Mighty Max Verstappen is not ready yet.
When he kicked a massive own goal during final qualifying at Imola he showed he has not completed the transition from the hunter to the hunted in Formula One.
The proof? He was out-qualified for the first time since the days of Dan Ricciardo by his freshly-minted team mate at Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez.
Verstappen was clearly ahead of Perez in practice and early qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but blundered when it really counted.
So it’s Lewis Hamilton on pole position – as usual – ahead of Perez and Verstappen, but there was plenty of other excitement in Italy.
It began when Yuki Tsunoda binned his Alpha Tauri in the first section of qualifying, continued when Lando Norris was punted from third to seventh for exceeding track limits, and culminated when Valtteri Bottas turned front-running form in practice into a miserable eighth place on the grid.
But Ferrari is on a recovery path with Charles Leclerc in fourth ahead of Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri that continues to show solid pace in season 2021.
No-one is tougher on Verstappen than himself and he was angry and disappointed after qualifying.
“I shocked myself that I had a lap like that as it’s been a long time since I felt this way after qualifying,” he said.
“It was not a clean lap in Q3. I made some mistakes and when you go off on a qualifying lap it is never going to be good.
“I ran wide on the exit of Turn 3 and cut the grass a bit which wasn’t very lovely for the lap time. There are always things you can do better even when you say it’s a perfect lap but today was far from that.”
But Verstappen picked up the positive as, for the first time in recent history, Red Bull has two cars against a single Mercedes in the battle for the win now that Bottas is so far back.
“Today was a little bit confusing and I don’t understand the Q3 performance. Not what I was aiming for today, especially with the feeling I had at the start of qualifying,” he said.
But Hamilton was happy to scoop up another pole, the 99th of his stellar career on the 30th different track where he has been the quickest qualifier.
“I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of the two Red Bulls. I think they’ve been so quick this weekend. There were times when they were six-tenths ahead,” Hamilton said.
“It’s going to take absolutely perfect laps to stay ahead of them if we are going to have a chance of the win.”
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
|2||Sergio Perez||Red Bull|
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|10||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin|
|13||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin|
|16||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo|
|17||Antoni Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo|