Max wins but Red Bull supremacy challenged: Emilia Romagna GP talking points

McLaren's Lando Norris hunting down Max Verstappen's Red Bull at Imola (GABRIEL BOUYS)
McLaren's Lando Norris hunting down Max Verstappen's Red Bull at Imola (GABRIEL BOUYS)

Max Verstappen claimed his fifth win in seven races this year to extend his lead as he seeks a fourth consecutive drivers' title.

But Red Bull face a genuine threat to their supremacy led by McLaren and Ferrari.

That was the stark conclusion to draw after Lando Norris came home less than a second behind the championship leading Dutchman in Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

After another weekend of difficulties for the troubled champions, whose technical chief Adrian Newey made clear he is ready to join a rival next season, AFP Sport looks at three things we learned amid the passions and emotions stirred at the 'old-school' Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari:

Norris excited as Red Bull domination declines

Two weeks after beating his friend Verstappen to claim his maiden victory in Miami, Lando Norris and his McLaren team oozed renewed confidence after seeing the Red Bull juggernaut struggle to the line.

Another lap – and it might have been a different outcome.

With 19 laps remaining, Norris was eight seconds adrift, but as they crossed the line, it was just 0.725 seconds.

After his Florida fanfare, this was endorsement that McLaren's latest upgrades had lifted them into contention while Red Bull appear to have lost the indestructible aura of recent years in a troubled spell of controversy and speculation.

"The cars are converging after the latest upgrades – McLaren and Ferrari were very quick at this circuit," admitted Red Bull team boss Christian Horner who knows that losing Newey after 19 years is a major blow.

"Hopefully, it continues, said Norris, adding that there is "no reason to deny" McLaren are now fighting for victories.

"It’s exciting. It's tough. It gets you excited every weekend so I’m looking forward to the next few races.

"We were also second in China so we've been second, first, second, and I think it's a good sign."

The look on Verstappen’s face, after a hard-earned win, told its own story – Red Bull face a fight, starting from this week's Monaco Grand Prix where Oscar Piastri, fourth in the second McLaren, said he would be targeting a win.

Ferrari need qualifying pace

Charles Leclerc's popular podium finish, Ferrari’s first at Imola since Michael Schumacher won in 2006, provoked a red sea of tifosi celebrations, but the Italian team need to improve their qualifying to catch the leaders.

Team boss Fred Vasseur, who has guided the scarlet Scuderia deftly back into close contention, admitted their hopes of winning were lost on Saturday not Sunday.

"I think that if we had done better, if we had been 1-2 in qualifying, we would do 1-2 in the race," he said.

"We are close. What is true for us is that we are at the point now where we will have to speed up the development of the car.

"Imagine if someone can bring an upgrade one race earlier than the others, when you have three teams within one tenth (of each other), you can jump from P5 to P1.

"It is very close and it means that we’ll have to speed up the time to market. It is crucial. We must pay attention because we are now chasing the last hundredths (of a second)."

Leclerc and Sainz finished third and fifth on Sunday, leaving Sergio Perez struggling to cope down in eighth in the second Red Bull.

Verstappen has the talent to deliver results beyond potential of car

While his rivals anticipate Red Bull’s relative decline, Max Verstappen continued to prove he has a talent for squeezing more from his car than might be expected on a difficult day.

Short of comfort and confidence after two problematic days’ practice, he and his crew pulled out an unexpected pole position lap and then won the start of the race to create a lead he could defend for his 59th career victory.

"Red Bull had a good car today," said McLaren team chief Andrea Stella. "But we also saw the skills of the driver who won the race. Max did a very good job and he was the factor that won that race."