Formula 1 returns Imola Grand Prix for the Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made in Italy E Dell’emilia Romagna (this is what you get letting Ron Dennis name the Grand Prix).
The weekend started in a slightly sombre mood after the announcement of the death of HRH Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, as a result Formula 1 tweaked the weekends schedule to accommodate his funeral.
With that all sorted, we focused on the racing, Free Practice did not throw up any surprises, although we enjoyed the game of how many times will the “independent driver” spin … truth is I lost count.
Qualifying was next and it did not take long before we have ourselves the first casualty, Yuki Tsunoda binned it before he had logged a time, although the impact was at a relatively low speed it destroyed the rear of the Alpha Tauri, Yuki would be starting from 20th, serves me right for having him as my pick for future champion and (worst of all), having in my fantasy F1 team….
Q1 did not throw up any further surprises the Alfa Romeo cars qualified in 16th and 17th respectively. The Vauxhall Nova team … sorry the HAAS cars took 18th and 19th with Mick Schumacher taking 18th from the Independent driver Mazepin.
Q2 took some big scalps, with Alonso (15th), Vettel (13th) and Sainz (11th) not managing a trip into the top ten shootouts. All three drivers are new to their respective teams, with Alpine not quite fast enough, Aston Martin’s car is struggling with the new rules for ’21 and Sainz is just not in tune with the car.
In to the top 10 shootouts, it is a fight at the front is Mercedes and Redbull, with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton taking pole, however for the first time in ages Redbull took second and third, long gone are the day of Alex Albon qualifying in the bottom ten and Verstappen on pole.
For a second it looked like Lando Norris had taken second in the McLaren, however the dreaded track limits reared their head and swiped away the time, he would take seventh on the grid, just behind teammate Ricciardo.
Honourable mentions to both Gasly in fifth, the Alfa Tauri look quick and Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari who took forth.
RACE of RACES
The race was unbelievable, it was a 63-lap advert about why I love this sport, we have had races that are boring (usually Abu Dhabi of that French one; still cant bring myself to say the full name without zoning out) but this race was far from it.
The drama started bore the red lights were even switched on as mother nature decided to sprinkle the track with some rain … (you naughty person you!!)
Most of the cars decided on the intermediate tire, with Gasly in the Alpha Tauri (and a few others) deciding on the full wet, it was a brave decision but … ultimately it was the wrong one.
The race should have been sponsored by Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album, as 2 drivers slid off the road before the start, Alonso took to the gravel and damaged his front wing, lucky it was before the start he was able to replace the front wing and take the grid. Charles Leclerc decided to do his impression of “hold my beer” and slide off the track during the formation lap, the Ferrari driver survived and managed to get it to the grid for the start.
The drivers that slide off during the race included Verstappen (under the safety car), Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Latifi, Alonso, Raikkonen, Russell (lost car during a pass) Mazepin, Schumacher (behind the safety car) and Sainz. Its like the drivers forgot that water on an F1 track makes it slippery. It will also highlight the skill required to race these cars quicky in tricky conditions.
The race started Hamilton was quickly swamped by both Redbull cars. Verstappen moved to Hamilton’s left, taking the lead with a hard but fair pass through the first chicane. The Mercedes bounced over the kerbing causing some damage to the left-hand side front endplate.
Verstappen took off down the road with Hamilton in close pursuit, Perez follows in third and Leclerc in fourth.
With such changeable and tricky conditions, it took about a half lap before the safety care was required.
Latifi, lost his Williams car at Aqua Minaralli, when the Canadian driver returned to the track, he was not aware that the HAAS of Mazepin was next to him, the cars touched sending the Williams into to the wall.
For once this was not on Mazepin, Latifi did not actually find out that he hit someone until he was in the medical centre being checked over. (Latifi thought that he got some wheelspin)
After the end of the safety car, Verstappen lead the cars down to the first corner (yes officially I know it is the second corner, but that is just stupid) Hamilton tried to pass Verstappen into the first chicane but was not able to make it stick.
The racing continued with Verstappen building up a strong lead from the Mercedes in second.
Lando Norris continued his strong start to the season with a solid start, the McLaren has some great speed and seems extremely well balanced.
Hamilton makes a Mistake
The main talking point happened around 30 laps into the race, with Hamilton trying to clear some traffic, hit a damp patch, and headed off the track and into the gravel trap, unfortunately for Lewis, Formula 1 cars have a horrible turning circle, and he was not able to get the right angle to drive out, in the process of trying to get back onto the track he damaged his front wing.
Lewis made the decision to reverse fully out of the trap and back onto the track, which raised some eyebrows, is a car allowed to reverse onto a live track ? well the short answer is Yes, I will refer to the trusty Sporting Regulations Article 27.3 “ Should a car leave the track the driver may re-join, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining an advantage.”
Racing Director Michael Masi was observing the whole incident unfolding and listening to the team radio, He was quoted as saying “what it was, was reversing out of the gravel trap to the edge of the circuit. listening to Lewis’s radio between him and his team, they were absolutely advising him all the way through where that was”
Due to this, Masi decided that it did not warrant a decision by the stewards, that he was satisfied that Hamilton re-joined the track safely.
Only a lap later just as Hamilton entered the pits to repair his damaged front wing, dropping the 7-time champion to 9th, George Russell and Valtteri Bottas came together at the fastest part of the track, both cars written off and debris all over the track.
Red Mist and a Red Flag
The TV camera shows the aftermath of the accident, George Russell jumps out of the car and marches up the stricken Mercedes and starts to berate the Finnish driver, at one point it looked las though he slaps Valtteri in the helmet before walking off shaking his head.
When George was asked the media what he said to Bottas, he said “I asked him if he was trying to kill us both”, the move and the following reaction form George Russell didn’t not sit well with Mercedes Team boss, Toto Wolffe, who was not impressed with the young British driver, at one point insinuating that Russell should be racing the Mercedes cars differently (Russell is a Mercedes Young driver, who is managed by Toto), To me, this insinuation is absolutely absurd, George, (and any driver) should be able to race anyone else on the track.
It was clear that it was Russell at fault for the accident (on my first viewing, I thought that it was Bottas, but the more I watch the more I have to say that more of the blame has to swing towards George) the red mist had clouded Russell’s judgment, in fact he released a statement apologising for is comments and actions, I’m sure that this was discussed with numerous people within his circle, including Toto Wolffe.
The incident will be something that George will learn from and understand. Sometimes it is better to just walk away and be angry in private, I have no doubt that he will learn and grow as a driver.
Back to the Racing
The racing resumed after a quick clean up job from the track marshals, Max Verstappen decided to make sure that the pit wall were paying attention, by having a slip and slide moment on the start (the re-start was a rolling start)
Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari was second at this point, however he was caught napping and lost it to the fast-starting Lando Norris.
Lewis Hamilton began his recovery drive passing numerous cars, with no more errors he passed Norris and took second, even taking the fastest lap in the closing stages of the race, keeping him 1 point ahead of Max in the drivers’ standings.
We have had two races that were amazing, it is clear who are battling for the championship, its not Bottas. If Redbull can keep up with Mercedes, we will have a championship on our hands.
Its going to be close, frenetic, controversial but most of all this season is going to be entertaining.
Formula 1 2021 is well and truly here ……