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Verstappen wins Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to rekindle title bid

IMOLA, ITALY (AFP) – World champion Max Verstappen rekindled his title defence and acclaimed his resurgent Red Bull team on Sunday night after he led Sergio Perez home in a dominant one-two triumph in Ferrari’s backyard at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

In a rain-affected race, the 24-year-old Dutchman came home 16.5 seconds ahead of his Red Bull team-mate as Charles Leclerc and Ferrari endured a disappointing day in front of passionate home support at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

Leclerc, who started second on the grid, finished sixth after making a poor start and spinning in the closing laps while running third, allowing Lando Norris to take third for McLaren.

After Saudi Arabia, it was Verstappen’s second win this season which has also included two retirements, and the 22nd win of his career.

He reeled off a ‘grand slam’ weekend with pole position, victory and fastest lap as well as victory in Saturday’s sprint race.

He moved up to second in the title race behind Leclerc, reducing his deficit from 45 points to 27 to set up the prospect of an intense duel this year between them and their teams.

“It’s always tough to achieve something like that, but already yesterday and the day before, we were on it,” said Verstappen.

Red Bull Racing’s driver Max Verstappen celebrates his victory at the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix. PHOTO: AFP

“And it was looking like a strong weekend. You never know with the weather how competitive you are going to be, but I think we did very well and this one-two is very deserved.

“The start was very important, but afterwards, judging the conditions and when to swap to the slick tyres – because in the lead you have to always dictate the pace.”

Perez said he was delighted to bring smiles to the Red Bull team.

“It was really intense,” he said. “The most important thing today was not to make mistakes because with these conditions it was so tricky. To get a one-two, out there, is a great result for the team.

“I am very pleased to see everyone in my team smiling today and I am happy for Max.”

Norris said, “An amazing race! An amazing weekend. I’m happy. The team deserves it. It was a mixture of tricky conditions, but we’ve been able to capitalise on that – I love these conditions, so always do quite well.”

George Russell produced a stirring drive for Mercedes to come home fourth after starting 11th, fending off Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo at the finish, while teammate seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton finished a distant 13th.

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff apologised to a disappointed Hamilton on team radio after the race.

“I am sorry for what you had to drive today,” said Wolff.

“I know it was undriveable – this was a terrible race.”