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Hamilton takes pole for Emilia-Romagna GP ahead of Red Bulls

IMOLA, Italy (AP) — World champion Lewis Hamilton edged out the Red Bull duo to claim pole position for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Saturday. It was Hamilton’s 99th career pole and although there is a Red Bull directly behind the Mercedes driver, it will be Sergio Perez rather than Max Verstappen.

A brilliant first lap in the final segment of qualifying saw Hamilton edge Perez by .035 seconds. The British driver was .087 faster than Verstappen, who is expected to be his main challenger this season.

“I didn’t expect to be ahead of two Red Bulls, they’ve been so quick this weekend,” Hamilton said. “The car is feeling much better, I want to thank the team for their hard work. “I love the challenge, having two Red Bulls will definitely make strategy harder.”

With overtaking around the Imola circuit among the hardest on the calendar, Hamilton will hold the advantage as he bids to claim his second win in as many races. It will be a first front row start for Perez in just his second race for Red Bull, but the Mexican driver was nevertheless somewhat disappointed.

“I didn’t expect to be here but I should have been on pole," Perez said. "I did a mistake on my final corner, but tomorrow is what matters. “Anything can happen, we are on a different strategy to Lewis and Max. It is going to be interesting, see what we can do."

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas had a scrappy final lap and will start from eighth on the grid after finishing .487 slower. Lando Norris will start just ahead of Bottas. The McLaren driver was heading for the front row after a superb final lap but had his time deleted because of exceeding track limits at the Piratella turn — where many drivers fell foul on numerous occasions over the weekend.

The 21-year-old Norris was third fastest in the first segment — just behind Bottas and Hamilton — and improved one place in the second. Charles Leclerc qualified in an encouraging fourth for Ferrari but his teammate Carlos Sainz failed to make it into the final part of qualifying, known as Q3, and will start 11th on the grid.

Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo will start fifth and sixth, respectively, while Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll round out the top 10. There was disappointment for AlphaTauri’s 20-year-old Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda as he failed to set a time after crashing early on, causing qualifying to be halted for a short while. Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were also eliminated in Q1.

George Russell, Sebastian Vettel, Nicholas Latifi and Fernando Alonso were the other drivers out in Q2, along with Sainz. Earlier in the day, Verstappen posted the fastest time in the final practice as the Red Bull driver was nearly half a second faster than the rest of the pack. He was .456 ahead of Norris and .557 clear of Hamilton.

Mercedes led the two practice sessions on Friday with Bottas fastest in both, just ahead of Hamilton as Red Bull endured a tough start to the weekend. Verstappen’s second practice lasted just 10 minutes after a driveshaft problem.

The Emilia-Romagna GP is the second race of the Formula One season. Hamilton won the opener in Bahrain last month, just ahead of Verstappen after a thrilling duel. Saturday’s practice was briefly red-flagged after Latifi lost control at the Villeneuve chicane and slid through the gravel and into the barriers.

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This story has been corrected in the 3rd graf, summary to show Perez was .035 seconds behind Hamilton, not .039.

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