Verstappen heads Red Bull 1-2 after Leclerc spins in Imola

© XPB 

Max Verstappen dominated the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to win at Imola, with his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez making it a one-two triumph after Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc spun in the closing laps and finished P6.

Leclerc had previously battled his way back from a poor start and looked set to finish on the podium, but after his error third place went instead to McLaren's Lando Norris.

George Russell also benefitted from Leclerc's misadventure, making up multiple places to finish fourth in stark contrast to Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, who had a miserable afternoon running outside the top ten unable to overtake AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly.

Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo clashed on the first lap leaving the Ferrari beached and out of the running. Fernando Alonso also retired after the Alpine sustained sidepod damage from first lap contact with Mick Schumacher.

The weather gods seemed to be taking delight in keeping all the teams and drivers on their toes this weekend: after a cold and wet Friday for qualifying, and a dry and warmer Saturday for the sprint race, the meteorological dice had been rolled once again and come up with more rain for Sunday morning. The unwelcome precipitation had stopped in plenty of time for the start of the race, the track at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari still unequivocally wet but drying fast as the cars headed to the grid for the start of the Grand Prix, everyone having selected intermediate tyres to start things off.

Circuit atmosphere - fans in the grandstand. 24.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Race

Red Bull's Max Verstappen had come out on top in both in both wet and dry conditions so far this weekend, taking pole position on Friday and confirming it with a last minute victory in yesterday's sprint over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc. After disappointing runs in qualifying, their respective team mates Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz had battled their way back in the sprint to take up positions immediately behind them, while the third row was occupied by the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. But if you were a Mercedes fan you had to look a long way down the order to find the Silver Arrows, George Russell just P11 and Lewis Hamilton suffering in 14th.

When the lights went out, the cars on the left hand side of the grid had the clear advantage of the conditions, with Verstappen leaping away at the front and Perez following him through. Norris was hard on their heels in third as Leclerc fell to fourth ahead of Kevin Magnussen, and a flying Russell up five places to sixth. But there was disaster for Sainz and Ricciardo, who clashed going through Tamburello and ended up off the track and in the gravel. While Ricciardo was able to scrambled away, Sainz was firmly beached and the safety car was scrambled to allow the marshals to extricate the Ferrari from its predicament.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari F1-75 retired from the race at the start. 24.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Race

The race resumed on lap 5, the Red Bulls comfortably away in front as Norris ensured that Leclerc didn't get any ideas of picking him off for third, while further back Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel took the opportunity to snatch eighth place from Fernando Alonso. Heavy damage to the right hand sidepod of the Alpine from first lap contact with a spinning Mick Schumacher caused him to quickly surrender further spots to Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll, before he was inevitably forced to pit and retire from the race on lap 7.

The drivers were already reporting that the track was drier than expected, but some patches were still very wet and dense with water spray. The weather radar was already warning of more incoming rain in the next 20 minutes, further complicating the decision of whether and when to switch to slicks. For now, Verstappen set the fastest time of the race as he pulled out more than three seconds over Perez, with Leclerc now back up to third having finally picked off Norris. Behind the McLaren, Russell laboured to pass Magnussen but it was very hard work without DRS which has not yet been enabled due to the wet conditions. He finally pulled it off at Variante Alta on lap 13. By now Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas had closed up on the pair and clearly keen to join in the fun, and sure enough soon put the Haas in his rear view mirror.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 leads at the start of the race. 24.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Race

The threat of fresh rain appeared to be receding, and McLaren decided to call in Ricciardo for slicks on lap 18 - acting as something of a canary in the coal mine for his team mate, given that the Australian had little to lose after his early clash with Sainz had left him at the back of the field. That pulled the pin on stops for Vettel, Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon and then Perez all quickly diving onto pit lane for mediums, and the congestion was even worse one lap later with an unsafe release for Esteban Ocon into the path of Lewis Hamilton earning the Alpine a five second penalty. Verstappen and Leclerc stayed out of the way and waited a lap longer before coming in, Verstappen safely returning in the lead while Leclerc managed to exit ahead of Perez but then lost out to the Mexican's warmer tyres.

Once all the pit stops had been completed, Verstappen had a seven second lead over Perez who was still being closely tracked by Leclerc. They were followed by Norris, Russell, Bottas, Vettel, Magnussen, Tsunoda and Stroll, with Ocon in 11th ahead of Albon and Gasly. The hold up on pit lane had cost Hamilton who was still stuck in 14th ahead of Ricciardo, with the final runners on the track consisting of Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Guanyu Zhou.

But conditions remained tricky, Schumacher briefly going off at Variante Alta on lap 25 and then Tsunoda missing the chicane allowing Stroll to attempt a challenge for P9 which the AlphaTauri driver only just repelled. At the front, Perez also had a scare when he misjudged his braking point at Variante Alta on lap 28 and bumped along the grass, allowing Leclerc to catch him up again even as Verstappen continued to extend his lead over both of them to more than ten seconds.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75. 24.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Race

With the track having developed a thoroughly dry line, teams were now worried about the mediums lasting the remaining race distance. With nothing to lose Ricciardo was once again handed the role of research and development, called in on lap 31 to try out a set of hard compound tyres. The improving conditions also meant that DRS was finally enabled on lap 35 which came just as Hamilton was seeking to find a way past Gasly. However the Frenchman was himself picking up DRS activation from Albon running ahead of them both, as Verstappen approached from behind to put all three a lap down. It was a chastening moment to see Hamilton have to meekly move aside in response to a waved blue flag.

Verstappen continued to put in purple sector times, building up a buffer in case a second pit stop was required. In fact it was Leclerc who jumped first on lap 50 to take on a new set of soft tyres, losing out to Norris when he emerged from pit exit although it didn't take long before his new, faster tyres allowed him to get back past the McLaren. Red Bull quickly responded, first with Perez and then with Verstappen at the Dutch driver's own request. While there was no threat to Verstappen's lead, a succession of fastest laps put Leclerc right on Perez' tail throwing everything into the effort.

Everything, and ultimately too much: he was greedy with the kerb at the chicane and was thrown off intro the barriers, making only light contact but still enough to damage the Ferrari's front wing. He gathered himself up and headed for pit lane for a replacement wing and fresh tyres, but he came out in ninth place having thrown away his near-certain podium position which was now in the hands of Norris. Leclerc's new tyres soon saw him regain a number of places, but it was nonetheless a big blow to the Monegasque's championship campaign.

1st place Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18, 2nd place Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18 and 3rd place Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL36. 24.04.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Race

At the line, Verstappen's advantage over the field was over 16 seconds, with Perez and Norris on the podium ahead of a fierce battle for fourth between Russell and Bottas which just tipped in the current Mercedes driver's favour. Leclerc was sixth after achieving quick passes on Tsunoda, Vettel and Magnussen with Stroll picking up the final point of the afternoon. Albon succeeded in holding off Gasly and Hamilton, with Ocon dropping to 14th after his unsafe release penalty was applied leaving him just ahead of Zhou, Latifi, Schumacher and Ricciardo.

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter