Max Verstappen led a dominant Red Bull one-two at a wet-dry Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after Ferrari imploded on home soil.
Leclerc was running third entering the final 11 laps of the race when Ferrari rolled the dice on a late pit stop to try to apply pressure to leaders Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who had controlled the race from the first lap.
Perez and then Verstappen followed him into the pits on the following two laps, but with an extra lap of temperature in his tires, the Monegasque was suddenly on Perez’s gearbox and attempting to find a way through. But the title leader over-committed through Variante Alta, clambering over the first set of curbs and spinning backwards and into the barriers on exit, damaging his front wing.
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Leclerc was forced to pit again at the end of the lap, dropping to ninth and recovering to sixth with some late passes through the midfield. It was a painful end to an already difficult home race for Ferrari, having lost Carlos Sainz to a racing incident in the first braking zone of the opening lap that left the Spaniard beached in the gravel at Tamburello.
Red Bull, by comparison, had an easy afternoon. Verstappen, who started on pole after topping Friday qualifying and winning the Saturday sprint, led every lap on Sunday and set the fastest lap of the grand prix to claim an emphatic grand slam and 16.5-second victory.
“It’s always tough to achieve something like that, but already yesterday and the day before we were on it and I think it was looking like a strong weekend.,” Verstappen said. “As a team we did everything well, and I think this one-two is very deserved.”
The net effect was to outscore title leader Leclerc by 18 points, cutting his deficit to 27 points. Ferrari leaves Imola with its advantage in the constructors standings reduced to just 11 points.
Perez didn’t quite have his teammate’s pace in the mixed conditions, slipping more than a quarter of a second to Verstappen over the course of the race, but the Mexican took satisfaction in securing Red Bull’s first one-two finish since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix.
“I think the most important thing today was not making a mistake, because it was tricky out there,” he said. “It’s a great result for the team. We’ve been so unlucky – the start [of the season] has been so difficult for us. I’m happy to see everyone in the team smiling today.”
Lando Norris inherited third place in the late-race chaos, his second in a row at Imola, after an otherwise lonely race well ahead of the midfield, and the Briton paid credit to the team for its continued recovery from its woeful start to the year.
“An amazing weekend,” he said. “The team deserve it – from where we were in race one to now scoring a podium, I think they all deserve it, so top job to the team.”
Norris was McLaren’s only bright spot of the race after effectively losing Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap in a melee with Sainz.
Ricciardo tagged the Ferrari’s left-rear tire as they went side by side into Tamburello and was then rear-ended into the gravel by Valtteri Bottas. He rejoined the race last and made some forward progress with an early switch to slicks, but a speculative second stop for hards proved ill-advised, and he finished the race a distant last.
George Russell was an excellent fourth for Mercedes after a cracking start lifted him from 11th to sixth before slipping past Kevin Magnussen and being gifted another position by Leclerc. The final part of his race was spent defending heavily from Bottas’s advances, the Briton succeeding by just 0.6s.
Leclerc finished a despondent sixth and without enough time in clear air to snatch the fastest lap from Verstappen, having dispatched Yuki Tsunoda, Sebastian Vettel and Magnussen late in the race.
Lance Stroll completed the top 10 one lap down, combining with Vettel’s four points to earn Aston Martin’s first score of the season.
Alex Albon headed a non-scoring midfield battle with Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton couldn’t move into the points in the opening stint of the race and lost places during the pit stops — including a place to Esteban Ocon, who was penalized five seconds for an unsafe release that threatened to shove the Mercedes into the pit wall. Ocon crossed the line 11th but was classified 14th with the time penalty ahead of Zhou Guanyu and Nicholas Latifi.
Mick Schumacher was a painful 17th after a race-ending mistake on the first lap. The Haas driver had a good launch but spun his car side by side with Fernando Alonso, dealing the Alpine terminal damage and dropping himself deep into the pack, from where he couldn’t recover, finishing ahead of only Ricciardo.