Ferrari drivers disagree on theories for shock Red Bull Imola GP qualifying pace leap

Oliver Harden
Charles Leclerc uses DRS to pass Max Verstappen in practice at Imola

Max Verstappen's pole at Imola took Charles Leclerc by surprise

Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were split on the reasons behind Red Bull’s surprise pace jump in Emilia Romagna Grand Prix qualifying after Max Verstappen claimed pole position at Imola.

Verstappen claimed his sixth pole of the F1 2024 season on Saturday with a lap more than two tenths ahead of Leclerc and five faster than Sainz, who will start third and fourth respectively after Oscar Piastri incurred a three-place grid penalty for impeding.

Ferrari drivers disagree over Red Bull’s Imola qualifying surge

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

The reigning World Champion’s latest pole came after a scruffy start to the weekend for Verstappen, who was classified no higher than fifth across the three practice sessions at Imola – with Leclerc topping both FP1 and FP2 – and had a number of off-track adventures along the way.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez also struggled to tame the RB20, with the Mexican managing only 11th on the grid after crashing out of final practice on Saturday morning.

Speaking to media including’s Thomas Maher after the session, Sainz claimed it was dangerous to look too deeply into the practice results given Red Bull‘s habit of running lower engine settings on Fridays.

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And he admitted to being “puzzled” by his own loss of pace in Imola’s opening sector, with the Spaniard struggling on the soft tyres.

Asked to explain why Ferrari appeared to drop back after a strong Friday, Sainz said: “No one runs the fuel or engine [optimally], especially Red Bull who tend to run the engine really turned down on Fridays.

“When you look at the soft laps and you look at the GPS data, I’ve always seen McLaren and Max – especially today, since FP3 – looking very strong.

“The only thing that is puzzling me is how we can be four tenths down in one sector, which is Sector 1.

“I’ve been struggling every time I put on the soft tyre this weekend.

“I seem very strong on the medium, the hard, the used tyres. You put the new soft on and I find barely any lap time, which is what puzzles me a bit.

“That is something that I need to work on. But the gap in Sector 1 was particularly big.”

Leclerc shared Sainz’s view that Ferrari are struggling in Sector 1 at Imola and admitted that Red Bull’s resurgence had taken the team by surprise.

But the Monegasque offered a contrasting theory that Red Bull were running with a heavy fuel load during Friday’s running, which masked the RB20’s true pace.

He told Sky F1: “Disappointed because it was a good weekend until then, but it’s always very difficult to read properly into FP1 and FP2.

“Everybody has got different fuel loads and I guess they were on higher fuel loads, because today they gained more performance than what we expected unfortunately.

“We did everything good, but there was just not enough performance in the car.

“We need to look into it. It’s still very localised where we lose, especially Turns 2 and 3 for some reason.

“It’s always the first few corners [over the last] two or three races, so we’ve got to focus on that and understand where it’s coming from.”

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