Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Emilia Romagna F1 Grand Prix

IMOLA, Italy — In the real world or the virtual world, Max Verstappen remains the driver to beat.

The defending Formula 1 champion held off a challenge from McLaren’s Lando Norris to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday and extend his standings lead.

Verstappen doubled up this weekend by taking part in an online 24-hour race, driving stints for his team from a simulator set up in the Imola paddock. He won that, too, making his F1

victory his second of the day.

Verstappen started on pole position and stayed ahead of Norris at the start but was put under pressure by the McLaren driver again near the end. He held on to take his 59th career win by less than a second.

“Especially the last 10, 15 laps, I had no grip any more. I was really sliding a lot. I saw Lando closing in,” Verstappen said. “It’s very difficult when the tires are not working any more and you have to go flat out, so I couldn’t afford to make too many mistakes. Luckily, we didn’t and super happy, of course, to win here today.”

On a weekend when F1 remembered Ayrton Senna, the three-time champion who died in a crash at Imola 30 years ago, Verstappen took his fifth win in seven Grand Prix races this year after having lost out to Norris in Miami two weeks ago.

Norris’ second place Sunday underlined McLaren’s credentials to be the closest challenger to Verstappen and Red Bull this season. “It hurts me to say it, but one or two more laps, I think I would have had him,” Norris said. “It would have been beautiful, but just not today.”

After waiting until his sixth F1 season for his first win, Norris found himself disappointed not to get back-to-back victories. “It’s still a surprise to say it’s frustrating not to win,” Norris said.

Charles Leclerc was third for Ferrari, the Italian team’s first podium finish at Imola since 2006, ahead of his home race in Monaco next week.

It’s never easy to overtake on the narrow Imola track, and risk-taking was further discouraged this year when asphalt run-off areas on key corners were replaced with gravel traps.

Leclerc closed in on Norris mid-way through the race but made a mistake and ran across the grass, losing time.

Oscar Piastri had qualified second for McLaren but was dropped to fifth because of a penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen in a Haas. He got ahead of Sainz at the pit stops and finished fourth, ahead of the Spanish driver.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and his teammate George Russell were sixth and seventh after a difficult weekend for Mercedes.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez started 11th after a mistake in qualifying and finished eighth. His main impact on the race was when he briefly held up Norris and Leclerc after their pit stops, indirectly helping Verstappen.

Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for RB and Lance Stroll took the last point in 10th for Aston Martin.

With the victory, Verstappen opened up a 48-point standings lead over Leclerc, who moved above Perez into second. McLaren was off the pace at the start of the season but has improved rapidly since and Norris is fourth, 60 points behind Verstappen.