Max Verstappen, Lando Norris reflect on the closing stages of F1 Imola GP which got difficult for the Dutchman and better for the Brit.

It started off as such for Red Bull’s Verstappen that he will seemingly cruise to a win in F1 Imola GP. There was some chance that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc may pose a challenge in the first half, but it started to go cold as the race progressed.

It was all well until the last few laps when the challenge came from McLaren’s Norris. The Brit was complaining about lack of pace after switching to the hard compound but with 10-12 laps to go, he went from resigning to hopeful of dethroning Verstappen.

Norris managed to get the tyre working after multiple changes on the steering wheel. The minor off from Leclerc helped the Brit to get himself sorted for the late challenge. It came from nowhere which not only surprised Red Bull, but also McLaren too.

The chance came to Norris due to the struggles for Verstappen. While the hard tyre came back to the Brit, it just didn’t for the Dutchman. He struggled after getting through the initial stage and the lack of running practice started to hurt them.

On top of that, Verstappen was on the tipping point of track limits penalty after early steer moments which resulted in him going off on couple of occasions. The Dutchman was worried about losing out, even though he was confident to hold on.

Getting into race, scare towards the end –

Verstappen: “Yeah, I think first of all, in the race, like on the Mediums, I think it was very good. I didn’t expect that kind of pace after what we did so far in the weekend. But we could have somehow keep the balance together. So that felt really nice. But then as soon as I swapped to the Hard tyres, it was definitely… I mean, maybe not the first five to 10 laps, but after that I was like, I’m not sure I can bring this to the end, you know, because the tyres just fell out of the operating window and yeah, it was just like driving on ice really snappy and just you can feel when the tyres are not gripping up anymore like Turn 7, I almost ended up in the grandstand for my feeling, at some point. Just very difficult, really weird lines that I had to take. Those last 10 laps you know I was really trying to survive with the tyres and then suddenly Lando really picked up pace.

“So, yeah, I could see him, of course, catch up. I was not sure if I could keep him behind, but I was just trying to do the best I could, pushing as hard as I could with the grip that I had. And, yeah, luckily, it was just enough laps. As soon as it was like half a second a lap, I was like, whoa, that’s a lot. But the other hand, you can’t do anything about it. So I was just trying to do my pace. You cannot suddenly try and force a half a second out of it when you don’t have the balance. So I was just trying to really not make mistakes, really try to drive around the balance issues that I had and be quick on the straight. So that’s basically what I think helped me a bit at the end. Also, with the rear wing that we had, we were quite fast on the straight. And yeah, that probably helped a bit in the last few laps to defend.”

Problem with hard tyre –

Verstappen: “I just couldn’t really get the tyres to work. It just felt like they were not operating in the right temperature window. And that just got worse and worse. So the last 15 laps for me was really like driving on ice. They were not responding anymore. So that’s something that we have to analyse.”

Track limits warning –

Verstappen: “I mean, they updated me, of course, with the track limits, tto just be a bit more careful from that point onwards. But the problem was also, I guess, in the beginning, I was understeering a lot on the Medium, and that was pushing me a bit off sometimes if I missed the apex. So after that, on the Hard tyres also, just leaving a bit more margin. Of course, the last few laps when Lando was catching me it was a bit harder because I had to naturally really use the track as much as I could. But we stayed within the lines, but definitely, it does require then a bit more focus, of course. Every exit, you have to be really sure what you’re doing.”

One more lap –

Norris: “I was just praying for one more lap. I was just praying for someone to say one more lap. I don’t know why. But yeah, I mean, I just did everything I could. I was pushing like hell to get there and catch up and have a chance. But as soon as you get within two seconds, you start to lose downforce and grip. The tyres start to overheat again. I kind of struggled for a couple laps, but once I understood how I had to drive again, like the last lap I managed to get there, and seven tenths, like one more lap, at least he would have had to defend into Turn 1, and maybe something could have come from that, but one lap too late. It’s a shame, but it is what it is, and we just struggled too much in the beginning of the race.”

What changed after complaints of slow pace in middle –

Norris: “Honestly, I don’t know. I asked them pretty early on. Because as soon as I went on the Hard tyre, I didn’t feel great. And I was slow on the Medium relative to Max. And I wasn’t comfortable as soon as I came out on the Hard tyre. So I quite quickly asked, like, ‘where am I struggling?’ And they’re like, ‘oh, they’re just pushing more than you’. But I was asking because I just felt slow and I didn’t feel like I could push a lot more. So as soon as I started to push, I felt like I, you know, I’d oversteer, I’d understeer, lock tyres. It was just the tyres were not in a good window. And I think it’s clear, you know, with Max saying a similar thing, that as soon as they’re not in the right window, just you can’t push. You don’t have the confidence with the car. So I had to just manage things as best I could. And when I say I’m pushing, it doesn’t mean you’re 110%. Pushing can still be 90%.

“You’re just pushing to the limit of what you want to do. But I basically changed all my switches on the steering wheel to try and help the rear tyres and try to kill the fronts, because I just had too much front at that point. And maybe five, 10 laps later, things started to come back to me. So making all these changes and changing the differential and the brake balance and all of those things really allowed me to kind of bring the tyres back into a good window. As soon as I got there, I felt confident enough to push. And as soon as I felt like I could push, it kind of spiralled in the right direction. Just more coincidence that it was that timing more than anything.

“But when Charles was behind me, I didn’t have a lot more than what I had. And if I did, I probably would have made a mistake and went off track. So yeah, it was tricky. But as soon as Charles made the mistake, it gave me a bit of breathing room. I was like, ‘OK, maybe now I can try to push it a little bit more’. And it started to come back to me. It’s tough. It’s so tricky on this kind of circuit. you have a couple laps where you don’t oversteer and things feel better but then you oversteer and then things feel worse, so you can feel very quickly up and down. It’s just so sensitive with the tyres and that kind of stuff. I think we have a good understanding of it, it’s just today we probably didn’t do the best job especially in the first half of the race.”

Would do things differently –

Norris: “I would probably take out like four holes of front wing and do the same again. Like Max said, once the tyres are where they are, you can’t actually do a lot. So, I mean, we were expecting it to be a little bit colder today than what it was. So we kind of set up the car more for colder conditions rather than hot. And I think I paid the price in general. So that’s why I had to do so much of an introduction to the tyres and kind of bring them up so gently and look after them. Because if I didn’t, I just would have fallen off a cliff like the others did. So my only chance was to drive my race. And that meant being under pressure from Charles for more laps than I would have liked. But as soon as I kind of cleared the traffic and got back into my own rhythm, then I felt good with the car. The tyres kind of came back to me and I could push and I was happy. So from then on, the pace was amazing. And so it’s a good sign. It’s always a good thing to have is good race pace. But clearly when it’s hotter and there’s more degradation to the rear tyres, we start to struggle a lot more. And this is something we know. And maybe we could have prepared for a little bit more. But nevertheless, I’m happy with the outcome.”

Here’s the closing moments:

Here’s how F1 Imola GP panned out

Here’s Max Verstappen, McLaren pair on pitlane guy

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