Emilia Romagna GP: Max Verstappen wins in Imola as Charles Leclerc crashes to drop points
Max Verstappen produces a dominant performance to lead from start to finish in Imola; Charles Leclerc set for a third-placed finish until a late crash sees him drop to sixth; Leclerc mistake caps a disappointing home race for Ferrari after Carlos Sainz retires following a lap-one crash
By Sam Johnston in Imola
Last Updated: 25/04/22 7:02am
Max Verstappen reignited his title bid with a dominant victory at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, as a late crash for Charles Leclerc in Imola saw the Ferrari driver's world championship lead reduced.
Verstappen produced a faultless display from pole position on a drying track to complete a much-needed perfect weekend after winning the Sprint, and led a Red Bull one-two from team-mate Sergio Perez.
Leclerc, who dropped from second to fourth at the start, hit a barrier as he attempted to chase Perez with 10 laps remaining, eventually finishing sixth after being forced to pit for a new front wing.
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Leclerc's error enabled Lando Norris to score a surprise podium for McLaren, with the incident capping a hugely disappointing home race for Ferrari, who saw Carlos Sainz retire on the first lap after a collision with Norris' team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
George Russell drove an excellent race to finish fourth after starting 11th, but his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton endured a torrid afternoon, making up only one position as he finished outside the points in 13th.
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Valtteri Bottas produced another strong drive to claim fifth for Alfa Romeo, Yuki Tsunoda was seventh for AlphaTauri, while Kevin Magnussen was ninth, between the Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel in eighth and Lance Stroll in 10th.
The victory sees Verstappen, who took a maximum 34 points from the weekend after winning Saturday's Sprint and claiming the extra point for the fastest lap on Sunday, climb to second in the world championship standings.
"Yesterday and the day before, we were on it and it was looking like a strong weekend," Verstappen, who had two DNFs in the opening three races, said.
"Today, you never know with the weather how competitive you're going to be... as a team we did everything well and I think this one-two is well deserved."
Leclerc, who finished second to Verstappen in Saturday's Sprint, is now 27 points clear of the Dutchman, who has reinvigorated his hopes of adding to his maiden world championship last season.
Emilia Romagna GP race result: Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
3) Lando Norris, McLaren
4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
6) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
7) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
8) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
9) Kevin Magnussen, Haas
10) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
Downpour proves foreboding for Ferrari
Ferrari's passionate fans arrived on a bright morning in Imola hoping Leclerc could add to his two victories in the opening three races of the season, but the downpour that preceded the start of the race turned out to be foreboding.
With the entire grid starting on intermediate tyres, Leclerc was overtaken by Perez and Norris off the line. Sainz, who started fourth after a strong recovery drive in the Sprint having crashed out of qualifying on Friday, collided with Ricciardo at Turn 2 and was left beached in the gravel as a Safety Car was deployed.
It was a second successive retirement for the Spaniard and marked the end of a disappointing weekend which had begun with the team announcing a two-year contract extension for him.
Leclerc was able to pass Norris with relative ease to climb to third and momentarily got in front of Perez as Ricciardo triggered the entire field to switch to slicks after coming in on lap 18.
Perez pitted a lap earlier than Leclerc and Verstappen, which saw the Ferrari emerge ahead of him, but with his tyres up to speed the Red Bull was able to immediately regain P2.
Struggling to close on Perez, Leclerc opted for another late pit stop, which appeared geared towards trying to claim the fastest lap of the race rather than catching Perez, but when Red Bull matched the strategy the Ferrari suddenly found himself in DRS range.
Pushing to pressure the Mexican, Leclerc got over-aggressive at Variante Alta and lost control to hit the barrier, and was ultimately fortunate to be able to continue after stopping for a new front wing.
Leclerc emerged in ninth, but passed Magnussen, Vettel and Tsunoda to limit the damage and finish sixth.
"It is a big shame," Leclerc said. "I believe that the spin shouldn't have happened today.
"P3 was the best I could, we didn't have the pace for much more and I was too greedy and I paid the price for it and lost seven potential points."
Meanwhile, Verstappen, who has now won both the races he has finished this season after being forced to retire in Bahrain and Australia because of reliability issues, eased to victory as he navigated the challenging conditions with relative ease.
Russell maximises again as despondent Hamilton struggles
It was a hugely contrasting day for the Mercedes drivers, as Russell produced perhaps his best display in his first season with the team to gain seven places for a fourth-placed finish.
The majority of his work was done on the opening lap, as he jumped five positions, but he also produced one of the passes of the race as he produced a rare overtake at Variante Alta on Magnussen.
That pass was even more impressive when compared to Hamilton's experience. The seven-time world champion gained three early positions himself but was unable to improve from there, and in fact went backwards.
Hamilton, who was engaged in an animated discussion with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff after missing out on Q3 on Friday, was hampered by the unsafe release of Esteban Ocon's Alpine in the pitlane and then struggled to get his tyres working upon his return to the track.
That left him behind the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, who he was unable to pass even when DRS was finally enabled - as the track was deemed sufficiently dry - just beyond the mid-point of the race. All that remained was the indignity of being lapped by Verstappen, with whom he shared a fierce title battle last season.
"A weekend to forget, that's for sure," Hamilton surmised. "I'm out of the championship, for sure. There's no question about that, but I'll still keep working as hard as I can and try to pull it back together somehow."
Russell, who has now finished in the top five in all four races this season, is third in the world championship, just two points behind Verstappen.
Despite his lofty position, Russell, who was unable to close on Norris' McLaren during the second half of the race, is aware that Mercedes still have a significant of amount of work to do.
"I think we've got to be pleased that we're getting the best result possible week in, week out, whether we're getting the most out of the car is a different story," Russell said.
"I'm really happy with this P4 but if we want to sustain this position in the championship, we need to find more pace."