Max Verstappen Wins Imola Sprint Race

IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 23: Sprint winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 stops in parc ferme during Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 23, 2022 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202204230386 // Usage for editorial use only //
IMOLA, ITALY - APRIL 23: Sprint winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 stops in parc ferme during Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 23, 2022 in Imola, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202204230386 // Usage for editorial use only //

Max Verstappen recovered from a difficult start to win the first Sprint race of 2022.

The world champion seemed to have a gear synchronization issue at lights out, which allowed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to leap into the lead.

The Dutchman pounced though on lap 20, the penultimate lap, as Leclerc struggled to make his soft Pirelli tyres last.

The result means Verstappen and Leclerc will line up first and second again for tomorrow’s Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old said: “I’m of course happy about today, but tomorrow might be a bit different.”

“We did well as a team and it is of course a positive day for us. I didn’t have the best start so we need to investigate what happened there but after that we had good race pace. Initially for the first 10 laps or so it seemed like the gap to Charles wasn’t really growing but then I think at one point the tyre degradation started to kick in a bit more and I could close the gap and I got ahead. Tomorrow is a new day and there are no guarantees, I still expect it to be very close and I the battle tomorrow will be difficult. We are very focused on what is ahead and we hope to do a good job tomorrow.”

Elsewhere in the 21-lap race, the other Red Bull and Ferrari drivers Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz recovered from their seventh and 10th place starting places, to finish third and fourth.

The Ferrari and Red Bull cars appeared extremely closely matched on race pace, with all four of the drivers able to produce low 1 minute 19’s in the sprint, setting up a mouth-watering prospect for tomorrow’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Another Fantastic Duel

Having lost the start, Verstappen initially dropped back, as Leclerc pulled a gap of around 1.5 seconds.

But on lap 16, the Dutchman closed to within one second, allowing him use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS).

Leclerc held the Red Bull at bay for a few laps, before Verstappen finally made the move into Tamburello on lap 20.

Using the DRS, the Red Bull pulled alongside the Ferrari, Leclerc covering the inside line. Verstappen out-braked his old karting rival and took the lead.

Before the move was made, Verstappen had stalked his prey closely, the 2022 cars again shining with regard to following another car.

While the move was only likely to happen into the braking zone for Tamburello, it was thoroughly engaging as Leclerc tried to fend off his rival.

In the end, the Ferrari’s tyre issues prevented the Monagasque from holding on.

Ferrari were suffering with front graining and it will be all the more concerning considering that there was a four-lap safety car period, following a first lap collision for Pierre Gasly and Zhou Guanyu.

When asked what happened at the start, Verstappen said: “The start was really bad, I don’t know why, maybe too much wheelspin. I think we were better on our tyres at the end of the race. It was fast, I was pushing quite a bit.”

Leclerc was disappointed to lose out, saying: “It’s still a front row start. We struggled with the tyres at the end, we need to analyse that. We will work and come back strong tomorrow.”

With the four fastest cars occupying the top four spots on the grid and race pace so evenly matched, tyre management and strategy choices will be critical in the Grand Prix.

McLaren shine again

McLaren picked up more solid points, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth and sixth respectively

A combined seven points for the Woking-based team is further proof that the team are getting on top of the MCL36.

Norris spoke after the race about how he had pushed too hard on his soft tyres, which left him well off the pace of the leading pair…

“A tough Sprint! I just didn’t have the pace to keep up with the guys in front, but we got the best result we could today and a few points, so I’m happy.  We’ve got a good position for the race tomorrow, we can fight for some more points from P5. There’s a few things to try to work on and figure out tonight, apart from that, I’m happy,” said Norris.

But McLaren were never really in the game to race the Ferrari or Red Bull’s, a point hammered home as first Perez, and then Sainz, blasted past both McLaren’s with DRS.

The Papaya cars were however best of the rest, as they were with Norris in qualifying.

While Norris did fall back a couple of positions, both he and Ricciardo were relatively untroubled by those behind, although Bottas’ Alfa Romeo had closed rapidly on the Australian.

Sprint Struggles

One driver who many fancied to perform well in the Sprint was Fernando Alonso.

The Alpine driver failed to score a point from his fifth position start. He had struggled to get going for the formation lap, then followed that with a sluggish getaway when the lights went out.

The Spaniard saw his compatriot Carlos Sainz fly past early on and he failed to pass the medium tyre shod Haas of Kevin Magnussen, while Valtteri Bottas passed both the Dane and Alonso, to collect seventh and a pair of points.

It was tough session overall for the French team, as Esteban Ocon could only move up to 16th from his qualifying position of 19th.

World champions Mercedes endured another tough day.

After topping FP2 earlier in the day, the cooler track temperatures saw both Silver Arrows lose positions at the start.

George Russell, who was fastest in FP2, dropped to 12th from 11th, while Lewis Hamilton lost two positions, falling to 15th.

The pair got stuck in the DRS train, headed by Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and were only able to recover a single place through the rest of the sprint.

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