IMOLA: World champion Max Verstappen recovered from a poor start to fight back and win Saturday’s 21-lap sprint race and claim pole position for Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Beaten as the lights went out by championship leader Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who pulled clear, the 24-year-old Dutchman showed his tenacity and pace to regain the lead with two laps remaining in his Red Bull. Leclerc, struggling with tyre wear, came home second ahead of Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull, Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and Lando Norris of McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in the second McLaren ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, and Kevin Magnussen who was eighth, the final points-scoring position, for Haas. “I had a very bad start with too much wheel spin,” said Verstappen. “I had to stay calm. Charles had more pace, but he ran out of tyres. It may be different tomorrow, but today it worked out ok and I was happy to have a clean race.” Leclerc was philosophical. “It’s still a front row start,” he said. “I struggled with the tyres, with graining on the front left so we have to work to come back stronger tomorrow. The support here for Ferrari is amazing.” Mercedes struggled again despite an improved showing in second practice. On a difficult track for overtaking, George Russell came in 11th and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton 14th, positions once seemed unimaginable for the multi-championship winning team. On a bright, dry afternoon, Leclerc made an excellent start and swept past pole-sitter Verstappen to lead into Tamburello with Norris third ahead of Magnussen, on medium tyres, and Perez. Behind the front-runners, Zhou Guanyu tried to pass Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri on the outside of Piratella, but made contact and spun off into a wall. His Alfa Romeo was badly damaged, but he was unhurt while Gasly suffered a puncture. This collision prompted a Safety Car intervention while the debris was cleared. After four laps, the racing resumed with Magnussen given a black-and-white warning flag for weaving in front of Perez on the straight. To the delight of the ‘tifosi’ crowded around the circuit, Leclerc drove with text-book perfection to remain clear of Verstappen while the two Mercedes, much-improved in the earlier second practice session, struggled to advance. By lap 11, Leclerc led by 1.4 seconds with Perez charging through to third, six seconds adrift, Norris fourth and a charging Ricciardo up to fifth ahead of Sainz, also on a charge for Ferrari, and Magnussen. Sainz soon passed Ricciardo for fifth, making use of his Drag Reduction System (DRS) at Tamburello, while up front Verstappen closed up on Leclerc, who was struggling with graining of his front right tyre. With four laps remaining, the Ferrari led by seven-tenths, but had to repel the Red Bull’s attacks under braking at Tamburello for the next two laps before Verstappen went round the outside to take the lead. Sainz, who had a miserable weekend in Melbourne and a crash in Friday practice, demonstrated his bold recovery powers by taking Norris for fourth after starting from 10th on the grid.