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Formula 1

Superb Norris charge can't quite stop Verstappen Imola F1 win

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

Formula 1 championship leader Max Verstappen withstood a surprise late attack from Lando Norris to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.

Verstappen and Red Bull looked in trouble both over a single lap and on long runs in Friday practice, but a closely-fought run to pole on Saturday showed at least half of that puzzle had been solved.

And Verstappen's drive to victory over the 63-lap race, yielding him his third consecutive F1 grand prix win at Imola, completed the picture - though he was again put under serious pressure.

Verstappen initially saw off his front row neighbour off the line - Norris having to defend from the Ferrari duo instead into the Tamburello chicane - and quickly broke out of DRS range before stamping his authority on the initial phase of the grand prix.

He was in near-total control by the end of his first stint - as he swapped a set of mediums for hards in his sole pitstop - and looked to be in heading towards a comfortable win, having come from the stop over four seconds ahead of Norris.

The sudden battle

Yet while Norris dropped even further back to begin with, he suddenly began to claw back laptime in huge chunks - despite being on hard tyres two laps older than Verstappen's.

Verstappen was coached by his team that he was losing time particularly through the Tamburello and Villeneuve chicanes, but replied simply that "my tyres don't work".

He was also briefly incensed by the way that let by the blue-flagged sister RB car of Yuki Tsunoda - but held firm after that, as Norris arrived to 1.5s back but found it very difficult to make further inroads.

When the McLaren driver finally began to eat into Verstappen's lead again, it was too late, Norris spending the final lap around seven tenths off his friend and rival and having to accept defeat.

The other top-five duels

Before that late Norris charge, it had looked like the main intrigue was actually the McLaren versus Ferrari battle for second-best.

The status quo between the two teams had held at the start, but McLaren committing to back-to-back pitstops before Ferrari pitted either of its drivers protected Norris' track position against Charles Leclerc and allowed Oscar Piastri to undercut Carlos Sainz.

Piastri, who had qualified in second but had to start fifth due to the stewards blaming his McLaren team for Kevin Magnussen being impeded in Q1, even put pressure on Leclerc in that second stint before dropping off.

Leclerc himself then briefly threatened Norris before the McLaren picked up its pace, leaving the Monegasque in third in Ferrari's home race.

Mercedes had looked like a potential match for the three teams ahead of it in the standings through Friday, but was a distinct fourth-best in the end.

Lewis Hamilton had an off through the second part of Acque Minerali that cost him several seconds, but was closing in on team-mate George Russell with a slight offset on hard tyre life before Russell was brought into the pits to snipe the fastest lap point.

He finished seventh behind Hamilton as both of them stayed well clear of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

Perez's rough outing

Verstappen's team-mate did not have a particularly convincing run, and his first stint seemed to foreshadow the troubles Verstappen encountered early on.

Each of the 10 cars ahead of Perez had started on mediums, but Red Bull had picked hards for its second car, and Perez made his way into the top 10 at the start.

But he made no progress from there, even losing five seconds to a gravel trip at Rascasse. Left to run long on the hard tyre, he found himself overtaken by one frontrunning car after another once they had made their pitstops.

The strategy did ultimately work out alright for Perez, as a late stop allowed him to scythe his way through the field on fresh mediums in the second half of the race, to at least salvage an eighth place.

Over at Aston Martin, Lance Stroll followed a similar blueprint running long in the first stint (albeit on mediums) and battling his way through to an eventual ninth.

It meant only a point was on offer for RB, which had looked superb on single-lap pace - specifically in Tsunoda's hands - but couldn't stop Tsunoda from being gobbled up by Stroll late on.

Likewise, Haas didn't score what it may have hoped for with Nico Hulkenberg. He was up to eighth at the start, but was successfully undercut by Tsunoda and eventually shuffled out of the points on strategy - with the Haas also clearly not quite in RB's league as Hulkenberg fell away from Tsunoda.

There was just one retirement in the race - that of Alex Albon's Williams, which was released from an early pitstop with a loose wheel, went a lap down as a result, had to serve a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for said release and was unsurprisingly called into the pits.

Race result

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT63631h25m25.252s1m20.366s125
2Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes630+0.725s1m19.994s118
3Charles LeclercFerrari630+7.916s1m19.935s115
4Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes630+14.132s1m19.907s112
5Carlos SainzFerrari630+22.325s1m20.220s110
6Lewis HamiltonMercedes630+35.104s1m20.331s18
7George RussellMercedes630+47.154s1m18.589s27
8Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda RBPT630+54.776s1m19.686s14
9Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes630+19.556s1m20.570s12
10Yuki TsunodaRed Bull-Honda RBPT620+0.000s1m20.936s11
11Nico HülkenbergHaas-Ferrari620+0.000s1m21.700s10
12Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari620+0.000s1m21.009s10
13Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT620+0.000s1m21.569s10
14Esteban OconAlpine-Renault620+0.000s1m21.304s10
15Guanyu ZhouSauber-Ferrari620+0.000s1m21.016s10
16Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault620+0.000s1m21.371s20
17Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes620+0.000s1m21.229s10
18Valtteri BottasSauber-Ferrari620+0.000s1m21.455s10
19Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes620+0.000s1m19.004s30
Alex AlbonWilliams-Mercedes510DNF1m21.274s50
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