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Verstappen holds off Norris for Imola victory


Throughout the years of Mercedes domination you will recall the team, and Toto Wolff in particular, forever suggesting that it was the underdog and that its reign was about to end.

Anyone looking through Friday's comments from members of the Red Bull squad may have felt a strong sense of déjà vu.

However, the fact is that Friday was a nightmare for the Austrian team, particularly where Max Verstappen was concerned, the Dutchman going off twice in the opening practice session and again - despite major set-up changes - in the afternoon.

Yet come qualifying the team had got its act together and the Dutchman took his usual place at the front of the grid with a lap of pure class and determination.

Yes, the opposition is closing the gap - here and there - but the Austrian team and its driver remain the absolute benchmark and proof that, despite the best efforts of many, it remains as ruthlessly efficient as ever.

Friday also suggested that Ferrari was on the verge of pulling off a surprise, but as Carlos Sainz admits perhaps too much was expected of the Maranello outfit's upgrade... and too soon.

On the other hand, the McLaren revival continues, and though one must commiserate with Oscar Piastri for his penalty, at least the other papaya car joins Verstappen on the front row.

The aforementioned Mercedes continues to struggle, and is likely to spend the afternoon watching the battle for the remaining podium spot between its rivals from Woking and Maranello.

Ironically, the one team that hasn't brought any upgrades to Imola is RB, and on the evidence thus far it didn't need them. Tsunoda has been impressive from the outset, and now Ricciardo is finally getting his confidence back.

Despite the ludicrous team name, surely nobody would begrudge the Faenza outfit taking home a decent points haul today.

Another bravura performance sees Nico Hulkenberg start in the top ten, ahead of Sergio Perez no less, the German demonstrating week after week why Audi is right to sign him.

Having made set-up changes to Alonso's car under parc ferme conditions the Spaniard will start from the pitlane, as Aston Martin's anonymous Imola weekend continues. Like Ferrari, this is another team of which much was expected due to its raft of upgrades, but sadly they do not appear to be making much difference as the Silverstone-based outfit falls further behind the front-runners. If ever a team needed a Newey...

Stake, Williams and Alpine will no doubt provide some entertainment, but in all honesty for the most part it is beginning to get a little tiring watching the three endlessly struggle.

Williams admits that it will be some time before there is an improvement - hence our shock at Albon hanging around - and while Stake is effectively 'on hold' as it morphs into Audi, there is a growing feeling that Alpine - not for the first time - is on the verge of throwing in the towel.

Understandably, much is being made of the fact that this year marks the 30th anniversary of that weekend, however in many aspects the sport appears to have learned little over the passing decades.

Along with some worrying near misses we have also witnessed a number of crashes this year, as the sport sadly fails to remember that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

While we hope for a great, entertaining race, there is that worrying sense of foreboding, and one can only hope that all involved show respect for this track and appreciate that it bites back... though we wouldn't bet on it, for far too often - as witnessed last weekend - once the flag drops common sense tends to fly out the window.

Contrary to expectations it is bright and sunny, with no threat of the anticipated rain.

Consequently, a one-stop is almost obligatory, because, apart from anything else, the time taken in pit lane is one of the longest of the season at around 28 seconds, and also because overtaking is very difficult, especially as there is only one DRS zone.

A further unknown factor is the possibility of the race being neutralised: as we saw yesterday in both the F2 and F3 races, indeed, the increase in the number of gravel traps inevitably means there is a greater chance of cars getting stuck after going off the track.

Pirelli has brought its softest trio of compounds and the soft confirmed it performs well over a single flying lap, without needing any particular looking after in terms of preparation. The hard and medium appear to be competitive over a long run and, fairly predictably, and will be the most popular choices for the race, with the soft being an option for the closing stages, especially if there is a Safety Car.

Indeed, those banking on a Safety Car could decide to start on the hards to extend the first stint as much as possible, before switching to the medium or maybe even the softs.

He pitlane opens and first out is Verstappen, followed by Perez, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and Bottas.

Air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 41 degrees.

Gasly already complaining of a "lot of bouncing".

"From our side it's a bit unknown on the long runs, so it's a bit difficult," admits Verstappen. "We did have a better balance for qualifying but if it's enough for the race, I don't know. We'll see."

All are starting on mediums bar Perez, Zhou ad Sargeant who are on hards and Gasly and Alonso who are on softs. Only Stroll has used rubber.

"You're super loud, there's a lot of crackling," says Verstappen of his radio... at least he's not being subjected to the bloody DJ.

They head off on the formation lap, the Tifosi taking a leaf out of the Dutch F1 fan book.

The grid forms.

They're away! Verstappen and Norris are neck and neck off the line, and into Tamburello Leclerc is almost alongside the McLaren with Sainz just ahead of Piastri and the McLarens.

All in all its a clean start, with no incidents.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc, Sainz, Piastri, Russell, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Tsunoda and Perez. Tsunoda the big loser, while Hamilton and Hulkenberg gain places.

After two laps, Verstappen leads Norris by 1sm, while Russell has dropped 1.1s behind Piastri in sixth.

At the back, Alonso is all over Sargeant, the Spaniard needing to get the best out of his softs.

In third, Leclerc is dropping to over a second behind Norris and into the clutches of his Ferrari teammate.

After 5 laps the field is essentially one long DRS train covered by 20s.

"We're looking at Plan A, maybe Plan A minus 2," Alonso is told.

Russell continues to lose ground to Piastri who is hard on the heels of Sainz.

Alonso pits at the end of Lap 7, switching to hards. "The front brakes were on fire," he informs his team.

Albon, Bottas and Gasly pit a lap later. Shortly after his stop, Albon slows. "Tyre's not on properly," he reports, as he tries to keep out of the way of the leaders.

"Do you think we are racing who we expect," Norris is asked. "Yes, I think so," he replies.

"We are happy with suspension, everything is good," Russell is told.

As Ricciardo pits - at the end of Lap 11, countryman Piastri continues to harry Sainz. Ricciardo rejoins in 16th.

Teammate Tsunoda pits at the end of Lap 12, rejoining ahead of Ricciardo.

Next time around Hulkenberg pits, the German rejoining in 15th having been passed by a determined Tsunoda at the pitlane exit.

After 15 laps, Verstappen leads Norris by 5s, with Leclerc a further 1.3s behind, albeit 3.2s up on Sainz.

Williams are under investigation for releasing Albon in an unsafe condition.

"We are going Plan B," Leclerc is told, though not from Outer Space.

Alonso is still only 19th, as Perez runs wide and through the gravel at Rivazza one.

Having eased off for a couple of laps, Piastri now ups the pressure on Sainz again.

In twentieth, Albon is clearly frustrated. He feels he is quicker than the cars ahead but then he is on mediums with no hards available.

Russell is unhappy with his rears, the Briton subsequently pitting. He rejoins in 10th, 0.9s down on Ocon.

Albon gets a 10 stop and go for that unsafe release.

Norris pits at the end of Lap 22, the Miami winner rejoining in 7th, having been pipped by Perez. The Mexican can do his teammate a big favour here by delaying the McLaren.

As Piastri pits, Russell passes Ocon for ninth.

Piastri rejoins in 8th as his teammate passes Perez on the run to Tamburello.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Imola here.


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1. Posted by LiamIII, 20/05/2024 20:05

"Thank the good Lord above I was able to fast forward the program.

On the bright side as Kenji said, at least I didn't have to mute the first half of the first lap with someone screaming at the top of his lungs that the world is on fire when indeed absolutely nothing eventful is actually happening. "

Rating: Positive (3)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by kenji, 20/05/2024 3:04

"Ooops...sory to double dip but there was just one other positive factor. That was the absence of Lazenby. He is still the most annoying even after the removal of Herbert. Would be more than happy if this arrangement was made permanent."

Rating: Positive (2)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

3. Posted by kenji, 20/05/2024 2:42

"Apart from one or two battles the race was to a very large extent...boring. The potential was there for a better race but restricted DRS ensured a 'train'. It's a sign of the times when even artificial means are needed to provide some positive action!!!.

Monaco will be much the same I fear and although the location always adds flavour, this year, even that might not be much contributary consolation. IMO the only redeeming fact that really attracts is that we now have MacLaren well and truly in the mix. Both drivers demonstrated prodigious speed at times and I can understand the 'frustration' building in a normally sanguine Piastri. That alone will provide additional stimulous . To cap it all off the SKY feed was abysmal. Errors on synching image with dialogue and mistaken drivers identities at times. Even the 'grid walk' was an abject failure. Very very scrappy SKY."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by Anthony, 19/05/2024 21:32

"A bit of a slow burn … was improved immeasurably by the absence of commentary from David Croft!"

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5. Posted by Chester, 19/05/2024 20:58

"@MVR. It was for me. I fast forwarded multiple times."

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

6. Posted by MVR, 19/05/2024 18:13

"That was a one of the most boring races I've seen in a long while. "

Rating: Positive (2)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

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