Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Takeaways: Max Verstappen Holds Off Lando Norris for Win

Red Bull overcame the challenges of a difficult weekend at Imola, while McLaren showed it’s a legitimate threat to the reigning world champs. Plus, a touching tribute for Ayrton Senna.
Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen won again at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen won again at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks after Lando Norris beat out Max Verstappen and earned the first win of his Formula One career in Miami, the Red Bull driver claimed his revenge, holding off Norris to claim his fifth victory of the 2024 season at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Despite a difficult start to the weekend in practice, Verstappen rallied to the front of the grid in qualifying on Saturday and then put together a daring drive in Sunday’s race to land back on the top of the podium. Norris settled for second while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished in third for a second consecutive race.

Here’s what to know from a competitive and emotional weekend at Imola:

Verstappen Quiets Doubters… Sort of 

Anyone counting out the reigning three-time world champion after a small stumble in Miami would’ve been foolish, but there was plenty of concern about the Red Bull team throughout the weekend at Imola. During Friday’s practices, Verstappen couldn’t keep his car on the circuit and looked thoroughly uncomfortable with his setup.

Nevertheless, the racing action started in Saturday’s qualifying and the 26-year-old quickly found his footing. After nabbing the top starting spot for the grand prix, Verstappen made the first 45 laps of the challenging 63-lap race look rather simple. A solid getaway on the first lap followed by a clean drive saw the world championship leader extend his advantage out to more than seven seconds at one point. However, tire degradation eventually caught up with him, and he began to give chunks of time back to Norris in the final 15 laps.

The race ended up going down to the final lap, but Verstappen ensured that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the disappointment two weeks ago, eking out the win by less than a second.

The improvements made by Red Bull’s top challengers are legitimate (see below), but given where Verstappen was at the start of the weekend, Sunday’s win was special for a different reason: it was gritty. Even as the field closes in, the reigning world champion proved that he can still have success under less than ideal conditions and without the most dominant car. 

McLaren’s Step Forward Is Real

Norris might not have been able to satisfy his hunger for winning Sunday, but the race went nearly as far as Miami did in solidifying the 24-year-old as a genuine championship contender. While that title might not come in 2024 after Verstappen’s stellar start, McLaren has found the right formula and is here to stay.

Going into the race, team CEO Zak Brown said he thought any of the top five qualifiers (Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri) had a chance to win. While the grand prix ultimately boiled down to a two-man event, it was the McLaren drivers that stood out the most, with each of them posting blistering times after their pit stops to rein in the cars in front of them. Piastri, who was given the full boat of upgrades for this weekend after having just a half batch in Miami, successfully undercut Sainz to climb up into fourth. Norris only got stronger as the race carried on, as evidenced by his relentless pursuit of Verstappen until the checkered flag. Going forward, it’s not an entirely safe bet to write Red Bull in as the obvious favorites to win in each race—a prospect that seemed rather unlikely at the start of the season.

As for Ferrari (the other hopeful challenger to F1’s current throne), the weekend felt incomplete. Leclerc did earn the team its first podium at Imola since 2006 and surpassed Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez for second in the overall drivers standings, but at one point was right on Norris’s tail for second place in the race. He ultimately fell back, while Sainz was unable to get back in front of Piastri after his pit stop. It’s a step forward for the current second place team in the constructors standings, but not one that will satisfy the team or the loyal tifosi, both of whom expect the team to be competing for wins.

An Unexpectedly Clean Race

Viewers taking in Sunday’s action from home were reminded multiple times by the Sky Sports broadcast that there was a “100% chance” of a safety car being deployed during the grand prix. While nothing is certain in F1, the projection sounded reasonable given that six safety cars were used during Saturday’s F3 race. 

But as the laps came and went, very few mistakes were made by the world’s best. Leclerc cut through a chicane during his pursuit of Norris and ended up back on the track within seconds. Lewis Hamilton had a brief foray into the gravel but managed to recover and cruise to a seventh-place finish. Alex Albon had the worst incident of the day when he left the pit lane without having his tires on properly and was forced to limp around the track and back into the pit lane. He was then tagged with a 10-second penalty for an unsafe release and later retired from the race.

When all was said and done, though, there were no safety cars.

Imola is one of the toughest tracks on the schedule to overtake and that proved to be true Sunday. Without driver errors, the race was rather uneventful until Norris’s dogged pursuit of Verstappen.

Seb’s Powerful Tributes to Senna

The racing on track was just part of a special weekend at Imola. In the return to the circuit after devastating flooding in the region canceled the 2023 grand prix, Sebastian Vettel led a series of tributes to Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, 30 years after their deaths at the circuit in separate accidents at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

The four-time world champion kicked off the remembrance by leading a track run in the rain on Thursday evening that saw the entire F1 paddock unite to honor the two drivers. The main event then came before Sunday’s race when Vettel hopped into the cockpit of Senna’s 1993 McLaren—the last car that Senna, a three-time world champion, won a race with.

Vettel then took a lap around the circuit in the car that prominently featured the words “Forever Senna” on the livery. While he drove around waving to fans, Vettel held out both the Brazilian and Austrian flags—nods to Senna’s and Ratzenberger’s countries of origin.

To close out the touching tribute, Vettel did a series of donuts in front of the main grandstand. He then climbed out and bowed to the ‘93 McLaren, capping off a powerful moment before the racing began.


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Zach Koons

ZACH KOONS

Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2022 graduate of Northwestern University and lives in New York City.