At the Ayrton Senna pilgrimage site of Imola, the insatiable Max Verstappen set the next milestone in his Formula 1 career. The three-time world champion also grabbed his seventh pole position of the season at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari with a fantastic lap at the end. The Red Bull driver from the Netherlands, who had complained about the set-up on his car this weekend, secured first place on the grid for the eighth time across the season.

Verstappen thus equaled Senna’s record from 1988 and 1989, who died tragically in Imola 30 years ago. “It’s very special because it’s been 30 years since he died. I’m very happy to get pole position here,” said Verstappen happily after the 39th pole of his career.

“You always have to reckon with Max and Red Bull”

The 26-year-old relegated Oscar Piastri in the McLaren to second place with a razor-thin lead of 0.074 seconds. However, the Australian was subsequently penalized for hindering Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and was moved back three places and will start the race in fifth place.

Piastri’s teammate Lando Norris, who surprisingly won the Grand Prix in Miami two weeks ago, also moved up to second place, just 0.091 seconds behind. “You always have to reckon with Max and Red Bull, but our confidence is high,” said Piastri.

Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg achieved a strong tenth place at his debut in Imola. “It was really on a knife’s edge, but it was fun,” said the Rhinelander after qualifying on the TV channel Sky and raved about the traditional 4.909 kilometer long course. “The route to drive is spectacular, it’s spectacular because of the wind and the bumps. You’re driving through a residential area here, you’re driving through pine trees and you think you’re in Rome.”

For a long time this weekend, Verstappen felt like he was in the wrong movie because the balance on his car wasn’t right. “It’s been really difficult so far. But we made a few changes before qualifying and the car felt better afterwards,” he said. Verstappen was ultimately “very happy” about the pole. “It’s a great day for me, a great day for the team.”

Red Bull thanks Hülkenberg for the slipstream

Given Verstappen’s problems, the Red Bull management no longer expected a breakthrough in qualification. “It came as a surprise, we almost didn’t believe in pole position anymore,” admitted motorsport consultant Helmut Marko. “But the changes have brought us closer step by step.” Marko also thanked Hülkenberg, who gave Verstappen a “nice slipstream” in the first sector on his last lap.

The Ferrari fans couldn’t cheer. Charles Leclerc in fourth (0.224 seconds) and Carlos Sainz in fifth (0.487 seconds) – but after Piastri’s penalty they each moved up one place on the starting grid – did not stir up any euphoria at the Scuderia home game. “I’m disappointed because it’s actually been a good weekend so far,” admitted Leclerc. “But there wasn’t enough performance in the car.” Ferrari team boss Frederic Vasseur didn’t see qualifying as a “drama if you missed pole so narrowly.” For the race on Sunday (3 p.m./Sky) “everything is possible, everything is possible”.