It’s been three weeks since the opening race of the new Formula One season, in this F1 Review Emilia Romagna 2021, resident F1 writer Nick van der Meulen outlines the second race of the year.
The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix took place at the Autodromo Dino e Enzo Ferrari – also known to fans as Imola. The circuit hosted its first F1 Grand Prix in 1980 as the Italian Grand Prix, replacing Monza for the only time in the Italian Grand Prix’s existence, however, a non-championship event won by Niki Lauda was run in 1979. It was subsequently run as the San Marino Grand Prix and has been witness to much triumph, drama and tragedy.
It is the venue of Gilles Villeneuve’s final Grand Prix before his tragic death at Zolder in 1982. It was at Imola where fans witnessed the darkest weekend in F1 history when, in 1994, Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives in consecutive days due to violent accidents at Tamburello and Villeneuve corners, respectively. As a result, the circuit has lost a lot of its character when chicanes were installed at Tamburello (where Nelson Piquet hit the barrier at high speed in 1987, Gerhard Berger had his fiery accident in 1989 and Senna lost his life in 1994) and Villeneuve (where Ratzenberger had his fatal accident), making it difficult to overtake.
Red Bull Racing Honda took a strategic decision in qualifying to run Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on different strategies. Perez, running on soft rubber, managed to outqualify his Dutch teammate running on medium compound Pirellis, and start from the front row of the grid. Verstappen made a superb start from the second row of the grid and blasted into the lead in changeable conditions.
He was peerless throughout and comfortably took his 11th victory of his career. Perez struggled in the slippery conditions and ran off the circuit under the Safety Car, but rejoined and passed cars illegally. The Mexican had to serve a 10-second stop/go penalty at his pit stop, as a result. He had a torrid time on track afterwards, spinning once and struggling with the handling of his mount and finishing outside the points.
Never give up
Mercedes were surprised to find themselves in pole position with Lewis Hamilton, despite both machines being at the top of the timesheets throughout the weekend. Valtteri Bottas, who was looking strong throughout the free practice sessions and the beginning of qualifying, had issues with the rear end of his mount in the final qualifying session, dropping him to eighth on the grid…a disastrous session for the Finn at a circuit where it is notoriously difficult to overtake.
He struggled in the race, as a result, and ended his race in the gravel trap. Hamilton tried valiantly to maintain contact with Verstappen after an indifferent start, but could not get close enough to challenge for supremacy. The Englishman tried too hard in the slippery conditions and paid the price, when he ran off the track at Tosa corner, damaged his front wing and dropped to ninth place as a result. He worked hard to claim the runner-up spot at the fall of the chequered flag.
McLaren-Mercedes are enjoying a rich run of form to begin the 2021 season. Lando Norris was distraught to have his fastest qualifying lap, good enough for third place on the grid, cancelled for not respecting track limits. He made up for it on race day, however, as he carved his way through the field to run a strong second in the closing stages of the race.
He was no match for a charging Hamilton, though, the seven-time champion blasting past him around the outside under braking for Tamburello, and he had to settle for third position – matching his best career result. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was solid, if unspectacular, and took valuable points for sixth position. The team finds themselves in third position in the constructors’ championship standings.
Ferrari performed well at Imola. Charles Leclerc qualified fourth and ran strongly in the top three for most of the race, but had to settle for fourth place at the fall of the chequered flag, narrowly edging out new teammate Carlos Sainz – a valuable points haul for the team.
Fernando Alonso, last at Imola in 2006, was trounced by teammate Esteban Ocon in both qualifying and the race, with the Frenchman claiming the last point on offer.
Williams performed well in qualifying, with George Russell and Nicolas Latifi starting 12th and 14th, respectively, however, Latifi’s race was short-lived when he spun at Aqua Minerale on lap 1, rejoined and made contact with Nikita Mazepin. It pitched the Williams into the wall and brought out the Safety Car. The team ended up with a severe repair bill when George Russell, chasing Valtteri Bottas for position, collided with the Finn at high speed on the run to Tamburello.
The ensuing debris brought out the red flag, such that it could be cleared. It appeared that, while Russell clearly was faster than Bottas and looking to pass on the outside, there was enough space for the Englishman to make the move…sadly, it ended in tears for them both when Russell touched the grass and pitched into Bottas, sending them careening into the gravel. Thankfully, both drivers walked away from the incident unhurt.
Lance Stroll (Aston Martin-Mercedes) finished seventh, keeping a charging Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri-Honda) at bay after the Frenchman fell back in the field when running on wet tyres on a drying circuit; Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) claiming two points for ninth position.
The F1 circus packs up to travel to Portimao, Portugal, for the third round of F1 world championship on 30 April to 2 May.