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Verstappen dominates Imola to cut title deficit

Verstappen dominates Imola to cut title deficit

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen dominated the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix to lead Red Bull Racing’s first one-two in more than five years after Ferrari imploded on home soil yesterday (Apr 24).

By Michael Lamonato

Monday 25 April 2022, 10:26AM

Max Verstappen crosses the line to win the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix yesterday (Apr 24). Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane

Max Verstappen crosses the line to win the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix yesterday (Apr 24). Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane

Verstappen had the race under control entering the final 10 laps ahead of teammate Sergio Perez when Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, running in third, came in for a last-ditch pit stop to try to shake up the order.

Perez and Verstappen followed him in without losing position, but on fresh soft tyres Leclerc had a small pace advantage and was suddenly harrying Perez for second place.

But the Monegasque was too eager to soften the blow of comprehensive defeat on Ferrari’s home fans. He took too big a bite out of the kerbs, still wet with pre-race rain, at Variante Alta and lost control of his car, which spun around backwards and slapped the barriers.

He righted the SF-75 but had to pit for a fresh front wing, dropping to ninth with seven laps to go and clambered back up to sixth at the flag to minimise his damage.

“The spin shouldn’t have happened today,” he told British TV. “P3 was the best I could do, we didn’t have the pace for much more, and I was too greedy and I paid the price for it.”

But the championship leader’s loss was Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen’s gain. The Dutchman had already topped qualifying, won the sprint race and led every lap of the grand prix; he set the fastest lap of the race with six tours remaining to take the chequered flag with his second career gland slam and slice his points deficit to Leclerc to 27 points.

“It’s always tough to achieve something like that, but already yesterday and the day before we were on it and I think it was looking like a strong weekend,” he said. “As a team we did everything well, and I think this one-two is very well deserved.”

Perez’s second place strengthened his claim to his out-of-contract seat, maximising his car’s pace despite a lacklustre qualifying performance to ensure the team’s first one-two finish since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, banishing Red Bull Racing’s reliability woes from the first three rounds, at least temporarily.

“I think the most important thing today was no making mistakes, because it was tricky out there,” he said of the damp track. “It’s a great result for the team. We’ve been so unlucky, the start [of the season] has been so difficult for us.

“I’m happy to see everyone in the team smiling today.”

Art-Tec Design

Lando Norris was the principal beneficiary of Leclerc’s late demise, promoting his McLaren from a lonely fourth at the head of the midfield and onto the podium for the second straight race in Imola, a strong turnaround from the team’s dire opening race barely a month ago in which McLaren fielded the slowest car of the field.

“Am amazing race - an amazing weekend to be honest,” he said. “I’m happy. The team deserve it. From where we were in race one to now, scoring a podium, I think they all deserve it.”

George Russell held onto fourth for Mercedes after fending off the faster Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, the Briton beating the man he replaced by just 0.6 seconds.

But it was a very dim bright spot on Mercedes’ most painful weekend of the season to date. While Russell was able to get a great launch from 11th on the grid to near the top of the midfield, Hamilton rose from 14th to just 12th and couldn’t make any forward progress. He trailed home a disappointed 13th, his worst result on pure pace in more than a decade.

Leclerc finished sixth after dispatching Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen late, while Lance Stroll completed the top 10, making a double points finish for Aston Martin, the team’s first score of the season.

Thai driver Alex Albon rose from 18th to less than five seconds out of the points in 11th in his uncompetitive Williams, closely beating Pierre Gasly and Hamilton to the place.

Esteban Ocon served a five-second penalty for an unsafe release in the pit lane that dropped him to 14th ahead of Zhou Guanyu, Nicholas Latifi and Mick Schumacher.

Daniel Ricciardo was last of the finishers in 18th after a lap-one crash with Carlos Sainz that put the Ferrari driver out of the race. The Australian tapped the Spaniard into a spin at turn two that beach him in the gravel and was then rear-ended by Bottas, sending him through the run-off area and dropping him to the back. He made limited progress with his damaged car, but a tyre gamble late in the race dropped him further off the pace and put him well out of points contention.

Fernando Alonso also retired with lap-one damage, his sidepod bursting open after a relatively light tap from Schumacher.

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