Verstappen snatches P1 from Leclerc in thrilling Imola Sprint
Max Verstappen won the first Sprint of 2022 having passed Charles Leclerc with two laps remaining, to ensure a first-place start for Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Friday's wet qualifying session set the grid for this Sprint, Verstappen having taken pole position over Leclerc with Lando Norris leading Kevin Magnussen off the second row. An overhauled format now sees points awarded to the top eight rather than the top three – even more incentive to give it all on Saturday afternoon, under clouds spitting with rain...
It was Leclerc, to a rapturous reception from the tifosi, who took the lead off Verstappen as the lights went out – only for the Safety Car to interrupt proceedings as Zhou Guanyu (DNF) and Pierre Gasly (P19) made contact through Turn 9 on Lap 1. Green-flag racing would resume on Lap 5, Leclerc leading Verstappen then Norris at the time.
READ MORE: Verstappen relieved to take P1 in Sprint after 'terrible' start at Imola
The championship leader skated away, Verstappen in tow. The Dutchman loomed in Leclerc's mirrors throughout and was in DRS range with a handful of laps remaining, stalking the Ferrari and making his move for the lead with two laps left – sliding by into Tamburello.
Completing the top three was Verstappen's Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez, who made up three places within the first 10 laps and pried P3 off Norris on Lap 11 with DRS.
FORMULA 1 ROLEX GRAN PREMIO DEL MADE IN ITALY E DELL'EMILIA-ROMAGNA 2022
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||30:39.567||8|
|2 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+2.975s||7|
|3 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||+4.721s||6|
|4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||+17.578s||5|
|5 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+24.561s||4|
Norris dropped to P5 for McLaren, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz up six places having crashed out of Q2, which caused him to start 10th on Saturday. Sainz claimed P4 off the McLaren with just two laps remaining.
That left Daniel Ricciardo sixth, where he started, ahead of a fast-moving Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, who took P7 off medium-tyred Haas driver Kevin Magnussen late in the Sprint.
Magnussen held on for the final point, finishing ahead of Alpine's Fernando Alonso in P9 – who started fifth but couldn't contend with his rivals' pace on the softs – and the other Haas of Mick Schumacher, who took P10 on mediums.
READ MORE: ‘There’s nothing I can do’ – Hamilton despondent after losing position in Imola Sprint
George Russell recovered back to 11th having lost places at the start, finishing ahead of AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda and the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel – who gradually fell out of the top 10 and into 13th by the flag.
Lewis Hamilton started 13th and finished 14th in another tough showing for the Silver Arrows.
Lance Stroll rounded out the top 15 for Aston Martin, having started P15 for the Sprint.
Gearbox issues put Esteban Ocon 19th for the start of the Sprint and he made up three places for P16 in the Alpine, keeping Gasly – who collided with Zhou at the start and pitted for a nose change – 17th.
Williams' Alex Albon started last due to a brake fire in qualifying, and ended up 18th – his team mate Nicholas Latifi 19th, with Zhou the sole retiree on Saturday.
Sunday will therefore see Verstappen start first ahead of Leclerc, with Perez and Sainz sharing the second row.
"My start was not very good, but I think we had pretty decent pace; it took a while to try put the pressure on," said P1 finisher Verstappen. "I think we were better on our tyres at the end of the race I could get in the race so then I could get in the DRS, and we had a good fight into Turn 2 but it was fast – pushing quite a bit.
"I’m of course happy about today but I know that tomorrow, with also other tyres compounds coming into play, it might be a bit different. But we had a good day."
Verstappen's stunning late pass on Leclerc to retake the Sprint lead after losing it just as the lights went out.
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Gaining six places, Carlos Sainz made the moves on Saturday as he took P4 behind Sergio Perez, who in turn made up four places. Yuki Tsunoda was another gainer from P16 to P12.
Zhou Guanyu suffered a DNF having started 14th, Sebastian Vettel lost four places to take P13, Fernando Alonso down four places from P5 and Kevin Magnussen lost four to finish P8 from P4 on the grid.
The Sprint has set the provisional grid for Sunday's Emilia Grand Prix, which is set to take place at 1500 local time here at Imola. Visit our RACE HUB to see when and where you can watch Sunday's action.