It was heartbreak last time out in Bahrain for Max Verstappen, after a track limit breach forced him to surrender the win to Lewis Hamilton. Flash forward to Imola and safe to say, Verstappen was looking for redemption in more ways than one.
Having never stood on the podium in Italy before and failing to finish all three Italian races last year, Red Bull’s leading driver came into the weekend with a head of steam. Following a wet and wild Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Sunday (April 18), Verstappen claimed his redemption by winning his first ever Grand Prix in Italy and moving within one point of Hamilton in Championship standings.
For Verstappen, Imola marks his 11th career win and first of the season.
Recovering after a spin off track, Hamilton fought his way though the field for a well earned runner-up finish. Mclaren’s Lando Norris completed the podium, fighting his way up the grid from seventh after his heartbreaking Q3 mistake.
The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. round out the top five, with Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon receiving the points paying positions. It should be noted that Raikkonen was under investigation for a potential contravention of regulations following the mid-race red flag. If a penalty is assessed, then these results could change.
With rain coming down all over the track, most teams opted to start on the intermediates with a few back markers trying their luck with full wets. The action started before the race as even underway as Leclerc spun off on the formation lap, luckily suffering no damage. Meanwhile, Vettel would start from the pit lane after suffering a brake issue that needed repairs. Later on, Vettel would be given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for the team failing to have the wheels back on his Aston Martin within five minutes of the beginning of the formation lap.
When the lights went out, Verstappen and Sergio Perez pounced on Hamilton. Verstappen took the inside line on Hamilton as Perez backed out to avoid a crash. In the Tamburello chicane Hamilton, was pushed wide by Verstappen and ended up sailing over the curbs, suffering floor and wing damage in the process.
Nicholas Latifi scored a career best 14th place effort in qualifying Saturday, but he became the race’s first retirement. After going off-course on his own accord at Acque Minerale, the Canadian was hooked accidentally by Nikita Mazepin upon rejoining the track and sent into the wall head-on at high speed. Latifi was alright, but the safety car was deployed.
While this was happening, three drivers suffered issues under the safety car. Ferrari’s Sainz and Haas’ Mick Schumacher both suffered spins, with Sainz spinning off a few times due to the weather and Schumacher spinning into the wall after getting loose warming up the tires. Both drivers made repairs and kept on going. Perez also slid off under the safety car, and upon rejoining the track passed two cars that had overtaken him when he spun.
That’s a no go from the FIA, Perez was bopped with a ten second stop and go penalty for passing under the safety car.
On Lap 22, the track started to dry off and Aston Martin was the first team to pull the trigger and put Vettel on slicks. The move was a little early, resulting in struggles. The FIA assessing the aforementioned penalty for the pre-race infraction only made things worse.
After Verstappen come to pit on Lap 28, Hamilton stayed out for an extra lap and came in. In typical Mercedes fashion, his pit crew was slow replacing the front tires. This lead to Hamilton being held up by the incoming Antonio Giovanazzi, allowing Verstappen to take a commanding lead.
While attempting to pass a slower car, Hamilton slid off into the gravel at Tosa, making slight contact with the barrier on lap 31. The earlier rains made it possible for Hamilton to back up through the gravel in order to continue.
In an attempt to pass the ailing Bottas, Russell clipped the grass and slammed into the Mercedes driver at high speed. The two, just passengers at this point, both made heavy contact with the tire wall, ending both their days. Bottas was shaken up after the crash, and eloquently informed Russell that he was “number one” when the Williams driver came to check on him.
Unlike in other forms of racing, teams can work on their cars under red in Formula 1. As a result, the Mercedes-AMG team was able to repair Hamilton’s front end in time for him to restart ninth. A number of other drivers got their laps back as well. Once the red was lifted, Raikkonen slid off while behind the safety car, but recovered. Even Verstappen was not immune to trouble as he nearly spun out entering Rivazza prior to the restart.
Hamilton fought his way up through the field, picking off car after car with ease once DRS was enabled. Verstappen stretched the lead to over 16 seconds as three more drivers had issues before there race was over. Perez and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda spun off in the closing laps, while Vettel was force to retire on the last lap due to a failing gearbox.
In the end, nobody could beat Verstappen as he finally conquered Italy.
“A tough day for all of them today” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. “Max got a mega start, braved it out into the first turn and from there out controlled the race brilliantly. It’s always tough to lose a race in Bahrain where it’s so marginal, so to come here and get the victory – it’s by far the best start we’ve had [to a season] for quite some years now.”
Hamilton and Norris’ podium marked the 699th and 700th career podiums for British born drivers in F1. This podium equaled Norris’ best finish of third, which he first logged in the season opener in Austria last year.
“I’m happy, a nice recovery after yesterday.” said an elated Norris. “I didn’t start so well but I came back through, I had good pace. It’s nice to be fighting these guys, it’s nice to be there on merit, there on pace. I’m happy with third, I’m not disappointed!”
Verstappen moves within one point of the championship lead, looking to take control atop the standings for the first time his career next race in Portugal. The Grand Prix of Portugal is set to get underway May 2 from Portimao. Lights out is scheduled for 10 a.m. ET or 3 p.m. local time. Hamilton enters as the defending winner, and current points leader.