McLaren ace Oscar Piastri celebrates making the front row of the grid at Imola. Image by AP PHOTO
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Piastri grid penalty blow after making Imola front row

Ian Chadband May 19, 2024

Australian ace Oscar Piastri has suffered a wretched blow – just when he was expecting to line up on the front row of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.

Piastri had delivered one of the best qualifying performances of his fledgling F1 career on Saturday by finishing second behind Max Verstappen, leaving him dreaming of the prospect of a maiden triumph in Sunday’s race.

But the delight turned to deflation within hours as he was penalised three grid places for impeding Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in the first session of qualifying, dropping him to fifth from second on the grid.

Instead, Piastri’s teammate Lando Norris took his place on the front row, after his third-place qualifying finish.

The Melburnian’s fine last-gasp lap had been bettered only by resurgent champion Verstappen, but Piastri was adamant afterwards that he could still go on to challenge the Dutchman.

“So, so close to pole, but very happy,” Piastri said, after his final lap fell just 0.071 seconds slower than Verstappen’s brilliant 1 minute 14.746 seconds.

Asked if he thought he could go one place better on Sunday and become the fifth Australian to win an F1 grand prix, Piastri answered in the affirmative.

Piastri flying
 Piastri in action during practice at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack at Imola. Image by AP PHOTO 

“I think we’ve definitely been on the pace all weekend. You can never count out Max and Red Bull of course, like we’ve just seen, but I think the confidence is high,” he added.

That, however, was his tune before stewards completed their investigation into the Q1 incident when the Australian got in Magnussen’s way at two turns, ruining the Dane’s lap and chances of reaching Q2.

So instead of being Verstappen’s nearest hunter, Piastri now has to get past the two Ferraris of third-placed Charles Leclerc and fourth-placed Carlos Sainz to even get on terms with teammate Norris.

Still, it’s been another major step up for Piastri, whose car received the full package of upgrades McLaren had first given Norris in Miami, enabling their senior driver to win his first grand prix.

Properly armed, the Australian has been marginally quicker than Norris over the two days in Italy, also having finished fastest of all the drivers in the final practice session on Saturday morning.

For Red Bull’s Verstappen, it was a dramatic return to form after problems in practice at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari as he tied the late, great Ayrton Senna’s Formula One record of eight pole positions in a row.

Piastri, Verstappen and Norris
 Max Verstappen (C) was still too quick for Piastri and Lando Norris (R). Image by AP PHOTO 

It was Verstappen’s 39th career pole in all as he seemed to, almost magically, find some extra pace after finishing fifth, sixth and seventh in the three Imola practice sessions.

“What a difficult start! But we turned it around,” he declared on race radio, having wrapped up his seventh straight pole of the season.

Senna achieved his eight in a row in 1988 and 1989 before dying in crash on the same Imola track in 1994.

“It’s very special. It’s 30 years since Ayrton passed away, so very pleased to get pole and in a way it’s a nice memory to him. He was an incredible F1 driver,” Verstappen said.

There was bad news for his teammate Sergio Perez, who missed the final shoot-out and will start from 11th place on Sunday.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso did even worse, having to settle for 19th having also crashed earlier in final practice.

With agencies