until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

What Norris/Verstappen Imola fight means for F1: Our verdict

6 min read

So, Max Verstappen ran out the winner at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after all.

Except his run to victory wasn't anywhere near as straightforward as his previous wins have been.

Given Lando Norris's late charge meant he was in contention for victory for a second race weekend in a row, what does this say about how close McLaren is to being a threat week-in, week-out?

And with Ferrari not far behind, is F1 now poised for a three-way fight? And even if the answer is no for now, is that something to look forward to in the near-future?

Here are our writers' verdicts:

Sign that Red Bull's vulnerability has changed

Scott Mitchell-Malm

This is a real sign of Red Bull starting to look more vulnerable, much more so than Miami was.

While the result on paper looks like a return to normality, the reality is that Red Bull’s under pressure. There will still be circuit-specific races where Verstappen dominates, I have no doubt, but it feels like rivals (especially McLaren) are now in a window to pounce more often.

Verstappen only just managed to hang on from Norris and admitted after crossing the line - after a "f*****g hell mate!" - that he’d had to work hard for that one. It was a sentiment he's shared for quite a while, certainly not with such relief!

Red Bull’s already been beaten twice this season on weekends it hasn’t been perfect, and this could well start to happen in ‘normal’ races too - as it very nearly did here.

McLaren's going to get more chances at its stronger tracks. And don't rule out Ferrari either - this was a slight disappointment but the margin to Verstappen is still better than we've seen at several races this year.

Ultimately if the fight between these three teams gets to the point of being decided by circuit characteristics, in-weekend specifics, and individual execution - we'd all sign up for that.

McLaren's got a key strength here

Gary Anderson

I think we can keep guessing if it is circuit-specific or an actual changing of the guard. Monaco will probably be different as it’s so individual but for normal circuits, I think McLaren needs to find just that little bit, a couple of tenths, and Ferrari needs just a little more, probably three tenths. But if that can happen we will have a three-team battle at the front on more occasions than not.

Norris and Piastri seem to be a very strong pairing, stronger in depth than Verstappen and Perez. Again, like the Red Bull duo at Ferrari Leclerc seems to have that little edge on Sainz; it can and does turn around now and again but not on a regular enough basis to say that these two teams have strength in numbers.

McLaren seems to have a handle on what the car needs to improve its performance so I think for Formula 1, the future is bright and the competition is going to get tougher. Unfortunately, on the way to that the others might just get left behind that little bit.

A concerning pattern for Ferrari

Ben Anderson

The pattern of the past two races has got to be concerning for Ferrari, which now looks as though it has slipped behind McLaren in the fight to be Red Bull’s nearest challenger.

Miami was a bit of a weird race: there was no tyre degradation (just lots of surface heat), McLaren majorly upgraded 1.5 of its cars but didn’t nail qualifying, Red Bull struggled all weekend long, and the race turned completely on the timing of the safety car intervention.

At Imola we got a completely clean run at things, and it was McLaren carrying the fight to Red Bull again - a Red Bull that wasn’t working properly on Friday, but by qualifying and the race was about where you’d expect it to be in Max Verstappen’s hands.

Red Bull brought an update for this race, so did Ferrari, and yet those upgrades didn’t redress the balance with McLaren. If Oscar Piastri hadn’t been compromised by a grid penalty for impeding Magnussen in Q1, it’s likely McLaren would have locked out the podium behind Verstappen.

So McLaren has been definitively faster than Ferrari on a low-degradation circuit and now on a front-limited one - the kind of track Ferrari used to be better than Red Bull on. 

Carlos Sainz has been saying Ferrari anticipated this being “a McLaren track” pre-weekend, but the trouble there is more and more circuits that weren’t McLaren tracks in the past are now becoming McLaren tracks. 

The McLaren is prodigiously quick through fast corners, much better than it was through slow ones (unless they go on a bit too long), has become much, much more efficient in a straight line too - and, as Norris showed at the end of this race, is also much better than it was at looking after tyres over a race stint.

Given where Ferrari started 2024, you have to chalk this up as 1-0 to McLaren in the development race - and that has to be cause for some serious head-scratching back at Maranello.

The bigger-picture win

Josh Suttill

It may well be too late for any kind of 2024 title fight as, even if McLaren and Ferrari are close enough to threaten Red Bull most weekends, Verstappen has still just extended his lead to 48 points.

But what it should do is give everyone far more hope for 2025 than we had only a couple of weeks ago.

Pre-Miami, 2025 was already becoming seen as something of a write-off title-wise, with the new car and engine regulations for 2026 being marked as the next proper chance for anyone else to challenge Verstappen and Red Bull for the title.

But with the trajectory McLaren's upgrade path has already taken it on in 2024 and Ferrari's ability to challenge Red Bull at Melbourne-like circuits, there is now non-fanciful hope that, one of, if not both of, Ferrari and McLaren can deliver F1's first proper title fight in three years.

A proper Red Bull celebration

Glenn Freeman

Regardless of what this means for the rest of the season, it was nice to see Red Bull pushed to the limit and the celebrations that led to.

Verstappen and Red Bull could certainly never be accused of faking over-hyped celebrations (as some dominant champions have been in the past) whenever he takes a comfortable victory. Sometimes the radio chatter at the chequered flag has sounded close to boredom. So to hear exaltation at the flag this time, and to see genuine emotion as Max celebrated with his crew in parc ferme was a nice change. 

In fact, even in Miami I got a slight vibe of Verstappen being happier to see his buddy Norris win than he would have been if he’d romped home himself by 20 seconds with no opposition.

I’m not criticising Verstappen and Red Bull for the way they celebrate the easy wins. But it’s better for them and F1 to see them taking wins that are so difficult to pull off they feel like they mean more.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks