PACE DEBRIEF: Verstappen helped to pole position by Hulkenberg's slipstream

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Emilia Romagna, Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrariit

Max Verstappen bounced back from a difficult start to his Imola weekend to secure his eighth consecutive pole position, albeit he needed external help to beat his rivals this time out. F1Technical’s senior writer Balazs Szabo delivers his pace debrief from Imola.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen looked to struggle for pace on the opening day of the Imola F1 weekend, but he managed to bounce back to clinch his eighth consecutive pole position which saw him equal Ayrton Senna’s record.

The Dutch driver beat the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris by just a fraction of 74 and 91 thousandths of a second respectively with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc a further two tenths of a second behind.

Interestingly, Verstappen gained all his advantage in the first sector where he was exactly two tenths of a second quicker than the McLaren drivers. It later emerged that Verstappen gained a significant amount of time due to a slipstream provided by Haas racer Nico Hulkenberg.

The Dutchman gained a total of 140 thousands of a second until Turn 1 compared to his previous hot lap where he did not have a tow. Had Verstappen not enjoyed a slipstream down the main straight, he might have ended up just behind the McLarens of Piastri and Norris.

Speaking of his external help to Autosport, the Dutchman said: "We were tow buddies out there.

"In Q2, I gave him a tow to Turn 17. Then he gave me a tow to Turn 2. I think I did arrive a bit too quick for my liking because I did miss Turn 2 a little bit, so I did gain and then I did lose a bit in 2.

"Overall, I think it did help me a little bit. But when you are struggling the whole weekend and then finally it's coming around, you have to look for these little advantages to try and stay ahead and it worked out beautifully,"Verstappen said.

The rest of the lap

The middle part of the Imola track saw the top drivers - Verstappen, Piastri, Norris and Leclerc - set almost identical times with all completing this section in 25.9.

Interestingly, McLaren was the quickest in the final part of the track with Ferrari drivers a tenth of a second behind. Verstappen was over two tenths of a second slower than Norris in Sector 3 which indicates that his soft tyres started to overheat for the final two challenging corners that are referred to as Rivazza uno and due.

Ferrari displayed eye-catching pace on Friday, but they were ultimately unable to challenge for pole position on home turf. While the Scuderia was quick in Sector 2 and 3, they were struggling for pace once again in the opening sector of the track.

While it was believed that it was down to Ferrari’s slightly worse aerodynamic efficiency compared to Ferrari and Mclaren given the long full-throttle section on the start-finish straight, Charles Leclerc indicated that it might be the consequence of other factors.

Indicating that Ferrari might struggle with tyre preparation on out laps in qualifying, the Monegasque said: "We didn’t achieve our target today and we have to look in to where we can improve for the upcoming races, given that in the past few we have had the most margin for improvement in the first sector during qualifying.”