- Hamilton and Verstappen separated by a single point after two races in 2021
- Verstappen claims first victory of the season for Red Bull Racing
- Seven-time champion Hamilton fights back to second after mid-race off
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen claimed an ultimately dominant win in yesterday’s (Sunday) Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, in a race that had it all.
The flying Dutchman had to contend with a track that was wetter in some places than others at the start, safety cars, a red flag restart and pressure from Hamilton to secure his first win of the year, and close to within a point of the British legend in the early championship standings.
Verstappen had started third, but blasted past teammate Sergio Perez off the line, and then went wheel to wheel with Hamilton at the first corner. The pair banged wheels and Hamilton was forced to go over the kerbing on the inside of the corner, causing minor damage to his front wing.
An early safety car was deployed while the car of Nicholas Latifi was retrieved, the Canadian had rejoined the track after an excursion, but only into the path of Nikita Mazepin. Latifi was spun into the wall at high speed, and out of the race.
The restart saw Verstappen and Hamilton pull away from the field and were a long way ahead when the track reached a point where dry tyres were suitable. Verstappen was the first of the pair to stop, with Hamilton following suit a lap later. Hamilton’s stop was two seconds slower than his rival, and rejoined 2.5 seconds behind, a gap that doubled as Verstappen took advantage of his warmer tyres.
Hamilton though had begun to close on Verstappen at the mid-race point, but while lapping other cars, left the track at the Tosa hairpin and nudged the barriers, damaging his front wing. After a while in the gravel, Hamilton found reverse gear and made his way back to the pits, but the time lost meant he lost a lap to Verstappen, seemingly confining him to a lowly result.
Mercedes’ race went further downhill moments later, when Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was wiped out of the race at nearly full-speed after team protégé George Russell lost control of his Williams and swerved into the Finn’s car while attempting an overtake. The two cars were wrecked, and with debris all over the circuit, and at a very high speed section, the red flags were deployed by race control and the race was brought to a temporary halt.
F1 regulations in these circumstances mean that lapped cars are able to unlap themselves, meaning Hamilton was able to bring himself back into contention at the restart, though now in ninth place.
And when the race resumed 25 minutes later, it was nearly with Verstappen further down the order too, as the Dutchman just about held a lurid slide at the Rivazza section seconds before the restart. Holding his nerve, Verstappen pulled away from his opposition once more, as McLaren’s Lando Norris moved past Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had taken second at Hamilton’s expense.
As Verstappen was dropping the opposition, Hamilton began his fight back, moving up to sixth with swift passes on Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo.
A few laps later he edged past Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and then closed on the Leclerc/Norris battle. Hamilton blasted past Leclerc on lap 55 and then set his sights on Norris. The McLaren driver held firm, but his older tyres meant that Hamilton had an advantage, with the Mercedes driver finally making a move stick on lap 60 out of 63.
By now though, Verstappen was already 20 seconds further ahead, so Hamilton had no chance of claiming victory unless misfortune fell Verstappen’s way. But he had a championship lead to retain, and he just about managed it by setting the fastest lap, with the single point on offer for that accolade ensuring he heads to Portugal in a fortnight’s time with a one point lead at the top of the standings.
The challenging Algarve International Circuit hosts round three of the championship on 2 May.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.