Helmut Marko has delivered a positive verdict on Red Bull’s improvements for this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after Max Verstappen clinched pole position in qualifying on Friday. The Dutchman managed to pip Charles Leclerc by setting the fastest lap in Q3 at the end of an incident-filled session that saw red flags waved on five occasions in wet conditions at the iconic Imola circuit.
Verstappen reaped the rewards of Red Bull’s hard work behind the scenes over the last two weeks, with the Austrian outfit having slashed plenty of weight from their car in order to close the gap to Ferrari. Marko has since insisted that he is happy with his team’s upgrades based on the outcome of Friday’s successful qualifying session, telling Servus TV: “Our update is working.”
Leclerc, who has won two out of three Grands Prix so far this season, was the favourite to claim pole position but ended up 0.8 seconds adrift of Verstappen after being denied the opportunity to set a final hot lap in Q3 due to Lando Norris’ brush with the barriers. The result means the Red Bull man will line up at the front of the grid for this afternoon’s sprint, which will determine the starting order for Sunday’s race.
It remains to be seen whether Verstappen will be able to hold Leclerc at arm’s length over the course of the sprint, with Red Bull’s race pace set to be tested over the 21-lap contest at Imola. Marko recently insisted that Verstappen could begin to lose patience with his team if he does not win a race over the next few weeks as a result of the reliability issues that have already forced him to retire on two occasions since the start of the new campaign.
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“He is a lot calmer [now than he used to be],” Marko told Austrian broadcaster ORF when quizzed on Verstappen earlier this week. “After his retirement [in Australia] he returned to the pit box and we discussed things calmly.
“However, in this case, we knew we could run into that problem, because we also had to deal with that in qualifying, so it didn’t come out of the blue in that regard. He is an emotional and passionate driver who will always give his opinion.
“But, in my view, he is a lot calmer, calmer than in the past. If we don’t win again soon, then he is indeed a time bomb!”
Verstappen currently occupies sixth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings and sits 46 points adrift of Leclerc as a direct result of his early misfortune. He managed to win last year’s race at Imola but will simply be hoping to complete all 63 laps on Sunday in order to make it to the finish line without being forced to retire.
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