F1: Hamilton edges Perez for 99th pole at Imola

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Lewis Hamilton will have a fight on his hands in tomorrow's Imola Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 via Twitter.

Lewis Hamilton moved within one of his 100th career pole positions as he edged the two Red Bulls in a tense qualifying session at Imola.

The reigning seven-time World Champion was on top form in a tight qualifying session, ahead of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. Contrastingly, Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas could only manage eighth.

Q1 – Tsunoda ends his session early

Japanese rookie, Yuki Tsunoda ended his qualifying session in the wall only 8 minutes into Q1.

The Alpha Tauri driver lost control of the car through the Variante Alta chicane on his first flying lap.

His AT02 reacted badly to the kerb and slid backwards into the tyre barrier. Consequently, this destroying the rear end of the car and brought out a red flag.

Tsunoda was unhurt but his Alpha Tauri mechanics will have a long night ahead to fix the damage.

The team will be hoping Tsunoda won’t have to take a gearbox penalty due to the rear end shunt.

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With the track clear, the remaining 19 cars headed back out aiming for Q2.

At the front, it was the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas who went fastest, setting a 1:14.672.

The Finn, pipped teammate Hamilton and fellow Brit Lando Norris in the McLaren in P3.

In the dropzone, it was the usual subjects under threat, with Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo all aiming to escape.

Both Russell and Latifi managed to escape the drop, getting both cars into Q2 for the first time since the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Haas and Alfa Romeo on the other hand, were unable to escape Q1, both teams joining Tsunoda in elimination.

Kimi Raikkonen beat teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, and Mick Schumacher beat his teammate Nikita Mazepin, who at least managed to complete a session without an issue.

16: Raikkonen – 1:15.974

17: Giovinazzi – 1:16.122

18: Schumacher – 1:16.279

19: Mazepin – 1:16.797

20: Tsunoda – No Time Set

Q2 – Disappointment for Sainz on Ferrari home soil

At the start of Q2, all eyes were on the tyre choices, who would choose Medium, and who would go for the Soft.

Unsurprisingly, both Mercedes’ and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen went for the harder Medium tyre, aimed for a better strategy on Sunday.

However, they were joined on the yellow walled compound by both Williams cars.

Russell reported he felt more comfortable with the mediums and it showed as he managed to get into the provisional top 10 after his first run.

With the faster cars lapping on slower tyres, it was the McLaren of Lando Norris who went fastest after the first runs, the Brit running the faster soft tyres.

After getting caught out going for harder tyres in Bahrain, Red Bull put Perez on the soft tyres for his runs in Q2.

And the Mexican made the most of it, stealing top spot from Norris by just two-thousandths of a second, setting a 1:14.716.

Both Mercedes’ and Verstappen made it through on the harder tyres as everyone else jockeyed for a spot in Q3.

And it would be the Spaniard, Carlos Sainz, in the Ferrari who would be one to miss out.

Sainz missed out on a Q3 appearance by just 0.061 seconds at his first Italian race for Ferrari.

Despite getting both cars into Q2, Williams couldn’t manage to make Q3, as Russell took 12th and Latifi in 14th.

Also missing out on Q3 was the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel, and the Alpine of Fernando Alonso.

It was the first time Alonso was out-qualified by a teammate since the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix, when he was beaten by Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren.

11: Sainz – 1:15.199

12: Russell – 1:15.261

13: Vettel – 1:15.394

14: Latifi – 1:15.593

15: Alonso – 1:15.593

Q3 – Hamilton does the job as Bottas struggles

With the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull looking marginal all weekend, Q3 was setup to be amazing.

And it was the reigning champion who landed the first blow, setting a 1:14.411 to go fastest.

Verstappen crossed the line after, just 0.091 down on Hamilton’s time, to be second.

Last year’s Imola pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas, had a poor opening lap, down in sixth after the first runs and with work to do.

As the cars started their final runs, Norris got McLaren on their feet, as the Brit stormed onto the front row, just 0.043 off Hamilton.

However, the joy wouldn’t last, as just moments later, Norris’ time was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Track limits had been an issue for everyone, with multiple drivers having times removed all weekend.

Next to cause excitement was Sergio Perez, as he launched himself onto the front row, just 0.035 off Hamilton’s target.

Hamilton gave it his all on his final lap, but despite going purple in sector 3, was unable to match his first run.

All eyes were then on Verstappen, but a mistake at turn 3, curtailed his hopes of pole.

The Dutchman crossed the line and couldn’t beat teammate Perez, losing out by half a tenth.

Perez becomes the first teammate to outqualify Verstappen since Daniel Ricciardo at the end of 2018.

As a result, it was Lewis Hamilton who took his 99th career pole position, and his first in 2021.

Imola becomes the 30th circuit that the Brit has taken pole at, a remarkable statistic.

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While Hamilton held onto pole, Bottas on the other hand could only take 8th.

But it was a disappointment for the Finn who had looked competitive throughout practice.

Charles Leclerc managed an impressive P4 for Ferrari, just beating the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly.

Gasly performed well at Imola in 2020 before mechanical issues took him out of what could have been a fight for a podium, so will be hoping to avenge his bad luck.

Ricciardo eventually got ahead of teammate Norris after the Brit’s issue with track limits, to take 6th and 7th respectively.

Esteban Ocon took P9 for Alpine, with Lance Stroll completing the top 10 for Aston Martin.

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