If anything, it appeared as if Ferrari had a small edge as qualifying progressed but the sprint pole was decided in Verstappen’s favour as Leclerc locked up at Acque Minerale as the track was still improving on the last lap of Q3 and Verstappen was clean.
Once Leclerc had then beaten him off the line and pulled away, Verstappen was prepared to settle for second in the sprint, while keeping the pressure on as best he could. To his slight surprise, it paid off as the Ferrari’s front-right soft compound tyre opened up.
The heavy rain from about three hours before the 3pm start had abated as the lights went out, but the state it left the track in pretty much made Red Bull invincible thanks to the contrasting grip off each side of the grid and the slippery surface offline in the braking areas.
Leclerc’s second stop, as well as triggering Perez into a response, also allowed Verstappen a stop for free, releasing him to get a set of new softs and thereby set the race’s fastest lap, ensuring maximum points from this big-points weekend.
Leclerc’s spin then opened up the final podium place to Norris, albeit over half-a-minute behind by the end.
The grid was mixed up by the sprint races and the red flags of qualifying on Friday, so there were cars out of position. Including the Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton who failed to make Q3. Uniquely, the car needed two warm-up laps for the tyres. They didn’t get them – and so what was supposed to be their first warm up lap in Q2 ended up being their grid time because of a Carlos Sainz-induced red flag and subsequent rain shower.
Had they completed second laps, we’d likely have seen them safely through – but they were no quicker than McLaren or Alfa Romeo. Russell on the grippier side on Sunday vaulted several places from his 11th-place start and picked off another as Bottas was delayed by the Sainz/Ricciardo incident ahead of him. This put Russell sixth and he picked off Kevin Magnussen’s struggling Haas with a ballsy move into Rivazza. Hamilton by contrast, from the slippery side of the grid, was down in the mid-pack, picked off Lance Stroll’s Aston but could find no way by the much faster on the straight AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda. After a delay at the stops (Ocon was released directly in his path) Hamilton was in even worse shape in the second stint, stuck in a DRS train way out of the points.
Bottas’s Alfa was probably actually faster than Russell’s Mercedes, especially after Russell didn’t get the flap adjust at his pit stop for the move onto slicks because of an equipment failure. Bottas was delayed by 11sec in the pits (front-right cross-thread) but still was able to mount a sustained attack on Russell, albeit to no avail. Had he been able to pass his replacement at Mercedes, Bottas may even had been capable of challenging Norris for what would have become third. But fifth would have to do – one place ahead of the lead Ferrari.