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

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen thumbs up

Max Verstappen thumbs up

After 50 laps of having it all his own way, Max Verstappen’s dominance at Imola was tested by Lando Norris as the Briton closed to within DRS range but ran out of laps.

Verstappen held on to claim the win by a mere 0.725s ahead of the McLaren driver with Charles Leclerc completing the podium.

Max Verstappen challenged by Lando Norris at Imola

Although Lando Norris seemed to get a better launch than Max Verstappen, the Dutchman was able to pull ahead into the first corner with Norris having to look in his rear-view mirrors as he can under attack from Charles Leclerc.

It was a clean start from all 20 drivers, including Fernando Alonso who started from the pit lane after Aston Martin changed his suspension following his disappointing qualifying.

It took Verstappen all of three laps to break out of DRS range of Norris, the Red Bull driver pulling ahead from the McLaren who had the two Ferraris on his tail. Oscar Piastri ran fifth ahead of George Russell, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg. The latter headed a six-car DRS train that included Sergio Perez, who was up to P10 on hard Pirelli tyres.

Dogged by Piastri, Sainz told Ferrari “the McLaren is fast” with his efforts to keep the Aussie at bay, hamstrung as he lost the DRS from his team-mate’s Ferrari.

Nine laps into the 63-lap race there was drama at Williams when Alex Albon pitted for new tyres only to report “my tyre is not on properly” as he limped his way around the circuit, having to get out of the way of the frontrunners as he was lapped. He made it back to the pits, his FW46 was fitted with new tyres, and he rejoined the race but well off the pace in 20th position. He was hit with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for an unsafe release.

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Back at the front, Verstappen built up a three-second advantage over Norris whose McLaren team-mate Piastri was all over the back of Sainz’s Ferrari in the fight for P4. He, though, was struggling to close the final metres.

Yuki Tsunoda was the first of the top ten to stop, coming in one lap after Daniel Ricciardo on lap 13. They rejoined in 15th and 16th places with Tsunoda ahead. Hulkenberg was next in, he lost a position to Tsunoda.

18 laps in Perez was the first driver to eat dirt at Imola’s revised gravel traps, which cost him a precious few seconds in his fight to close up on Hamilton.

Russell pitted on lap 22 followed by Norris who then got caught up behind Perez. Piastri was in the next lap as Norris found a way past Perez into Tamburello.

Verstappen was in on lap 25, handing the lead over to Leclerc and coming out P4. Leclerc stopped a lap later, in from the lead and out behind Norris and Perez. Mimicking Norris, he overtook the Red Bull through Tamburello with Piastri following the Ferrari driver through. Sainz and Hamilton stopped on lap 28.

The top ten at the halfway point: Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Russell, Perez, Lance Stroll, Hamilton, Kevin Magnussen. Perez, Stroll and KMag had yet to pit.

Further back, after several laps stuck behind Logan Sargeant, Tsunoda finally overtook him with Hulkenberg also getting the jump on the Williams driver. The duo were in a battle for the final points-paying positions.

Losing a position to Hamilton, Red Bull finally pitted Perez on lap 38, Stroll and Magnussen also in, which dropped the Mexican driver behind the RB of Ricciardo. It took him just a handful of corners to pass the Aussie to sit in the final points-paying position. Perez then made short work of Hulkenberg and Tsunoda to sit P8.

Back at the front, Verstappen ran comfortably up in P1 but Norris was under pressure from Leclerc who got within DRS range on lap 45. A moment at the first chicane cost the Ferrari driver time as he dropped two seconds to Norris. That seemed to cost Leclerc his earlier pace and he wasn’t able to close back up on Norris.

Mercedes went for a two-stop strategy as they brought Russell in on lap 53 for a new set of soft tyres. He came out ahead behind Hamilton and ahead of Perez in sixth.

Verstappen meanwhile was warned about track limit violations, a potential problem for the reigning World Champion as Norris hunted him down – the gap down to two seconds with five to go. His frustrations leaking through, Verstappen complained about traffic in the form of Tsunoda.

But as Norris pushed hard, Verstappen upped his pace with the Dutchman seemingly having the win under control. As the gap ebbed and flowed, Norris reported his tyres were going while Verstappen’s battery wasn’t charging. He held on to take the win by by 0.7 seconds ahead of the Briton. Leclerc was third for Ferrari.

Piastri was fourth ahead of Sainz, Hamilton and Russell with Perez, Stroll and Tsunoda completing the points.

Result

1 Max VERSTAPPEN 1:25:25.252 63 laps
2 Lando NORRIS +0.725
3 Charles LECLERC +7.916
4 Oscar PIASTRI +14.132
5 Carlos SAINZ+22.325
6 Lewis HAMILTON +35.104
7 George RUSSELL +47.154
8 Sergio PEREZ +54.776
9 Lance STROLL +79.556
10 Yuki TSUNODA +1 lap
11 Nico HULKENBERG +1 lap
12 Kevin MAGNUSSEN +1 lap
13 Daniel RICCIARDO +1 lap
14 Esteban OCON +1 lap
15 Guanyu ZHOU +1 lap
16 Pierre GASLY +1 lap
17 Logan SARGEANT +1 lap
18 Valtteri BOTTAS +1 lap
19 Fernando ALONSO +1 lap

Did not finish

Alex Albon Williams – lap 54

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