RED Bull’s Max Verstappen finally has his podium moment in Italy.
Verstappen provided an exhibition of world class driving and defending against champion Lewis Hamilton who provided a lesson in patience and focus in a drama filled at the Emilia Romagna F1 race.
The Imola circuit produced a belter of a race, aided by pouring rain 10 minutes before lights out, teams were forced to change strategies. Verstappen, who started third on the grid, struck like lightning to overtake both Hamilton, who started in pole and teammate Sergio Perez in the first corner to take the lead.
He drove impeccably, dominating the race with the nearest challenger 20 seconds behind. After three past race retirements in Italy, he finally had his first place trophy. While advantageous for Verstappen, the rain created treacherous conditions for the rest of the drivers, as Alonso and Leclerc spun off track before the start.
Hamilton’s race was in peril as the defending World Champion went off track, damaging his front wing and finding himself in 9th. Williams’ driver George Russell collided with Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas at turn one on Lap 31, causing a red flag and a rolling restart.
Verstappen sat in first place at the restart ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Norris, also voted driver of the day, capitalized on the changing conditions as he switched to soft compound tires prior to the restart. The British driver breezed past Leclerc, a moment slow on the throttle, into second.
Norris was able to hold onto second place – after an onslaught from Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz – struggling to get any pace at the end of the soft tires stint.
Norris soldiered on before Hamilton – who also stormed past the Ferrari’s – took advantage of his longer lifespan medium tires, rallying past Norris’ McLaren.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line in sixth ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
The canadian was later relegated to eighth position after a late, off-track overtake on Gasly was deemed illegal, by the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile (FIA) stewards, in the aftermath of the race.
Stroll was a doubt to start the race after his right rear brake overheated – subsequently smoke would trail from his Aston Martin – all 20 minutes before the race had begun. Inconceivably, Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin rear brake wiring failed, causing the German to start the GP from the pit lane.
His racing experience didn’t improve as he pitted for dry tires before the track was ready and ended up sliding around, struggling to hold position. Unlike teammate Lance Stroll who finished seventh, Vettel would retire into the pit lane, in 15th, on the final lap of the race.
The restart was not ideal for Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez who, after starting in second, was challenging for a first podium with Red Bull before spinning out into 14th. Perez would eventually finish in 12th.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikonnen crossed the chequered flag in ninth was demoted to 14th after receiving a post-race 30 second time penalty. The infringement sees Alpine’s former world champion Fernando Alonso promoted one place to 10th. Earning his first points of the 2021 season after a round one retirement in Bahrain.