Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris charge to clinch victory in Imola

Dutch world champion put under pressure by McLaren's British driver

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Max Verstappen held off a dramatic Lando Norris fightback to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Verstappen crossed the line just 0.725 seconds clear of Norris in Imola to take his fifth victory from the seven rounds so far.

Charles Leclerc finished third for Ferrari, one place ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri with Carlos Sainz fifth.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished sixth and seventh respectively for Mercedes.

Verstappen looked to be on course to claim a comfortable win, but Norris’ superb charge in the closing stages left the Dutchman sweating inside his all-conquering Red Bull.

After the sole round of pit-stops, Verstappen held a steady lead of around six seconds, but a turgid race suddenly came alive when Verstappen could offer little response to Norris’ speed.

With five laps remaining, Norris was just 1.5secs behind Verstappen, and as they entered the final lap the gap was less than a second.

But despite Norris’ best efforts, the British driver, who broke his duck in Miami a fortnight ago, was forced to settle for runner-up.

“It hurts me to say it, but with one or two more laps, I could have had him,” said Norris.

“It is tough. I fought hard until the very last lap but I lost too much time to Max at the beginning. With one or two more laps it could have been beautiful, but not today.”

Verstappen positioned his car at an aggressive angle to thwart any attack from Norris at the start. And it worked as he kept the Briton at bay through the opening chicane.

Norris kept Verstappen honest for the opening half a dozen laps, limiting his lead to one second. But by lap six, Verstappen had doubled his margin to two seconds and when Norris pulled in for fresh rubber on lap 22, the Red Bull man was six seconds up the road.

However, the Dutchman’s driving was in the spotlight in the moments before his stop when the stewards hit him with a black-and-white warning flag for track limits. A further misdemeanour would result in a penalty.

Verstappen made the switch to the hard tyres on lap 24 of 63 and emerged from the pit-lane with a 4.4-second lead over Norris.

In the other Red Bull, Sergio Perez, who started only 11th after a poor performance in qualifying, found himself in bother as he ran through the gravel at Rivazza. But he was not the only one in the sand trap.

Hamilton, running in seventh, lost control of his Mercedes through Acque Minerali before scrambling back to the asphalt and pitting a lap later.

He lost a place to Perez but fought his way ahead of the Mexican, running out of position on old tyres, on lap 37.

McLaren have built the car most likely to challenge Red Bull, but Norris was looking over his shoulder rather than ahead.

“Why am I slower than the cars behind?” he asked. “I have no pace.” Leclerc was closing in on Norris, but the McLaren driver was afforded breathing space after the Monegasque ran through the grass at the Variante chicane.

But suddenly, the 24-year-old could start dreaming of a second win is an many races as Verstappen started complaining of a lack of grip.

However, the triple world champion held his composure to fend off Norris with Leclerc, now second in the standings, 7.9secs behind.

“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.

“I had Lando closing in so the last 10 laps were just flat-out and it was very difficult when the tyres aren’t working any more. I couldn’t afford to make too many mistakes, luckily we didn’t and I’m super happy to win here today.”

Updated: May 19, 2024, 3:59 PM