F1 – Emilia Romagna GP – Race
Ciao, MiniFans! The weather forecast was spot on and we tuned in to a rainy Imola on Sunday before the race but, as it is usual in this sport, just a few corners were drenched as the cars left the pitlane to line up on the grid. Once settled in under their tents, it wasn’t too clear which tyre setting would be the best choice, as the track was pretty much dry in a good stretch but still very wet in the opposite side and more rain was still a possibility.
The advantage that Pérez could have had at the start thanks to qualifying into Q3 with soft tyres was wiped away with the declaration of a wet race and thus allowing all drivers to choose their compound. Everyone went with intermediate tyres with a couple of sprinkled full wets fitted on Ocon, Gasly and both Haas cars, while Vettel needed to start from the pit lane due to some last-minute problems in his car. The start offered us what all fans have been wishing for a long time: a real fight between Mercedes and Red Bull in the shape of Verstappen doing a perfect start even before the race kicked off. The Dutch driver had angled his car in order to avoid having to turn right while starting the car and found his space on the left of Hamilton, overtaking him and not backing off. Soon after, however, the battle had to stop as the safety car had to be deployed. A few yellow flags preceded Latifi’s accident, which was the one prompting the safety car.
It was during this slowed down period that Mick Schumacher crashed into the wall at the exit of the pitlane, causing it to be closed and not allow him to change his broken front wing and his full wets for intermediates for a few laps. On lap 7, racing resumed and Hamilton, still not too happy at having lost first place, tried hard to overtake Verstappen but the Red Bull got away very easily, while Leclerc gave overtaking Hamilton just one try. The fun came from further back, as the fight from fifth to tenth was heating up. Meanwhile, Pérez got a ten-second penalty caused by him overtaking under the safety car after going wide.
As the track got drier and the first stop got closer, the nerves started to be obvious on team radios, specially on Red Bull’s. Other teams, like McLaren, were more preoccupied by offering their drivers a fair chance and gave team orders to change positions between them, albeit in a very diplomatic way. The first brave soul came from the back markers, as it’s usual in these conditions, in the shape of Vettel using mediums. The only other one to pit at this stage was Schumacher, who chose softs. Messages started to come over radio talking about the tyres, as the dry ones still weren’t better, but the ones from the beginning of the race were starting to get worn out.
Verstappen pit as soon Vettel’s sectors were on green, but he needed to warm the slicks up quickly. Meanwhile, Hamilton painted sectors in purple to try and not lose first place but it didn’t go according to plan. A slow stop and a very good lap by his rival meant he was, once again, stuck behind the Red Bull. Maybe in desperation at the sight of many cars to lap, Hamilton went into the wet part of the track, soon finding himself losing the car and softly colliding with the barriers. Luckily for him, the crash only seemed to damage his front wing and he managed to reverse out of it, making it to boxes and losing only seven places. In another part of the track, Russell and Bottas collided, leaving the track full of debris and two cars needed to be towed away. This incident prompted a red flag so that the track could be cleaned for the half of the race that was left.
Race direction decided on a rolling start and Verstappen almost lost his first place before it even kicked off, but Leclerc didn’t take advantage of Verstappen’s mistake. Norris, however, having decided on soft tyres, did pass the Ferrari and got close to the Red Bull, a small advantage that only lasted until Verstappen warmed his own set of mediums up. Pérez spun, losing many places, and Hamilton was climbing back up the ladder, but Verstappen seemed unreachable, his car setting continuous fastest laps. In a show of how strict the FIA is becoming with track limits after what went down in Bahrain, Tsunoda received a black and white flag, firmly telling him that one more repeat of it would mean a penalty that would eventually come in the shape of five seconds added to his finish time.
The last fifteen laps became a fight for the second and third steps of the podium, as Verstappen had a gap of more than ten seconds that only grew bigger with Norris, Hamilton being the only one able to steal the fastest lap from the Red Bull. However, the Mercedes found himself stuck behind Norris and Leclerc, the gap to Verstappen only growing to twenty seconds by the time he managed to get rid of the orange car with only four laps to go. Verstappen led the race from start to finish, Hamilton managed a mighty feat and Norris sat in his deserved third place after the pace shown for the whole weekend.
Imola is always a welcome addition to the calendar, even with the continuous claims of it not being a track were overtaking is easy. Despite this and unlike others where it does matter, Imola likes providing great racing thanks to its layout and the gravel occupying the exterior of the track. Every mistake is costly and today was the perfect example of it. Rain is another factor to be taken into account and it played quite a big part this time, being the reason why many drivers spun, crashed and lost control of their cars, whether momentarily or permanently. Experience is a degree and Hamilton showed it by calmly getting himself out of the gravel and not panicking, even if the red flag did help him out.