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Verstappen denies Leclerc in thrilling Imola sprint

Verstappen denies Leclerc in thrilling Imola sprint

Verstappen denies Leclerc in thrilling Imola sprint

Verstappen denies Leclerc in thrilling Imola sprint

Max Verstappen took a thrilling victory in the first F1 sprint of the season to take top spot on the grid for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver secured the maximum eight points with a superb overtaking move on championship rival Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap having initially lost out to the Ferrari on the very first lap.

Sergio Perez made four places up in the race to secure third on the grid, whilst Carlos Sainz fought back from his qualifying error to finish fourth.

Leclerc made the jump on Verstappen off the line and took the lead before turn one with the reigning champion sarcastically telling his team over the radio he had a "lovely gear sync" at launch.

The fast-starting Perez went side-by-side with Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen, the Haas coming out on top in that battle after all three drivers made slight contact.

The safety car was soon deployed after Pierre Gasly and Guanyu Zhou came together at Piratella with the Alfa Romeo rookie hitting the inside wall hard.

Unlike at the Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc aced the restart to stretch clear of Verstappen and although the championship leader didn't drive off into the distance, the Dutchman was seemingly kept at a comfortable distance.

But in the last five laps, Verstappen came back at the Ferrari as Leclerc began to suffer with graining on his left-front tyre.

On the penultimate lap, the Red Bull closed up with the DRS wide open and daringly went around the outside into turn one to take the lead away from Leclerc and secure top spot for tomorrow's grand prix.

F1's midfield puts on a show

Magnussen was shown the black-and-white flag for weaving on lap one but the Haas was defenceless from Perez's attack on lap eight, the Red Bull powering past with DRS assistance.

The Mexican was soon on the back of Lando Norris and made the move for third at the first time of asking into Tamburello.

As one McLaren fell backwards, another went forwards with Daniel Ricciardo moving past Magnussen who was clearly struggling on the medium Pirelli tyres.

Sainz was on a mission having crashed out of qualifying, providing the Tifosi with a show to move up from 10th to fourth, getting passed Magnussen and Ricciardo in quick succession before hunting down Norris in the last three laps.

Last year's 'sprint king' Fernando Alonso struggled throughout and went from fifth to ninth, being warned for his defensive conduct before conceding eighth to Valtteri Bottas.

Bottas eventually finished seventh after getting passed Magnussen late on.

Mercedes caught in DRS train as struggles continue

Mercedes' weekend failed to improve early on with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton dropping places at the start.

Mick Schumacher cleared Russell at the start whilst Hamilton fell behind Yuki Tsunoda and down to 14th.

Whilst the Silver Arrows race pace has been stronger so far this year than its one-lap pace, the backlog behind the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel halted any progress for either driver.

But when Schumacher got past his fellow German, Russell was afforded the opportunity to move up the order to finish 11th.

Hamilton's struggles continued though, finishing only 14th.

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