Max Verstappen capitalises on Hamilton error to win Emilia Romagna
Tricky conditions led to a delay in the race as world champion Hamilton crashed out
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing celebrates after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. Photo: Bryn Lennon/EPA
Max Verstappen won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in an incident packed race where Lewis Hamilton’s hopes fell to pieces with a highly uncharacteristic error. In tricky wet and then drying conditions Verstappen delivered a masterclass of control while in stark contrast the world champion crashed out but was then able to deliver a superb recovery to comeback to second place. Lando Norris was superb to take third for McLaren, Charles Leclerc was in fourth for Ferrari and his teammate Carlos Sainz in fifth.
Hamilton had started from pole at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari and although he lost the lead to Verstappen at turn one, the pair were locked in a mighty struggle from then on to the mid-point of the race when an unlikely unforced error put Hamilton off at the Tosa corner. A moment of exceptionally rare weakness on behalf of the world champion. He came back to fight on but the race belonged to the Dutchman who had not put a foot wrong. Hamilton still leads the world championship by just one point from Verstappen by dint of having taken the fastest lap here.
This is exactly the comeback Verstappen and Red Bull were looking for after they were denied victory by Mercedes and Hamilton at the season opener in Bahrain. It is the first time he has started a season with a second place and a win and is the best opening since 2013 for Red Bull.
Their car has now been proved very quick across two varying types of circuit suggesting they are in a strong position for the season as a whole. Given the chance to lead from the front Verstappen executed in exemplary fashion. This is the 11th win of his career and his first in Imola is also Red Bull’s first at the circuit which until last year had not featured on the calendar since 2006.
There was persistent rain for an hour before the start that had died out but the track was still predominantly wet at the off and the teams largely opened on the intermediate wet tyres.
Verstappen made a very quick start with Hamilton sandwiched between the two Red Bulls. Verstappen went up the inside and was side by side with Hamilton through turn one and the pair touched. Verstappen had the line though Tamburello, Hamilton opted not to give way and had to go wide over the kerbs, where he took damage to his left front wing endplate while the Dutchman had the lead. The incident was noted by the stewards but deemed entirely fair.
A safety car period after accidents for Nicholas Latifi and then Mick Schumacher followed. Racing resumed on lap six with the track drying and grip levels changing across the circuit. Verstappen held his place at the restart but Hamilton was soon under pressure from Leclerc in third.
Verstappen swiftly opened up a lead with a sequence of very quick laps, moving him five seconds clear by lap eight. Yet Hamilton was far from done and he came back in pace terms and the two were soon in a fight of their own, exchanging a sequence of fastest laps.
The gap remained stable at five seconds as the track fully dried out, necessitating a switch to slick rubber. Verstappen pulled the trigger on lap 28 to take the medium tyres. Hamilton inherited the lead and floored it for a lap as Verstappen negotiated a lap on the new rubber. Pitting a lap later, Hamilton had a slow four-second stop with a problem with the front right tyre and emerged behind the Dutchman, two seconds down. The extra time in the stop had cost him what chance he had of taking the lead.
Yet far worse was to come for Hamilton as he slid on cold tyres into the gravel at Tosa on lap 31, where he had gone off the dry line to pass George Russell. Hamilton damaged his front wing in the barrier and managed to get the car going again but had dropped to sixth. Moments later Russell and Valtteri Bottas came together in a high speed impact at turn one causing the race to be stopped, with debris strewn across the track. Russell appeared to have lost his rear when putting two wheels onto the grass in trying to pass although he confronted Bottas in his cockpit to admonish the Finn.
Hamilton was fortunate the race was stopped and able to resume with the field gathered in ninth but his shot at the win had gone. He was left contemplative in the pit lane, crouched on his haunches in silent, lone consideration of how it had got away from him as the race prepared to restart. The pose was one recognisable from his last similarly crushing disappointment in F1 when his engine failure in Malaysia in 2016 all but cost him the title.
Yet the British driver had far from given up. Hamilton charged, moving through the field with determination and skill up to fifth within ten laps and passed Leclerc for third by lap 55. Norris defended staunchly but could do nothing as Hamilton swept past for second with four laps remaining. He then concluded the recovery by sealing the fastest lap of the race to maintain the slenderest of title leads, while Verstappen rightly took the plaudits for a great win.
Daniel Ricciardo was in sixth for McLaren, Lance Stroll in seventh for Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly in eighth for AlphaTauri, with the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen in ninth and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon in tenth. – Guardian