Verstappen claims a dominant victory in the midst of Imola’s chaotic rain
At his forceful best, Max Verstappen took victory at Imola in the thrilling 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix that saw Lewis Hamilton stuck in a gravel trap and George Russell and Valtteri Bottas create a massive 200mph crash.
Verstappen, who got the jump on pole-sitter Hamilton following a brilliant start in wet conditions, held his nerve as others behind him set about creating chaos.
Hamilton intensified his pursuit of Verstappen after switching to dry rubber. However, on Lap 31, the world champion misread track conditions while trying to pass George Russell and ploughed into the sand trap at the left-handed Tosa corner.
Hamilton stopped for repairs and fought back from ninth to finish second, Lando Norris finished third for McLaren following a stirring drive by the young Briton.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton edged out Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez and his teammate and championship rival Max Verstappen to put his Mercedes on the pole for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
In a tense and unpredictable session at Imola, the seven-time world champion held his nerve to beat Pérez by just 0.035 seconds, with Verstappen a surprising third. It marked the 99th pole of the Briton’s stellar career.
McLaren driver Lando Norris had briefly moved into second behind Hamilton, but his final lap was deleted for exceeding track limits. He had to settle for seventh.
Charles Leclerc qualified fourth for Ferrari, three-tenths behind Hamilton, while the Briton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was a woeful eighth in the other Mercedes W11.
The Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda lost control of his AlphaTauri on the exit of the Variante Alta, sliding backwards and into the tyre wall. He emerged unscathed from his cockpit but sustained significant damage to the entire rear of his car.
Russell finished 12th, ahead of Latifi in 14th. The Williams drivers surrounded two world champions, with Sebastian Vettel only 13th for Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso 15th in his Alpine. Both men were upstaged by their junior teammates Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll, ninth and 10th.
The Dutchman Was Gone.
Even before lights out, Imola had surprises. Early rain, heavy at times, had soaked parts of the track an hour before the start, so would drivers start on wet rubber. With overtaking around the Imola circuit among the hardest on the calendar, Hamilton had to hold the lead through the first lap spray and mayhem to claim his second win in as many races.
Verstappen was just as determined to stop Hamilton’s march in Turn 1. He rolled into his third starting spot. Remembering his karting days in the rain, he selected second gear.
At lights out, Verstappen burst forward, his tyres producing prodigious grip. Bolting past Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, he moved to the inside of Hamilton at the opening corner, leaving the Brit bounding over the inside kerbs.
Hamilton claimed Verstappen did not leave him enough room, but the stewards needed only a few minutes reviewing the video to decline an investigation.
Moments later, the safety car was then deployed when Nicholas Latifi lost control of his Williams in the dicey conditions and smashed into the wall. At the same time, Mick Schumacher also crashed, this time on the pit straight.
Racing resumed on Lap 7, and Verstappen quickly stretched his lead over Hamilton to five seconds.
But by the time the leading duo changed over to dry tyres on Lap 27, with Verstappen stopping first, Hamilton had reduced the gap to under two seconds.
But Hamilton’s slow pit stop after switching to dry rubber dropped him five seconds behind his rival.
Hamilton threw himself into catching Verstappen, but on Lap 31, the world champion misread track conditions while trying to pass Russell. The Brit ploughed into the sand trap outside the left-handed Tosa corner, damaging his front wing. After what seemed likes minutes, he finally selected reverse and found his way back onto the asphalt.
As he limped back to the pits, Russell and Bottas collided at high speed on Lap 34. The race was red-flagged for 30 minutes
Russell was attempting to pass Bottas’ Mercedes for ninth place around the outside of the 200mph run down to Tamburello. The Williams driver had moved right in response to the Finn’s possible counter move from the left. Russell put his front-right tyre on the damp grass, causing him to lose control instantly and slam into Bottas.
Both cars barreled into the barriers on the left, then ricocheting into more concrete where they came to a halt in the gravel.
Before the rolling restart, Hamilton (and others) un-lapped themselves, enabling the Brit to launch a charge that ultimately brought him second place.
Verstappen nearly spun as he led the pack around to the start/finish line but somehow managed to keep it going and in the right direction.
The Dutchman led them across the line as Norris took Leclerc on the soft tyres and quickly closed in onto the back of Verstappen. Hamilton moved up into eighth early on as Tsunoda spins and falls at the back of the pack. He eventually got going.
While Verstappen cruised to the chequers, Hamilton attacked from sixth place, passing five drivers in 21 scintillating laps. He took Norris’ McLaren around the outside of the first corner with three laps remaining to cross the line in second, 22 seconds behind Verstappen. Charles Leclerc finished fourth for Ferrari ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Hamilton set the fastest lap to claim a bonus point. He leads Verstappen in the championship by a single point.
Verstappen should have won in Bahrain three weeks ago, but for an illegal pass on Hamilton for the victory. At the same time, a bobble on his final lap in qualifying cost him pole in Imola.
But the Dutchman delivered a largely faultless display in the inclement conditions to take his 11th career win in a young Grand Prix season that has now started with two classic races.
On to Portimao.