Max Verstappen overtakes Charles Leclerc on late pass to win F1 sprint race at Imola

Verstappen Leclerc Imola sprint
REMKO DE WAAL/ANP via Getty Images
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IMOLA, Italy — Max Verstappen overtook Formula One leader Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap to win the sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Saturday and reignite his season.

Verstappen started the sprint in pole position after finishing first in Friday’s qualifying, but the Red Bull driver was overtaken by Leclerc’s Ferrari as soon as the lights went out, much to the delight of the “tifosi.”

But Verstappen doggedly pursued Leclerc and swept around the outside of the Ferrari into Tamburello then stormed away to secure victory and top spot on the grid for Sunday’s grand prix.

He finished 2.975 seconds ahead of Leclerc and 4.721 ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

“The start was very bad. I don’t know exactly what happened or why it was so bad but after that we had to stay calm,” Verstappen said. “Initially, it looked like Charles had more pace but I think he ran out of tyres and we could close the gap and make the move.

“I know maybe tomorrow it might be different. But today it worked out for us.”

Verstappen’s one point for the sprint meant he trailed Leclerc by 45. However, Leclerc actually extended his overall lead. He was 40 points ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., who moved above Mercedes driver George Russell into second in the standings.

“It’s still a front row start,” Leclerc said. “We struggled with the tyres at the end, so we need to analyse that for tomorrow. The main race is tomorrow and we need to make sure that we are ready. We will work and come back stronger tomorrow.”

Sainz started the sprint in 10th after a crash in Friday’s incident-packed qualifying session but finished fourth, just ahead of McLaren duo Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Mick Schumacher rounded out the top 10 of the grid.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will start in 14th as Mercedes’ miserable weekend continued.

“We haven’t got it right this year but everyone is working hard as they can to correct it,” Hamilton said. “We stick together, we try to motivate everyone.

“We are obviously not fighting for the championship but we are fighting to understand the car and improve and progress through the year. That’s all we can hope for right now.”

Leclerc has won two of the season’s three races and will be hoping to end Ferrari’s three-year wait for a victory on home soil – and at a circuit named after the Italian team’s founder and his son: Enzo and Dino Ferrari.

Imola returned to the F1 calendar in 2020 after a 14-year absence, but this is the first time in three editions that fans have been allowed in because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 120,000 tickets have been sold for the weekend.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.