Max Verstappen finally broke his curse of never finishing higher than fifth at a race in Italy by winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as title rival Hamilton has to recover to finish second.
Wet Weather Sends Ferrari into a Spin
Before the race even started, the weather turned the race on its head, with a heavy downpour just 1 hour before the race start.
Most drivers decided to start on the Intermediate tyres, with only Gasly, Ocon and the 2 Haas cars choosing the full wets.
But the action started on the formation lap, as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had a moment at Aqua Minerale, but was able to recover his position for the start.
Hamilton started on pole, after taking his 99th career pole on Saturday, but it was Verstappen who got the best launch.
The Dutchman starting from third on the grid got a mega launch and was able to get alongside Hamilton into Tamburello.
Hamilton tried to hang on around the outside but clipped the side of the Red Bull.
This sent the Brit’s Mercedes across the kerb and damaged the front wing endplate.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
Multiple cars struggled with conditions as the field got acclimatised to the tricky surface.
Leclerc had another moment at Aqua Minerale, quickly followed by the Williams of Nicholas Latifi.
The other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz also had a moment, taking to the grass at the Variante Alta.
Latifi Crash Brings Out Safety Car
But Latifi was in the wars again, having recovered from his moment at Aqua Minerale, the Canadian tripped over the Haas of Nikita Mazepin before the Variante Alta, ending his race.
Latifi’s incident brought out the safety car, with the Alpine of Esteban Ocon taking the opportunity to switch from the wets to the Intermediates.
The other Haas of Mick Schumacher was also in strife, spinning under the safety car on lap 4.
The German was vigorously warming his tyres on the pit straight, and dropped the car into the wall, losing his front wing.
However, he wasn’t the only driver to have issues with the conditions behind the safety car.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, had a moment up at Piratella, running through the gravel.
The Mexican quickly recovered, but recovered too much, repassing the cars he had lost out to, something the FIA didn’t take lightly.
Perez received a 10-second penalty for his actions, denting his hopes for a podium run.
Verstappen In Control as Several Board the Gasly Train
With the track clear, the safety car peeled away and Verstappen led the field away on lap 7.
Hamilton tried to make a move on Verstappen off the restart, but held back, after the incident at the race start.
Very quickly after the restart, it seemed the full wets were not the tyres to be on.
As a result, a large queue of cars started to form behind the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly.
The McLaren of Lando Norris was the first car to dispatch Gasly, into Tamburello on lap 9.
Sainz was next to pass the Frenchman, up into Piratella for seventh place.
Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin was next to challenge, but the Canadian was unable to make a move at his first attempt into Tamburello.
After Stroll, Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes made light work of Gasly into Tamburello on lap 12.
George Russell was next to take Gasly, for 10th place, quickly being followed through by both Alfa Romeo’s and Gasly’s teammate Yuki Tsunoda.
Sebastian Vettel was also making moves in the tricky conditions, having to recover from a pitlane start.
Both Aston Martin’s had had problems with the rear brakes on the grid, one set even being on fire.
Vettel’s repairs took longer than anticipated, meaning the 4-time champion had to start from the pitlane to finish repairs in time.
Having passed Gasly, Sainz was having a few off-track excursions trying to catch the cars ahead.
The Spaniard first went off at Rivazza, followed by an off at Tosa on lap 14.
Having fallen down the field like a stone, Gasly finally got off the full wets on lap 14.
Meanwhile, the McLaren’s swapped places on lap 17, Norris being given the opportunity in clear air ahead of teammate Ricciardo.
On lap 22, the first driver gambled for the slick tyres, being the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel.
However, the German was back in the pits just two laps later, this time to serve a penalty.
While making the repairs to his rear brakes, the team failed to get the wheels on the car 5 minutes before the start, earning Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty.
A Turn for the Worse for the Silver Arrows
As more cars started switching to slicks, Verstappen was the first to blink of the front runners.
Hamilton had started to gain on Verstappen as the track had dried, and Mercedes left him out, in an attempt to overcut the Dutchman as he got used to the slick tyres.
Mercedes responded a lap later, on lap 28, but a slow stop for the Brit meant Verstappen retained the lead.
But things were to get worse for Hamilton, as the Brit found the gravel at Tosa while lapping cars.
The Brit later admitted to being a bit too impatient in clearing traffic to keep with Verstappen.
Hamilton managed to escape the gravel, but had damaged the front wing, and had to limp back to the pits.
However, the pain wasn’t over for Mercedes, as while fighting for a lowly tenth place, Bottas and the Williams of George Russell collided into Tamburello.
The heavy accident took both cars out of the race, bringing out the safety car and eventually a red flag.
Both drivers were unhurt, but were both very angry with each other at the incident.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
Brief Scare for Verstappen as Hamilton Begins Fightback
With the track finally cleared after the incident, the circuit was still treacherous.
Kimi Raikkonen found that out very quickly, spinning out of the pits heading to the restart.
Verstappen also almost dropped the car, finding the grass at Rivazza while restarting the field.
The Dutchman held onto the lead however, as Norris took second from Leclerc’s Ferrari.
The Brit benefitted from fitting the soft compound tyre over the medium of the Monegasque.
But it was a nightmare restart for Yuki Tsunoda, who spun out of eighth place through Tamburello.
Perez found the gravel again, this time at the Villeneuve chicane on lap 38.
The Mexican dropping from a promising fourth all the way down to 14th.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was starting his recovery charge through the field, having restarted in 8th.
The Brit’s first victim was Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, using DRS into Tamburello on lap 39.
Up next was the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo, Hamilton dispatching the Australian for 5th on lap 42.
Further back, Perez was also attempting a recovery, fighting Vettel for P12.
Checo’s first attempt at Tamburello was unsuccessful, running wide on the kerb.
But on lap 48, the Mexican made the move stick on Vettel, and continued his recovery.
Back with Hamilton, the Mercedes driver was making his way towards the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
And after a few attempts, Hamilton passed the Ferrari into Tamburello on lap 50 with DRS.
Five laps later, Hamilton then made his move on the other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc to take third.
Pierre Gasly’s torrid race had the Frenchman in the gravel at Rivazza on lap 57, a day to forget.
Meanwhile, Hamilton had worked his way onto his next target, fellow Brit Lando Norris.
Norris’ McLaren was a harder adversary for Hamilton, Norris defending his position well.
But eventually, with four laps to go, Hamilton made his move and took second, completing a great recovery.
Having a quiet race after the incident with Latifi, Mazepin ended his race off with a half spin at Aqua Minerale on lap 61.
Sebastian Vettel also ended his race early, retiring the car with gearbox issues on lap 61.
Verstappen Breaks His Italian Curse with Well-Earnt Victory
But out front, no one could touch Verstappen, the Dutchman crosses the line 22 seconds clear.
It was the first time on the podium at a race in Italy for Verstappen, breaking his Italian curse.
It was also the first win for a Honda-powered car at Imola since 1988 back with McLaren.
Hamilton completed his recovery in second place, securing the fastest lap in the process.
And it was a tremendous result for Lando Norris, bringing his McLaren home for 3rd place, for his second career podium, after taking 3rd in Austria in 2020.
Was this Lando’s best drive in F1 to date? ?
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
Ferrari had a successful first trip to Italian soil with Leclerc and Sainz taking fourth and fifth respectively.
Daniel Ricciardo completed a very strong day for McLaren with a solid sixth place finish.
Lance Stroll took an impressive seventh place, ahead of the recovering Gasly, with Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon completing the top 10.
Fernando Alonso missed out on his first points of the season with an 11th place finish.
Perez ended up a disappointing 12th for Red Bull, ahead of Tsunoda, Giovinazzi, Schumacher and Mazepin the finishers.
Giovinazzi had had to pit on lap 41, to have a quick repair on his brakes, dropping out of potential points.
Despite being in the wall with a broken front wing on lap 31, Hamilton managed to retain his championship lead.
His fastest lap on lap 60 has proved crucial to maintaining the championship lead over Verstappen as they depart Imola.
Imola followed up nicely from the season opener in Sakhir, with the weather setting up the stage for another great duel in 2021.
F1 heads to Portimao next for the Portuguese Grand Prix on the 2nd May for round 3.
And with just one point between Hamilton and Verstappen at the top of the championship, which way will the pendulum swing next?