Formula 1 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was held at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari. The track itself is located in the town of Imola, so it is known as the Imola racetrack. F1 raced at Imola last year as a one-off race due to disruptions caused by Covid-19. This year Chinese Grand Prix was supposed to be the second race of the season, but precautions by the government meant the race was cancelled for the second time. So this year, it was the second running of the Emilia Romagna GP.
Mercedes played a masterstroke during the Bahrain GP and won the opening race in the second fastest car. Lewis Hamilton did a great job on Saturday by securing his first pole position of the season ahead of the two Red Bulls. The race was run under wet and dry conditions, which made for an exciting afternoon of racing across the grid.
Max Verstappen won the second race of the season ahead of Hamilton, who at one moment was a lap down. Lando Norris completed the podium with the second of his career and McLaren's first of the season.
Pre-Race Preparations Thursday:
Weather conditions for the race were predicted to be mixed with a threat of rain on Saturday and particularly heavy rain for the race on Sunday. This would make for an exciting race on Sunday and present many drivers with opportunities to get good results.
This year, the DRS zone was extended by 100 meters to aid overtaking. Looking back on last year’s race at Imola, only six track overtakes were completed. Pirelli again brought the same tyre compounds for the race as they did in Bahrain. C2 was the hard tyre, C3 the yellow-marked medium and red-marked soft tyre was C4 compound.
Valterri Bottas set the pace during the Friday practice sessions. He was the fastest Mercedes driver ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes looked quick on the qualifying and race simulations but still lacked the decisive edge it needed over Red Bull. Even though the Red Bull team did not post any headline time, number-crunching pointed toward them as the team to beat for the rest of the weekend.
Ferrari showed good pace during the Friday sessions and looked set to battle with McLaren and Alpha Tauri for the weekend. The McLarens were following a program different from the others, but they had demonstrated impressive pace as well. Alpine introduced a big aerodynamic upgrade package; however, the numbers did not show any sign of improvement.
Verstappen finally delivered the lap time at the end of the Saturday practice session. Norris was the surprise of the session by finishing Saturday in second place and within half a second of the Red Bull. Hamilton was third ahead of the second Red Bull of Perez. Leclerc was 5th ahead of Pierre Gasly, Sainz 7th, Bottas 8th, with Alonso and Ocon completing the top 10.
Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri had a car capable of qualifying for Q3, but he crashed on his first flying lap while going through Variante Alta and brought out the red flag. Mercedes and the McLaren of Norris were flying in Q1 along with the Red Bulls. Alpha Romeo, along with the two Haas drivers and Tsunoda, failed to reach Q2.
The pair of Mercedes and Verstappen decided to qualify on medium tyres for Sunday’s race. This meant that they were not going to be the fastest at the end of the session. Norris and Perez showed tremendous pace and were only separated by 0.002 sec at the end of Q2. Ferrari’s new driver Carlos Sainz failed to reach Q3 and qualified 11th. Williams had decent qualifying after both cars got to Q2 but couldn’t go any further. The upgraded Alpine also was unable to reach Q3 in the hands of Alonso along with the Aston Martin of Vettel.
Hamilton set the early benchmark by going quickest ahead of Verstappen and Perez. Norris was the fourth quickest car confirming the pace advantage they had over their midfield rivals. Hamilton failed to improve on his final, but the big surprise of the session was Lando Norris, who went second quickest behind Lewis and was less than half a tenth from pole position time.
The celebrations at the McLaren garage were cut short when FIA deleted the time due to track limit infringement but impressive time nonetheless. Perez qualified in second place ahead of Verstappen, who made a mistake on the final lap. Leclerc was 4th, Gasly 5th, Ricciardo 6th, Norris 7th, Bottas 8th, Ocon 9th, and Stroll 10th.
It was raining as predicted, and the track was wet as the cars went from pits to the grid. Several drivers were caught out on slippery track and spun their vehicles, including Fernando Alonso and Leclerc. Everyone started the race on intermediate tyres except the two Haas cars of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, and the Alpha Tauri of Gasly, going for full wet weather tyres.
Verstappen made a great start from third on the grid and was alongside Hamilton going into the first chicane. Max was entitled to take the racing line and forced Lewis to go wide, resulting in some damage to the front wing of his Mercedes. Behind them, Perez lost third to fast starting Leclerc.
Lap 2 saw the first safety car deployed when Latifi’s Williams crashed by tangling with Mazepin’s car. Under the safety car conditions, Perez went off track and was overtaken by two cars. After rejoining the track, he overtook both those cars to regain his position, which you cannot do under safety car conditions. He was given a 10-second penalty for the offence.
The race resumed on Lap 7, and Max led the grid from Lewis while his teammate was struggling in 10th place. Pierre Gasly had to pit on lap 16 to change from full wets to intermediate tyres and dropped down to 17th. Ricciardo had to swap position with Norris as instructed by the team due to his poor race pace. Norris quickly builds the gap of 4 sec within two laps; such was his pace advantage over his teammate.
Max went for a pitstop on lap 27 to switch to a new set of mediums. Lewis did a great lap, but a slow four-second pitstop meant he came out behind Max. On lap 31, while trying to overtake the lapped car of George Russell, Hamilton went onto the wet part in turn 14 and slid into the gravel trap. He damaged his front wing while trying to reverse out of the gravel.
While trying to pass Bottas for the final championship point, Russell collided with Bottas in a huge crash ending the race for both of them and bringing out the red flag. Lapped cars were allowed to unlap, including Lewis in P9.
The race restarted with Max in the lead, followed by Leclerc and Norris. McLaren switched Norris to soft tyres, and he did quick work of Leclerc for P2 on the restart. Lewis was flying after the restart, passed one car after another, and was finally in P2 by the end of lap 60.
Max took the chequered flag and won his first race of the season. Lewis was P2, but a point for fastest lap meant he is now leading the championship by one point from Max. Norris was a brilliant third after showing great speed in the resurging McLaren. Leclerc was 4th, Sainz 5th, Ricciardo 6th, Gasly 7th, Stroll 8th, Ocon 9th, and Alonso 10th.
F1 2021 Portugese Grand Prix:
The teams now head to the Algarve circuit in Portugal. It was a cracking race last season and might be even better this year due to a bunched up grid on performance.