It’s going to be a longer road for Mercedes and for Lewis Hamilton. They don’t want to give up. Elsewhere, they should tell themselves: better a safe third place than a risky attempt with consequences. Because one person in particular has only been waiting for such mistakes from Charles Leclerc.

Max Verstappen is back on track. The car held. The performance of the Formula 1 title defender in Imola clearly showed: the World Championship will be anything but a foregone conclusion for Ferrari. Especially since the Scuderia, especially Charles Leclerc weakened. What spoke for the world championship leader was that he took the blame. But elsewhere, too, clear language was spoken after the Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna on Sunday.

Leclerc loses his nerve

It is always a question of nerves: the worries at Red Bull were great after two defects of different nature in two of three races. Even before the fourth Grand Prix of the year, it was said that the faults had been found and the problems solved. And so it was. And it turned out that the car is fast again and Verstappen is there when it counts. He made no mistakes, drove just as controlled and confident. Unlike Leclerc. He came to the home race of Ferrari as the top favourite, he had to admit defeat. Also because he lost his nerves. His crash shortly before the end was unnecessary. He might have been able to pass Sergio Perez in second place in the second Red Bull, but not Verstappen. Leclerc risked too much.

Wolff: “It’s the performance low of the car”.

Hamilton in his worst low in years: It is not the Briton’s low, insisted team boss Toto Wolff. Four races without a win, four races with only one podium place. He had finished third at the season opener in Bahrain. He scored a total of 28 points. Seventh in the world championship he is. “I have to protect him here as well. It’s not his low,” Wolff said, “It’s the performance low of the car.” Hamilton struggled in vain at Imola, even being lapped by last year’s world championship beater after two-thirds. “It’s definitely not easy,” admitted the seven-time world champion.

Wolff on Hamilton: “The guy is the best driver in the world”.

The problem is the strong bouncing of the car, which means the team does not get the so-called set-up right and thus performance potential remains unused. “If we manage to get the car reasonably straight on the track, we’ll be up front,” Wolff said, reiterating to Hamilton: “The guy is the best driver in the world, he just doesn’t have the machine and the equipment to show that.”

Vettel: “I couldn’t have driven better”

Sebastian Vettel’s standards for a sense of achievement have changed: He was happy, he was really happy. This eighth place felt like a victory. Vettel and Aston Martin changed tyres at the right time, Vettel made no mistakes. “I couldn’t have driven better,” said the 34-year-old four-time world champion. The mood lifter came just in time after the 53-time grand prix winner’s dismal performance in Melbourne with a race retirement. “The car doesn’t normally belong there. But we had the chance and we took it.”

Two spins robbed Schumacher of all hopes

Mick Schumacher is struggling: his own team’s rival was better again. Kevin Magnussen, the clearly more experienced Dane scored one point, the 15th overall. Magnussen is tenth in the world championship. Mick Schumacher has not yet scored a point. He is still waiting for his first point in the motorsport king class. Two spins dashed all hopes after the 23-year-old had started from tenth place in the Haas. There were some positives from the race weekend, “but at the moment it’s rather annoying,” he said.

Especially as he is being watched very closely. The son of record world champion Michael Schumacher was always able to make significant gains in the lower Formula series in the second year, winning Formula 3 and Formula 2. In Miami in a fortnight’ time, he will have the next opportunity to at least be one of the points scorers in Formula 1 as well.