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F1 at Imola: Verstappen dominant, Hamilton recovers to finish second

Imola, Italy, April 18/21 (GRW): In the first Grand Prix of the 2021 season, Max Verstappen started on the pole but finished second to Lewis Hamilton. Here at Imola, Hamilton started on the pole with Verstappen back on the second row but Verstappen won this race with Hamilton second. But for Hamilton earning a point for the fastest lap in today’s race, the two of them would have left here tied in championship points.

Despite Verstappen having the fastest time in the final practice session, Hamilton won the pole ahead of the Red Bull drivers Sergio Perez and Verstappen. Come time for the race on Sunday, it was raining, so all the drivers started on either intermediate wets or rain tires.

On the start Verstappen got away well and he charged up alongside Hamilton, nudging his way past into the race lead. Behind them, the Canadian Nicolas Latifi spun off at Acque Minerali, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car.

After the race restarted, Hamilton, whose front wing had been damaged, seemed to be struggling a bit and he soon had fallen five seconds behind Verstappen – with Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) another ten seconds behind him. Hamilton had managed to close the gap down to less than two seconds when, on lap 27 of the 63-lap race, Verstappen pitted for fresh tires, coming out behind Hamilton. On the next lap, the Mercedes driver came into the pits, trying to overcut Verstappen, but his pit stop was slow and he came out of the pits behind Hamilton, nowhere close. After a flurry of pit stops, the order was Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Lando Norris and Perez.

But, just two laps later, Hamilton went wide onto the wet portion of the track to pass a car; he lost control and spun off. By the time he got going again he had fallen to seventh place and the track had gone to a Safety Car because his teammate Valtteri Bottas had collided with George Russell’s Williams and both has slammed into the barriers – first on one side and then on the other side of the track. The Safety Car turned into a Red Flag and all the cars still running returned to the pit lane and stopped.

When the damage was cleaned up, the cars came back out of the pits in the order Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Perez and Sainz – with Hamilton back in ninth as they got ready for a rolling restart behind the Safety Car. On the green, Norris got past Leclerc for second – and Hamilton was ready to roll. The win seemed to be beyond his grasp but he had superior speed to the rest of those ahead of him and he had his hopes set on a second place finish.

Over the remaining 18 or so green-flag laps, Verstappen had the edge on everyone but Hamilton who was making a charge forward. On lap 60, Hamilton got past Norris for second place, setting up the Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris podium. The Canadian driver Lance Stroll had been having some problems with the car’s gear change function but he managed to come home a very credible eighth.

After the race, Verstappen said, “I am of course very happy with this win for everyone in the Team and Honda. I think the key was, of course, the start as we had a great launch. I surprised myself as it was always hard to get off the line in the wet last year but we worked hard to try and improve that and it worked. The conditions were challenging out there, especially in the beginning and it was very hard to stay on track but we stayed out of trouble.

“I wouldn't call it a dominant performance as Lewis was following me quite well and for him to come back to second after his incident means they have a lot of pace in that car. We won because we made the right calls with tires at the right time and the Team managed everything well in these conditions. With the tires degrading, choosing the right moment to go onto slicks wasn't easy but we got it right. I had a little moment at the re-start trying to warm up the tires with some throttle but luckily we didn't spin. We still have to work hard to improve because it's very close, but for now I'm very happy with the result. I'm looking forward to Portimão because it's an amazing track and then we go to a track we all know well in Barcelona. We'll see what we can do but so far, it’s been a good start to the year."

The next F1 race will be held on May 2 in Portugal.

• Click Here for the Race Results

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