Following his loss to Sir Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, Max Verstappen responded back with vengeance after winning an eventful Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola Circuit for his first Grand Prix victory of the season and the 11th of his Formula One career.
The 23-year-old Verstappen, who started in third place, wasted no time carving his way to the front at the start of the event, where he went on to dominate, leading all but two of the 63-scheduled laps, and claim the checkered flag by 22 seconds over Hamilton, as he and Red Bull Racing continued to display their early strengths for this year’s championship.
Verstappen also survived an event that was highlighted with wet, slick conditions and a high-speed crash involving Valtteri Bottas and George Russell past the midway section of the event.
“It was very tricky conditions out there,” Verstappen said. “But, I think we managed it well. It was important to get that good start after [the] line, so very pleased with that. Very, very tricky out there. To make the right call, to go from intermediates to slick tires…It just shows you that it’s so tricky out there with cold tires, even in the wet, it’s super easy to make a mistake with these cars. Overall, we did a good job. Very pleased with that. It’s very close [with Hamilton], but it’s exciting like that.”
Hamilton, who started the day on pole position for the 99th time in his career, endured a wild moment on Lap 31 when he locked up his tires and went off the course in the gravel at Tosa (Turn 7), where he also made light contact with the wall. Despite the incident and being pinned a lap behind, the reigning seven-time Formula One champion made a miraculous comeback in the second half to charge all the way up into second place behind Verstappen.
With his runner-up result and by setting the fastest lap of the event, Hamilton retained the lead in the drivers’ championship standings by a point over Verstappen.
“Considering I was facing the barrier at one stage, a lap down, etc., it was a difficult day in that regard,” Hamilton said. “Max did a fantastic today. Congratulations to him. I had some really good pace in the rain and was catching, but just a little bit impatient with the back markers and caught me out. I’m unhuman, these mistakes happen. I’m grateful that I was back in the race and I could hunt down and get back to second…We got a great battle on our hands. Game on.”
Unlike Hamilton, teammate Valtteri Bottas was left disappointed and strapped with a DNF following his on-track accident with Williams driver George Russel, where both competitors collided at over 200 mph entering Tamburello (Turns 2 and 3) before colliding into the barriers and coming to rest with destroyed race cars. Both competitors emerged uninjured, but upset at one another over the incident. As a result of the crash, the race went under an extensive red flag period before continuing.
Behind Verstappen and Hamilton, Lando Norris emerged as a victor after the 20-year-old native from Bristol, England, started seventh and finished in third place and secured the first podium result for himself and for the McLaren F1 Team. The podium result was Norris’ first since the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix as he was also named Driver of the Day.
“For myself, to repay the favor for the team, but most importantly do myself proud, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Norris said. “I feel like I gave it everything and we did the best we could. Definitely, we did that today. I tried hanging on for P2 at the end. Lewis was definitely too quick than us, but I’m definitely a happier guy than what I was yesterday, but just rightly so.”
Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz came home in fourth and fifth followed by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Kimi Räikkönen finished seventh, eighth and ninth followed by Esteban Ocon, who recorded the first point of the season for the Alpine F1 Team.
Fernando Alonso finished 11th followed by Sergio “Checo” Perez, who started on the front row but was penalized 10 seconds for overtaking the safety car under caution and spun late.
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who started at the rear of the field after wrecking during qualifying session a day earlier, finished 13th after he spun on Lap 35.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished 14th while Sebastian Vettel, making his second start with the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team, settled in 15th after retiring in the final laps due to a gearbox issue.
Haas F1 drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin finished 16th and 17th, both two laps behind, following a difficult start, where Schumacher lost his front wing and slamming into the barriers while warming his tires and Mazepin was involved in an incident with Nicholas Latifi, who was trying to recover from a spin, past the opening lap in Turn 14.
Latifi, who crashed into the wall, finished 20th, dead last, with a DNF.
1. Max Verstappen, 25 points, 61 laps led
2. Lewis Hamilton, 19 points, two laps led
3. Lando Norris, 15 points
4. Charles Leclerc, 12 points
5. Carlos Sainz, 10 points
6. Daniel Ricciardo, eight points
7. Lance Stroll, six points
8. Pierre Gasly, four points
9. Kimi Räikkönen, two points
10. Esteban Ocon, one point
11. Fernando Alonso
12. Sergio Perez
13. Yuki Tsunoda
14. Antonio Giovinazzi, +1 lap
15. Sebastian Vettel, DNF
16. Mick Schumacher, +2 laps
17. Nikita Mazepin, +2 laps
18. Valtteri Bottas, DNF
19. George Russell, DNF
20. Nicholas Latifi, DNF
Hamilton continues to lead the drivers’ standings by a single point over Verstappen, with Norris trailing by 17 points, Leclerc by 24, Bottas by 28 and Sainz by 30. In addition, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team remains as the leader in the constructors’ standings by seven points over Red Bull Racing, 19 over McLaren and 26 over Ferrari.
The next Formula One event on the 2021 schedule is Algarve International Circuit for the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday, May 2.