Verstappen romps to victory in Imola

April 24, 2022

Reigning World Champion led the Red Bull one-two.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen scored his season’s second victory following a dominating performance in Imola. To make things even better for Red Bull, Sergio Pérez gave the Austrian team their first one-two of the season, while Lando Norris scored McLaren’s first podium of the season after a solid drive. Mercedes’ George Russell was fourth ahead of the impressive Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas. Championship leader Charles Leclerc finished sixth ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was eighth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll, who rounded up the points places. 

Verstappen’s win has now put him right back into the Championship fight, with the Dutchman sitting pretty in second place, only 27 points behind Leclerc. Sergio Pérez, meanwhile, is close behind his teammate in third with 54 points, while Mercedes’ George Russell sits in fourth place with an 11-point gap to Carlos Sainz. Red Bull’s double podium and only one Ferrari finishing the race mean the Austrian team are just 11 points behind in the Constructors’ Standings with 113 points, while Mercedes fall to third with 77 points.

Unlike the Sprint, Verstappen got a brilliant start off the line, but it was Leclerc who had a poor start and was immediately passed by Sergio Pérez in the opening lap. A little bit behind, there was more action and more misery for Ferrari as McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo clashed with Carlos Sainz, which saw the Spaniard go off the track. This was the Ferrari driver’s second DNF in as many races. The Safety Car came out in the second lap, following Sainz beaching his car on the gravel.

Racing resumed on Lap 5 with Verstappen leading from Pérez, while Norris edged out Leclerc for third place. Behind Leclerc, it was Haas’ Kevin Magnussen ahead of the fast-starting George Russell. Inside one lap of the Safety Car pulling in, Verstappen had already built up a 1.7-second lead at the top, while Magnussen was trying to fend off a charging Russell for fifth place. Russell’s teammate Lewis Hamilton was having a less-than-ordinary race up till then. He managed to pass his old teammate Fernando Alonso for eleventh, with Alonso diving into the pit due to damage to the side of his car. 

Up ahead, Verstappen was putting daylight between himself and the rest of the grid, and by Lap 13, the Dutchman had a lead of six seconds from his teammate in second place. Leclerc, who was trying to make up after a horror start, managed to get close to Pérez and was within a second of the Mexican by Lap 16.

There was a lot of traffic in the pits following Red Bull calling in Pérez on Lap 19, Alfa Romeo called in Valtteri Bottas as well, but the Finn had a shocking stop. However, because almost the entirety of the top ten barring Verstappen and Leclerc had come in, Bottas managed to come out in sixth place with AlphaTauri having pulled off a brilliant move, undercutting Esteban Ocon and Hamilton in one swoop. Ocon, though, was penalised later for an unsafe release during his stop and was handed a five-second time penalty.

Verstappen came in on Lap 20 and rejoined in the lead, with Leclerc also having pitted the same lap. By Lap 28, Verstappen was absolutely flying up ahead, having built up a lead of more than eight seconds. He kept pushing the boundaries and dropping fastest lap after fastest lap, and by Lap 36, the reigning World Champion had extended his lead to over 11 seconds.

While Verstappen was romping ahead, Lewis Hamilton was struggling to pass Pierre Gasly for thirteenth place. He finally did manage to get close to make a move at Gasly, but the Frenchman defended brilliantly to hold off the seven-time World Champion.

Leclerc, who was struggling to keep up with Sergio Pérez, finally found some pace and was closing up to the Mexican. It was looking more and more likely that the Ferrari driver would take second place from Pérez, but an overambitious Leclerc had a moment on Lap 54 that saw him catch too much of the kerb and go into the barriers. He managed to keep his engine running but rejoined in ninth place and dove into the pits after damaging his front wing. The Ferrari driver was out for damage limitation and quickly passed Magnussen for ninth.

Up ahead, Leclerc’s old teammate Sebastian Vettel was having a quiet-but-decent weekend for Aston Martin. Leclerc did manage to pass Vettel and Tsunoda to eventually finish sixth, but his error cost him a podium and a handful of points, which must have hurt even more on a day when only one Ferrari finished the race. Up ahead, Verstappen was untouchable and took maximum points from the weekend, which gave him additional eight points for his Sprint win on Saturday. 

Verstappen’s win has reignited the title battle, which looked like it could be a one-horse race following Red Bull’s reliability woes in Australia.

With the fight well and truly on, we head to the inaugural Miami Grand Prix in two week’s time, which promises a lot of entertainment not only on the track but off it as well.

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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