Max Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after Hamilton blunder

Max Verstappen won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in an incident-packed race at Imola, where Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of victory 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, though he was then able to deliver an exemplary recovery to come back to second place. Lando Norris was superb in taking third for McLaren, while Charles Leclerc was in fourth for Ferrari with his teammate Carlos Sainz 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. It was 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 one point from Verstappen, by dint of having taken the fastest lap in this race.

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 the Dutchman 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. 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. Pitting a lap later while Verstappen negotiated a circuit on the new rubber, 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’s Williams. Hamilton damaged his front wing in the barrier; he 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 on to the grass in trying to pass, although he confronted Bottas in the cockpit of his Mercedes to admonish him.

Hamilton was fortunate the race was stopped and able to resume in ninth with the field gathered, 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 10 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 Räikkönen in ninth and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon in 10th.

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