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Verstappen resists Norris attack to claim dramatic victory at Imola

Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Luca Bruno)
Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Luca Bruno)

Three-time world champion and series leader Max Verstappen returned to winning ways on Sunday when he resisted a late charge by Lando Norris to take a dramatic victory for Red Bull at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

After being beaten in Miami, where friend and rival Norris claimed his maiden victory for McLaren, the Dutchman resisted him to come home 0.725 seconds ahead of the Briton who mounted a rousing final attack in vain.

Charles Leclerc finished third for Ferrari ahead of Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren, Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell.

Sergio Perez was eighth in the second Red Bull ahead of Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and RB's Yuki Tsunoda, in his Faenza-based team's home event.

Verstappen's hard-earned win, after a difficult two days of practice, was his third at Imola, his fifth of the season and the 59th of his career, lifting him 48 points clear of Leclerc in the drivers’ title race.

"We did a great race considering how it started and I had to work hard for that," admitted Verstappen. "The whole race I pushed flat out to make a gap.

"I felt quite strong on mediums, but on the hards, it was more difficult to manage and the last 15 laps I had no grip and I was sliding a lot.

"I could see him behind me and I am super-happy to win here today."

Norris said: "It's frustrating! This feels more painful. It hurts me to say so, but with one or two more laps I think I’d have had him."

Leclerc, whose podium finish for Ferrari in their heartland was acclaimed by masses of tifosi, said: "At least a podium! Of course, I wanted to win and I didn’t make it.

"They were incredibly quick at the end, but it’s looking good for us for the rest of the season. Monaco is going to be special."

- 'I'm pushing' -

On a very warm Spring day all but Perez began on medium tyres, the Mexican choosing ‘hards’ to go long after a desultory qualifying left him 11th on the grid.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso started from the pitlane after late suspension changes while Piastri was fifth, penalised from second for obstructing Kevin Magnussen on Saturday.

As the lights went out, Verstappen surged clear while behind him Hamilton and Perez made up places during an incident-free opening as the world champion built an early advantage.

Verstappen’s relentless pace took him five seconds clear by lap 16 ahead of Norris who led Leclerc by 1.3 with Sainz fourth, resisting Piastri. The Mercedes’ pair were sixth and seventh ahead of Perez.

Russell was the first of the leading group to pit after 21 laps, having complained his tyres were shot.

Norris was next in on lap 23, coming out behind Perez, followed by Piastri and then Verstappen, on lap 25, shortly after the Dutchman was shown a black-and-white flag for exceeding track limits. One more offence would bring a five second penalty.

Verstappen re-joined fourth behind Leclerc, Sainz and Hamilton with Norris behind him, having passed Perez, before Leclerc pitted and Sainz inherited the lead briefly before pitting with Hamilton, who had run off at Acque Minerali.

This left Verstappen back on top at half-distance with a lead of 6.2 seconds on Norris, Leclerc and Piastri.

Having eased off to preserve his tyres, Norris mounted a late charge and trimmed Verstappen’s lead on successive laps to put him under intense pressure.

With seven laps to go, he was only two seconds adrift and closing in.

"I'm pushing as hard as I can mate," said Norris on team radio when encouraged to hunt a second victory.

Hard as he tried to turn the screw Verstappen scraped home on the day Formula One remembered the late great Ayrton Senna, who died in a crash at the circuit three decades ago.

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