If only the force of will, the simmering mass of tifosi, which would be famously filled with natural ziggurat again in the Rivazza bend in Imola, would surely lead Charles Leclerc of Ferrari to victory. Despite all their hopes, however, they were powerless against the unstoppable force that Max Verstappen and Red Bull drove to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Instead, the full roar of Ferrari’s support was silenced by misfortune when Leclerc succumbed to his exaggerated ambitions in the dying stages, made a huge mistake that halved his lead in the championship, and re-launched a thrilling title race.
Sergio Pérez was second to Red Bull, while Leclerc’s late unforced spin error knocked him down from third to sixth. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished third.
For Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, the race at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari was also one that will not be forgotten. The seven-time champion started from 14th place and finished only one place higher in a car that was driven by only a handful all weekend, but his teammate George Russell finished a brave fourth place.
However, this is now the apparent feeling of disillusionment in Mercedes, team boss Toto Wolff said after the race on team radio to apologize to his seven-time world champion. “Lewis, I’m sorry you had to drive today,” he said. “I know you can’t control it.”
In addition to the insult to injury, Hamilton was on a bicycle from Verstappen, a moment that will bring the unpleasant reality of Mercedes’ pecking home home with visceral brutality. “We’re not good enough for a world champion and we just need to fix the car,” Wolff said.
On Saturday, after a tough sprint race in which they did not make it across the field, Hamilton conceded any chance of fighting for the title. Hamilton is the only F1 driver to have won the race in any season he has raced since his debut in 2007. After Imola, this is a remarkable success that is in real danger of ending in disgrace this season.
He admitted that his previously humiliating Mercedes team could have made a fundamental mistake in the design of its car. “While testing in Barcelona, I was asked, ‘What happens if you do it wrong?’ And I said, ‘We don’t do that, we’re not mistaken, we’re world champions,’ “he said in Imola. “But the fact is, with all the options we can have.”
Hamilton said no repairs were planned. “A weekend of oblivion, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m out of the championship. There’s no doubt about that. I’ll still work as hard as I can, and somehow I’ll put it together.”
However, for Hamilton’s former rival for the title and again a clear candidate this year, Verstappen’s victory was a perfect ride. At the front, he was hassle-free, flawless, with an impressive performance worthy of an reigning champion and a sound reminder of why winning a title out of his grasp would not be an easy task.
Even better, it was proof of how good Red Bull is when it is reliable. This is the team’s top two since Malaysia in 2016 and was well deserved when Pérez gave one of his best performances as a wing player.
In a short time, the fight for the title revived. Leclerc’s lead over Verstappen was 46 points this weekend. Now it’s a 27-gap that could almost be closed by one DNF.
It could have been an even bigger lead, and the knocked-down Leclerc, who wanted so hard to show off at Ferrari’s home race, was more than aware that he was fully responsible. Verstappen and Pérez had the first two slots sewn in the final stages, and Leclerc lacked the pace to fight. Ferrari took a perfectly reasonable chance when he put him in the pits for soft tires to give him a chance to attack the fresh rubber, Red Bull put both riders in the pits to cover him, but the Monaco rider still flew.
As he approached Perez, he had to taste the adrenaline. He moved on until it disappeared in a split second. He boiled it in Variante Alta, took too much curb, spun, damaged the front wing and was forced into the pits. It fell to ninth and sixth place as much as he could recover.
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton on his way to the finish line in 14th place in Imola. Photo: Jennifer Lorenzini / Reuters
He wanted it too much, he admitted, raising his hands and apologizing to the team. “We didn’t have a pace much more and I was too greedy, I paid for it and lost potential points. It’s a pity, it shouldn’t happen again, “he said.
Ferrari may face criticism for not placing third, but their bravery should be appreciated – they will not win this championship by betting on Red Bull against this form.
“It’s easy, he tried hard to fight Chec.” It’s painful, but he knows it and it’s a long championship, but he didn’t do it on purpose, “said Verstappen. “As a team, we did everything well and I think this number two is deserved.”
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On a day that began with heavy rain and was a tricky, treacherous track, it was indeed Red Bull who survived the storm with deceptive ease. They proved their potential, putting real pressure on Leclerco and Ferrari, who were found to be inadequate; Leclerc left to consider what might have happened as the red smoke from the flares drifted relentlessly away from the rapidly emptying Rivazza.
Valtteri Bottas from Alfa Romeo was fifth. Yuki Tsunoda was in seventh place with AlphaTauri, Sebastian Vettel in eighth place behind Aston Martin and his teammate Lance Stroll in tenth. Kevin Magnussen was ninth behind Haas.