Motor racing: Hamilton takes pole at Imola with Perez on front row

Lewis Hamilton during the qualifying session of the F1 Grand Prix Emilia Romagna, at Imola race track, Italy, on April 17, 2021.
Lewis Hamilton during the qualifying session of the F1 Grand Prix Emilia Romagna, at Imola race track, Italy, on April 17, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (REUTERS) - Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes on pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola on Saturday (April 17), with Red Bull's Sergio Perez joining the seven-time Formula One world champion on the front row.

Perez's Dutch teammate Max Verstappen qualified in third place, ending his bid for three poles in a row, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc fourth on a home track for the Italian team.

The pole was a record-extending 99th of Hamilton’s extraordinary career, and it was one the 36-year-old Briton had to work for against resurgent rivals, with Mexican Perez only 0.035 slower.

"I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of two Red Bulls," said Hamilton, who won the season-opener in Bahrain last month after Verstappen started on pole.

"I think they have been so quick this weekend, there were times when they were six-tenths ahead.

"I came around the last corner and heard I’d got the pole and I was super grateful."

Hamilton produced the pole time of 1min 14.411sec with his first flying lap of the final session.

Perez, who will be making his first front row start, was signed to put more pressure on Mercedes than Verstappen’s previous team mates had managed, and he delivered in only his second race for Red Bull.

He still felt he could have done better, however.

"I’ve been improving, P2, but I should’ve been on pole and I did a mistake on the final corner," said Perez, a first time winner with Racing Point (now Aston Martin) in Bahrain last year.

It was the first time Verstappen had been outqualified by a team mate in regular conditions since Australian Daniel Ricciardo was alongside at Red Bull in 2018.

“You can’t be good every time, so we’ll see what went wrong," said the Dutch driver. "It’s still P3, which is a good starting position."

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified fifth with Ricciardo sixth for McLaren and teammate Lando Norris seventh.

Norris would have been on the front row had his fastest lap not been deleted for exceeding track limits.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, in his first race in Italy with Ferrari, failed to make it through to the final shootout and starts 11th.

Four-time champion Vettel will line up 13th for Aston Martin and Alonso, a winner at Imola with Renault in 2005 on his way to the first of two titles, 15th for Alpine.

Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda was the big casualty of the first session, losing control at the Variante Alta and smashing his AlphaTauri backwards into the tyre wall.

"For me that was a huge mistake and I feel really sorry for the team," he said, with the session red-flagged as the badly damaged car was removed from the track.