Max Verstappen ‘not at all’ prepared for Imola GP despite smashing lowly quali target

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Max Verstappen is not feeling comfortable heading into race day at Imola, despite claiming pole on a Saturday afternoon where he would have been happy with top five.

Despite Red Bull bringing an upgraded RB20 to Imola as they looked to bounce back from a rare defeat in Miami, Verstappen had not featured in the top three throughout practice. Come qualifying when it mattered though, Verstappen found the performance.

Max Verstappen wary of McLaren at Imola

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

Verstappen would top all three stages of qualifying on his way to claiming pole, which far exceeded his expectations, as he had settled for top five being a strong result.

Asked how he pulled pole out of the bag, Verstappen told media including “Yeah, we kept on working.

“I mean, even this morning, it was not good. And yeah, we just kept on trying to improve the balance of the car, because it was shifting a bit all over the place yesterday and this morning.

“I honestly went into qualifying like, ‘Well, if we can get a top five, I would be happy’, because this weekend has been really difficult.

“There was really no reference going into qualifying, but it felt straightaway a lot better, I felt more comfortable, I could attack corners finally a bit more. And it all started to come together.”

Put to him that the RB20 ‘came alive’ in Q3, Verstappen explained: “It’s just following the track to be honest. I mean, Q1, Q2, Q3, know where [there] is maybe a bit more time to gain, you try to hook up the corners a bit better.

“Then of course, the final lap is all out, you try to risk it all, which I think you could see in the final corner, I had a bit of a moment there. But yeah, just really trying to get everything out of it.”

More talking points from Imola qualifying day

👉 Winners and losers from the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix qualifying

👉 Valtteri Bottas opens up on clandestine Williams meeting after paddock spot

However, while this turnaround in form gives Verstappen hope heading into the race, it has not given him a sense of being prepared, the Championship leader explaining that the RB20 “didn’t feel good” earlier in the day in what turned out to be a watered-down long run, while McLaren are also an unknown having come so close to denying him pole.

Oscar Piastri was set to join Verstappen on the front row before receiving a three-place grid drop for impeding Kevin Magnussen, with he and McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, now promoted to P2, both getting within a tenth of Verstappen’s pole time, though it was the race last time out in Miami where Norris rose to defeat Verstappen as the upgraded MCL38 debuted in style.

“Not at all,” said Verstappen when asked if he feels ‘prepared’ for the race. “I mean, yesterday was terrible, in long run and short run.

“This morning, 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’ve no clue against McLaren. They looked very strong yesterday in their long runs. So hopefully, we can do something similar.”

Asked whether he therefore thinks he has his work cut out in the race, Verstappen confirmed: “Yeah for sure.

“I mean, the whole weekend we have been on the back foot.

“We managed to be on top in qualifying, but that’s qualifying, the race can be again a bit different.

“And normally, I would like to be a little bit better prepared, with a bit more information going into the race, so I guess yeah, we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the race.”

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez failed to make Q3 and will start P11.

Read next: Emilia Romagna GP: Max Verstappen shrugs off practice woes to grab pole position at Imola