Emilia-Romagna GP: Data shows ‘tow buddy’ helped Max Verstappen on way to Imola pole

Pablo Hidalgo
Emilia Romagna GP qualifying data.

Delving into the data from the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix qualifying shows Max Verstappen had a helping hand from Nico Hulkenberg in Q3.

After a thrilling qualifying session in Imola, we’re taking a closer look at the numbers behind Max Verstappen’s unexpected pole for the Emilia Romagna GP.

Aside from pulling out his magic, the Dutchman needed some outside help to beat McLaren, who appeared quicker than Red Bull overall – as the data showed.

A massive tow helps Max Verstappen to beat McLaren to Imola pole

Additional reporting from Thomas Maher

Nico Hülkenberg was the indirect protagonist of the Emilia Romagna GP qualifying session. The German driver, while on his cooldown lap was in the middle of the start/finish straight when Max Verstappen started his final Q3 attempt.

The Dutchman benefitted from the slipstream the Haas driver provided, and it clearly made the difference in Sector 1 over Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.

According to the numbers, this slipstreaming helped Verstappen to gain more than 7km/h of top speed over his rivals. The RB20, already highly efficient in its use of DRS on the straights, has seen one of its strengths maximised even further.

When asked about that moment afterwards, Verstappen said to media including PlanetF1.com: “Yeah, we were tow buddies out there in Q2 already, Q3.

“So I gave him a tow to [Turn] 17 [Rivazza], then he gave me a tow to Turn 2.

“I think I did arrive a bit too quick for my liking because I did miss Turn 2 a little bit. So I did gain, then I did lose a bit in 2. Overall, I think it did help me a little bit.

“But when you are struggling the whole weekend and then finally it’s coming around, you have to look for these little advantages to try and stay ahead – and it worked out beautifully.”

Aside from this slipstreaming, however, the Red Bull driver’s qualifying performance is not to be underestimated. He finished Q1, Q2 and Q3 at the top of the timesheets.

Pole position was decided by the slipstreaming that made the difference when it came to compensating the better cornering of the MCL38 with the better fast cornering of the RB20.

That more than 7km/h difference resulted in a 0.2-second time loss with respect to Verstappen for both Norris and Piastri.

McLaren again suffered from the Verstappen effect in qualifying despite the MCL38 being superior to the RB20 in the Dutchman’s hands as the data shows.

The ideal lap of the weekend goes to the Woking-based team who, surely without the slipstreaming, could have put both their drivers on the front row for Sunday’s race – though for Piastri, his three-place grid penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen would have demoted him regardless.

Ferrari drops out of the fight for pole

While Max Verstappen and McLaren have been fighting for pole, Ferrari fell behind both as the session panned out.

The Italian team was one of the clear candidates to fight for the pole position, but as Carlos Sainz pointed out after the session, it was all a mirage – pointing out their upgrades were not as large as many had first thought.

The SF-24 seemed to suffer as the track evolved to bring the tyres up to temperature. Sainz himself admitted that he was more comfortable on the medium tyre in Q1 than on the soft tyre in Q3 in terms of grip.

Even more so, the data shows that Sainz could have finished P7 and not P5 if George Russell and Yuki Tsunoda had put together a perfect lap.

Qualifying remains Ferrari’s weak point both with their ‘base’ car and, it seems, with this spec 2.0 car. Tomorrow in the race they hope to have a better performance, as has been the case so far this season.

As we can see by the numbers, they actually look like they have gone for a race setup as they’ve been the second slowest team on the grid in a straight line, only ahead of Alpine. The problem is that overtaking on track is not going to be an easy task at Imola, meaning we will have to wait to see if their approach turns out to be the optimum one.

Sergio Perez outqualified by Daniel Ricciardo in Q2

After an incident in FP3, Sergio Perez’s Saturday culminated in a worst-case scenario: eliminated in Q2 by both RB drivers. What’s more, he was beaten by Daniel Ricciardo, who has struggled all season in qualifying.

And this is not only bad news for the Mexican but also for the team. On Sunday, Verstappen will be alone at the front of the field and both McLaren and Ferrari can play with different strategies to make Red Bull fall into the strategic trap.

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Tsunoda in the spotlight splits both Mercedes

Yuki Tsunoda has shone by splitting both Mercedes in qualifying. The Japanese driver was already on top of his game at Suzuka in his home race and he did it again on Saturday at his team’s home track – with Tsunoda himself only living down the road from Imola.

Thanks to a great sector 1, the Japanese driver was able to compensate for his car’s weaknesses in comparison to the Silver Arrows to grab a very beneficial position for the race.

As we had anticipated in the previous data analysis, RB is slightly above the mid-table teams this weekend, although Haas has been able to keep pace.

On the other hand, Mercedes still can’t get close to the top three teams while the others behind are closing in on them. But Russell, meanwhile, said after the session that the car had felt the best it had been all season so far, with the W15 having had upgrades fitted to it at Imola this weekend.

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