F1 – Imola GP – Race
Ciao, MiniFans! Yesterday’s sprint gave us a small taste of what’s to come today, but we have an additional element to take into account. Rain is on the horizon for the race and Imola is ready to give the fans the excitement they’re always looking for.
All cars were fitted with intermediate tyres for the start of the race. The rain had mostly stopped falling, but the spray lifting off the track reminded us that water was on the track and that drivers shouldn’t be fooled. A red mist covered the circuit, reminding everyone that the tifosi are back and stronger than ever.
The lack of visibility was clear from the moment that the lights turned off, which turned into the first incidents of the race and thus, the first safety car. Contact between Ricciardo and Sainz meant that the Ferrari was left out of the race, while the McLaren could go on but was left in last after needing a change of tyres.
The restart, five laps later, was luckily clean, and the track was starting to dry up. The second retirement of the race came courtesy of the other Spaniard in the race. Alonso’s sidepod flew away in the main straight, due to a possible previous contact with Schumacher’s rear tyre, as it looked broken before it was snatched away from the car, forcing him to retire his Alpine.
Meanwhile, Verstappen had started creating a big gap to Pérez, who had overtaken Leclerc at the start, and the Mercedes drivers were in completely different parts of the race. Russell had climbed up to fifth, fighting his way through the midfield. Hamilton, however, still hadn’t managed to make it into the points.
Teams were communicating the possible future rain, although light, to their drivers, so that they’d take care of their intermediates so that they wouldn’t get caught out with wheels that might become slicks a bit too soon, but the dry lane was making a very clear appearance. The first risk taker was Ricciardo, as he was in last place, and his medium tyres started to show others that the track was good enough for the change, eventually setting purple sectors and the fastest lap.
The rest of the grid started to copy this strategy after it proved itself to be the good one, with Verstappen, Leclerc and Norris being the last ones. Leclerc managed get back to the track in front of Pérez, but his cold mediums didn’t stand a chance against the Red Bull and promptly lost the position again.
Overtaking was proving to be a very difficult task to complete, as water was still very present on the outside of the dry lane, and Ricciardo once again became the element of surprise as, with half the race to go, he decided to ditch his mediums and go straight to hards. DRS was finally enabled again, but the still not fully dry track didn’t take advantage of it.
Forty laps into the race, something that would have been unthinkable just a handful of months ago. Verstappen lapped Hamilton, who was in fourteenth place and having a very hard time behind Gasly, while Russell was still comfortably cruising in fifth. Leclerc, with nothing much to lose, decided to pit for softs. He did lose a position to Norris, but he picked up speed quickly and overtook him without a second thought. The strategy was copied in Red Bull with both drivers, as Verstappen asked for a change when the team told him about what had happened behind him.
Eyes trained themselves on Pérez and Leclerc, in second and third, both with brand new soft tyres, within a second and an almost dry track, but Vettel, in his quest to get into second, spun after flying over a kerb and crashed lightly into the wall. The contact was soft but enough to break his front wing. One trip into boxes to change it left him in ninth and just a couple of laps to make up for the mistake.
Russell inherited fourth place from Norris, who had been propped into the podium after Leclerc’s adventures on the kerbs, placing himself ten places in front of Hamilton, who still hadn’t been able to pass Gasly. The Ferrari slowly but surely started climbing up the timing tower, but the 20-second gap between Bottas and Tsunoda meant that, even after overtaking the Japanese driver, he couldn’t reach further than sixth place, basically handing Red Bull the 1-2 in a silver platter.
The predicted rain for Sunday fell only before the race, not saving anything for the real show. It was enough to cause a tiny bit of chaos at the start and the two retirements of the race, but that wasn’t what drew the biggest gasps and cries from the tifosi. What could have been a great weekend for Ferrari, a celebration at home drenched in red, soon became a nightmare. A second retirement in a row for Sainz almost predicted the spin that nearly ended Leclerc’s race. With nineteen races to go and Red Bull’s reliability coming back to help them in their quest to win another world championship, nothing is yet decided.