A champion’s drive

Max Verstappen dug deep to stay just ahead of Lando Norris at Imola, as the slow burner turned into a cliffhanger!
Imola GP line-up
Imola GP line-up

 “I was just praying for one more lap,” said Norris. “I 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 tires start to overheat again.” To add to that, Verstappen demonstrated some superbly-timed race craft in judging the life of his overworked front tyres in the last few laps of the Grand Prix. Ultimately it was another Verstappen win, in fact the 59th since his maiden one in Spain 2016! But this one will go down as one his best weekends in F1. He stole pole position from the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris by just 0.074s and 0.091s respectively on Saturday!

And on Sunday, although McLaren and Ferrari were looming large he paced his RBR20 just out of reach. When Norris began swallowing up the gap, the Dutchman didn’t panic, instead just focussed on staying out of the McLaren’s drag reduction zone distance. Kudos to the 23 year old Norris, who like Verstappen finished on the podium in Imola for the third consecutive year and completed a hattrick of podiums this season! He lies 4th in the championship standings just six points behind Sergio Perez. Another impressive performance in terms of consistency goes to Charles Leclerc who has managed to overtake Perez for P2 in the standings.

Imola GP line-up
2024 Italian GP: Lando Norris records first win in 110 race starts
Max Verstappen with his trophy
Max Verstappen with his trophy

Leclerc remarkably hasn’t finished below P4 this season, and with Ferrari appearing to be one of the best slow-speed-corner-handling chassis out there, could Monaco up next, be his big chance? The Monegasque will surely want that. To be immediately behind Verstappen in the standings yet not have a single victory yet is bizarre to say the least. “I'm only very happy when I win and today we didn't quite make it” said Leclerc philosophically. Charles is Max’s peer and biggest rival in terms of sheer pace and potential. While Ferrari have floundered mostly and delivered on few occasions he hasn’t been able to find a consistent ‘A’ game to counter the Dutchman’s outright success. In Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz he has had tough team mates to overcome and he has.

But what’s missing from his arsenal still is a champion’s drive. The glitzy Monaco Grand Prix is often referred to as a jewel in the crown of F1. If Leclerc can steal a win here he can genuinely challenge the champion.

Round 8 | Monaco | Sunday, 26th May 18:30 | LIVE on F1TV & FanCode App

Story by Ajit Devadason

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