Verstappen wins dramatic Emilia Romagna GP to close on rival Hamilton

Max Verstappen made up for the disappointment of his opening Bahrain GP defeat by winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix from Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris.

After an incident-packed race that saw seven-time champion Hamilton slide off the circuit late on but recover to second, it was the Red Bull Racing driver who emerged victorious and cut his rival’s lead to just a single point.

It was Hamilton who had the advantage at the start of the race, having secured an amazing 99th career pole position in Formula One.

But the F1 gods don’t always smile upon their favourite sons, and a half hour deluge of rain befor ethe race start threw a spanner into the mix. Regardless, the race still looked to be headed in the Englishman’s favour despite Verstappen muscling past into the first corner.

“It was very challenging at the beginning, very hard to stay on the track to be honest, very slippery,” reflected Verstappen after his win. “And then of course with the tyres, the graining and to choose the right moment to go on the slicks is never easy. So I think we managed everything well.”

The opening race drama in Saudi Arabia saw Verstappen having to controversially concede position to his rival for passing off the circuit. But it was the Dutchman who had the bit between his teeth at the start of the race, whistling past the Mercedes into the opening corner on intermediate tyres as rain threw an intriguing spanner into the mix.

The pass was not without incident, the pair bumping wheels and Hamilton coming off the worse and damaging his front wing and floor. Then more drama, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin making contact, the Canadian snapping straight right into the barrier.

Upon resumption it was Verstappen who continued to lead his rival, Hamilton desperately defending from a charging Charles Leclerc who recovered from an embarrassing spin on the formation lap to just avoid an early race exit.

As is always the case, and especially in a weather affected race, the all-important pit stops would decide this race. It was Verstappen who was the first to roll the dice, scampering into the pits for a fresh set of Pirelli medium compound tyres on lap 28.

Hamilton stayed out, nailing another hot lap before pitting yet emerging just behind Verstappen after an uncharacteristically untidy stop. It now became clear that this would be a race to the chequered flag between the new great rivals even at half distance. And it was Hamilton who was gaining. And gaining rapidly…

Then, the most uncharacteristic of mistakes from the greatest of the game, Hamilton losing it at Tosa and slapping into the barriers. Moments later another incident, Valtteri Bottas and George Russell also colliding at Tosa, and bringing about a red flag.

When the dust finally settled and racing resumed, it was Verstappen who still led the field from Leclerc, Norris, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz. And a frantic finish to the line saw Verstappen take the honours from Hamilton, Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo. Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top ten finishers.

“Firstly congratulations to Max, he did a fantastic job today,” reflected a magnanimous Hamilton after his drive. “And also to Lando, what an awesome job. So great to see McLaren back up there. On my side it was not the greatest of days, but I was grateful to be able to bring the car home.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.