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Verstappen 'super happy' to survive Norris fightback in Imola GP win

(L-R) Great Britain's Formula 1 second placed driver Lando Norris from Team McLaren, Dutch winner Max Verstappen from Team Oracle Red Bull, Monaco's third placed Charles Leclerc from Team Scuderia Ferrari and a Red Bull engineer stand on the podium after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. Hasan Bratic/dpa

World champion Max Verstappen returned to winning ways with victory from pole at the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday, but only after surviving a spirited late challenge from McLaren's Lando Norris.

Verstappen claimed his fifth season victory and 59th overall ahead of Norris and Charles Leclerc from home team Ferrari.

Norris came storming towards Verstappen in the closing stages, with Verstappen complaining about his tyres and the Dutchman told to observe track limits to avoid a five-second penalty after an earlier warning.

Briton Norris cut a deficit of around six seconds to less than one second entering the final lap but Verstappen held on for a slender victory by seven-tenths of a second.

Norris beat Verstappen for a first career victory two weeks ago in Miami, and Verstappen also had problems in the three Imola practice sessions before finding his pace again when it mattered.

Verstappen increased his championship lead with the latest victory, with Leclerc now second ahead of Sergio Perez who came eighth on the day.

Verstappen had no grip any more

"The whole race I had to push flat out to try and make a gap initially," the winner said.

"On the medium tyres we were quite strong. On the hard tyres it was more difficult to manage, especially the last 10 to 15 laps.

"I had no grip any more. I was sliding a lot. I saw Lando closing in. The last 10 laps were flat out. It's difficult when the tyres were not working any more and you have to go flat out.

"I couldn't afford to make too many mistakes. Luckily we didn't. I'm super happy to win here today."

Norris said: "It hurts me to say but one or two more laps I think I would have had him.

"Tough. A shame. I fought hard right until the very last lap but just lost out a little bit too much to Max in the beginning, he was much better in the first stint. In the second stint we were stronger."

Verstappen wins from start

McLaren's Oscar Piastri had originally qualified in second but had to start from fifth due to a grid penalty for impeding Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in qualifying, while Fernando Alonso started from the pit lane after managing only 19th in qualifying.

Verstappen held off Norris at the start while the McLaren man managed to keep his place against the charging Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Verstappen gradually increased his lead to almost five seconds by lap 15 as the top five pulled away and Piastri started to pressure Sainz but finding no way to pass the Ferrari.

Further back, Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez rose from 11th on the grid to eighth, behind the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, but was also guilty of briefly hitting the gravel after a mistake.

Sainz loses out in pit stops, Piastri rises

Norris started the round of pit stops in lap 23 but emerged just behind Perez and took a full lap to get past the Red Bull, precious time that may have been crucial in the end.

Verstappen then also pitted, followed by Leclerc from the temporary lead.

Sainz was the last man of the top drivers for fresh rubbers in lap 27 which did not pay off as he slipped behind Piastri and never recovered to finish fifth ahead of Russell, Hamilton and Perez.

Norris charge in vain after holding off Leclerc

Leclerc closed in on Norris in the later stages but a small mistake by the Monegasque ended his chances for second place.

Instead, Norris found another gear and rapidly closed in on Verstappen, who barely hung on for a third straight victory in Imola.

Norris saw plenty of positives for the upcoming races, starting with Monaco next weekend, after McLaren confirmed their big improvement.

"I think we're at the point now where we can happily say we are in the position of Ferrari and Red Bull," he said.

"So it's what we have to get used to. But we are all doing a very good job and it's business as usual. It's focusing on doing the same things, it's just we are fighting for first or second now.

"It's still a surprise to say it's frustrating not to win but after last weekend and the improvements we've made it's what we should start to expect."

Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team celebrates winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team celebrates winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team competes in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team competes in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team competes in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa
Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of the Red Bull Racing team competes in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit. David Davies/PA Wire/dpa