Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Circuit: Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari
Duncraig Dan 2021 Chapter 2: The Bull runs loose in the land of Prancing Horses
After a 3 week break since the season opener in Bahrain, F1 returned to Europe for the first batch of rounds in the old world, and first up was the former home of the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and thanks to Fernando Alonso returning to the grid in 2021, it meant there was a former winner of the old San Marino GP this weekend, given Alonso staved off Michael Schumacher to win the race in 2005, and finished 2nd on his last visit to Imola in 2006.
Showing how old they both are, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were on the front row of the grid in 2005…. There’s also an M.Schumacher on the grid.
The news of the weekend came on Sunday morning, when it was announced that Miami will be added to the calendar in 2022 on a 10-year contract, with a street circuit running around Miami Gardens at the site of Hard Rock Stadium.
It’s been 30 years since F1 ran on a street circuit in America with the Phoenix Grand Prix, and for the sakes of those sun-fried Floridian organisers, I hope it goes a bit better than when the organisers of the Caesars Palace Grand Prix quite literally created a Grand Prix track in a hotel parking lot.
With Qualifying brought forward due to Prince Phillip’s funeral, Yuki Tsunoda brought out an early red flag when he lost the rear of his AlphaTauri over the kerbs at Varinate Alta and smashed into the barriers, leaving the Japanese driver to start from last in the Faenza-based team’s home race, which also spared Haas what would’ve been another final row lockout for Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.
Williams had both cars reach Q2 for the first time in over 2 years, with George Russell starting from 12th and Nicholas Latifi a career-best 14th, and Russell got within a tenth of out-qualifying Carlos Sainz’ Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel was only 13th, and Alonso and Raikkonen ended up together on Row 8, 16 years after they’d shared the front row.
Ultimately, it was Lewis Hamilton who started on pole position for the 99th time, just ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who out-qualified Max Verstappen and started on the front row for the first time after 193 attempts, with the Top 3 covered by under one-tenth of a second, as Verstappen’s chances of another pole were ruined by a bad Turn 3 exit, and Perez made a mistake at the final corner to cost himself his maiden pole position.
Still, he was the first Mexican to start on the front row since Pedro Rodriguez at the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc started 4th, with Pierre Gasly and our Daniel Ricciardo filling out Row 3, out-qualifying his McLaren teammate Lando Norris for the second event running, Valtteri Bottas was a lowly 8th despite starting on the Medium tyre, and Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll filled out the Top 10.
Still, Norris was the hard luck story of Q3, as he set what would’ve been the third-fastest time, only to have it wiped off for exceeding track limits at Piratella by no more than a few inches.
As it turned out though, starting tyres meant bugger all.
Race (63 Laps)
As both the Formula 1 and MotoGP paddocks in Imola and Portimao made another tribute to the Imola-born motorcycle hero Fausto Gresini, the race was spiced up when the rain started hammering down an hour before the scheduled start, with some parts of the track bone dry and others soaked, as shown when Alonso ended up in the barrier at Tosa on his way to the grid, losing his front wing in the process:
There was more drama when Lance Stroll’s rear brakes caught fire, forcing Aston Martin to apply some emergency surgery on the grid to both their cars, which forced Vettel to start from the pit lane to give them more time to work on the car, although the team would incur the wrath of the stewards for not having his wheels attached when the 5-minute warning went off.
16 drivers started the race on Intermediates, while Gasly, Ocon, Schumacher and Mazepin all started on the full Wets, in the hope of more rain, with another major factor being that the air temperature was only 9 degrees Celsius, which meant the track would take much longer to dry out.
Leclerc spun at the Aqua Minerale on the formation lap, but he escaped the gravel and regained his place on the grid just in time, and when the lights went out, Verstappen made a blinder and got up the inside of Hamilton through the spray to take the lead, with Lewis suffering front wing damage after bouncing over the kerbs:
And Latifi spun at Aqua Minerale, then for good measure, merged back onto the track and into the path of Mazepin, sending the Williams into the barrier and out of the race, bringing out the first Safety Car of the day.
It is easy to hang crap on Mazepin, but echoing the comments of Martin Brundle, he wasn’t to blame at all there, considering Latifi’s Williams was the car recovering back onto the track and left him with absolutely no room.
Meanwhile, Leclerc had passed Perez for 3rd, Ricciardo was 5th, Norris went down to 8th after making contact with Stroll, Ocon took the pain and changed back onto Inters, dropping down to 18th, and as the SC kept circling around, Schumacher spun at the pit exit while warming his tyres, scattering debris around and forcing the pit lane to close, which meant Haas had to wait to change the damaged front wing.
The SC ended and racing resumed on Lap 7, and Leclerc was putting the pressure on Hamilton, Sainz and Gasly were exchanging 6th and 7th, which invited Norris into the action, and after taking Stroll and Sainz down the pit straight on the restart, Norris took 6th from Gasly on Lap 9, as the full wet tyre was starting to go waste.
On Lap 10, Perez reported that the steering wheel was “Moving by itself”, which definitely wasn’t the spirit of Ayrton Senna, but the Mexican had more pain coming, because he would be investigated for overtaking under the Safety Car after running off at Turn 9 and losing places to Ricciardo and Gasly, which he illegally regained, incurring a 10 second Stop/Go penalty.
Somewhere in the world, I can picture Jeremy Clarkson making a comment about Mexicans.
Sainz went off at the Rivazza on Lap 10, but he had enough of a gap to the former Gasly train to stay in 6th, Russell was into the points on Lap 13 after dumping out Gasly, with AlphaTauri’s prayers for more rain going unanswered, and for good measure, Sainz went off again at Tosa on Lap 14, but once again, he lost no places.
The Gasly gamble ended when AlphaTauri pitted him for Inters on Lap 15, putting him a lap behind Verstappen, and it was a bad decision brought on by a bad decision, because the time for slicks were vast approaching.
By now, Norris was directly behind Ricciardo and was clearly the faster of the McLarens, which forced the papaya pit wall to bite the bullet and swap the cars to see Lando’s true pace, which was several seconds a lap faster than Daniel’s, and the Aussie was soon being caught by Sainz, in spite of his many off-road excursions.
Down in 15th, Vettel’s Aston Martin became the slick tyre guinea pig for the grid, switching to slicks on Lap 22, right as he received a 10 second Stop-Go penalty for not having his wheels fitted at the 5 minute warning.
Hamilton started eating into the Verstappen lead, which did peak at 5 seconds, but the Mercedes was back within 2.5 seconds as the conditions started coming back to the drivers, as Sainz passed Ricciardo at Tamburello to begin Lap 26.
Red Bull ultimately blinked first and Verstappen pitted for slicks on Lap 28, which kicked off a mass of drivers going on to the Yellow-band tyre to run to the end, with Mercedes pitting Hamilton on the next lap, but any hope of a lead change evaporated with a slow change on the left front, which allowed Verstappen to stay ahead, although the Red Bull soon encountered traffic and handed the time back, but right as Hamilton went to lap George Russell’s Williams at Tosa on Lap 32…
HE LOCKED UP AND WENT SKATING THROUGH THE GRAVEL, AND IN TRYING TO ESCAPE, DAMAGED HIS FRONT WING!
In a normal universe, Hamilton’s podium chances would’ve been toast, as he lost well over a minute escaping Tosa, and would’ve absolutely gone a lap down after finally getting the front wing changed, but right as the World Champion escaped, RUSSELL AND BOTTAS HAD A HUGE ACCIDENT AT TAMBURELLO!
Despite what George believes about Bottas trying to kill them both, it was a simple racing incident – Russell had a run on Bottas down the outside with the DRS, Valtteri was just following the dry racing line with no erratic movement, Russell somehow didn’t expect it and moved slightly to the right and onto the wet grass, causing a high-speed tank slapper that sent him straight into the Mercedes, and the carnage ensued, leaving the factory Merc with major chassis damage.
The radio responses were customary – Russell called Bottas an effing prick, Bottas called Russell an Emily Seebohm, and instead of actually checking on his colleague’s condition, Russell went up to the stricken Mercedes to give the Finn a serve, and having no idea what he was saying, Bottas simply told George that he was ‘Going for first’.
So the Safety Car was originally deployed, but with the debris spewed over the track (Which also caused Alonso to spin), the race was RED FLAGGED on Lap 34, the third time in the last four visits to Italy that we’ve seen a Red flag.
On another note, if he hasn’t already, Lewis Hamilton should change his name to Even Steven – One bad thing happens to him, only to be almost immediately cancelled out by something else.
At the time of the stoppage, the order was Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Tsunoda in 10th, and with the teams allowed to work on the cars, Mercedes fixed Hamilton’s car, and several drivers made the gamble on Softs to gain early track position, among them Perez, both McLarens and Tsunoda.
After a 30 minute delay, the track was cleaned up and the race resumed with a rolling restart behind the Safety Car, but on the warm-up lap, Raikkonen lost 2 places when he spun, which also led to him being investigated by the stewards, and Verstappen almost lost the lead at the Rivazza when he lit up the rears!
Right on the restart, Norris made good use of his tyre advantage and rounded up LeClerc for 2nd, and Tsunoda’s race was ruined when he spun on his own at Turn 3, right as he’d passed Hamilton on the restart!
Hamilton was caught behind Stroll, dropping him 10 seconds behind Verstappen, who was off and gone to another win, but everyone outside of the podium places gained another place on Lap 38, as Perez slid off from 4th at the Villeneuve Chicane, dropping all the way down to 14th as he rejoined the race.
Hamilton used the DRS to pass Stroll, and did the same to Ricciardo to take 5th place on Lap 42, as McLaren’s Soft tyre choice left Daniel vulnerable to Stroll and the flying Pierre Gasly, who had recovered into 8th place after being down in 14th on the restart.
In pursuit of Norris in 2nd, with the Mercedes closing in fast after dispatching Sainz on Lap 54, Leclerc fell out of DRS range of the McLaren, and that allowed Hamilton to rocket by with DRS and back into the podium places to start Lap 55, which also left Norris a sitting duck in the final laps.
The McLaren fought the good fight, but it was inevitable that Hamilton would reclaim 2nd place, and beginning Lap 60, the Merc shot down the outside into Tamburello, which also helped him set the fastest lap and take the bonus point from Verstappen that same lap, who would’ve led the World Championship otherwise.
With Hamilton’s comeback from 9th complete, the final couple of laps were fairly uneventful – Gasly went off at Rivazza 1 trying to find a way past Stroll, Mazepin spun at the Acque Minerali on the penultimate lap, and Vettel had to retire with a gearbox issue just short of the finish, although he was still classified ahead of both Haas cars.
So in a race of two halves, the common theme was the fantastic performance of Max Verstappen, who defeated his Italian jinx (He’d never finished on the podium in Italy) and coasted over the line to win a lazy 22 seconds to Hamilton, Norris took his second F1 podium (And Driver of the Day honours) ahead of the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz, Ricciardo did cling on to 6th place, while there was a few penalties that rearranged the final points places.
Stroll did finish 7th, but was docked 5 seconds post-race for leaving the track and gaining an advantage at Tamburello on Lap 11, dropping him to 8th and promoting Gasly to 7th, a great result considering AlphaTauri’s botched wet tyre decision, while Raikkonen finished 9th on track, but was hit with a 30-second penalty for a rolling start infringement, promoting both Ocon and Alonso into the Top 10 for Alpine’s first points of the season.
Tsunoda and Vettel were also handed 5-second penalties, but it made no difference to their finishing positions.
It was the 700th Grand Prix podium to feature a British driver, the first time since China 2012 that two British drivers stood on the podium (Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button for McLaren), it was Red Bull’s first win in Italy since Vettel won at Monza in 2013, and it was Honda’s first win at Imola since Ayrton Senna won for McLaren-Honda in 1991.
Funnily enough, that race was also wet at the start, a Ferrari spun off on the warm-up lap, and it dried up by the end!
Thanks to Hamilton taking the bonus point for the fastest lap, Max Verstappen has still never led the World Championship at any stage in his career:
All in all, it was another entertaining night in what was Chapter II of this Verstappen vs Hamilton duel in 2021, with Hamilton making the most of the cards that fell his way to salvage a 2nd placing that looked dead in the water halfway through the race at Tosa, so much so that he maintained the championship lead by the smallest of margins, as Valtteri Bottas somewhat paid the price for his disappointing qualifying performance by starting close to the mid-pack, and he never really recovered from there before George Russell abruptly speared him into a tyre barrier.
Applying my green and gold tinted glasses and turning to McLaren, this race did show that as it stands right now – April 19 2021 – Daniel Ricciardo is the second driver at McLaren, which can be attributed to a lack of confidence in a new car compared to Lando Norris having 3 years of consistency with the team, but considering the circumstances, starting and finishing in 6th place was a good effort in tough conditions, and this fight for 3rd in the Constructors between McLaren and Ferrari could be another of the highlights of 2021, with McLaren holding the early advantage by 7 points.
Next Up: Portugal in a fortnight