Mercedes endure worst F1 qualifying session in a decade

Max Verstappen takes first pole position of season for Saturday's sprint race at Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

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Mercedes' season went from bad to worse as they failed to make the final session of qualifying at a race for the first time in a decade during a wet and crash-interrupted Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell failed to reach the top-ten shootout on a day of five red flags at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

"It wasn't a great session," said Hamilton. "Naturally, it is disappointing. We came here with optimism and everyone is working really hard at the factory and then things just don't come together.

"I think we underperformed as a team. There were things we should have done that we didn't do today."

It was the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix that champions Mercedes had failed to have a car in the top ten in the final qualifying session, a sequence of 187 appearances at consecutive races.

Meanwhile, world champion Max Verstappen took his first pole position of the season for Saturday's sprint race at Imola.

Ferrari's championship leader Charles Leclerc will line up alongside the Red Bull driver on the front row for a 100km race that decides who starts first in Sunday's main event.

Verstappen goes into the Formula One record books as the pole setter for the weekend, regardless of where he starts on Sunday. Last year the winner of the sprint was awarded pole instead.

"It was hectic but I am very happy to be here, it is an amazing track and it also really punishes you if you make a mistake, you can go into the wall," said Verstappen, who has suffered two retirements in three races.

"I am really pleased with pole position but I know tomorrow and Sunday will be a bit different in terms of weather conditions."

The winner of the sprint will take eight points instead of the three previously available.

Leclerc has a 34-point lead over Mercedes' George Russell after winning twice, finishing second in the other and taking all three bonus points available for fastest laps.

"There's everything to play for tomorrow and after tomorrow and we'll give everything," he said.

Each of Friday's three qualifying phases had to be halted after incidents, with the red flags brought out five times in total and the entire session ending 40 minutes later than scheduled.

"These conditions made a big difference for us today because if it was completely dry, we wouldn't be in third place," said McLaren's Lando Norris.

Updated: April 23, 2022, 4:37 AM