Valtteri Bottas edges Lewis Hamilton for Formula One pole position at Imola

F1 Imola qualifying Bottas
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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IMOLA, Italy — Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was narrowly beaten by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying for the F1 pole position Saturday at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as Formula One returned to the Imola circuit for the first time since 2006.

Racing on the track where his childhood idol Ayrton Senna lost his life, Hamilton finished 0.097 seconds behind Bottas’ time of 1 minute, 13.609 seconds.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull qualified third, 0.567 back.

It was a wild session for Red Bull.

Verstappen was second to Hamilton in the abbreviated weekend’s only practice session earlier Saturday, but the Dutch driver reported that he had “no power” during Q2 and returned to the pits without setting a time.

Pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas takes the checkered flag during qualifying for the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Mario Renzi – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

Alexander Albon then spun off track in the other Red Bull.

Red Bull was able to repair what it reported as a spark plug issue for Verstappen, and he returned just in time to reach Q3, as did Albon, who qualified sixth.

Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri qualified fourth and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was fifth.

In a sign of F1’s progress, Bottas was more than 9 seconds faster than Michael Schumacher’s pole time for the 2006 San Marino GP at Imola.

Due to rising novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in Italy, no fans were allowed into the track located in the country’s auto racing heartland.

Mercedes can clinch a record seventh straight constructors’ title in Sunday’s race unless Red Bull outscores it by 34 points — something that hasn’t happened in more than four years.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel continued his poor season by being eliminated in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, the only current driver to have raced here in 2006, was dropped in Q1.

How IndyCar rookie Sting Ray Robb got that name (and some more of his backstory)

IndyCar Sting Ray Robb
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Every NTT IndyCar Series season brings a new round of getting to know the rookies, and it’s fairly obvious where the story starts with Sting Ray Robb.

Just for clarification, “Robb” is the last name. His given name indeed is “String Ray” on the birth certificate.

Why, yes, he does come from performance-car parentage.

And yes, the IndyCar rookie named “Sting Ray” will be driving the No. 51 Dallara-Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware.

How did that go over with a mom and dad who clearly prefer American automotive brands?

“That’s a tricky question,” Robb said with a laugh Tuesday during the IndyCar Preseason Content Days. “Yeah, my parents are big Corvette fans, and I think that they ruled out criticizing me too badly because they know the dream is IndyCar.”

“I’ll be in a Honda car and I’m assuming it’ll go pretty quick, so I’m OK with all of that.”

“They’re not going to rename you ‘NSX’ or something?” asked Motorsport.com’s David Malsher-Lopez (whose bitingly sardonic wit is regularly heard in IndyCar media centers).

“No. I hope not,” Robb said. “My name is my name. I don’t need a rename, thank you.”

Robb, 21, has been making a name for himself lately, finishing second in last year’s Indy NXT standings with 11 top-five finishes, eight podiums and two pole positions.

But the Payette, Idaho, native also has an intriguing backstory beyond his successful four years in the Road to Indy ladder system (that also included the 2020 Indy Pro title).

He hails from the same small town (northwest of Boise on the Oregon border) that produced Minnesota Twins slugger and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

Robb, whose graduating class was less than 100, recently found that Wikipedia listed him and Killebrew as the “notable alumni” from Payette High School.

“It’s nice to be see and appreciate all the things that I’ve learned and been through,” said Robb, who also played some baseball in his day, adding that “I’m more of a consistent singles hitter, slap hitter if you want to call it. No home runs, just doubles or triples here and there.”

Some other facts on the newest memorable name of IndyCar:

–He’s managed by Pieter Rossi (father of Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner), but he also gets a lot of help from his mother, Kimmie.

“We call her my ‘momager’ because she’s my mom and my manager,” Robb said. “She has been a huge role in my career because she does things that I’m unable to do as a driver.

“She’s able to play hardball with the contracts, etc., and have my best interest in mind when it comes to negotiating, along with Pieter. He may be someone that has a lot of experience in the series with Alexander, but he may not know what’s best for me. It’s good to have them both on my side, and I can learn a lot from them.”

–His family have been lifelong supporters since go-karting. “It was my mom, my dad, my grandparents on the road every weekend,” he said. “My dad has missed one race in my entire life, and it was because he was in the hospital. So we let him have a pass, and he was still on the phone every 30 minutes making sure that tire pressure was right, engine temp was right, we had the right gear on the car, etc.”

–Robb graduated high school a year early to focus on racing after being home-schooled as a child. “I went to someone’s house actually, and she taught me from the time I was in pre-K through sixth grade,” Robb said. “So in seventh grade I started going to public school, and I hate to say it, but I feel like I stopped learning after that point. But it was OK. I got some social skills, lucky for you guys.”

–He also has a wild story about how he landed his current ride during a random encounter in a trip to the gym (which you can read about here).