Verstappen holds off Norris charge for Imola win

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen held off a late charge from McLaren’s Lando Norris to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The Dutchman, despite struggling with his tyres in the final part of the race, took his fifth victory in seven races this year to tighten his stranglehold on a fourth world title.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc comfortably beat McLaren’s Oscar Piastri for the final podium place to move into second in the championship, ahead of Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.

Norris went into the final three laps just 1.3 seconds behind Verstappen, but he was not quite close enough to have the DRS overtaking aid on the final lap, and the world champion hung on.

The Briton’s efforts enlivened the final laps of what had been a largely soporific race, in which the only position change in the top five was Piastri moving past the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz with an earlier pit stop, after challenging the Spaniard closely throughout the first stint.

A valiant effort – but not enough

Max Verstappen leads at Imola from Lando NorrisVerstappen won by less than a second from Norris, who has finished second-first-second in the past three grands prix

McLaren, for whom Norris won the previous event in Miami, had entered the race with hopes that they might challenge Verstappen, if the pace the two cars had shown in Friday practice was repeated.

But in the early laps it appeared as if Verstappen would dominate.

He retained the lead at the start while Norris fended off an attack from Leclerc into the first chicane, and it soon became clear that the improvements Red Bull had made to the car to enable Verstappen to take pole position had also been effective in race trim.

Verstappen eased gently away from Norris at about 0.2secs or so a lap until he was eight seconds in front when he made his pit stop on lap 23 of 63.

Verstappen looked comfortable in the first stint, but there was an indication that his day was not as easy in the car as it appeared to be from outside when he was given the black and white flag for exceeding track limits too many times shortly after his pit stop.

He appeared to be charging to victory. But, as the race entered its final third, the pattern changed.

Initially, Norris was under pressure himself, from Leclerc, who was within a second of the McLaren and in range to use the DRS overtaking aid with 20 laps to go.

McLaren came on the radio to warn Norris that Leclerc was speeding up and “trying”. “Me, too,” Norris replied. “I’m trying, but he’s just a lot quicker.”

But then Norris began to ease away from the Ferrari and close Verstappen down.

Initially eight seconds back, Norris had the gap down to five seconds with 10 laps to go, while Verstappen was complaining that “my tyres don’t work”.

Norris closed in consistently but Verstappen had just enough pace to keep him at arm’s length.

“The whole race I had to push to the limit,” Verstappen said. “On the medium tyre we were quite strong, but on the hard tyre we struggled and it’s very difficult when you have to push flat out and the tyres are not working any more.”

Norris said: “It hurts me to say it, but one or two more laps and I think I would have had him. Tough. Just lost out too much to Max in the beginning. He was stronger in the first stint.

“We are at a point now where we can say we are in the position with Ferrari and Red Bull. We have to get used to it. We are fighting for first and second now.

“It is still a surprise to say we are disappointed not to win, but it is what we should start to expect.”

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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