Honda, Verstappen Score First F1 Victory of 2021

Max Verstappen debunked the racing adage that you can't win a race in the first corner as the driver of the Red Bull Racing Honda came from third to take the lead in the first turn of the race and stormed away to his first win of the Formula 1 season Sunday in Imola.

The Red Bull Racing duo of Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who started second, swarmed the pole sitting Hamilton at the start of the Emilia Romagna GP and Verstappen emerged from the opening chicane with the lead. He would go on to pace 62 of the day's 63 laps and beat reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton to the line by 22 seconds. The win, which came in a race that started in rain and ended in dry conditions, moved the Dutchman to within one point of the series lead after two races.

The AlphaTauri Honda of Pierre Gasly tallied its first points of the year, finishing seventh after falling to the rear of the field after being the only driver in the top 10 to start the race on full wet tires – getting promoted a spot to seventh due to a Lance Stroll post-race penalty.

Verstappen's dominant drive was in stark contrast to the day endured by many of his compatriots, as the wet track led to a number of spins and one red-flag stoppage brought out by a Lap 31 crash between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell.

The moisture bedeviled Perez all day long, but the Spaniard overcame a 10-second penalty for passing during a Safety Car period to run in the top four after the red flag. He threatened to double Red Bull's presence in the top five on Sunday before two late-race off-course excursions in the slick conditions doomed him to finish 11th.

Running the second race of his F1 career, Yuki Tsunoda made up six spots on the first lap after starting 19th due to a crash in qualifying. The young Japanese driver climbed into the top 10, but a spin on the restart after the red flag dropped the AlphaTauri pilot to 12th at race end.

The victory was the 79th in Formula 1 for Honda and its seventh since returning to F1 in 2015. The Red Bull Racing Honda team is second in the constructor's points, just seven markers out of the lead. The series has a week off before heading to Portimao in Portugal on May 2. Honda earned a pair of top-five finishes there a year ago in the track's maiden F1 race.

Toyoharu Tanabe
Technical Director, Honda F1
“A great team performance from Red Bull Racing, Honda and Max Verstappen has produced our first win of the season. Conditions were very tricky because of the rain that began before the start and there were many accidents and then even a Red Flag stoppage. However, the team coped with it well and this result is a great reward for our race team and also for all our staff in Sakura and Milton Keynes and of course, everyone at Red Bull Racing. For Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, Pierre Gasly lost places while running from the start on the wet tires, but in the end he fought his way back into the points and seventh place. Both Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda were going very well, but a spin for each of them dropped them out of the points. It is good to see that we have been competitive in the first two races, but there is a very long way to go, so we need to keep pushing and tackle each race as it comes.”

Max Verstappen - Red Bull Racing Honda
Start 3rd, Finish: 1st – (First win of 2021)
“I am of course very happy with this win for everyone in the team and Honda. I think the key was of course the start as we had a great launch. I surprised myself as it was always hard to get off the line in the wet last year but we worked hard to try and improve that and it worked. The conditions were challenging out there, especially in the beginning and it was very hard to stay on track but we stayed out of trouble. I wouldn't call it a dominant performance as Lewis was following me quite well and for him to come back to second after his incident means they have a lot of pace in that car. We won because we made the right calls with tires at the right time and the team managed everything well in these conditions. With the tires degrading, choosing the right moment to go onto slicks wasn't easy but we got it right. I had a little moment at the re-start trying to warm up the tires with some throttle but luckily we didn't spin. I'm looking forward to Portimão because it's an amazing track and then we go to a track we all know well in Barcelona. We'll see what we can do but so far, it's been a good start to the year.”

Sergio Perez - Red Bull Racing Honda
Start: 2nd, Finish: 11th
“The conditions out there were really difficult today and I made quite a few mistakes that were very costly. I struggled to retain any temperature in the tires, so I lost it under the safety car and I got a 10 second penalty. It is of course important that I get used to the car and that I learn these lessons, but I messed up, I'm very disappointed in myself and really sorry to the team. I think at the restart the podium was ours and the pace of the car was good today, we should have finished one and two on the podium. Let's focus on the next race now, we will work really hard as a team and come back stronger.”

Pierre Gasly - Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 5th, Finish: 7th
“For sure, it's been a very difficult day – we started from P5 but we made a different call with tires at the start of the race and quickly ended up at the back. Obviously, I was very disappointed, but from there we kept fighting and after the red flag we managed to make our way forward again to seventh position and get ourselves a couple of points for the weekend, which is good. It wasn't an easy one, so to finish in the points is positive, but I think there was more to be had, given where we started from on the grid this afternoon. We showed the potential of the car on Saturday and next time out we just need to put it all together across the weekend.”

Yuki Tsunoda - Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
Start: 19th, Finish: 12th
"I think it was a fantastic race for the viewers at home but I'm very disappointed with myself and I just want to say sorry to the team. It's a real shame that I spun after the red flag, up until that point I think the race was going pretty well and the pace was really good. This was the first time I've been in a Formula 1 car in the wet and I learned you have to be so careful, especially with acceleration. Starting on the intermediate tire during the rainy conditions made it even more difficult but it was a great opportunity for me to understand more how the compounds work in different conditions. I think points could have been on the table for me here today but it's all a learning curve and I'll take this experience with me to the next race.”