As Hamilton’s teammate Bottas slipped farther down the order, a potential challenger showed up to possibly rain on Red Bull’s party: Lando Norris.

The McLaren driver set purple times through Sectors 1 and 2, placing himself second on the grid, though the McLaren team could only celebrate for a split second. The FIA deleted Norris’ lap time after a track limit breach in, you guessed it, the Alta chicane. Dropping Norris down to P7, the Red Bull’s now had their work cut out for them.

In the end, Hamilton’s time stuck as nobody could beat it. However, both Red Bull cars came within a single tenth.

“I didn’t expect to be ahead of two Red Bulls, they’ve been so quick this weekend” Hamilton said post qualifying. “The car is feeling much better, I want to thank the team for their hard work. I love the challenge, having two Red Bulls will definitely make strategy harder.”

For the first time since 2018, Verstappen was out-qualified by his teammate. Setting a time .0035 seconds off of Hamilton, Perez will lineup second in tomorrow’s race. For the first time in Perez’s career, he will finally nab his first front-row start after nearly eight years of trying. Perez lamented during his post race interview that had he not made a mistake in the final corner he would’ve had the pole.

Verstappen will line up third, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc making onto the second row of the grid. Gasly rebounded after his disaster in Bahrain to complete the top five starters. Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Norris lineup sixth and seven respectively, with Bottas, Ocon and Lance Stroll rounding out the top 10.

Note: Both Norris and Stroll had their fastest time deleted after track limit breaches.

A few notable qualifiers in the back:

Russell in 12th equals his best Williams starting spot.

Latifi, 14th, beats best career starting spot.

Alonso is 15th.

Tsunoda begins 20th following an accident.

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is set to start tomorrow at 9 a.m. ET or 3 p.m. local time.

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1 thought on “Slipstream Saturday: Lewis Hamilton Claims 99th Career Pole at Imola”

  1. Every year we think hat someone is going to knock Mercedes off the top spot.
    And then when it matters, as if by magic, the best team with the best driver. Goes right back to the front.

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