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Max Verstappen survived a late charge from Lando Norris to convert his record-equalling pole position into the race victory at Formula 1’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

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Verstappen had been untroubled across most of the race but Norris’ onslaught in the closing stages threatened his return to winning ways, with Charles Leclerc third.

The cars rolled up to the grid with one place vacant at the back of the grid as changes to Fernando Alonso’s suspension saw the Aston Martin relegated to the pitlane. With overtaking tending to be limited around the tight confines of the Imola track and a one-stop encounter predicted, the start was set to be vital to the race outcome. The top 10 runners opted for the Medium compound, but there were differences further back as Sergio Perez, Zhou Guanyu and Logan Sargeant went with the Hards. Verstappen had been strong from the line in past races, but Norris matched him on the launch and got alongside until the Red Bull streaked clear on the run to Turn 2.

Behind the front-row starting pair, Leclerc encountered a sluggish start for the second race in a row and that allowed Carlos Sainz to challenge his Ferrari team-mate. However, Leclerc braked late on the inside line to retain third place over his team-mate, while Norris swept across the Ferrari driver in order to protect his second spot. Lewis Hamilton had admitted overhauling Yuki Tsunoda at the outset would be important and he managed that, with both RB drivers dropping two places at the start. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg was a man on the move in his Haas car as he progressed up two spots to be situated in eighth, with Perez also up into the points places.

Verstappen had opened up a near-two-second advantage over Norris as the race settled down in the opening exchanges, with Sainz and Piastri right on Leclerc’s rear. Aston Martin gambled putting Alonso on the Softs, but the Spaniard would spend seven laps circulating on the red-walled compound until he switched onto the Hards. Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon had also swapped their starting choice for the most durable rubber, but the Williams car slowed to a halt with a loose wheel on his car.

The Anglo-Thai driver was endeavouring to make it back to the pit lane to resume in the race and was made to duck off the racing line to let the leaders come through. While Albon made it back to the pits and was fitted with the Medium to continue in last place, Piastri was sizing Sainz up to have a go at the Ferrari for fourth position.

With Ricciardo having dropped behind Perez, RB pulled the pin and boxed him on Lap 11 onto the Hard to grant him clear air, with Tsunoda following next time around. Haas responded to Tsunoda’s stop on the next lap, but it proved to be too late as the Japanese driver had put the hammer down on fresh rubber to emerge just ahead.

Despite conceding his practice struggles had made his race prospects an unknown, Verstappen was continuing to streak clear and had created a five-second margin. However, Red Bull team-mate Perez had been struggling to make up ground on the Hard and a wide moment into the gravel at the first Rivazza cost him five seconds.

George Russell was the first of the front-running drivers to dive into the pits on Lap 21, Mercedes servicing him with a 2.4s stop as he emerged behind Esteban Ocon. While Tsunoda’s earlier stop had granted him track position over Hulkenberg, the RB racer had encountered Logan Sargeant and was struggling to mount an overtake.

McLaren aimed to avoid Ferrari pitting and giving Leclerc an undercut advantage on Norris, but the Briton’s stop on Lap 22 saw him come out behind Perez’s Red Bull. However, Norris was situated behind the Mexican for a sole lap as he utilised his added grip and the DRS to move back into the top five down the start-finish straight. McLaren had pitted Piastri on the next lap and both drivers were putting in blistering lap times as Ferrari remained on track and took the lead when Verstappen pitted. Ferrari reacted to the strong pace Norris and Piastri were setting with a stop for Leclerc on Lap 25, the Monegasque emerging behind both Norris and Perez in sixth.

But like Norris had managed a handful of laps earlier in proceedings, Perez was no match to the fresher-rubbered Ferrari and Leclerc made a crucial pass on his rival. Perez being compromised through Tamburello gave Piastri the chance to position his car to gain the high ground on the inside line going into the Villeneuve Chicane.

Sainz stopped at the end of that lap and lost track position to the McLaren as expected, while Hamilton had locked up and trailed through the gravel at Acque Minerali.

Tsunoda had been stuck behind Sargeant but completed a bold move around the outside into Turn 2, with Hulkenberg replicating that a few corners later at Villeneuve.

Back towards the battle for the podium places, Sainz dispatched Perez on the inside of Tamburello on Lap 30. However, he had slipped six seconds back from Piastri. Russell became the latest to demote the Red Bull through the braking zone at the end of the start-finish straight at Turn 2 with an overtake on the inside to seize sixth.

Tsunoda’s charge through the field against drivers who were still circling on their starting rubber continued with a pass on Zhou’s defenceless Sauber into Tamburello. Hulkenberg would ensure that Tsunoda could not relent his pace, though, as he swept past Zhou to progress into 12th place to run two seconds adrift of the RB driver.

Perez’s drop through the pack increased as Hamilton overtook him into Tamburello on Lap 37, prompting Red Bull to call him into the pits to move onto the Mediums. Although he had lost the position he had gained at the start on Ricciardo, Perez wasted no time in regaining the spot on the Australian at Turn 2 to rise into the top 10. Next up on Perez’s radar was Hulkenberg’s Haas and the veteran German was powerless to prevent the Red Bull from breezing clear with DRS moving into Tamburello.

Norris was informed over the radio that Leclerc was striving to push on and increase the pressure on the Briton, who had voiced concerns over McLaren’s lack of pace.

Tsunoda had pulled clear from Hulkenberg’s Haas but was unable to keep Perez behind, as Leclerc closed up to within the one second needed on Norris to utilise DRS. Hulkenberg’s pace with his earlier stop was dwindling and Lance Stroll provided a much-needed boost amid a tough outing for Aston Martin to overtake the Haas man.

Leclerc had been unable to fashion an overtaking opening on Norris and a trip across the grass at Variante Alta harmed his hopes as he dropped two seconds behind.

Verstappen had been coasting but Norris was starting to reduce the deficit to the Dutchman, who revealed that he was experiencing troubles with the Hard compound.

Mercedes were preparing for a stop in the closing stages and it was Russell who ventured into the pits for a second time, dropping him a single place behind Hamilton.

Verstappen had been in cruise control but reported that he was struggling with his car’s handling and Norris, who had dropped Leclerc, was now closing at a rapid rate. But as Norris crept towards the DRS range to mount a potential overtaking chance, Verstappen re-engaged and increased his pace to keep the McLaren at arm’s length. However, Verstappen was nursing issues with his car and Norris was beginning to edge closer until a wide moment at the Villeneuve Chicane stopped him getting DRS.

Verstappen had been made to work in the final laps, but he managed to remain clear from Norris to take the chequered flag and seize a third consecutive win at Imola. The pressure from Norris would end up in vain as he had to settle for the second step of the rostrum, coming home 0.7s behind the reigning three-time world champion.

Leclerc trailed home over seven seconds behind the leading two in third place to ensure Ferrari was represented on the podium, with Piastri splitting the marque’s cars.

Hamilton and Russell came home a distant seventh and eighth in the Mercedes cars, with Perez relinquishing second place in the standings as he recovered to eighth.

Having got past Hulkenberg to elevate his Aston Martin into the points positions, Stroll also overtook Tsunoda in the latter stages to beat the RB driver to ninth position.