Max vs Lando and the big change in F1 2024 after Imola

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Max vs Lando and the big change in F1 2024 after Imola

Max Verstappen held off a late challenge from Lando Norris at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday to return to the top step of the podium.

Verstappen won by less than one second in a tense fight for the lead between Red Bull and McLaren, with both teams urging their drivers on.

Charles Leclerc took his fourth podium of the year as Ferrari didn’t quite have the pace to join the lead battle.

Oscar Piastri finished in fourth after jumping Carlos Sainz in the one and only round of pit stops, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in sixth and seventh.

Sky Sports F1‘s Karun Chandhok was in Imola throughout the weekend and gives his expert verdict on all the action and what it means.

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Highlights from the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola

Why F1 2024 is now all about fine margins

What Imola confirmed to us is that after the dominant start Max had to 2024, this is becoming a season of marginal gains.

If you look at it, the difference in the outcome of the race at the front could have been the slipstream that Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas gave Verstappen at the end of qualifying. That is how tight it is now.

If Norris had been the one who started in front in clean air then he would have suffered less on the medium tyres in the first stint compared to Max. Or, it’s a question of one car suiting a particular type of tyre, marginally more than the other.

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Nico Hulkenberg and Max Verstappen explain how the Haas driver’s helpful tow got Max Verstappen pole at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

On Sunday, it seemed as though the Red Bull was happier on the medium compound in the first stint, whereas the McLaren was better on the hard in the second.

In that first stint, Max had opened a 6.4s lead by the time that Lando pitted on lap 22. But after his stop Lando was able to bring that gap down by being smart, biding his time early on to bring the tyres in, in a gentle way, before hammering it in the closing stages.

It’s super marginal, which is great. To have the first two cars finish within 0.7s of each other is very encouraging for the rest of the year.

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris reflect on their final lap battle at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Verstappen vs Norris

It’s on weekends like this where Verstappen truly earns his money, 100 per cent. Red Bull did not have the fastest car. They have always got a competitive car, but it took a driver of Max’s confidence and ability to wring a lap out on qualifying, which set him up for the race.

If Sergio Perez had qualified on the front two rows of the grid, he would probably have gone with the leading train too, but he didn’t, getting knocked out in Q2 and qualifying 11th.

The fact that Perez then went off through the gravel in the race and Verstappen was later shown a black-and-white flag for track limits infringement as Norris chased him down, showed how hard the Red Bull drivers were having to push and work in that race. But I get the sense that Max is enjoying the challenge.

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Christian Horner reflects on Max Verstappen’s winning drive at Imola and whether McLaren and Ferrari will keep challenging Red Bull in races to come

The reaction he had after qualifying, it was like he really had to work for the pole, and then you get more satisfaction out of that because it was slightly unexpected and Red Bull were coming from behind after a difficult Friday.

He seems to be enjoying the challenge. Ultimately, as a sportsperson, you are there to overcome challenges and succeed and you get fresh motivation from that. You have to dig deep to get a result, and then you get more satisfaction when you achieve it.

Lando’s last stint as he chased down Max was amazing. He was so close to going off in the Villeneuve Chicane twice. I really thought he was going to end up in the gravel, but he hung on to it, didn’t back out and just kept going.

I don’t know if it’s new-found confidence after Miami, but it’s certainly the sign of a driver who’s comfortable with the car, at one with the car, and confident to attack.

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Max Verstappen narrowly held off Lando Norris to claim the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Who else stood out at Imola?

Piastri eventually finished fourth in the other McLaren, and I thought he was very unlucky because he had outqualified Lando.

If he had not had his penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen and started on the front row instead of fifth behind the two Ferraris, he would maybe have had the same race as his team-mate and gone after Max.

It’s two races in a row now where Oscar could have had the upper hand on Lando and it hasn’t ended up working out like that, so that’s unlucky for him.

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Max Verstappen rants about Yuki Tsunoda, who holds him up at the Tosa hairpin

Elsewhere, Mercedes are just where they are right now, finishing sixth and seventh, but I thought Yuki Tsunoda was a real standout performer in the RB.

In a year where he is having a really good season, he yet again absolutely put his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the shade over the whole weekend. His only real errors came in Q3 and then making a cautious start but he recovered well to get another point.

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Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell describe Mercedes as in ‘no man’s land’ as the team sits behind Ferrari and McLaren

Who is favourite for Monaco?

Monaco might be a track that favours Ferrari.

We have seen throughout this season that the slow-speed corners, where you have to rotate the car sharply, or long corners where you hold onto the steering lock for some time, favour the Ferraris.

That’s the type of corner that you have in Monaco around Mirabeau, the hairpin, Portier and Rascasse.

We know Charles Leclerc is desperate to win on home ground for the first time, so I’m excited to see how they get on there later this week. The weather forecast suggests that there may be some rain over the weekend which will make it very exciting!

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Charles Leclerc felt more optimistic about the car’s performance over the weekend, while Carlos Sainz wasn’t happy with the pace as he placed fifth at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

Sky Sports F1’s live Monaco GP Schedule

Thursday May 23
12.05pm: F3 Practice
1.30pm: Drivers’ Press Conference
2pm: F2 Practice

Friday May 24
10am: F3 Qualifying
12pm: Monaco GP Practice One (session starts at 12.30pm)*
2pm: F2 Qualifying*
3.45pm: Monaco GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)*
5.30pm: The F1 Show
6.30pm: Indy 500 Final Practice
8.30pm: Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge

Saturday May 25
9.40am: F3 Sprint
11.15am: Monaco GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)*
1.10pm: F2 Sprint*
2.15pm: Monaco GP Qualifying build-up*
3pm: Monaco GP Qualifying*
5pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Sunday May 26
6.55am: F3 Feature Race
8.35am: F2 Feature Race
12.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Monaco GP build-up*
2pm: The MONACO GRAND PRIX*
4pm: Chequered Flag: Monaco GP reaction
5pm: Ted’s Notebook
5.30pm: The Indy 500

Next up it’s time for the most-famous F1 race of them all – the Monaco Grand Prix. Watch every session from the famous street circuit from Friday live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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