Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has hailed the qualifying performance by Max Verstappen on Friday ahead of the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
In extremely tricky conditions, Verstappen negotiated four red flag periods to beat Charles Leclerc to pole by seven tenths of a second.
In the end, a second run in Q3 was not necessary as Lando Norris went off at the end of the session, so the Dutchman’s exquisite performance in the opening run was enough, much to Horner’s delight.
“He did a super job, I mean it was an unusual qualifying and the one lap that turned out to have counted was thankfully the one lap that we banked,” he told Sky Sports.
“It looked maybe even at the end there that the circuit might go quicker but there was just too much rain for anybody to respond and then [there was] another red flag.”
Conversely, Sergio Perez made a mistake on his first run, before an mechanical issue for Valtteri Bottas and then the off for Norris prevented him from putting a representative lap time on the board, but the 48-year-old is given optimism by the Mexican driver’s promising pace.
“Shame for Checo because I think he would have been up there as well today with a clean lap but he had a big lock-up, but [his pace] is encouraging for the race tomorrow,” he added.
It was put to the Red Bull boss that his drivers have been better at getting the tyres into an operating window than Ferrari, but he notes that Friday qualifying was paradoxical in that respect to the opening three rounds of the year in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
“It was the inverse of that today strangely,” he divulged.
“Ferrari were better at getting the heat into the tyre so we were struggling to generate the temperature; it was taking more and more laps but I think we’ve managed to find a good balance and Max nailed a lap at the critical moment.
“Obviously now the challenge will be what’s the weather going to do tomorrow?”
As for the races on Saturday and Sunday, Horner suggests that his cars have the edge in the opening two sectors despite the more twisty nature of the middle sector, but recognises that they are “reasonably even” with Ferrari in the final part of the lap, so places an emphasis on getting a good start on the long run down to the first braking zone.
“We’ve got to get a good start, we’ve got to convert it and then go from there,” said Horner.
“If you look at the relative pace of our car, we’re very quick in sector one, we’re pretty quick in sector two, and then sector three it’s reasonably even.”
Verstappen’s pole at Imola is his first of the 2022 season and the 14th of his Formula 1 career.