Round four of the 2022 Formula 1 season, took the F1 paddock to Northern Italy for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in Imola.
The Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix would be the first of three weekends on the 2022 calendar, involving the sprint race format.
Sprint race weekends have varied formats compared to regular weekends. The Friday consisted of one free practice session, followed by Q1, Q2, and Q3 qualifying for the sprint race. Saturday began with free practice two, before the sprint race – which decided the grid for the main event on Sunday.
Daniel Ricciardo had particularly good fortune with the sprint races last year, improving his position in two out of the three races.
The obvious weekend was the Monza Grand Prix in Italy last season, where improved in each session, before starting the main race in P2. He took the lead on the first lap and held on for an emphatic drought-breaking victory.
The weekend he didn’t improve on, was the Sao Paulo GP in Brazil – the car suffered power issues, which eventually forced him to retire in the main race.
After qualifying in P2 for the Sprint Race, Charles Leclerc jumped Max Verstappen into P1 off the line and led the pack into the first sequence of corners, sending the Tifosi into raptures.
Zhou Guanyu made contact with Pierre Gasly on lap one, forcing the Chinese driver to spin and hit the wall – bringing the safety car out. Meaning he would start last for Sunday’s race, eventually starting from the pit lane.
The contact made between the two was deemed as a racing incident and the safety car was brought in on lap five.
As the race continued, Leclerc was getting closer to pole position for the main race, but Verstappen had other ideas.
Verstappen continued to hunt Leclerc and got close enough to complete a move early into lap 20 of 21. From here the Dutchman would go on to win the Sprint Race and gain another eight points.
Verstappen and Leclerc put on a brilliant display for us in the #F1Sprint ?— Formula 1 (@F1) April 24, 2022
We can’t wait to see what the Grand Prix will involve with these two on the front row! ?#ImolaGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/Nv7UPm61sJ
Leclerc finished in P2, claiming seven points. Followed by Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Mick Schumacher rounding out the top 10.
Ferrari fumbles the bag
On the opening lap, Carlos Sainz fell to P5 – handing him into the clutches of Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian lunged for an overtake at the Tamburello chicane, Sainz braked later pushing him ahead momentarily. As Sainz merged back onto the racing line, his left rear tire connected with the right front tire of Ricciardo, causing the Spaniard to spin.
Sainz was left stranded in the sand trap, while Ricciardo escaped – helped along with a minor bump from Alfa Romeo driver, Bottas.
Ricciardo was demoted to the rear of the grid, while Sainz was forced to retire for the second consecutive race on the opening lap.
With 14 laps remaining, Leclerc sat in P3 and was not making enough ground on the two Red Bulls ahead.
Leclerc decided to pit for the soft compound tire, emerging back onto the track in P4 – behind Norris. It only took Leclerc one lap to regain P3, meanwhile, Perez boxed for the soft compound also.
The undercut by Leclerc saw him gain over two seconds on Perez, edging him closer to the second step on the podium. While Perez and Leclerc squabbled, Verstappen – who was running away with the race – pitted for the soft compound tire too.
On lap 54, Leclerc was lining up a move on Perez, in the latter stages of the lap. As they approached the Variante Alta chicane, Leclerc mistimed his braking zone, forcing him to mount the kerb and spin.
Simultaneously, Leclerc made contact with the wall, damaging his front wing, and ultimately his track position.
Leclerc dropped to P9 following a front wing change and a fitting of fresh soft compound tires, on lap 54.
On laps 56, 59, and 62, Leclerc passed Magnussen, Sebastian Vettel, and Yuki Tsunoda respectively, to reach P6.
The Monegasque driver ultimately picked up eight points, staying on top of the World Drivers’ Championship – 27 points above Verstappen. Sainz dropped to P5 in the standings, following back-to-back DNFs.
Ricciardo tests the waters
Although the rain had stopped and the sky looked particularly clear, the track remained wet for the most part.
With the entire field ahead of him, following his tussle with Sainz, Ricciardo, and McLaren had every right to test the dry compound tyres on the slowly drying track.
Eventually, on lap 17, Ricciardo was the first to pit for dry compound tyres, fitting the medium compound. Soon after, other teams noticed his improving sector times, realising the slicks were faster.
On the following lap, Vettel, Gasly, and Alex Albon all pitted for medium compound tyres. Within the next five laps, all drivers had pitted and changed tires and Ricciardo’s brave undercut paid dividends – gaining three positions – moving to P15.
The gaggle of cars entering the pit lane forced an unsafe re-entry from the Alpine team, after Esteban Ocon’s stop. He was released into the path of Lewis Hamilton, almost causing an incident. Laps later, Ocon received a 5-second time penalty for the incident.
Once the medium tires began to wear, Ricciardo and McLaren opted for the hard compound tyre, on lap 31.
Unfortunately, this move was not worth it, as the hard compound tyre was majorly slower in comparison, causing Ricciardo to not only fall to P18 but also continue to lose time to the driver in front. That was that for Ricciardo, as he finished the race in P18, one lap down from the leaders.
All was not lost for McLaren however, as Norris leapfrogged into P3, following Leclerc’s mistake – rewarding him with back-to-back Imola podiums.
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Mercedes mixed bag
Following a tricky qualifying session and sprint race, the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Hamilton began the race in P11 and P14, respectively.
From the start, Russell jumped from P11 into P6, leaving his teammate in the dust, who struggled off the line.
Despite Mercedes lack of pace in previous sessions, Russell was able to hold onto track position throughout the race.
After Sainz and Ricciardo’s tussle, Russell sat in P5 – where he stayed for the majority of the race. After Leclerc’s mishap, Russell was promoted to P4, where he ultimately finished the race. Russell became the only driver to finish in the top five in every race this season.
On the other hand, was seven-time WDC – Hamilton. Alternatively, Hamilton didn’t get the best of starts, instead, he was stuck in the midfield traffic.
When Hamilton and Ocon boxed for the medium compound tire, Ocon jumped Hamilton unsafely in the pit lane, momentarily putting Hamilton behind Ocon. The Frenchman received a 5-second time penalty, but the damage was already dealt with by Hamilton, who lost significant time.
For the remainder of the race, Hamilton was stuck behind Gasly, even after DRS was enabled. He appeared to continue to gain ground, however, he never got close enough to make the overtake.
It went from bad to worse as Verstappen lapped his rival of yesteryear, souring the Brit’s afternoon even more. Hamilton finished in P13, out of the points for the first time this season.
Aston Martin on the board
Vettel and Lance Stroll collectively achieved Aston Martin’s first points of the season, with double points finish in Imola.
Both drivers began the race outside the top 10 – Vettel in P13 and Stroll in P15 – making the effort all the more monumental. The pair climbed through the field from the start, before comfortably resting on the brink of the top 10.
Vettel battled alongside Tsunoda and Magnussen, while Stroll led a gaggle of five or so cars in a DRS train.
The effort of the Aston Martin drivers lifts the team off the bottom of the standings and above Williams, into P9 in the Constructors’ standings, with five points next to their name.
Red Bull Rampage
Verstappen led the race from start until finish, holding onto his title of winning every race he finishes this season. In doing so, he claimed the full 26 points – including the fastest lap of the race.
Verstappen stretched his lead so easily that he began to lap cars as early as the 30th lap, the first being Zhou.
It was Red Bull’s second 1-2 of the turbo-hybrid era, which began in 2014. Massive plaudits go to Perez who snuck into second off the start and held on until the end.
Perez’s defence ultimately forced Leclerc into choosing another plan of attack – pitting for soft compound tires – which then led to his downfall laps later.
Red Bull Racing now sits 11 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, while Verstappen and Perez sit in P2 and P3 respectively in the WDC – only five points separating the pair.
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