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Verstappen hails last-minute set-up changes after claiming surprise Imola pole and equalling Senna’s record

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IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red

Max Verstappen has admitted that pole position was far from his thinking after a “really difficult” start to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, with the Dutchman and Red Bull staging an impressive fightback in qualifying.

Verstappen ended Friday’s running only seventh on the timesheets after several off-track excursions, angry radio messages and a run-in with former title rival Lewis Hamilton – describing Red Bull as “severely off pace”.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

However, after some more learnings in final practice, Verstappen and Red Bull returned to form during qualifying as the reigning world champion stormed to pole ahead of McLaren pair Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

Speaking after qualifying, Verstappen said: “[It’s been] a really difficult weekend so far, even this morning [in final practice]. I’m incredibly happy to be on pole here, I didn’t expect that.

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“We made some final changes [to the car set-up] before qualifying, and they seemed to make it feel a bit better, so I could push a bit harder.

“This track is unbelievable... On a qualifying lap, to be on the limit here, close to the gravel... I touched the gravel in the last corner. I’m still pumping, the adrenaline is very, very high!”

NEED TO KNOW: The most important facts, stats and trivia ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Verstappen was then asked about writing more F1 history as he drew level with Ayrton Senna’s record of eight successive poles on the 30th anniversary weekend of the Brazilian’s passing in an accident at Imola.

In addition to topping all seven qualifying sessions so far this year, Verstappen also secured the top qualifying spot at last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meaning he equals Senna’s tally set across the 1988 and 1989 campaigns.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 18: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing

Verstappen looked much more at home in the RB20 during qualifying at Imola

“Of course it’s a great start to the year, but also very special… It’s 30 years since he passed away at this track, so I’m very pleased to get pole here, and in a way it’s a nice memory to him,” said Verstappen.

“He was an incredible F1 driver, especially in qualifying laps as well. A great day for me, a great day for the team, so I’m very, very happy.”

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It was a more challenging qualifying session for Verstappen’s team mate, Sergio Perez, who wound up 11th – narrowly missing out on a spot in Q3 – following on from a crash in FP3.

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