Imola GP data debrief: How Sergio Perez guided Max Verstappen to victory

Pablo Hidalgo
Max Verstappen croses the line

Max Verstappen held of a late Lando Norris charge to win in Imola.

Max Verstappen took victory in the Emilia-Romagna 2024 GP but after 63 laps, the Dutchman was made to suffer against Lando Norris who was ready to chase him down.

We analyse the key to the Red Bull driver’s victory and how McLaren could have achieved the win… without Sergio Perez!

All the details behind Max Verstappen’s win and how Lando Norris could have won at Imola

So far away and yet so close. That’s the feeling the McLaren team is left with after rowing against the tide for almost three quarters of the race and finding themselves with extraordinary pace, better than Red Bull and Ferrari, with 20 laps to go.

Verstappen opened a comfortable gap at the start to avoid Lando Norris’ attack under DRS then exceptional driving coupled with a high degradation of the MCL38 – the worst of the top teams – on the medium compound from lap 14 onwards and a gap of more than five seconds seemed to anticipate a very dull race.

In this next graph, a steeper slope of the linear regression of fuel-corrected lap times indicates poorer tyre management, in this case the medium compound.

Gap evo Max and Lando

McLaren, due to this high degradation and with the intention to reduce the gap, stopped Norris on lap 22 to try an undercut and this was a crucial moment in how close Norris came to the win.

With a good pit stop of 2.4 seconds the McLaren driver came out just behind Perez, who was on a changed strategy, with the hard tyre – but could McLaren have anticipated or delayed the stop to avoid meeting the Mexican in front?

The answer is hard to say for certain but the feeling is that Norris’ tyre was too worn to attempt another push lap to delay the stop and get out in front of Perez.

In addition, Red Bull was aware of the situation and could ask the Mexican to push with the hard tyre to stop this attempt. Therefore, Red Bull’s masterful handling of the race situation from the wall may well have been the biggest influence behind the race win.

Being a lap behind Perez undoubtedly cost Norris time and we compare the out lap after their stops, the McLaren driver lost +1.091s to Verstappen’s out lap in clean air and the difference across the finish line was just +0.725s.

However, closing a gap is not the same as overtaking on track and it would have been a very difficult task for Norris with a car with a lower top speed and a Verstappen who we know is a great defender.

But, Perez’s help and Red Bull’s move has been decisive to avoid putting Verstappen in much more trouble than he had at the end of the race.

Similar to Miami, Verstappen struggled again on the hard compound. It is true that this time the start of the stint was not so problematic and in fact, he was quicker than Norris at the start of the stint which was also one of the keys to the Dutchman’s victory.

However, from lap 44 onwards, the Dutchman’s tyres cooled down and entered a high degradation zone.

Norris, on the other hand, felt very comfortable again with the harder tyre and was just one or two laps away from fighting Verstappen for the win on track. It was very close between the two and that gives us hope that there will be plenty of spectacle for the remainder of the season.

Charles Leclerc completes a solid race to take P2 in the WDC

It wasn’t a particularly bad race for Ferrari overall. McLaren were clearly stronger in qualifying but the SF-24’s race pace has turned out to be really encouraging, allowing Leclerc to get a podium finish on home soil and move into P2 in the Drivers’ World Championship.

The Monegasque driver was on Norris’ pace virtually the entire race, except at the end when the McLaren driver pulled out all the stops to try and catch Verstappen.

Like Norris, Leclerc found himself on the exit of his pitstop with Sergio Perez and the Ferrari driver was ready to chase the Briton who, thanks to the undercut on Verstappen, was able to open a gap of four seconds to Leclerc.

However, Leclerc’s strong early pace on the hard tyre saw him close the gap in just 15 laps but once lap 44 was reached, the McLaren came alive to make the final push to pull away from Ferrari and start the hunt for the win.

More reaction from Imola

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Mercedes avoids Lewis Hamilton and George Russell’s on-track fight and scores a bonus point

Mercedes wrapped up a good weekend, far from their target but with a good feeling with their upgrade package.

And in a ‘no man’s land’ situation in the race, it seems that their overall objective was clear: team over driver.

The Mercedes wall called George Russell into the pits when he was ahead of Lewis Hamilton and ready to secure P6, or so it seemed.

Hamilton had started to cut a good amount of time off Russell and could put him in trouble in the closing laps. Mercedes decided to stop Russell to continue to hold P6-P7, but swap positions.

This also allowed Russell on a fresher tyre to set the fastest lap of the race to score an extra championship point, leaving them on 64 so far this season.

Read next: Emilia Romagna GP: Lando Norris agonisingly close to second win as Max Verstappen hangs on at Imola