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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Circuit: Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, aka IMOLA
A late addition to the revised 2020 calendar, drivers’ favourite Imola is the first anti-clockwise track this season – Turkey and Abu Dhabi are the only others, and they’re both coming up.
Since the last time F1 was at the track named after Enzo and Dino Ferrari, the old Variante Bassa that existed before the start/finish line was remodelled (Although it’s still used for motorcycles) and replaced with a longer pit straight that starts after Rivazza II, a change that brings back the feel of the circuit before 1994, where the cars went flat out all the way through to the Tosa corner.
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 13: IS THAT ANOTHER ***IN’ PODIUM?
There are certain tracks in Formula One that send a shiver up the spine for their infamy.
The Nordschleife layout of the Nurburgring, the site of Niki Lauda’s fiery near-death crash, the old Monza, which killed Alberto Ascari, Wolfgang von Trips and Jochen Rindt, the old Hockenheim, which killed Jim Clark in his prime…
Imola tops them all, and you can pinpoint it all to the events that transpired between April 29 and May 1, 1994.
Rubens Barrichello’s horror crash at Variante Bassa on Friday that he survived thanks to Professor Sid Watkins, the death of Austrian rookie Roland Ratzenberger on April 30, which was sadly overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna during the race, the ultimate, tragic low of what was the darkest weekend in the history of Formula One.
Pierre Gasly drove with a Senna tribute helmet, which is perfect with the AlphaTauri-Honda partnership and the Honda logo on the visor, just as Ayrton had in the McLaren-Honda years.
With the revised schedule, Italy is the first country to host 3 races in a season since the USA did so in 1982, while Imola has now hosted the Italian, San Marino, and the Emilia Romgana Grand Prix (Obviously named after the region of Italy), and funnily enough, this was the 100th Grand Prix held in Italy, dating back to that first visit to Monza in 1950.
Of course, Imola hasn’t been on the F1 calendar since the San Marino Grand Prix was last run in 2006, and unsurprisingly, the only survivor from that last visit is Kimi Raikkonen – Lewis Hamilton also raced in the GP2 round that weekend.
The Iceman finished 2nd to Michael Schumacher in 2003, and he started on Pole in 2005, was pulling away by a second per lap at the start of the race, only to retire on Lap 9 with an alternator failure, after which Fernando Alonso held off Michael in one of the great race finishes you’ll ever see.
In the time since Lewis Hamilton’s record 92nd win in Portugal last Sunday, Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were both confirmed at Alfa Romeo-Sauber (With Alfa also resigning as title sponsor) for 2021, Pierre gasly is staying at AlphaTauri, George Russell will be staying at Williams, and it appears Max Verstappen has finally developed his first genuine rivalry in F1…..
Yes, sensing their rare moment of attention, the Mongolian Government have written to the FIA, Aston Martin and Red Bull, obviously disappointed with Verstappen using the world “Mongol” after his collision with Lance Stroll in Friday practice last week, which they described as “Racist” and “Unethical” language.
I hear you’re a racist now, Max!
This weekend was a unique 2-day weekend, with just one practice session on Saturday morning before Qualifying, which essentially meant teams had to schedule 3 race tyre simulation runs into 90 minutes, which severely limited tyre data.
As it was in Portimao, track limits were the big problem, as drivers were monitored for crossing the white line at Piratella/Turn 9, and the ‘Italian flag’ at the Turn 15 Alta chicane, which caused more problem
Some 60 lap times (22 at Turn 9, 38 at T15) were deleted in Practice, but the drivers asked Race Control to revise the Turn 9 limit before Qualifying, along with a revision to Turn 13, and the effect was only 8 times were deleted in Quali, and all up, Alex Albon was the main offender, having 8 lap times deleted on Saturday, and a spin in Q1 for good measure, although he got into the Top 10.
Kimi Raikkonen was knocked out in Q1 as a result of a time deletion, despite his protests that he had wheels on the kerb at the Alta chicane.
In Q2, Max Verstappen complained about a loss of power, but it didn’t turn out to be a simple fix like a change of steering wheel – The spark plug had failed, and the team with the Honda mechanics had to take off the engine cover and get into the power unit.
Supposedly it takes an average of 15 minutes to change a spark plug, meaning the only driver who had a minuscule chance of defeating the Mercs was on course to start 15th.
But, this is the team who make sub-2 second pit stops look like child’s play, and unbelievably, they had it resolved in 8 minutes, and the Dutchman got on track and into Q3 with just one lap, and he was able to do so on the Medium tyre.
As a result, neither Racing Point appeared in Q3, after Sergio Perez was knocked out by Albon’s last lap and started 11th alongside Esteban Ocon, and Lance Stroll was only 15th fastest, even after having a time deleted, while George Russell made another big showing on a Saturday, starting 13th, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who had his final lap time deleted.
The theme of the first 2 sessions was that the Mercedes were a good half a second faster than every car (What’s new), and after the opening Q3 runs, it appeared it was going to be Pole Position 98 for Lewis Hamilton after going 0.031s faster than Valtteri Bottas, who had never driven in anger around Imola.
However, Bottas would laugh loudest this time, going 0.1s faster through Sector 1 on his final run, which set the tone for the rest of the lap, and the Flying Finn would claim his 15th pole position with a 1.13.609, an average lap speed of 240 km/h, some 20 km/h faster than Michael Schumacher’s pole time from 2004.
Wearing the Senna tribute helmet, Gasly started a damn fine P4 in AlphaTauri’s home race, the best starting position for the Faenza team since Sebastian Vettel’s pole at Monza in 2008 for Toro Rosso, and their best dry weather start since Pierluigi Martini started 2nd in Phoenix for Minardi in 1990.
Just 0.018 behind Gasly, an elated Daniel Ricciardo described his lap to qualify 5th as his best lap of the year, and it’s an understandable statement when you see his improvement.
Between Q1 (When he barely got out as time expired) and Q2, Dan found half-a-second to get into the Top 10, then in Q3 he found another 4-tenths, half of it coming at the Tamburello chicane, which propelled him from 9th into a Top 5 start.
A huge boost on a track not renowned for overtaking, even back in the 2000s.
These were the lovely trophies for the podium-getter-erers, and there’s a unique little bejeweled detail on the metal forming the track.
A 14 carat diamond encrusted at the point on the circuit where the Senna accident occurred at Tamburello in 1994.
Now obviously Ratzenberger wasn’t quite on Senna’s level of mystique, but I mean, he also lost his life that weekend…
Race (66 Laps)
Movember ticked around with Bottas sporting his Keke Rosberg tribute, and starting from the front row, Mercedes needed just 11 points (4th place) to become the first team in history to win 7 consecutive Constructors Championships.
Even the most deluded of anti-Merc fans knew it was a certainty that either Hamilton or Bottas would fall arse-first into a Top 4 finish.
In a slight worry, Pierre Gasly had an issue with his power unit on the grid, which was spotted by the Honda technicians as an “Anomaly”.
Turned out it was a bit more than that.
At the start, Bottas jumped and led from pole, Verstappen passed Hamilton for 2nd up the inside, and Ricciardo jumped well and passed Gasly (Who was hung out wide) for 4th into Tamburello by following Verstappen.
During the opening lap, Kevin Magnussen was spun by Sebastian Vettel at Tosa, and Lance Stroll was forced to pit after damaging his front wing tagging Esteban Ocon through Turns 1-2, although the Renault escaped any rear tyre damage.
Within 4 laps, the Top 3 on the Mediums had put a good 4 seconds back to Ricciardo leading the ‘F1.5’ field, with Verstappen the meat in the German sandwich, more than holding his own against the Black Arrows.
Beginning Lap 6, Sainz became the first driver to properly use the DRS as it was designed, passing teammate Norris down the outside into Turn 1, but outside of that, it was seldom effective.
Martin Brundle noted that perhaps the problem was that the DRS zone on the pit straight (Which activated on the start/finish line) was about 100m too short.
In a disaster for AlphaTauri, Gasly’s engine problem had become terminal, and he was forced in to retire from 5th on Lap 9, with what was determined as a drop in water pressure, which would’ve eventually destroyed the engine.
A shitty end to what had been a great run for Pierre, and it was down to Daniil Kvyat to keep AlphaTauri’s points streak going.
Giovinazzi was the first driver to do a genuine pit stop on Lap 11, swapping on to the Mediums.
Ricciardo had been out on his own after Gasly retired, but he was starting to hit the wall on front tyre life, with LeClerc’s Ferrari halving the gap from 3 seconds to 1.5 in some 3 laps.
The Prancing Horse elected not to keep their lead driver in the Renault’s dirty air for too long, and brought the Monegasque in on Lap 14, going for the undercut by stopping for Hard tyres.
With the Soft tyres degrading much faster than Pirelli’s forecasts (The loss of data from the usual Friday session may have contributed), that sparked the cat & mouse game in the pits, with teams diving in much earlier than expected to get on the hard tyre and try and one stop to the end.
Ricciardo was called in on Lap 15, barely rejoining ahead of LeClerc, who was able to stay ahead of Albon, and the aggressive Ferrari locked up on cold tyres at Tosa looking for a way past the Aussie, as the rear wing of a French car became burned into LeClerc’s retinas for the next 35 laps.
Kvyat tried a brave move on Albon into Tamburello at Lap 17, and it came so close to a front wing puncturing the rear tyre.
Sainz stayed out the longest of the Top 10, changing on to the Medium tyre on Lap 18 in a bold strategy ploy, which worked out well, as he stayed ahead of Norris, but was just behind Kvyat.
Verstappen was the first of the Top 3 to stop the next lap for Hard tyres on Lap 18, which forced Mercedes to respond by pitting the lead car of Bottas, keeping him ahead of the Red Bull.
Hamilton assumed the lead, and Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington promptly told him they were running long, most likely trying to make the Medium last long enough to stop for Soft tyres.
On Lap 22, Bottas was informed he had ‘significant’ damage on the floor (Caused by the kerbs at Turn 5) and had picked up debris, costing him car performance, which coincided with Verstappen closing to within DRS range, and Hamilton doing more than enough to build a pit stop lead (26-27 seconds) over Bottas, but he was closing up to Lance Stroll and would have to think about stopping soon.
Around this time, Magnussen, who had stayed out after his spin, was now forming a dreaded DRS train ahead of Ricciardo, who had been held up for so long that Sergio Perez had been able to run long and build a 27-second lead over the Renault, which would now put the Mexican into an effective 4th place when he stopped.
There was finally some action when Ricciardo got the DRS and swooped past Magnussen on Lap 28, which invited LeClerc to attack the Haas down the outside at Tosa in a recreation of Montoya vs Schumacher from 2004, then Albon picked him off, and after that brief bit of actual excitement, Haas pitted Magnussen, and he was dropped back down to the depths of 18th place.
With the damage done by the Haas, Racing Point called Perez in and got him back out ahead of Riccardo, pretty much ensuring a mundane 5th place for our protagonist, assuming LeClerc couldn’t get by him with the DRS.
Given it was a Ferrari engine, that answer was immediately “No, he won’t.”
Running down in 15th, the sister Renault of Ocon retired on Lap 28 with a clutch issue, the fourth mechanical retirement in 2020 for the Frenchman, who pulled off just before the Alta chicane.
With the marshals needing to push the car behind the wall close to the racing line, that saw the Virtual Safety enforced…
Which was nothing short of a goddamn gift for Hamilton, who gained about 10 seconds in a VSC window that lasted no more than 15 seconds, putting him into a comfortable race lead.
Hilariously, the VSC ended THE MOMENT HAMILTON WAS RELEASED.
That’s the luck you get when you stroke the Imola cat.
On Lap 36, Verstappen reported the Honda engine had briefly “Cut out” on the Red Bull, while Bottas was told his damage came back on Lap 2, a message that came just before the Finn went wide at Rivazza, which was seemingly a direct result of that aforementioned damage and loss of performance.
Former teammates Vettel and Raikkonen were still going around on their Mediums up to Lap 40, but Vettel’s strategy went to waste when Ferrari had a botched change on the left rear and the right front, and instead of dropping in behind Sainz and a shot at sneaking a point, he was back out behind Giovinazzi in 14th.
Bottas again went wide at Rivazza on Lap 42, which allowed Verstappen to close right up in DRS range, and with the tow, the Dutchman SENT IT up the outside for 2nd place, and the Red Bull proceeded to drop the damaged Merc over the coming laps, and tried in vein to reel in Hamilton’s 13 second lead.
Meantime, Lewis joined Michael Schumacher in another prestigious club – Leading 5,000 laps over a career.
Despite the fact LeClerc still couldn’t find a way past, Ricciardo was noticeably slow on the Hard tyre, at least compared to Perez, who was at least 4-tenths a lap faster than the Renault, and had built a gap of 8 seconds.
Further down, Magnussen reported he was now getting a massive headache from all the up-shifting, which felt like “Getting a kick in the head every time”, and not of the Dean Martin variety.
The only driver yet to stop, Raikkonen stayed out up to Lap 49 on the Medium tyres he’d started the race on, managing to make the change to Soft tyres and come back out in 12th behind George Russell, while Magnussen’s physical condition was bad enough that a guy nicknamed the Fighting Viking couldn’t go on, becoming the third retirement of the day.
Like the fella once said, ain’t that a kick in the head.
So all up, it had been another fairly boring afternoon through 50 laps, and just when it looked to be a simple run to the finish…
ON LAP 51, VERSTAPPEN’S RIGHT REAR TYRE EXPLODED AT VILLENEUVE, AND THE RED BULL WAS GONE FROM 2ND!!
The Safety Car was called out, with Hamilton this time missing the original call to pit simply due to track position, forcing him to spend a lap behind Bernd Maylander’s AMG, but Bottas stopping kept the Brit ahead.
That stop also helped Mercedes get the debris out of Valterri’s car…. turns out he had half a Ferrari lodged in the undertray!
It was a piece of Vettel’s Ferrari from the Magnussen collision on the opening lap.
In a pivotal moment for the minor placings, Ricciardo, LeClerc and Albon didn’t pit, while Perez, Kvyat and the McLarens did, dropping the Racing Point from 3rd to 6th on track, albeit with a massive tyre advantage on a track that, as previously mentioned, was not conducive to overtaking.
At the time it was a fairly baffling call, considering Perez had younger tyres than Daniel, the Hard tyre was capable of running 50+ laps, and he was comfortably faster – All he’d have to have done was survive the restart and it was a guaranteed podium for Racing Point.
Quite simply, they outsmarted themselves.
Still, if the Vettel debris that got fished out of the Mercedes wasn’t strange enough…
George Russell was up to 10th place and in position to break his long-awaited point scoring drought….
But the Brit managed to spear into the wall weaving his tyres approaching the Acque Minerali!
George George, George what a bungle.
Kimi Raikkonen’s radio message watching it unfold was a hilariously understated “Oh, Williams is off. He spun.”
And, we also saw a replay of Stroll coming in to his pit bay with cold brakes, sending the Racing Point front jack operator flying backwards!
We can report that tough bugger is perfectly fine.
So on lap 55, the Mercedes 1-2 was looking a near certainty, and Ricciardo was now up into a precarious podium position, and with lapped traffic getting back onto the lead lap, and the debris from Russell’s accident on the racing line still being cleared, it left the field with 5 laps of genuine racing remaining.
Could it be a second podium in 3 races for Dan The Man…. I dared not think about it.
On the restart, Hamilton and Bottas exploded away, Ricciardo and LeClerc held position, and out of nowhere, Daniil Kvyat on fresh Softs was the biggest winner of the field, and passed both Perez and Albon up the inside into Tamburello!
And capping off the massive swing against Red Bull, Albon was passed by Perez, and inexplicably dropped it by himself at Villeneuve and ALMOST got wiped out by Sainz!
Dear lord, Helmut Marko is going to get the horn banging the jungle drums about that second Red Bull seat for 2021.
Keeping up his fantastic restart, Kvyat left LeClerc eating dust down the outside at Piratella with a cool move, and at that moment, it was looking like it would be the Russian who was on the charge to a podium with his tyre advantage over Ricciardo!
With flat spotted tyres, Albon pitted from last on the road to try and steal a point from Mercedes.
It didn’t work.
Kvyat was quickly within DRS range of his old Red Bull teammate, but the Renault’s Hard tyres were back up to temperature and the Aussie was doing more than enough to make the DRS even more useless than usual, and it was the same situation with LeClerc and Perez, with the Racing Point’s futile quest to pass the Ferrari highlighting just how important track position was….
And how Racing Point’s idea to pit Sergio was only good in theory.
Anyway, having gapped everyone again on the restart and generally just dominated all weekend, Hamilton and Bottas enjoyed yet another 1-2 finish, and brought up THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN!
7 Constructors Championships in a row for Mercedes-AMG Petronas, and just for good measure, Lewis set the fastest lap on the last lap to put the full stop on Win No.93.
And, great news for us Aussies, because Renault made the right call to stay out, and that stroke of luck meant that Danny Ric GOT ANOTHER ***IN’ PODIUM!
Holy mac ‘n cheese balls, Dan doesn’t finish in the Top 3 for 2 1/2 years, and now he’s scored 2 podiums in 3 races.
To quote Simon Lazenby, there’s a saying about London buses….
Kvyat took full advantage of the Safety Car to jump from a lonely 7th to a season-best 4th, which AlphaTauri probably expected from Gasly with how well he went on Saturday, LeClerc used that golden track position to hold off Perez, as Racing Point pissed away a surefire podium with that pit stop, McLaren were really quiet all weekend, but still got a double points finish with Sainz and Norris…
And the Alfa-Saubers deserve a big pat on the back, because Raikkonen went from 18th to 9th, and Giovinazzi took the last point from 20th.
Dan’s 3rd place means Renault are now 3rd on the Constructors in an almighty tussle (135 for Renault vs RP and McLaren tied on 134), and hilariously, in all 3 races in Italy this year, Williams finished 11th…. Bloody hell George, why’d you have to crash.
Of course, the return of Dan The Man to the podium saw the proper return of the shoey after it was so cold in Germany that he somehow forgot, and there was a twist this time around….
Lewis Hamilton finally joined in!
Apparently it tasted like toe jam.
Anyway, the day, and the year belong to Mercedes, who effortlessly claimed another slice of F1 history, and to me, the most frightening (And moreso amazing) part is that they were utterly dominant when the Turbo-Hybrid era started in 2014, and 7 seasons later, the W11 has a great case for being the greatest car they’ve ever designed out of the 7 title winners in a row.
The chassis is the best on the grid, the engine is by far the best on the grid, and they’ve got the most successful driver in human history who looks like he could keep going barring any loss of motivation.
They’re now officially unparalleled.
Finally, here’s a stat from the 3 Italian races.
AlphaTauri scored 45 points.
Red Bull scored 15, all of which came from Albon’s 3rd at Mugello.
Ferrari scored 15.
AlphaTauri – The pride of Italy.
Next Up: The return to Turkey in a fortnight!