Emilia Romagna GP: Max Verstappen wins dramatic race with Lewis Hamilton recovering to second after error

April 18, 2021

Max Verstappen claimed an impressive victory in an extraordinarily dramatic Emilia Romagna GP in which Lewis Hamilton recovered to second after a rare mistake while chasing the Red Bull, and Valtteri Bottas and George Russell were involved in a huge collision.

On a chaotic and dramatic afternoon amid challenging mixed weather conditions, Verstappen claimed the lead at the start from third on the grid when he overtook Hamilton as the two title rivals made contact into Turn Two.

The Red Bull driver came under pressure from his Mercedes rival around the pit stops, but Hamilton blew his opportunity for the victory when he slithered into the gravel while lapping Williams' George Russell and dropped to ninth, briefly a lap down.

Russell was soon then involved in a high-speed collision with the other Mercedes of Bottas at Tamburello which saw the race red-flagged on lap 32 due to two scattered cars and debris.

The drivers blamed each other for the crash, which was investigated after the race. But the stewards ruled it had been a "racing incident" as "at no time did either car manoeuvre erratically".

Hamilton was fortunate that the race was red-flagged when it was - he was able to pit for a new front wing without losing more time and then rejoin the lead lap for the restart, as is the case in such a situation for all lapped cars - but when the GP resumed he set about making amends for the uncharacteristic error.

With the race restarting on lap 35, Hamilton was back in the top five within seven laps and onto the podium by lap 55. He then overtook McLaren's impressive Lando Norris for second place with three laps of the 63 to go.

"On my side it was not the greatest day, it's the first time I've made a mistake in a long time. But I'm grateful I was able to bring the car home today," said Hamilton, who also claimed the fastest lap bonus to stay one point ahead of Verstappen in the championship after two rounds.

But Norris, so dejected after a track-limits error in qualifying had left him seventh when he could have been in the top three, still claimed the final podium place ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc for just the British youngster's second top-three finish in F1.

Norris overtook the lead Ferrari at the rolling restart.

Leclerc headed Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz in fourth and fifth respectively, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth in the second McLaren and Lance Stroll seventh for Aston Martin on the road despite pre-race brake fires on both green cars.

However, Stroll and Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen - who had finished ninth - were both handed post-race time penalties.

Stroll was given a five-second sanction for passing Pierre Gasly off the track and dropped behind the Frenchman to eighth in the revised classification.

But Raikkonen fell out of the top-10 entirely when a 30s penalty was added to his race time after Alfa Romeo fell foul of rules for rolling restarts. The Finn had spun and, under F1's rules, should have entered the pit lane for the restart when he did not regain his place in the order.

The Finnish veteran's sanction promoted Esteban Ocon a place to ninth and Fernando Alonso, Ocon's Alpine team-mate, to 10th and the first point of his F1 comeback.

But Red Bull's Sergio Perez had a race to forget from the first front-row start of his career, finishing 11th.

Overtaken by both Verstappen and Leclerc at the start, he picked up a 10-second penalty for overtaking under the early Safety Car, called for a crash for Nicholas Latifi, and then spun when back in fourth at the restart.

Sebastian Vettel endured another torrid afternoon too.

The German started from the pit lane due to the late brake issues on his Aston Martin and then was slapped with a 10-second stop and go penalty mid-way through the race with Race Control deeming that the team had fitted the tyres to his car too late before the start.

Revised Emilia Romagna GP Top 10 finishers
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3. Lando Norris, McLaren
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
6. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
7. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
8. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin*
9. Esteban Ocon, Alpine
10. Fernando Alonso, Alpine

*5-second time penalty

Full Race Result

Verstappen vs Hamilton: Epic round two to Max & Red Bull

Few seasons, if any, have begun quite as dramatically as F1 2021.

If the Bahrain season-opener had been gripping due to the Hamilton-Verstappen head-to-head fight for victory, Imola was simply breathless from start to finish.

Rain showers in the 45 minutes before the race start threw a curveball into proceedings, particularly as some of the 3.1-mile track was wet and treacherous, and other parts still dry. Drivers duly struggled on their laps to the grid, with two-time world champion Alonso hitting the barriers and requiring repairs even before the race had started.

Verstappen started behind Hamilton and Perez on row two but was quickly ahead of the sister Red Bull at the lights and challenging the Mercedes on the long run to the Turn Two chicane.

With Verstappen ahead on the inside line for the left-hander, the two title rivals made minor contact at the corner apex with Hamilton's Mercedes rattling over the kerbs.

Hamilton sustained front-wing damage but stewards soon ruled that no investigation into the incident was warranted.

Verstappen quickly opened a lead of around five seconds in the race's wet opening phases but, as the track dried and the Red Bull's intermediate tyres started to slide, Hamilton started to close back in.

On lap 27, Red Bull blinked first and brought the race leader into the pits for dry tyres.

Hamilton stayed out an extra lap and started to pump in fastest sectors but any hope of overcutting his Dutch rival at his own tyre service was ended by a sluggish 4s Mercedes pit service.

But Hamilton soon had bigger worries than that when, as he went to lap Russell into Tosa, his Mercedes slithered on a wet patch and ran into the gravel, with the W12's front wing grazing the barriers.

"There was only one dry line, and I guess I was in too much of a hurry to get by everyone," said Hamilton. "I came to the inside and I could see it was wet and I was trying to stop, but the thing wouldn't stop and it sent me off."

The game seemed up for the seven-time world champion with little movement from the W12 but by eventually engaging reverse gear he was able to back on to the circuit and drag his damaged car back to the pits. It set up his post-restart surge back into the second place he had let slip.

"I'm really, really grateful we were able to get going again, and to get some points for the team was really important today," added the Mercedes driver.

Verstappen was not troubled especially thereafter but did have one scare of his own as he geared up to lead the rolling restart. Under braking for the first Rivazza, he briefing lost control of his Red Bull and went over the inside kerb, before collecting the car well and putting his foot down for the restart.

From there the 23-year-old drove off into the distance to win by 22 seconds, for his 11th career triumph in F1 and first of a 2021 season that sparkles with title-chasing promise.

"I think we managed everything well," said Verstappen. "Then there was a little moment in my restart! Luckily we didn't spin But everything else went really well today so very happy with that."

Russell and Bottas crash - and blame each other

The race's biggest incident involved the two drivers who may be fighting over the same Mercedes seat for 2022.

Bottas had started the weekend in promising form but things started to tailspin from Q3 on Saturday, when he struggled with the rear of his car and qualified eighth. The fact that he found himself racing Russell's Williams - which had started 12th - for ninth place as late into the race as lap 32 underlined that the Finn's Sunday faring no better.

As Russell attacked the Mercedes down the outside at the 190mph Tamburello - which features a kink in the straight - the two cars collided and were sent spiralling into the gravel trap at the first chicane.

Neither felt they were in the wrong.

Russell told Sky F1: "There is a gentleman's agreement that that is not what you do because it is incredibly dangerous. In completely dry conditions I would have been fine, but it put me onto the wet patch and I lost it.

"An unfortunate incident, but we're going at 200mph. You need to respect the speed and the conditions."

But Bottas said: "I've seen the replay and there was definitely space for two cars all the time so I don't know what he was trying to say [afterwards]. It was completely his fault."

After exiting his crashed Williams, an incensed Russell went over to Bottas further along the gravel trap to remonstrate with the Finn while he was still in the car, who responded by giving the Briton the middle finger.

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