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Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Image Credit: Reuters

Monte Carlo: A week after winning by less than a second at Imola, Max Verstappen will be keener than ever to extend his record-equalling run of eight pole positions at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion and current series leader overcame two days of disappointing form in practice to snatch pole at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, equalling the record of Ayrton Senna in the process.

That feat gave him an advantage that he turned into victory for Red Bull by just seven-tenths of a second ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren who followed his maiden win in Miami with a convincing late attack in Italy

Verstappen knows he is in a fight at every race now and that he will need to do it again on Saturday on the narrow and unforgiving barrier-lined streets of the Mediterranean principality where qualifying has more influence than anywhere else on the Formula One calendar.

“It is so unique,” he said. “Completely different. It was incredibly close in Imola and at Monaco it is always very hectic. You need to really nail it in qualifying to get a lap together, to get the tyres to work and it is always very tricky.

“Monaco is so very special and a special challenge.”

Another pole would give Verstappen the outright record of nine consecutive poles, including one at Abu Dhabi last year, and eight at the start of a season.

Verstappen will be bidding to repeat his victory in last year’s race on a track where Red Bull have won the last three contests, the Dutchman twice and teammate Sergio Perez in 2022.

However, they start this weekend fearing their easy domination may be over.

Both McLaren and Ferrari are hunting them down with Charles Leclerc claiming he is confident that the “scarlet scuderia” will be strong on his hometown track where his school bus drove on the circuit with him on board.

After a run of wretched luck, the 26-year-old Monegasque driver is still seeking his first podium finish in his home event, but he took pole in 2021 and believes his upgraded Ferrari can help him succeed this year.

‘Blank page’

“Monaco is so specific that we need to start a little bit from a blank page,” said Leclerc.

“Free practice is super, super important to build the pace little by little, but I am confident we will be strong.

“It’s very special for me, of course, even though it hasn’t been a successful place for me.”

Given that the leading three teams are likely to be separated by little more than a tenth of a second, every detail is likely to be critical to the outcome this weekend and Leclerc, after an encouraging start with new race engineer Bryan Bozzi, will hope his sixth start on home ground will bring some reward.

Unlike Leclerc, teammate Carlos Sainz fears their car is slightly less competitive than Red Bull and McLaren in qualifying trim, if their equal in race conditions.

“It just seems those guys have a bit more than us in qualifying so it’s something we have to look at in Monaco,” he said.

Perez will also be seeking a lift this weekend as a poor outing and eighth place at Imola, behind both Mercedes, left him facing speculation about his future again.

Red Bull need him to support Verstappen if they are to maintain their supremacy.

Off-track, there is likely to be much debate over the future of the calendar’s most glamorous race beyond 2025 with the switch of attention to Las Vegas and other American events signalling more changes and new venues are possible.