Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates after...

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates after winning the pole position after qualifying session for the Italy's Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack in Imola, Italy, Saturday, May 18, 2024. Credit: AP/Luca Bruno

IMOLA, Italy — On a weekend commemorating Ayrton Senna, Max Verstappen matched the late Brazilian's record for consecutive pole positions in Formula 1 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Verstappen made it eight in a row — seven this year — when his Red Bull topped qualifying on Saturday, just ahead of the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Miami GP winner Lando Norris.

However, Piastri was later penalized three grid places for impeding Haas’ Kevin Magnussen in Q1 and dropped to fifth, promoting Norris to the front row of the grid.

Verstappen's streak dates to the last race of last season, drawing the three-time defending champion level with Senna on eight consecutive pole positions.

“It’s 30 years since he passed away, so it is very special, and I am very pleased to get pole, and in a way it’s a nice memory to him,” Verstappen said.

“He was an incredible F1 driver, especially in qualifying. A great day for me, a great day for the team. I’m very, very happy.”

Senna's record has stood for 35 years. His streak ran from the final three races of the 1988 season through the first five of the following year.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his...

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during qualifying session for the Italy's Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack in Imola, Italy, Saturday, May 18, 2024. Credit: AP/Antonio Calanni

Senna died in a crash at Imola during the 1994 race and there was a memorial on Thursday, while there have also been other events at the track to mark the 30-year anniversary of the death of the three-time world champion.

Verstappen looked unlikely to match his record when he struggled during all three practices — with his best position fifth in the second session.

However, no one could match his blistering pace in qualifying — although it was closer than it has been recently. Piastri was just 0.074 seconds behind, with Norris only 0.091 adrift.

“I honestly went into qualifying and I was like, ‘Well, if we can get a top five, I would be happy,’ because this weekend has been really difficult,” Verstappen said. "There was really no reference going into qualifying.

Formula One drivers pay tribute to the late Formula One...

Formula One drivers pay tribute to the late Formula One Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna at the Tamburello turn, at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack, in Imola, Italy, Thursday, April 16, 2024. The three-time F1 world champion died in a crash at the Imola race track in San Marino. Credit: AP/Luca Bruno

“But, yeah, it felt straight away a lot better. I felt more comfortable. I could attack corners finally a bit more and it all started to come together, and it really came together in Q3.”

There was disappointment for Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, however, as he surprisingly didn’t make it out of Q2.

“What a mess,” Perez said, after finishing 11th.

Verstappen has won four of the six opening races and Norris said it would be “stupid” for someone to doubt the Dutch driver could turn his car's struggles around for the big occasions.

“I mean, you always try and take advantage of other people’s mistakes and struggles," Norris said. "And I know Max hasn’t had the smoothest weekend, but I think if anyone doubted Red Bull or him coming back and doing a good job in qualifying, they’re a bit stupid.

“So, yeah, we expected them to be back on track. Annoying to miss out to him once again in qualifying but we’re close, and I think we’re happy as a team with how we’ve all performed.”

It had been a good weekend for Ferrari as it appeared to have raised its game in front of its home crowd but Charles Leclerc could qualify only fourth, just ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. They will line up on the second row of the grid following Piastri's penalty.

Future Ferrari driver Lewis Hamilton was eighth, two spots below his Mercedes teammate George Russell, and sandwiched between RB duo Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo.

Fernando Alonso will start in penultimate position following an unusually scrappy day. Even qualifying appeared in doubt after he crashed out of the final practice and sustained significant damage to the rear of his machine.

Only Logan Sargeant will line up behind Alonso after the Williams driver’s best time was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Qualifying was run under dry conditions with similar weather expected on Sunday.

Verstappen leads the F1 standings with 136 points, 33 clear of Perez and 38 clear of Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

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