Lando Norris says he was ‘one or two laps’ from catching Max Verstappen in Imola

Lando Norris felt he needed just one more lap to beat Max Verstappen in Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The British driver finished only 0.725 seconds behind Verstappen in Imola as a turgid race sensationally came alive in the closing laps.

After the sole round of pit-stops, Verstappen looked set to canter to the chequered flag, but Norris – fresh from his maiden win in Miami a fortnight ago – launched a brilliant late surge.

With five laps remaining, Norris was within 1.5 seconds off Verstappen, and as they entered the 63rd and final tour here, the Red Bull was a mere nine tenths up the road.

But despite Norris’s herculean efforts, he came up agonisingly short of a second win in as many races.

“It hurts me to say it, but with one or two more laps, I think I would have had him,” said Norris. “I was praying for someone to say we had one more lap. I was pushing like hell.

“It’s a shame. I fought hard right until the very last lap, but I lost out a little bit too much to Max in the beginning.

“One or two more laps would have been beautiful but it wasn’t to be today.

“However, we are now at a point where we can happily say we are in the position of Red Bull and Ferrari. It is a good sign. We are fighting for first or second now and it is what we have to get used to.

Verstappen celebrates after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (David Davies/PA)
Verstappen celebrates after winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (David Davies/PA)

“It is frustrating not to win, but after last weekend and the improvements we have made, it is what we should start to expect.”

And for the good of Formula One, a McLaren challenge to Verstappen’s dominance is what the sport so desperately craves.

Verstappen has bossed F1 since a regulation overhaul at the beginning of 2022. But Norris’ speed in his revamped McLaren – both here and in Miami – has provided a glimmer of hope that Verstappen’s unprecedented supremacy could be threatened.

Norris might be 60 points behind Verstappen, but 17 rounds of this record-breaking 24-race campaign still remain.

McLaren’s sudden rate of development – described by Norris prior to Sunday’s race as the best of any team in the paddock – puts the British team in pole position to carry the fight. Verstappen versus Norris has all the hallmarks of a mouth-watering rivalry.

“You have got two guys at the top of their game going at it like Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

“They were trading lap times. It was fantastic racing, and you can see the cars are converging which always happens when you have stable rules.”

Ferrari and Mercedes also brought upgrades to Imola, but Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could manage only third and fifth respectively for the Scuderia, with Lewis Hamilton sixth, 35 sec behind Verstappen, and a place clear of George Russell in the other Mercedes. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez was eighth.

Verstappen positioned his car at an aggressive angle to thwart any attack from Norris at the start and it worked as he kept the McLaren at bay through the opening chicane.

By lap six, Verstappen had doubled his lead to two seconds, and when Norris pulled in for fresh rubber on lap 22, the Red Bull man was half-a-dozen seconds up the road.

But the triple world champion ran out of rubber as the race wore on to allow Norris to launch his late assault.

“The whole race I had to push flat-out, said Verstappen. “I couldn’t afford to make too many mistakes and luckily I didn’t.

“But the tyres were gone at the end. It felt like driving on ice and at one point I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end.

“Lando picked up the pace. I wasn’t sure if I could keep him behind, but luckily it was just enough.”

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 48 points in the standings – with Perez dropping to third – ahead of the next round in Monaco in a week’s time.