2021 Emilia Romagna GP report: damage limitation for Hamilton behind victorious Verstappen


A pre-race rain shower added extra drama to the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, as Max Verstappen put in an - almost - perfect performance and rivals slipped up

Max Verstappen pushed Lewis Hamilton onto the kerb at the start of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

The tables were turned at Imola: Verstappen took first and is now one point behind Hamilton – who gained a point for fastest lap

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Old-school circuits punish mistakes, and old-school circuits in the wet punish them heavily as Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and George Russell found to varying degrees as Max Verstappen won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Verstappen stated that drivers “are not robots” after making a mistake in qualifying that left him third on the grid, but he seemed to have his launch programmed pretty perfectly as he made a mockery of a wet grid to barge past Hamilton to lead into Turn One.

A heavy downpour less than an hour before the race had left the track wet, with drivers choosing between full wets and intermediates for the start. Only Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and the Haas drivers went for the former and it proved to be the wrong call, but it was understandable given the drama that kicked off before the race had even begun.

On the laps to the grid, Fernando Alonso slid into the barrier at Tosa and damaged his front wing, while Bottas arrived with a punctured left rear and the two Aston Martins had brake issues. Lance Stroll was told to pass through the pit lane without stopping due to his right rear brake being on fire, and then informed the way to address it was to “drive quickly to put it out!”.

While Stroll’s issue was fixed, it wasn’t on Sebastian Vettel’s car in time so he started from the pit lane, and would have had a good view of Verstappen, Hamilton and Sergio Perez heading three-wide towards Turn One before falling in line in that order.

Lewis Hamilton leads briefly at the start of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Hamilton led away at the start — briefly

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Verstappen was robust and there was light contact with Hamilton who tried to hang on around the outside, damaging his front wing slightly as they touched and the Mercedes bounced across the kerb but retained second place.

Only one full racing lap was possible before the safety car was required, as Nicholas Latifi spun at Acque Minerali, rejoined gingerly but then drifted across in front of Nikita Mazepin. The Haas driver was left with nowhere to go and the contact sent Latifi heavily into the wall in a crash of his own making.

Lewis Hamilton crashes down onto a kerb at the start of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Lap 1 Verstappen battle sent Hamilton crashing over the kerbs, costing him a left section of his front wing

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Just because the race was supposedly neutralised didn’t bring an end to the action, though, as Mick Schumacher crashed on the pit straight while warming his tyres. Wiping his front wing off at the pit exit, the pit lane was then closed to allow for a safe clear-up, preventing Schumacher from pitting for a new nose for two laps.

As the safety car lights went off, Perez then slid wide at Piratella and dropped behind two cars, but instantly re-passed them to regain his place in the queue. While that was allowed for Charles Leclerc on the formation lap when he spun at Acque Minerali before the grid, it’s illegal behind the safety car and Perez – by now fourth behind Leclerc – was handed a ten-second time penalty.

The chaos calmed for a spell on the restart, with Lando Norris making progress in a very quick McLaren and Gasly going in the opposite direction on the full wets. But as the track dried, Hamilton managed his intermediate tyres better and reeled in Verstappen. Red Bull blinked first, pitting for medium tyres once the track was ready for slicks, and duly retained track position as Hamilton had a slightly slower stop a lap later.

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At that point, it was advantage Verstappen, and it appeared to be game, set and match when Hamilton made an uncharacteristic error trying to lap Russell. The seven-time champion braking off the dry line approaching Tosa and sliding into the gravel, where he then clumsily broke his front wing and had to reverse out, losing a lap after pitting.

“There was only one dry line and I guess I was in a bit too much of a hurry to get by everyone,” Hamilton said. “Came to the inside and I could see it was wet, I was trying to stop but the thing wouldn’t stop and it sent me off.

“It just wouldn’t go to reverse. I was holding the reverse button and it took forever to engage. I didn’t think it was going to work. I tried reversing and tried to do a burnout spin to get going but ended up back in the barrier. It took a long time to get it back into reverse. When I was reversing I was like ‘I’ve just got to keep going backwards’ and work my way out in reverse. If I hadn’t done that I would probably still be there. Grateful for it.”

Lewis Hamilton crashes at the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Reverse gear unfamiliar to Hamilton


But Russell was about to become even more central to the biggest moment in the race as he tried to overtake Bottas on the flat-out run to the Tamburello Chicane. As the track kinked left, Russell went to the outside and onto the wet part of track, reacting to what he perceived to be an intentional twitch from Bottas and dipping a wheel on the grass. The crash that followed was huge as they collected each other at close to 200mph, with the red flag required to clear the debris.

Both drivers were able to climb out, but both were angry. Russell approached Bottas – still sat in his car at this stage catching his breath – and remonstrated with him.

“I was coming on Valtteri massively fast,” Russell said. “I had the slipsteam, I had the DRS, just as I pulled out he jolted very, very slightly to the right, which is a tactical defence that drivers of the past used to do. The sort of (Max) Verstappen move of 2015, there’s a gentleman’s agreement that that is not what you do because it’s incredibly dangerous.

“In completely dry conditions I would have been fine but it just put me onto the wet patch and I lost it. An unfortunate incident but we are going at 200mph you need to respect the speed and the conditions. One of those things.

“I asked him if he was trying to kill us both. We’re going incredibly fast, we know the conditions… in his eyes he’s not really fighting for anything, a P9 for him is nothing, but for us it’s everything. I’m going for absolutely everything, the move would have been absolutely easy. There was absolutely no reason to jolt like that. It’s a gentleman’s agreement between the drivers because we’ve always said it will cause a massive collision one day and here we are.”

For his part, Bottas couldn’t hear what Russell was saying but duly raised his middle finger in response, leading the Williams driver to tap his helmet in frustration.

Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas after crashing out of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Bottas's Mercedes was wrecked at Imola

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Williams of George Russell after crashing out of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Russell's Williams speared into the Mercedes

Antonin VIncent/DPPI

Races in Italy seem to be cursed by red flags at the moment, but while Mercedes unpicked the drama between one of its cars and its junior driver, it also celebrated a reprieve for Hamilton. Able to unlap himself before the restart, he was ninth as the field rolled out and was promoted to eighth when Kimi Räikkönen spun behind the safety car.

The track was still difficult on slicks, and Verstappen almost threw the win away as he dropped it at the penultimate corner trying to accelerate to restart the race, but after gathering that moment he eased away.

Max Verstappen runs onto the grass at the restart of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Slippery conditions almost caught Verstappen out at the restart

Florent Gooden / DPPI

“It’s never easy a race like this, quite stressful out there to make the right calls,” Verstappen said. “The key I think was to get that good launch which was also a bit of a surprise to me that after last year where we always struggled in the wet – I think over the winter and the beginning of the year we’ve definitely made some improvements with that and today that was very good.

“Then after that, to make the right calls from intermediates to slicks was not easy because I saw a few guys ahead of me with slick tyres but they were struggling a lot. Even on the intermediates, they were finished so to keep on going was difficult, a lot of sliding around and if you would go a few centimetres offline you could lose the car.

“Not easy out there but once we put on the slicks it was all fine. Of course, we had the red flag with so much debris into Turn Two. Basically, the advantage was gone. Then I had my moment at the restart. It was a big one, it was some secret tyre warming going on! After that, it was fine.”

Behind, Norris had switched to softs under the red flag rather than mediums for the Ferraris he was racing, and he duly warmed them up more quickly to leapfrog Leclerc into second place. After a few laps putting pressure on Verstappen, Norris settled down to nurse his tyres in the knowledge that Hamilton was coming through. The championship leader cleared Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Leclerc using DRS, but Norris proved a tougher proposition.

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Norris positioned his car beautifully to hold Hamilton off for three consecutive laps before finally being overtaken with three laps remaining.

“It was tough!” Norris admitted. “We made the decision to go on the softs, I wasn’t so confident to get the tyres working and it’s not an easy track to overtake on. Lewis might say otherwise! But I think it was the right decision.

“Apart from Max’s little moment, I thought Charles was going to drive ahead of Max on the restart as he was off-track so he didn’t take advantage of that. But he had a lot of wheelspin on the restart when Max went, and that’s the fault of the mediums and their decision. So we made that decision to go on the softs, I got a good launch, a good restart and got ahead of him.

“I pretty much started saving the tyres from lap one after the restart knowing that the last couple of laps were going to be pretty tough, and they were. Especially with Lewis at the end, a lot of focus in the last couple of corners, getting the deployment right, using your battery in the right way, so I was trying to save up as much as possible. But in the end I didn’t have enough rear tyre out of the last two corners and the chicane to hold him behind, but I tried. It was a nice little battle.

Lando Norris ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Soft-tyred Norris couldn’t hold off Hamilton for long

Florent Gooden / DPPI

By now, Verstappen was 20 seconds clear, but Hamilton pumped in the fastest lap to underline the Mercedes potential and retain his lead in the standings by a single point in what was ultimately a case of very successful damage limitation.

Behind the top three, Leclerc and Sainz secured strong points for Ferrari at a home race, even though the Spaniard was told to calm down after some early errors by his race engineer. Ricciardo took a pragmatic approach to come home sixth after lacking in confidence at times, just ahead of Stroll who was one of two drivers – alongside Raikkonen – to face a post-race investigation after scoring points, the Finn finishing between Gasly in eighth and Ocon.

One race down, one pole position and one win apiece for Hamilton and Verstappen, with neither converting their pole so far. It’s shaping up beautifully.

Lewis Hamilton congratulates Max Verstappen for winning the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Hamilton congratulates Verstappen at the end of the race

Florent Gooden / DPPI

2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix race results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 63 laps 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +22.000sec 19*
3 Lando Norris McLaren +23.702sec 15
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +25.579sec 12
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +27.036sec 10
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +51.220sec 8
7 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +51.909sec 6
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +52.818sec 4
9 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1min 04.773sec 2
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1min 05.704sec 1
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1min 06.561sec
12 Sergio Perez Red Bull +1min 07.151sec
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1min 13.184sec
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo + 1 lap
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin DNF
16 Mick Schumacher Haas +2 laps
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas +2 laps
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF
George Russell Williams DNF
Nicholas Latifi Williams DNF

*Includes additional point for fastest lap