Formula 1: Max Verstappen lurks in Imola

Before the three fastest drivers receive their trophies after a Formula 1 race, they wait in a room. Dry your hair with a towel again, drink water, chat relaxed – or be silent. Many an entertaining scene has already taken place here. On Sunday, after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, second-placed Sergio Perez, winner Max Verstappen and Lando Norris sat next to each other on bar stools. Moments from the just-completed Grand Prix flickered across a screen. Verstappen would have had every reason to laugh and joke with his colleagues. But he waited calmly and calmly for the next item on the program. He had just inflicted a painful defeat on Ferrari, of all places on the home track in Imola, in front of thousands of Tifosi.

“I didn’t expect it to go like this. But when you end up having a weekend like this, of course it’s incredible,” said the 24-year-old later: “Also how we handled this race: We didn’t really make any mistakes. ” The Dutchman drove a lonely race at the top after he was able to pull away at the start – and above all left Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari.

At the end of the day, Verstappen was 16.5 seconds ahead of his team-mate Perez, with Norris crossing the finish line in his McLaren almost 35 seconds behind him. The world champion had once again proven his enormous nerves of steel and his great talent. He experienced a perfect weekend with pole position, sprint win, race win, fastest race lap and thus 34 out of a possible 34 World Championship points. To ask?

Two weeks ago in Melbourne, Red Bull still had no chance against Ferrari

Of course, there was one big question: how did Red Bull do it? Two weeks ago in Melbourne, the team looked hopeless against Ferrari. After that, sports director Helmut Marko revealed that they were hoping for the effect of a technology upgrade and reducing the weight of the car. “That should bring us up to par with Ferrari,” he said – and was right.

Now Red Bull found the ideal setup right away, was faster and while Leclerc had more problems with the tires, Verstappen didn’t have to deal with it any further. In addition, said Marko, it was crucial “that we showed the courage to mount our upgrade despite only one free practice session”. This constellation arose because the qualification took place on Friday after a training session and the sprint race over 21 laps took place on Saturday.

A disaster for Ferrari: The race ends for Carlos Sainz (rear) on the first lap, his car has to be towed away – and Charles Leclerc kills himself on the podium.

(Photo: Andy Hone/Motorsport Images/Imago)

In any case, the already exciting title fight has been rekindled between two drivers who were already fighting each other so doggedly that Leclerc said these days: “It was either me or him. That’s why we hated each other at some point, because it very often wasn’t the best way ended.” He has won two races, and Verstappen has now won two races. However, this balance is put into perspective on closer inspection.

At the opening race in Bahrain, Red Bull experienced a debacle when both cars were in front and retired shortly before the end because the fuel supply from the tank to the engine was cut off. Leclerc triumphed. In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen was able to win in front of Monegasque before the next disappointment followed in Australia: a defect stopped him again. Leclerc was uncatchable at the top, but second place would have brought important points. “We’re miles behind,” Verstappen had stated disappointed – only to hit back even more.

If Red Bull hadn’t had the reliability issues, Verstappen would probably lead the World Cup

Ferrari’s dominance was all too clear beforehand, with Leclerc driving in his own league with second-placed Perez 20 seconds back. With this self-confidence, the Scuderia traveled to Imola. But now it was the Reds who experienced a disaster. Carlos Sainz was pushed off the track on the first lap. Leclerc was on course for the podium in third place until ten laps from the end, trying to catch Perez, he crashed over a barrier too quickly and was lucky to finish sixth.

Max Verstappen in Formula 1: Still in a good mood on Saturday: Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in exchange with Max Verstappen after the sprint, which the Monegasse finished second behind the Dutchman.

Still in a good mood on Saturday: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in exchange with Max Verstappen after the sprint, which the Monegasque finished second behind the Dutchman.

(Photo: Andrej Isakovic/AFP)

“We didn’t have the speed for much more and I was too greedy,” he admitted. Leclerc showed nerves, the expectations of Ferrari were particularly high. He himself had previously warned not to exaggerate with all the excitement in Imola. In his analysis, however, team boss Mattia Binotto emphasized: “When I heard him on the radio, he was very calm. He just made a mistake, that can always happen.” In the title fight, Leclerc is no longer allowed to do this often – especially not with a competitor like Verstappen.

If Red Bull hadn’t had problems with the reliability of the technology, the defending champion would probably lead the World Cup. Before the weekend he was still fifth – with 46 points less than the leader Leclerc (71). Verstappen has reduced this gap to 27 points. Leclerc is in the lead with 86 points, Verstappen (59) is now lurking behind. And that despite two total failures.

When his car doesn’t let him down, Verstappen is hard to beat. This increases the pressure on Ferrari to deliver with a winning combination of car and driver. “Red Bull are very strong and they were stronger than us this weekend. We have to understand that and we have to react,” said Leclerc. “But I have the feeling that it depends on the track which of us ends up in front.” What Red Bull helped recently, Ferrari does not want to use in the form until the next Grand Prix. Apart from a few new parts, there should not be any major changes to the car. In any case, no one can fall back on empirical values: Formula 1 has never driven in Miami.

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