The battle is on between Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in the 2022 Formula 1 season. The two drivers have split the first four races of the season right down the middle with two victories each, plus a bonus sprint race win for Verstappen. The reigning Drivers' World Champion got his title defence back on track with a dominant display at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which was made even more significant due to a disastrous weekend for Ferrari.

Verstappen took pole position on Friday, but was passed by Leclerc off the line in the sprint race. However, the Ferrari was not able to keep the pace as the tyres started to go off in the closing stages of the sprint. allowing Verstappen to overtake the Ferrari for the lead in what is becoming a familiar sight this season.

The Dutchman learned his lesson and got off the line quickly in the main race, followed by teammate Sergio Perez. Leclerc was slow off the line and had to settle for third. The first disaster for Scuderia Ferrari took place just moments after the start, with Carlos Sainz ending up stuck in the gravel trap after being nudged by Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren.

It was game over for Sainz, leaving Leclerc alone to battle against the Red Bulls. Perez did a phenomenal job once more of defending his position to help his teammate, allowing Verstappen to open up a comfortable lead up front.

In the closing stages of the race, Leclerc opted to change tyres in an effort to secure the fastest lap and to find a way past Perez. However, the Red Bulls reacted quickly, sending both Perez and Verstappen into the pits as well.

Leclerc kept pushing, and instead of pressuring Perez into a costly mistake, the championship leader spun off and hit the wall. Fortunately for him, he was able to rejoin albeit in 9th place after having to pit for a new front wing.

With fresh tyres, the Ferrari driver was able to recover several places to end up in 6th place, but the mistake cost him a guaranteed podium position. Leclerc arrived at Imola with a 40-point lead over Mercedes driver George Russell who was in second place, with Verstappen five points further back.

After Ferrari's disastrous weekend and Verstappen's sprint and main race victories at Imola, he has jumped to second place in the standings with Leclerc's lead now cut down to just 27 points. Needless to say, Ferrari's early advantage this season appears to be in danger, especially if the Red Bulls remain reliable for the rest of the season.

The tifosi came out in droves as expected, but it was a disappointing weekend overall, especially for the Ferrari drivers themselves. Sainz had no chance to compete at all through no fault of his own. Meanwhile, Leclerc only has himself to blame, after choosing to take a risk instead of settling for third place.

"I tried too much. On that lap, I obviously wanted to give it all but I gave too much and finished into the wall. Instead of the third place we lose seven potential points which will be important at the end of the season and today it is my full responsibility," he said.

Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen
Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari and Max Verstappen swapped the lead several times in a furious start to the race AFP / OZAN KOSE