17. April 2021

  • Lawrence Edmondson

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F1 Publisher

– At ESPN since 2009

– F1 journalist accredited by the FIA since 2011

  • Nate Sanders.

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F1 Deputy Editor

– He has previously worked in rugby and British Superbikes.

– Studied history at the University of Reading

– Member of ESPNF1 in February 2014

Lewis Hamilton is 99 years old. The career spot may seem common on paper, but it was another example of his ability to beat faster cars when the heat is on.

Both Red Bull drivers have been annoyed by the small mistakes that they believe have cost them pole position, but both are in a strong position to take the pressure off on Sunday at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Behind the fronts, the midfield looks tighter than ever.

These are our key findings from the qualification cycle.

Mercedes closing the gap with Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton took to the track in Imola ahead of Red Bull drivers Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. Dan Istitenet – Formula One via Getty Images

Race engineer Peter Bonnington’s surprised tone on the team radio after Lewis Hamilton’s pole position said everything you needed to know about Mercedes’ expectations ahead of qualifying.

The team was confident of taking a step forward this weekend. In qualifying he was 0.4 seconds behind Max Verstappen, but that confidence did not extend to realistic hopes of pole position.

To be fair, the team’s expectations for the session probably had more to do with the final pace of the cars than the final standings, as Verstappen wasted his second lap of qualifying and had to settle for third.

As in the Bahrain race, Hamilton turned the tables by ensuring his car could take advantage of the error if it occurred.

His 99th. The professional title was the reward.

The thing is, as you saw in the last race, there was a good lead for the Red Bulls, Hamilton said after the session.

We felt like we could do it a little tighter, but it was a really neat qualifying [to take pole].

As for my own accomplishments, I am very grateful that I am always taking steps in the right direction. It was a real surprise.

I don’t think anyone in the team expected me to be on pole today, but that was definitely my goal.

It was truly the most beautiful circle I could have formed and more.

Dan Istitene – Formula One with Getty Images

Although Sergio Perez deserves credit for his 0.035 second lead over Hamilton in race two for Red Bull, Verstappen was expected to be faster than both Red Bulls.

Verstappen’s disappointing lap not only put him third on the grid, but also ahead of his teammates in qualifying for the first time since 2018.

In Q3 I just didn’t have a good lap on the last run, Verstappen said. I started the third lap with two wheels. I know Honda makes good lawnmowers, but I don’t think this one could handle it! But at least I tried.

It was just a very irritating circle, I haven’t had one in a long time, I just have to figure out why it happened.

Although it was only the second qualifying session of the season, frustration is mounting at Red Bull.

The car was fast enough to win the race in Bahrain and he was fast enough to take pole position today. The battle with Mercedes seems so fierce this year that such opportunities at the end of the season could make all the difference. Hamilton’s improved performance on Saturday was also a clear warning to Red Bull that Mercedes have made progress since Bahrain.

According to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, there is always more than one factor [that determines the change in performance]. Clearly Lewis’ round was very good today. We worked hard to solve some of the balance issues we had in Bahrain and we made a good step in that direction.

The drive is better and of course the track conditions are very different to Bahrain, so that all played a part. But if you were to compare the laps with Red Bull one by one, Max would be on pole with no mistakes – maybe not as much as in Bahrain, but he would be there. So it was a matter of not making any mistakes, which allowed us to take pole position today ……

Cool temperatures, a smooth tarmac and a calm breeze at Imola made the Mercedes W11 feel much more comfortable. With some minor engine and software updates to the car, it was enough to put the Mercedes within reach of Red Bull.

The performance of Verstappen and Hamilton did the rest.

One Mercedes against two Red Bulls

 

Lewis Hamilton is up against two fast Red Bull cars to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Dan Istitenet – Formula One via Getty Images

Qualifying for pole position is usually more than half the battle on a circuit like Imola where overtaking is difficult, but Mercedes and Hamilton still face a formidable challenge to beat Red Bull in Sunday’s race.

We’ve often seen Verstappen’s lone Red Bull take on two fast Mercedes in recent years, but on Sunday the roles will be reversed.

The second Mercedes will start the race from eighth on the grid after Valtteri Bottas’ poor performance. Two McLarens, AlphaTauri and Ferrari separate the Finn from the podium places.

As a result, Red Bull will be able to match some of Mercedes’ strategic decisions to take the lead in Bahrain.

Perez will also start the race on soft tyres, after setting his best time on this compound in Q2, while Hamilton and Verstappen will start on medium tyres.

Starting in the middle of the race offers the best options for race strategy, but the softs offer short-term benefits in the form of better traction from the start and a good reason to refuel early and try to play Hamilton with an undercut.

That’s their advantage, Wolfe said. Normally one would say that starting at soft is not very good, but here it is a compensatory strategy, and it is not much worse than starting at medium.

Of course we know that having two cars is always an advantage, and then the staggered strategy gives them another chance.

If Red Bull can find a way to position Perez ahead of Hamilton on the track after the first pit stop, Verstappens chances of advancing further in the race will greatly increase, even if Perez’s race is knocked out of his hands.

I can’t remember the last time we saw two Red Bulls so close together, Hamilton said. I think tomorrow, if we start in the right order, they have a better hand in terms of strategy.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with something unique and do something different. I’m not sure what happened to Valtteri. It’s really hard to overtake here, so I probably won’t get any support from him at the start.

Maybe he will, but if not, we need to focus on our task and try to do absolutely everything and more to keep these guys behind us.

Of course, as expected, a wet race would throw all those carefully planned strategies out the window.

Gazli shows what Tsunodeis missing.

Yuki Tsunoda fell in the early moments of qualifying. Lars Baron/Getty Images

There is a lot of noise around Yuki Tsunoda at the moment, but for the second year in a row Pierre Gasly realised the potential of the Alpha Tauri when the Japanese rookie pulled out.

Tsunoda’s session didn’t last long when he lost control, exited the Alta variant and crashed into a wall. It was a reminder that Tsunoda, despite his obvious talent, is not quite ready at this stage of his career.

Tsunoda, who was not injured in the accident, took the blame even though he knew full well that the opportunity was gone.

Honestly, Tsunoda said I was pushing too hard for the entrance.

Until then, the circle felt right. I think it was potentially easy to overtake Q1 with one tire.

I was too excited. It was a stupid mistake on my part, so I feel bad for the team. You need to reboot today and run tomorrow.

At this stage, Gasly’s performance should come as no surprise. The winner of last year’s Italian Grand Prix is still racing at the highest level and has established himself as one of the most promising young talents in the industry.

Had he not made contact with Daniel Ricciardo at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix, he could have laid claim to fifth (or better). If he can get a clean start on Sunday, Gasly will be in a good position to take advantage of any drama up front.

Tsunoda will be battling through the field with a fast car for the second year running, although there are few overtaking opportunities at Imola compared to Bahrain. It will be interesting to see how Tsunoda will correct his mistake.

Norris Star… for a second.

Lando Norris was left out in the cold after losing a front row starting spot at Imola. Dan Istitenet – Formula One via Getty Images

In the briefest of moments in the third. In the fourth quarter, it looked like Lando Norris was going to give the best performance of his career. When he crossed the line for the final time, he was second, although he did not end his lap with any of the Red Bull drivers.

His time was just short of Lewis Hamilton’s best time on pole position, but he was quickly removed from the time screen when Norris crossed the track boundary in Turn 9.

Replays showed that he simply put all four wheels over the line, although a violation is a violation regardless of the distance traveled.

Asked about that moment, Norris said: Yes, very disappointed, very angry with myself.

I think the previous day was very good, the team did a great job. The car really came alive during qualifying.

We made a lot of progress on Friday, but I made a mistake on the lap where I wasn’t allowed to make a mistake.

It’s the same for everyone, so ultimately it’s my fault.

As a result, Norris didn’t get the chance to overtake Daniel Ricciardo for the second consecutive race. He will start seventh, one place behind Ricciardo, but can console himself with the fact that McLaren seem to have a fast car in Imola.

With Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) ahead of the McLaren duo on Sunday afternoon, the duel between the two teams will be exciting.

What happened to Bottas?

As mentioned, the absence of Valtteri Bottas in the top four on the grid will be a disadvantage for Mercedes on Sunday.

His pace in practice seemed equal to or better than Hamilton’s, but in the final moments of qualifying he failed to complete a lap.

Valtteri was pretty good all weekend in Turns 2 and 3, but both drivers had problems warming up [the tyres] at the start of the lap in Q3, team boss Toto Wolff explained.

In Q1, when we were able to give Valtteri a second lap to let the tyres work, he was really good – I think with a Q1 lap he would have been fourth,

So it was a warm-up. We know exactly what the problem is, and Valtteri knows that too, but he’s in a good position for tomorrow’s race.

Honourable mentions

Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll deserve credit for reaching Q3 at the expense of their multiple world title-winning teammates.

Ocon has found himself in a win-win situation alongside Fernando Alonso this year, but he was the Alpine driver to make it to Q3.

Alonso said that his lack of mileage in the Alps was hurting him on such a difficult circuit as Imola.

I need to get better at understanding where the limit of the car is, maybe on a few difficult tracks, he said. With complex circuits like this, you have to have faith in the machine.

These old-fashioned tracks require a certain confidence in the car and the confidence to go to the limit in qualifying.

Maybe I’m not at that level yet. I’ll try to do better next time.

Walk also qualified for the final session, although he did not set a time in Q3. Stroll divides opinion in F1, but has shown flashes of real talent in his career and has yet to compete with his teammate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Williams also deserves credit for bringing George Russell and Nicholas Latifi into the game in the second quarter. The fact that Russell was disappointed to win the third. Missing a quarter that was less than 0.1 seconds away shows how far we’ve come since the end of last season.

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