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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP

What F1 GPS data reveals about Verstappen’s Imola qualifying save

Max Verstappen’s eighth consecutive Formula 1 pole position - which equals Ayrton Senna's record - owes much to the tow he picked up from Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg – per the GPS data of Imola Q3’s final runs.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Having been congratulated on his run of poles that stretches back to the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, Verstappen was left to reflect on how his tricky event was turned around following his series of FP1 offs into the Imola gravel.

He called it a “really difficult weekend so far” after climbing from his RB20.

That FP1 outing had been led by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and when Sergio Perez’s late-FP3 crash obscured the true picture of that final practice session headed by Oscar Piastri – and stopped Verstappen getting any Saturday soft-tyre practice pre-qualifying – Ferrari sat as the pole favourite.

But the red home team faded while McLaren rose, with Piastri and Lando Norris ending up as the closest challengers to Verstappen’s inevitable climb back to heading the pack despite his practice woes.

Therefore, it’s these three drivers that we can track through the GPS data of the cars on qualifying’s quickest times. These came as the trio ran behind the Ferrari drivers in the frontrunning pack on the last Q3 runs.

The data reveals that Hulkenberg – running offset to the rest having completed his flying lap at the head of the Q3 group for those last laps, along with RB’s Daniel Ricciardo much further back – boosted Verstappen’s time considerably.

With the Haas ahead for most of the run from the last corner Rivazza 2 to the braking point for the Tamburello chicane, effectively the first turn, Verstappen gains 0.165s on Norris and 0.192s on Piastri.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

At their top speed peak with DRS open here, Verstappen is 4.3mph up on Norris and 5mph up on Piastri. On his first Q3 run, Verstappen’s peak here was 208.8mph compared to 211.3mph on the final attempt.

From there, Piastri exits Tamburello with the biggest deficit – 0.269s – against Verstappen and versus Norris. But a better exit means Piastri gets under Norris’s delta gap to Verstappen by the time they sweep in the Villeneuve chicane, and although the pole-winner is faster through here, on exit Piastri is 0.170s back.

At Tosa, Piastri holding more speed through the hairpin pays him back as he gains on both Verstappen and Norris on the run up the hill to Piratella – where Piastri arrives 0.165s adrift of Verstappen.

But here, Piastri comes out 0.216s back on Verstappen, although he’s able to claw back a few hundredths on the run down the hill.

Through Acque Minerali, Piastri gets back to under two-tenths off Verstappen, before the Dutchman rather aces the Variante Alta chicane and restores his previous advantage. He does, however, ship some time on the run down to Rivazza 1 to arrive with a 0.194s lead over Piastri and sit 0.383s up on Norris.

On every straight compared to the orange cars – even without Hulkenberg’s help elsewhere – the data shows Verstappen can rise up to a greater top speed.

But at the final corners, Norris’s smoother progress compared to Piastri, who corrects a snap midway through Rivazza 2, gets him almost back on terms with the other two contenders on the run to the line. Here, Norris ends up 0.017s short of the other MCL38.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Yet, at this critical point, Verstappen’s Hulkenberg tow is most pertinent because the world champion’s slip through the gusty Rivazza 2 checks his momentum so much that Piastri closes to 0.074s at the finish line.

The difference to Verstappen’s main straight gains at the start of the lap: a 0.118s loss for Piastri.

Given Piastri will now start tomorrow’s race fifth for impeding Kevin Magnussen in Q1, it’s worth looking at Norris’s Turn 1 and finish line differences to Verstappen. The Miami GP winner’s loss in the Hulkenberg tow gain for Verstappen? 0.074s…

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