Max Verstappen WINS the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as Red Bull star fends off last-gasp charge from Lando Norris to secure his fifth victory of the season

One moment it was as exciting as a tax return – and then bang: an exhilarating late twist, with Lando Norris suddenly as hot down Max Verstappen’s neck as a dragon.

Nobody will be surprised that Verstappen won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but the unexpected drama in the final throes raised the possibility of a competition breaking out. No guarantees of that, though definitely straws to be grasped with both hands.

It unfolded like this. Norris, boosted by his maiden win in Miami a fortnight ago at the 110th attempt, was in second place six seconds back with 10 laps remaining. The 24-year-old British driver pressed and pressed his McLaren in pursuit of a car that has carried Max the Machine to the stars. Norris gobbled up the road in front of him, narrowing the gap to his prey sometimes by as much half-a-second a lap, until he was just 1.5sec adrift with five laps remaining.

Verstappen’s concern crackled through his radio. Norris, for his part, told his team he was doing everything within his power to make his better performing, though actually slightly older, tyres work to make the kill.

Verstappen had no grip yet trying to hold on. ‘Like driving on ice,’ he said afterwards. ‘At Turn 7, I nearly ended up in the grandstand.’


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Max Verstappen has returned to winning ways at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix


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Verstappen celebrates after fending off a late charge from Lando Norris in Imola

The Red Bull star returns to winning ways after finishing second in Miami a fortnight ago
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The Red Bull star returns to winning ways after finishing second in Miami a fortnight ago

As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner purred: ‘You’ve got two guys going at it like Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk. They were trading times sector by sector. Fantastic racing.’

Two laps to go and the margin was down to one second. Then nine-tenths as the concluding 3.05-mile tour of the grand old Imola circuit beckoned. In the end, Verstappen got home in a masterclass of cool resilience. Could anyone else have survived as he did?

The winning margin: 0.725 of a second.

‘It hurts me to say it, but one or two more laps would have been beautiful, and I think I would have had him,’ reckoned Norris. ‘I was praying for it.’

‘I was pushing like hell until the very last lap, but I lost out a little bit too much to Max in the beginning. He was much better in the first stint, and we were stronger in the second.’

McLaren are clearly the team, other than Red Bull, who best understand the technical requirements of this generation of ground-effect cars. They are a growing power, now minimally equal with Ferrari, and clearly hottest pursuers at tracks such as this which suit them well.

Verstappen cuts a relieved figure after celebrating with his Red Bull team on Sunday
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Verstappen cuts a relieved figure after celebrating with his Red Bull team on Sunday

You might argue that yesterday that McLaren possessed the best car of all yesterday. That it was Verstappen who made the difference. Why otherwise, did his team-mate Sergio Perez, a perfectly competent driver, qualify 11th compared to his pole position, or finish eighth to his first?

Heavens, this was a boost for Formula One and its followers with 17 rounds of the campaign to come. It would have been pretty much unendurable without a murmur of threat to the Dutch master’s monopoly. And you can’t look to Mercedes for that. They continue to tread treacle. Lewis Hamilton finished sixth after an erratic weekend (behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in third, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in fourth, with Carlos Sainz fifth in the second red car) while George Russell crossed the line in seventh place.

‘We’re in no-man’s-land,’ said Hamilton. Russell added: ‘We’re behind the Ferraris and McLarens, and ahead of the midfield. We’ll keep pushing.’

The spectacular denouement was not detectable early on. Verstappen was cleanly away, having pointed his car aggressively towards the racing line and Norris, next to him on the front row. The world champion held his advantage through the opening chicane – Tamburello, the now reconfigured spot at which Ayrton Senna lost his life 30 years ago, and the die was cast, or so we thought. Yawn. A long afternoon, nay a long season, lay ahead of us all.

That likely fact was hammered into Norris: Verstappen’s lead at the end of lap one stood at eight-tenths like a ticking timebomb.

Lando Norris (background) pushed the Dutchman to the very end in an exciting finish
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Lando Norris (background) pushed the Dutchman to the very end in an exciting finish

Norris cuts a disappointed figure after coming agonisingly close to winning again in F1
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Norris cuts a disappointed figure after coming agonisingly close to winning again in F1

By lap six, the margin was two seconds. By lap 12, three seconds. By lap 20, six.

Verstappen’s only wobbles were minor at this stage. He hit the odd kerb too heavily, once going fractionally airborne. And he pushed his luck by exceeding track limits – a habit that landed him a black-and-white warning flag. Other than that, no problems at all – not yet. They awaited in papaya orange, as we learned.

Yet, despite McLaren’s resurgence after more than 15 threadbare years, let’s not get carried away. This was Verstappen’s fifth win from seven races. His lead over Leclerc is 48, over Perez 55 and over Norris 60.

It will take a herculean effort to reel him in. But, heading to Monaco next Sunday, he finally feels some heat.

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