On Saturday at Imola, Sergio Perez did something no other Red Bull Formula 1 driver has achieved since 2019 by beating Max Verstappen in qualifying. 

Such has been Verstappen’s qualifying dominance over his recent F1 teammates, he had stretched out a 25-race streak without falling to a Saturday defeat to the sister Red Bull car - a run going all the way back to the 2019 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

On that day, Verstappen qualified behind Alex Albon though it was not completely representative as engine issues prevented the Dutchman from recording a lap time. 

You have to go back to the 2019 Canadian GP for the last time Verstappen was beaten by a teammate - then Pierre Gasly - on merit. And that only came after an unfortunately-timed red flag meant Verstappen was unable to finish his lap. 

Before that, it was the 2018 season finale in Abu Dhabi when Daniel Ricciardo got the better of Verstappen for just the fifth time across the entire 21-round season. 

It was an outstanding performance from Perez in qualifying at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to sneak ahead of Verstappen by just 0.052s and land his first-ever front-row start in only his second weekend with his new team.

Equally impressive was that Perez came within a whisker (0.035s) of claiming his maiden F1 pole position, only to be denied by some Lewis Hamilton brilliance and a last-corner error he felt ultimately cost him pole

It marked a huge turnaround from the season-opening weekend in Bahrain where Perez was knocked out on Medium tyres in Q2 while Verstappen went on to take pole by a margin of almost 0.4s. 

24 hours on from a difficult Friday in which he had lagged behind the frontrunners on pace and also crashed into Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in FP1, Perez bounced back in emphatic style.

So, just how did he recover from being “miles away” throughout practice?

“I think [it’s] just understanding where to get the time,” Perez explained after qualifying. “I have a pretty good reference in Max - he is just getting 100% all the time out of the car, and just adapting myself to it. 

“Just learning, step by step. I wasn’t expecting myself to be here at the moment as I feel I am miles away from where I should be, things are not coming naturally yet. 

“So it’s a good boost in confidence, not just from myself, but also the team to make them feel they have both drivers and we can push the team forward together, that’s the important bit. 

“And hopefully from here on we keep that progress, and tomorrow do another step in race performance, and it’s the target, step by step, not in a hurry. 

“I know where I should be, but certainly it’s positive to be up here just in my second race in the team.”

Another factor that helped Perez get his eye in for Q3 was Red Bull’s decision to put him on the Soft tyres in Q2 - in contrast to the Medium-shod Verstappen and Mercedes cars - in a bid to avoid a repeat of what happened in Bahrain. That enabled him extra running on the fastest tyres to prepare for the top-10 shootout. 

Also key to Perez’s result was a rare “scrappy” session from Verstappen, who was left to rue a wide moment at the Tamburello chicane where he gave away crucial time, despite managing to improve on his final lap. 

“I know that Honda makes good lawnmowers but I don’t think this one was suited for that!” Verstappen joked in the post-qualifying drivers’ press conference. “But at least I tried. 

“It was just a really scrappy lap, I haven’t had that in a long time so just need to understand why that happened. 

“But nevertheless I think we were very close so that’s positive, and like Checo said we have two cars close to Lewis on different tyres so hopefully that will get some excitement tomorrow.”

Both men were ultimately usurped by Hamilton, who once again was at his very best on his way to taking the 99th career pole of his F1 career at a 30th different circuit. 

At the season-opener in Bahrain, Red Bull held a clear qualifying advantage over Mercedes and the Milton Keynes squad had subsequently been tipped as the pre-event favourites once again in Italy.

The seven-time world champion said he needed the “perfect lap and more” to overturn a 0.6s deficit to Verstappen in final practice to claim a first pole at Imola, prompting a stunned reaction and exchange between himself and his race engineer Peter Bonnington. 

The quality of his first Q3 effort - combined with teammate Valtteri Bottas being over half a second down in a lowly eighth - led some to draw comparisons to his stunning pole lap at the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix. 

“I guess we’ve not really hyped it up too much,” Hamilton explained. “The fact is, as you saw in the last race, there was a good gap to the Red Bulls. 

“We did feel we could close it up a little bit coming into this weekend but that was a really clean qualifying session. I guess, just time and time again just to be tweaking and adjusting. 

“In terms of my own performance, I am really grateful that I am still making steps in the right direction. It was a real surprise. I don’t think anyone in the team expected to be on pole today but of course, that’s what I was gunning for. 

“It really was the tidiest lap I could put together and a little bit more. Whether or not it was a Singapore lap [2018] or not, it’s a different vibe but it definitely was good.”

 

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