Skip to content

Emilia Romagna GP takeaways: Is gap between Max, Lando closing?

Qian Jun/MB Media / Getty

Following each race weekend this year we offer our takeaways. We continue the 2024 schedule with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Moments that decided the race 👀

Verstappen returns to the top, but track position proves key

With the pressure on, Max Verstappen fended off Lando Norris in a nail-biting finish to take the Emilia Romagna GP by under a second. But the race may have been settled Saturday when the reigning world champion took pole and, more importantly, track position by slim margins.

Verstappen qualified on pole by less than a tenth of a second. Lando Norris was just 0.091 seconds off the top spot, while Oscar Piastri was 0.074 seconds behind Verstappen before getting demoted with a three-place grid penalty.

Since Imola is notoriously painful for overtaking, and Verstappen and Norris were on nearly equal footing in Sunday's race, the battle for pole was also likely the battle for the race win.

Driver Race Pace Difference
Lando Norris 1:20.857s -0.019s faster
Max Verstappen 1:20.876s

Even Charles Leclerc, who was just over two-tenths off pole, could have been in contention for a win with his pace, which was around a tenth off the front two.

Driver Race Pace Difference
Lando Norris 1:20.857s  
Max Verstappen 1:20.876s +0.019s
Charles Leclerc 1:20.959 +0.102s

The days of pure dominance may be over and, with the gap between the top three teams - Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari - closing quickly, track position will be more important than ever.

McLaren just misses 2nd straight win

After Norris scored the first race win of his career in Miami earlier in May, many wondered how much of the triumph was aided by a perfectly timed safety car. Imola provided an honest answer to that question: not much. McLaren's upgrade package from Miami and Norris' pace are as legit as it gets.

Norris pushed Verstappen to his absolute limit in the closing stages of Sunday's race, reducing a five-second deficit to just over seven-tenths by the checkered flag. The only differences between a second-place finish and another victory appeared to be starting grid position and performance on the medium tire on full fuel.

Driver Race Pace on 1st stint Difference
Max Verstappen 1:21.140s
Lando Norris 1:21.348s +0.208s

It was a different story on the hard tire. Norris' pace was top of the grid and, while he fell just short, the McLaren's speed in Imola proved Miami was no coincidence. It truly feels like something special is brewing inside the McLaren garage.

Ferrari's upgrades put Leclerc in competition

It may have taken 18 years, but Ferrari is back on the podium in Imola.

Leclerc's third-place finish is the Italian squad's first since Michael Schumacher in 2006 and his fourth of the season. The podium finish in front of the Tifosi only tops off an already impressive weekend for Leclerc: He now sits second in the drivers' championship, six points clear of Perez.

While Leclerc and Ferrari struggled strategically over the past few years, Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur has slowly started to change that. After Leclerc's racing engineer, Xavi Marcos, stepped down from his role after the Miami GP, Leclerc had to adjust to his new engineer, Bryan Bozzi.

The pairing has proven successful thus far. Ferrari's upgrades for Imola - new bodywork, floor, and wings - helped the Monegasque driver become the fastest on the track mid-race. The gap between him and Norris is less than a second. He expertly defended a charging Piastri after pitting Lap 27, solidifying a sizable gap between P3 and P4. Ferrari struggled slightly in qualifying, but Leclerc enters his home race with a competitive pace and a better understanding of the car's upgrades.

Driver of the Day 🙌


After a disastrous practice Friday, Red Bull did an impressive job catching up to McLaren and Ferrari. Verstappen took it from there. The 26-year-old narrowly took pole by less than a tenth and matched Ayrton Senna's Formula 1 record of eight consecutive poles. He won by less than a second Sunday, joining Schumacher as the only driver to win in Imola three times in a row and passing Lewis Hamilton in career win percentage. Oh, and he participated in a 24-hour sim race between qualifying and the race start, which he and his team also won. Not a bad weekend for the three-time champion.

What were they thinking? 🤔

While this is typically reserved for strategic decisions, we'll highlight a perplexing on-track performance. None of the front-runners had a more difficult weekend than Sergio Perez.

The Mexican driver failed to make Q2 and started 11th while his teammate qualified on pole. On an alternate strategy, he finished the race 54 seconds off the lead in eighth behind each of the Mercedes, Ferraris, McLarens, and his teammate. It was his worst result of the season, and it dropped him to third in the drivers' standings.

Without a guaranteed contract extension for 2025, Perez can't afford to have Imola begin a similar slump to the one that started in the European leg last year.

They said what? 🗣️

Clive Rose / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Norris on finishing second: "It hurts me to say, but one or two more laps and I think I would have had him. Tough, a shame, I fought hard right until the very last lap but lost out a little too much to Max in the beginning. He was much better in the first stint and obviously, in the second stint, we were stronger."

Christian Horner on Verstappen's ability to hold on for the win: "He's been pushed very hard by Lando today. You've got two guys at the top of their game going at it like Tyson Fury and (Oleksandr Usyk). It was literally coming sector for sector, and it was fantastic racing at the end."

Toto Wolff on where Mercedes is at: "You can't see it on the result that we are making steps in where we want the car to be. We are 30-plus seconds off the quickest guys and that is a lot. P6 and P7 is nothing to be proud of, and you can see the frustration in my voice, but still, there's more to come. There's incremental gains that we need to make."

George Russell on McLaren and reason for Mercedes optimism: "It's pretty impressive to see what McLaren's doing right now. They were the slowest 12 months ago and now they're the quickest, arguably. So it shows what's possible when you find that silver bullet."

What's next?

The European part of the schedule is in full swing: We quickly head to Monaco on May 26. Red Bull has won the last three races with Verstappen taking the checkered flag in 2023.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox