LEWIS HAMILTON battled back from a lap down to salvage second place in Imola.
It was a stunning fightback from the Brit, who had no answer to Max Verstappen‘s brilliant win for Red Bull.
Max Verstappen claimed his maiden win of the 2021 Formula One seasonCredit: Getty
Lewis Hamilton was jumped by the Dutchman’s Red Bull at the startCredit: Reuters
The Dutchman got his reward after an excellent start in tricky conditions in an incident-packed race.
There were big smashes, bust-ups and drama as this explosive Formula One season continues to catch fire.
Hamilton, who started on pole, was leapfrogged at the start by Verstappen, who quickly went from third to first in the wet.
An rare unforced error from the world champion saw him punt his Mercedes into the barriers on lap 31 and dropped him a lap down and in ninth place.
But a massive smash between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell on the following lap caused the race to be suspended.
That allowed Hamilton to crawl back to the pits where his Mercedes team repaired his car while he was also allowed to unlap himself.
So when the race resumed, he started in ninth and quickly sliced his way through the field before pipping fellow Brit Lando Norris to second a few laps from the end.
Hamilton, 36, also managed to score a bonus point for setting the fastest lap, which means he still leads the championship from Verstappen, by a point.
A huge crash involving Valtteri Bottas and George Russell brought out a red flagCredit: Splash
Hamilton had time to reflect on his error before the restartCredit: Splash
He said: “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Congratulations to Max, he did a fantastic job – just solid work from him.
“And also to Lando, what an awesome job and it’s so good to see McLaren back up there.
“On my side it was not the greatest days. It’s the first time I’ve made a mistake in a long time. But I’m grateful I was able to bring the car home.”
When quizzed about hitting the barriers at Tosa when he tried to pass Russell, Hamilton admitted it was his error.
He added: “There was only one dry line, and I guess I was in too much of a hurry to get by everyone.
“I came to the inside and I could see it was wet and I was trying to stop, but the thing wouldn’t stop and it sent me off.
“A bit unfortunate but I’m really really grateful we were able to get going again, and to get some points for the team was really important.
“I loved the charge through the field. It is like when I was a kid and had a dodgy old go kart when I started at the back and had to come through the field.
Verstappen pulled to within a point of championship leader HamiltonCredit: Getty
Lando Norris took third with an expert drive at ImolaCredit: Getty
“Once I got going, there was a lot of relief but I knew I had been in the gravel for minutes and when I found out I was a lap down, I did not know what I could do.
“But the conditions were tricky and it was an unfortunate incident that allowed us to get back into the race.
“We have a close battle that we love, so there are going to be a lot of exciting races ahead.”
Verstappen, who is second in the championship, crossed the line 22 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
It was his first win in Italy as he delivered a commanding performance from the front in the wet.
He said: “It was very challenging, especially at the beginning. It was hard to stay on track.
“I had a little moment at the restart, I was trying to warm the throttle and lucky we did not spin. But in these conditions we did a good job.
“It is never easy in a race like this. It can be quite stressful to make the right decision but last year, when we struggled in the wet and we have made some improvements over the winter.
“But it is a very long season and we have to keep on working hard. It was a good result but tomorrow we start again and we have to keep on improving.
“It is great to be fighting Lewis and Mercedes. They have been so dominant and to sit here two races in a row and being competitive is exciting.”
Lewis was too quick but it is nice to be fighting these guys because we are there on merit.
Norris, who started seventh, made up the podium after holding Hamilton off for a handful of laps before his tyres eventually lost grip and he had to settle for third.
He said: “I am very pleased with myself and the team. It was a nice recovery after Saturday.
“It was a tough start and I tried hanging on for second but Lewis was too quick, but it is nice to be fighting these guys because we are there on merit.”