Helmut Marko ‘would like to thank’ Max Verstappen’s rival for much-needed boost in Imola

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen and Red Bull practice pit stop

Max Verstappen and Red Bull practice pit stop

Helmut Marko issued a ‘grazie mille’ to Nico Hulkenberg, Max Verstappen’s good friend and now pole position helper after the Haas driver’s slipstream made the difference in qualifying.

Verstappen had a wretched time in the three practice sessions for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, finishing no higher than sixth as he struggled with a lack of grip.

‘That gave us two-tenths over Oscar Piastri’

Going into qualifying fearing the worst, Max Verstappen pulled off one of the best recoveries in recent years as he topped all three qualifying segments.

He did, however, get a helping hand in the all-important pole position shoot-out where he crossed the line 0.074s ahead of the McLaren of Oscar Piastri to extend his run of Grand Prix pole positions to eight.

“It came as a surprise,” Marko admitted to Sky Deutschland. “We almost no longer believed in this pole position.

“The changes that we made brought us closer step by step. We went through all possible variants. First understeer, then oversteer, then understeering and bottoming out in FP3.

“In the end, it was just oversteering. We got that under control with an additional flap.”

But the final ingredient in Verstappen’s incredible pole position lap was Nico Hulkenberg.

As PlanetF1.com’s data cruncher Pablo Hidalgo explained, the German driver on his cooldown lap was in the middle of the start/finish straight when Verstappen started his final Q3 attempt.

That meant the Dutchman benefitted from the slipstream that the Haas driver provided, that being the clear difference in Sector 1 in Verstappen’s battle against the McLarens.

According to the numbers, Hidalgo stated, this slipstreaming helped Verstappen to gain more than 7km/h of top speed over his rivals.

Marko was grateful.

“We would like to thank Nico Hulkenberg,” said the 81-year-old. “He gave us a nice slipstream in Sector One. That gave us two-tenths over Oscar Piastri.

“That was ultimately the decisive factor in Max still achieving pole position.”

The big question now is can Verstappen stay ahead of the McLarens in the Grand Prix?

Verstappen believes despite starting P1, Red Bull are on the back foot given their troubles in practice.

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“Not at all,” he said when asked if he was well prepared. “I mean, Friday was terrible in long run and short run.

“This morning [Saturday] we wanted to do a long run, but then we only did like three laps. But also there it didn’t feel good. But I also had no balance in the short run. So then it’s quite normal that in the long run it’s not good.

“So naturally, I think with the balance that I had in qualifying, it will be better. But I have no clue against McLaren. They looked very strong on Friday. in their long run. So hopefully, yeah, we can do something similar.”

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