Verstappen had to 'stay calm' after poor start to Imola sprint

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 passes Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75 for the lead. 23.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Sprint
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After battling his way to the top spot in inclement conditions in Friday evening's qualifying session, Max Verstappen looked to have the upper hand heading into today's sprint race event.

But when the lights went out, the Red Bull struggled to get off the line while his Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc had the perfect launch and headed into turn one with the lead already in his pocket.

"The start was very bad," Verstappen admitted when talking with the media in parc ferme after the end of the race. "I don't know exactly what happened, or why it was so bad. Just too much wheel spin."

Verstappen did manage to fend off an attack from McLaren's Lando Norris before a safety car allowed everyone to catch their breath. But when the race resumed it seemed that the Ferrari had more than enough pace to stay safely out in front.

"After that we had to stay calm," said Verstappen, confirming that he played the waiting game and bide his time in the hope that an opportunity would present itself.

With five laps to go it was clear that Leclerc was struggling, with the Red Bull pit wall reporting that the Ferrari was suffering visible graining on the right front tyre that was causing a number of small slips and slides.

Verstappen duly responded and closed the gap to the leader, getting within DRS range and the pair then going into Tamburello side-by-side, with the Red Bull taking the outside line and emerging triumphant.

"Initially it looked like Charles actually had a bit more pace," he recalled. "But then I think he ran out of tyres and we could close the gap, and then go for the move into turn 2."

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 and Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari. 23.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Sprint

Victory earned Verstappen eight points, but Leclerc was also rewarded with seven points. The key value of today's result is that Verstappen will start tomorrow's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the front with Leclerc back in P2 alongside him on the front row.

Asked whether tomorrow's race could see a repeat of the early change of lead in Leclerc's favour, Verstappen acknowledged that anything could happen.

"I know maybe tomorrow it might be a bit different again," he said. "If I make a start like today, for sure, but let's see."

Much will depend on tyre choice. Today almost everyone gambled on starting on the soft tyres despite concerns coming into the weekend that they wouldn't be durable enough to last a full 21 laps without pitting.

The Grand Prix will be 63 laps in length and teams will almost certainly be using the medium and hard compound tyres to minimise the number of stops they have to make, making it a totally different scenario.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing and Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18. 23.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Sprint

"Today it worked out for us to be on this [soft] compound," Verstappen said. "I'm happy about today, but I know that tomorrow, other tyre compounds come into play.

"It might be a bit different, but we had a good day."

Verstappen will have some welcome support at the start of the grid for tomorrow's full-distance race, with his team mate Sergio perez overcoming a disappointing qualifying to march his way up to third place on the grid.

That means the Mexican driver will start just ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, followed by an all-McLaren line-up on row three consisting of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

Mercedes' nightmare weekend continued with George Russell only 11th and Lewis Hamilton mired in 14th place after today's sprint.

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