There were five red flags in qualifying, including three in the final part of the session — Q3 — on a rain-sodden day at Imola.
The last red flag cut qualifying short with Red Bull driver Verstappen 0.779 seconds ahead of series leader Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari and 1.132 ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.
“It was tricky out there. It was very slippery. It was hectic, a long qualifying. But of course at the end I’m very happy to be here,” Verstappen said. “This is a good start to the weekend.
“Our first three races in general didn’t go to plan but we’ll try to have a good weekend here.”
Verstappen won the Saudi Arabian GP but that was sandwiched between retirements in Bahrain and Australia. He is already 46 points behind Leclerc, who leads the championship by 34 points over Mercedes driver George Russell after winning two of the three races.
After also securing two pole positions, Leclerc admitted he was disappointed not to get a third in front of the passionate Ferrari “tifosi,” at the team’s home circuit.
“I’m disappointed because I made the decision to keep the tyres until the end of the session and then there was a red flag and then it ended,” Leclerc said. “So it’s my fault, but for things I couldn’t control. We’ll try to put everything together tomorrow and after tomorrow.”
There was contrasting fortune for Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., who spun out at the start of Q2. There was also more disappointment for Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton and Russell went out in Q2, too.
Starting grid for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint race on Saturday:
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull)
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)
Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes)
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari)
George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)
Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari)
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo)
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri)
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri)
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes)
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)
Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes)