Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Imola, 2021

“That’s a surprise!”: Hamilton beats Perez and Verstappen to Imola pole

2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix as Sergio Perez beat Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen to the front row.

But Hamilton will have to defend from both Red Bulls alone in tomorrow’s race as Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas could only manage eighth place on the grid.

It was Hamilton’s 99th career pole, while Verstappen was outqualified by his team mate for the first time since the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc will start fourth, ahead of Pierre Gasly and the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.


The Imola circuit was slowly warming up under the Italian sky when the green light signalled the start of the opening session of qualifying for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

The first attempts for many drivers were ruined when the session was red flagged as Yuki Tsunoda lost control of his AlphaTauri at the Variante Alta chicane and spun rearwards into the barriers, causing major damage to his car despite the relative low speed impact. The Japanese rookie was able to climb out of the stricken car unhurt and the session was promptly restarted.

Sergio Perez’s first timed effort was deleted due to a track limits infringement, along with Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri for running too wide on the exit of Variante Alta.

As the chequered flag flew, Nicholas Latifi put in an impressive lap to move into 12th and safely through to Q2. That left George Russell at risk of being out-qualified by his Williams team mate for the first time in his career, but Russell was able to improve and also qualify for the second session.

The two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were also stranded in the drop zone. The pair were unable to improve and were both knocked out, in 16th and 17th place respectively. They were joined by the Haas pair of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, with Yuki Tsunoda in 20th having failed to set a time.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’15.974
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’16.122
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1’16.279
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1’16.797
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda No time

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As the second session got underway, both Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen all ventured out on circuit on the medium tyres.

Hamilton went quickest of the trio on their first flying laps, less than a tenth of a second faster than Verstappen, before Lando Norris set the best time of the weekend so far on the soft compound.

Pierre Gasly’s first effort on the soft tyres was deleted for exceeding track limits, as was Sebastian Vettel’s in the Aston Martin.

Sergio Perez went fastest of all on the soft tyres, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas all choosing not to complete flying laps on the soft tyre at the end of the session.

With the gap between the fastest time and the Q3 cut-off in tenth less than half a second, it was a tight conclusion to the session.

Carlos Sainz Jnr was the biggest surprise, being the first driver eliminated in the Ferrari in 11th. George Russell was vocally frustrated over team radio to miss out on Q3 by just under a tenth-and-a-half.

Sebastian Vettel failed to make it through and was eliminated in 13th, ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Fernando Alonso in 15th in the Alpine, out-qualified by a team mate for the first time since 2017.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

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As in Bahrain, the fight for pole position looked to be a straight shoot-out between Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas.

After the first run, it was Hamilton who held the advantage, taking provisional pole by just under a tenth from Verstappen with Perez in the second Red Bull two tenths back and Bottas half a second adrift in sixth.

Lando Norris’s first effort was good enough to see him in fourth place in the McLaren, while Lance Stroll’s first lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Track temperature breached 30 degrees for the first time all day as the top ten cars filed out for the all-important final laps of qualifying.

Despite the optimal track conditions, neither Hamilton, Verstappen or Bottas was able to improve on their best time. Norris briefly jumped up to second, before his effort was removed due to track limit infringements.

This left an opportunity open for Sergio Perez and the Mexican leapt up to second to secure the first front-row start of his 11-season F1 career ahead of Verstappen, who lost time with an error.

With Red Bull and Norris falling short, Hamilton’s pole position was assured. It may be the 99th of his career, but race engineering Peter Bonnington was nonetheless taken aback, given how far behind Red Bull they had been in Bahrain. “That’s a surprise,” he exclaimed on the radio, he and driver audibly delighted by the result.

Charles Leclerc will start fourth in the Ferrari, with Pierre Gasly consolidating AlphaTauri’s impressive weekend pace with fifth on the grid.

The two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Norris will start sixth and seventh, ahead of a disappointed Bottas in eighth. Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll completed the top 10.

Top ten in Q3

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’14.411
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1’14.446
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1’14.498
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’14.740
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1’14.790
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’14.826
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’14.875
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’14.898
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’15.210
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes

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2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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107 comments on ““That’s a surprise!”: Hamilton beats Perez and Verstappen to Imola pole”

  1. So, Liberty, do you prefer having a NASCAR-ish rubbish rather than this? Screw off!

    1. ???? What have Liberty done so I can fit your answer to it?

    2. I believe what he means is this is way better than some kind of qualifying race or some kind of other format.

      If that is the case then I completely agree

  2. Bottas… I am sure there has to be something as to how he was losing 4 tenths in just the first sector. I don’t think Mercedes can win this tomorrow. But Perez, what a massive statement that lap was…

    1. Agreed. Lewis pit in a pretty impressive lap for pole today but he is out on his own against the RBs on a split strategy. Will.be very difficult tomorrow with Bottas back in 8th. Still… if anyone can do it, Lewis can. Fingers crossed for a humdinger tomorrow!

    2. But HAM can……no?!? I mean….. better tyre management, hammer time etc. He’s on pole, if he doesn’t win tomorrow, he simply failed.

  3. Bottas’ slowness in Q3 was surprising unless he had some issue that wasn’t evident from the outside.
    Gutted for Norris.

    1. @jerejj

      Gutted for Norris.


      1. GS (@gsagostinho)
        17th April 2021, 14:42

        @johnrkh he would have been P3 if his lap time wasn’t deleted, he was on such a massive lap.

        1. @gsagostinho Yes but he gained advantage by exceding track limits, so there is no argument.

          1. @johnrkh

            By watching the replay it was between a few centimetres. Rules are rules and he went over the line but in the end I would be surprised if he even gained a tenth by going over the line.

          2. GS (@gsagostinho)
            17th April 2021, 15:38

            Sure, I think it’s right that his lap time got cancelled. I am just explaining why the OP is gutted since you asked it. Not saying it was not right.

          3. So, you gain an advantage only in Quali?!? I mean, HAM went off-track 20 times last race, nobody saw any advantage.

      2. @johnrkh Others already answered for me, but because he did well in QLF overall.

    2. @jerejj The Mercedes may be trickier to handle on soft tyres still, which would explain why Bottas’s performance dipped in Q3. Though it’s quite a lot indeed. Norris himself spoiled his own brilliant lap. That’s just the way it is, can’t say i’m gutted.

  4. The bag of drivers firmly shaken up but still Lewis rises to the top… A load of takeaways from this qualifying session, Perez beating Verstappen being the primary one. That must be a real wakeup call for Max, it pushes Perez into Ricciardo territory in terms of team mate threat for him. Undoubtedly Max showed more pace overall, but this is what a real championship battle looks like. He should have nailed pole on a track where overtaking is tricky. He needs a good start tomorrow, though Hamilton is exposed by the woeful performance of Bottas. Eight on this circuit leaves Mercedes with a real tactical headache. Other highlights: Ocon outqualifying Alonso, both Williams doing well, Gasly combining pace and maturity.

    1. Yes, I had said perez was a good driver, probably ricciardo level, and here it is, finally he got his chance.

      1. Davethechicken
        17th April 2021, 15:17

        Perez is a solid F1 driver. He isn’t an exceptional driver. He will be an interesting barometer for Max, as the season goes on.

      2. Super happy for Perez, was a great lap. But Verstappen did loose quite some time in going 2wheels on the grass… Between 3 to 5 tenths I reckon, so the gap was still significant. But still very good for Perez and for his confidence…

    2. @david-br

      Eight on this circuit leaves Mercedes with a real tactical headache

      It was something waiting to happen. Mercedes have locked themselves into that position when Toto Wolff refused countless times to sign any driver that could perform near Lewis’s level despite Bottas being rubbish for 4 consecutive years. I though that Mercedes maybe will face this kind of problem next year when the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and maybe even Alpine will be in the mix and then it will be a matter of drivers making the difference.

      Now RBR with 2 capable drivers can be a serious threat if they will have the pace tomorrow. I think Perez has already qualified on softs which will give him a slight advantage on the start over Hamilton and Verstappen.

      1. Indeed, this can come back to bite mercedes for having bottas now!

        1. @esploratore Replying to your two comments. In terms of Perez, I had him placed between Ricciardo (his Red Bull level anyhow) and Albon (and Gasly). This result surprised me, especially given Max was quickest in third practice and seemed on form. It really makes things even more interesting this season. As for Bottas, yep, I think Mercedes will be looking at this grid and getting worried. If they have to add Perez into the equation as potential pole setter, plus the performance of Gasly/AlphaTauri, Leclerc/Ferrari and two strong and combative McLaren drivers, it looks very awkward. None of those drivers is easy to pass and the same situation may play out for much of the season. A little bit more pace isn’t going to help Bottas beat them. They’ll need to do so tactically, but with the Mercedes separated, that leaves them having to sacrifice Bottas’s race to help Hamilton (as we’ve seen so often at other teams, including Red Bull). Tricky.

          1. @david-br If Leclerc and the two McLaren drivers have a strong race, then whilst it might mean Bottas is further down the pack, it might also mean that, if Red Bull try to undercut Hamilton with Perez – assuming he’s the first to stop if he’s on the softer tyre – he could then find himself bogged down in that same traffic if he pits too early on.

            It might take away some strategic options for Mercedes, but it could also create problems for Red Bull if they also can’t build a gap to then drop a driver into with an early pit stop and undercut attempt. Red Bull are in the more favourable position overall, but they might also face a few compromises if the trailing pack end up being a lot closer – indeed, if Leclerc’s pace over a long stint really is as good as Friday suggested it could be, then he could well be quick enough to be a thorn in the side of both Red Bull and Mercedes.

          2. @anon That’s a good point, I’m guessing also that Mercedes will focus Hamilton’s strategy on Verstappen given he’s starting on the same tyres. It will be interesting how much Hamilton defends from Perez, if he has to. And if Perez gets in front, what the tactics will be (I mean, he should take off into the distance to maximize the tyres, but who knows what Red Bull prefer: presumably both their drivers getting past Hamilton, so maybe they’d like Perez to back Hamilton into Verstappen range in the first laps). I also think this is going to be the most important race of Bottas’s Mercedes career. It’s now or never. He has to turn P8 into fourth place or a podium at least, whatever happens to Hamilton. And he’s probably going to need some aggressive overtaking to do it. Unless of course there’s rain. Then it becomes an entirely different race.

          3. @david-br a certain amount of your posts turns on whether Perez can lead in the first place, and that is the first question – can he do that? On the one hand, he is starting on a slightly grippier tyre – on the other hand, that is likely to be partially offset by also starting on the slightly dirtier side of the grid.

            Asides from the fact that Verstappen will be running a more similar strategy to Mercedes, there is also the aspect that, from a pragmatic point of view, Verstappen is the driver who is closer to Hamilton in the WDC than Perez. It depends a little on who exactly gets the fastest point bonus in that situation, but that would result in Hamilton on 43 points, Perez on 35 points and Max on 33 points.

            That scenario would give Hamilton an 8 point lead over Perez and 10 over Verstappen – the exact lead depends exactly on who gets the fastest point bonus – so, whilst Perez would catch up, Hamilton could possibly even end up with a slightly extended lead in the WDC. Whilst Mercedes might not like to lose a victory to Perez, if they can keep ahead of Verstappen and the finishing order was Perez – Hamilton – Verstappen, that is probably the less painful option they could face.

            It’s going to be interesting – whilst it is obvious that Red Bull might want to use Perez strategically in that way, it also presents the problem that, being such an obvious move, Mercedes will also likely be developing a counter strategy to it. It’s why I do wonder if, because it is an obvious strategy, Red Bull might play with expectations and then try and do something different to throw Mercedes by doing something different with one, or even both, of their drivers.

            Of course, for all the grand theorising we do now, it’ll probably be the case that it tips down with rain and all the speculation about strategies ends up in the bin…

          4. @anon Actually my best guess is that Hamilton will manage to keep Perez behind if Perez is in second, since the medium isn’t too much of the pace of the soft tyre and Perez won’t want to wreck them. But who knows, it’s new territory for him and maybe he’ll go more aggressive. There’s also a good chance Verstappen will tuck into second, as the soft tyre takes longer to warm up, plus he’s on the cleaner side like you said, and Perez would be cautious about trying to pass Verstappen if and when he does get up to (faster) speed, unless Red Bull tell Verstappen to let him past as he’s ostensibly on a different strategy. It’s not as simple as it looks for Red Bull because it’s very much dependent on what happens in the first laps and specifically where Perez ends up.

      2. @tifoso1989 True, I’ve been repeating that mantra too for several seasons: if the other teams catch Mercedes, they could be in trouble with Bottas. His pace is actually OK usually, but what Russell’s one race for Mercedes showed that Bottas is missing is the ability to get past slower cars quickly, or convert fairly decent starting positions into wins. And too often he faces some issue and sees his pace and position fade in the race. Perez on softs does pose an interesting scenario: it may keep him ahead of Max and even the lead, but it also puts Red Bull’s drivers on different strategies, perhaps annulling their tactical advantage a bit. I kind of expect some mayhem (SC) in the first few laps too, so it’s looking difficult to call all round.

        1. Yes you have been saying that. But since Sakhir you have been a relatively lone voice as the majority seemed to be of the opinion that Russell should have replaced Ham this year; not Bottas.

          1. I think you may be the lone voice here. Everyone else seems to be advocating dropping Bottas for Russell, not Hamilton, and I’m not different. Why would you drop your best driver for someone who is still relatively unproven at winning titles?

          2. Well, yes, precisely. Swapping Hamilton with Russell isn’t going to solve the problem of Bottas being swallowed up by the chasing pack of teams, as happened in qualifying today.

          3. @mashiat I think Ian’s referring more to the ‘anti-Hamilton’ bunch who think (or like to pretend they think) he’s just an average-good driver in a fantastic car. I’m more inclined to think Russell is another exceptionally good driver (which his peers on the grid seem to believe too) and want to see him up front competing with HAM and VER.

          4. @david-br I haven’t seen a lot of people stating that Hamilton is an average driver in a fantastic car. More a case that he’s a great driver in an unbeatable car. Hamilton will always be an elite driver, but the statistics do flatter him, just like they did with Schumacher. Hamilton is at his best when he is pushed to his absolute limit like he was in Bahrain. It’s just that there have been too many occasions in the past few years where he has had to drive within himself, and it has felt like the car is the only one causing him to win. But now that he has genuine competition, we can see the driving shining more than the car.

    3. Ah, norris also great.

    4. Perez needed this after the opening race weekend….very happy to see it. Let us not forget however, Perez will start the race on soft vs medium for Lewis and Max. He will have to make the most of it early…his only hope will be to somehow overtake Lewis in the opening corners and leg it, otherwise Max and Lewis will have the advantage in strategy, barring safety cars or crashes bringing it back to the runners on the softs.

    5. Alonso though… 🤣

    6. Bottas with the extra grip just couldn’t react fast enough.

      Lewis adds another page to the “is it the car or is it the driver” scrap book.
      Yet another pole where Hamilton extracts everything that car had to give,
      whilst his rivals are left with could have done better egg on their faces.

      Lets see what the racing gods have in store tomorrow.
      Already this has the makings of another classic.

  5. Hamilton still has that blistering pace, even at 36. Great pole. 1 more to a century!

    Great job by Perez despite not being that comfortable in the RBR and frankly, not being known for his one lap pace.
    Lando and Bottas bottled it, as well as Verstappen who looked pretty miffed in the interviews but the good thing is he has a team mate who will now give him alot to think about, much like Ricciardo unlike the pushovers he had beforehand in Gasly and Albon.

    On a final note- last race, people thought Red Bull had a huge advantage in Bahrain and especially following testing there as well. But Bahrain has never been Merc’s strongest race track, since 2016 they were quite weak there. I’m not saying the Red Bull isn’t quick, but I’m saying maybe their advantage isn’t as big as everyone thought. And given Merc isn’t that far behind, I am sure once their sort out the rear end of their car properly to recover the lost downforce, it may just end up in typical Merc style.

    1. I said many many times for being of a couple of years from F1 and coming from injury, and at your reaching 40ish wouldn’t slowing you down by a mile. Other category in Motorsport racing, in MotoGP Marc #93 coming from almost a career end injury, coming to a track he never been before, and straight into the pace. This kind of performance is a greatness material. Your adaptability skill saves you.

  6. Sprint Qualifying could never replace this kind of drama and excitement.

    And if it decides the championship then it should be binned permanently.

    1. Agreed. It can’t not affect the season

    2. Thank you. Bin it now. The powers that be in F1 have a real knack for tinkering with what works and never fixing what is actually broken.

  7. Fantastically entertaining qualifying, clearly Max would have been on pole but he made a mistake at the crucial time.
    Sprint races really not needed at all.

    1. Davethechicken
      17th April 2021, 15:20

      Surely that is the whole point?? He wasn’t the quickest, he made mistakes. No driver will have had a “perfect lap”. Otherwise you may as well not bother with the driver and calculate the grid on which car should theoretically be fastest!

    2. Pressure has a habit of sorting the men from the boys.

      1. So reading your comments you are a very young boy?

        1. Awww bless. Are you upset Erik? My thoughts go out to you.

    3. The Red Bull certainly looks like the fastest car. And I think it would be if you gave them 5 tries to set a clean lap. But the Red Bull seems to be a hardcore to drive. On two attempts neither driver could get pole app, even if the pace appeared to be there.

  8. You could see Hamilton getting emotional over that Perfomance because he knows the RedBulls are faster. That’s why Lewis is the Goat. Perez should have had Pole.

  9. So Perez is not rubbish after all? That’s what I’m lead to believe from the comments during the practices …

    1. Davethechicken
      17th April 2021, 15:23

      No of course Perez isn’t rubbish. He is hardly a GOAT though, is he? Solid F1 racer.

      1. So should he keep outperforming Max over the entire season would that mean Max is merely a “solid” racer?

        1. Davethechicken
          17th April 2021, 19:20

          Yes, of course. What other possible conclusion could you reach?
          Do you still think Seb is amazing, now he has had a few strong teammates, and a car not just for him like his RB was?

          1. This is a very unfair comment for Seb. You never know how car’s and driver’s synchronise. Also, Vettel from RB is different compared to the Vettel from AM.

            Everyone is entitled to their opinions but calling out a multiple world champion like this is not F1.

          2. Davethechicken
            17th April 2021, 22:47

            I respect your opinion. Seb has been my favourite driver for many years, but more as a man and his personality.
            His driving since leaving RBR has not been anywhere near his previous level sadly.
            As ever in F1, is it the car, is it the characteristics of a car that don’t suit?
            I would love to see him back at the front, but think this may be his last year.

  10. Well I really enjoyed that qualifying session, and it will be great to see what Perez can do from the front row tomorrow. It does look as though Red Bull have the fastest car, and it will be a real blow to them if Hamilton wins the first two races, as I expect Mercedes to overtake them on pace later in the season. Impressive also from Leclerc and Gasly, and also Ocon and Stroll, who both annihilated their world champion teammates. Gutting for Lando Norris; he was on for third on the grid! Real shame for Valtteri Bottas, and Yuki Tsunoda too. And a great session for Williams!

    But perhaps best of all was that the top eight on the grid were separated by less than half a second. Does anyone know when the last time this happened was?

    1. I don’t and that was impressive indeed, there were also like 5 tenths between first and eliminated in q2!

    2. I believe the answer to the question of the last time the top eight drivers were separated by half a second was Malaysia 2012. And in that race, the drivers who finished 1st and 2nd qualified 9th and 10th (Alonso and Perez), so maybe Ocon and Stroll will be 1-2 in the race tomorrow ;)

    3. To be honest I’m quite glad this love in over Tsunoda has had the cork put firmly back in place. He is absolutely a good rookie driver but the psychophantic love in over him has really been OTT. He thinks so himself! He never got much acknowledgment in Japan yet it seems a pre season test and 1 race weekend is enough for F1 to confirm what an “exciting” talent he is.
      Maybe it’s because we are used to average pay driver rookies? In that respect he holds up well…maybe… but he sure hasn’t pulled up any trees yet. I wish him well but this declaration of his brilliance is all very premature (see today)

      1. I would agree with this. I do think he is very good and will at least be a race winner in the future, but I do think his Bahrain drive was overhyped; if Gasly hadn’t collided with Ricciardo he would probably have finished top six, a long way ahead of Tsunoda. He is clearly a good driver, but the statement that he is the best rookie for years that I saw in Autosport is a bit much, in my opinion; he does not have as much potential as Leclerc, Russell or Norris. Although, to be fair, Leclerc was quite poor in his first three races, and it wasn’t until Baku that he started to really shine in that Sauber.

        1. I think he’s got what it takes. His talent is pretty obvious, IMO. Whether or not he does anything worthwhile with it though, remains to be seen. We’ve seen talented drivers before that never made the most of their opportunities: Maldonado, Grosjean, Hulkenberg… I know many will flat out disagree th