Entertaining, incident filled F1 racing, Made in Italy


In the hours leading up to today's race, F1 finally announced that a deal has been agreed which will see Miami join the schedule from next season... meanwhile nary a word about the impending cancellation of the Canadian Grand Prix which takes place in just a few weeks.

But that's F1. As we have always said, long before the pandemic the sport was living in its own little bubble.

Further proof that the sport lives in a parallel universe can be found merely by looking at the official title of today's race, the grandly named, Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made In Italy E Dell'emilia Romagna 2021.

Earlier this week, one of the title sponsors - for there are two - Pirelli, proclaimed that the event will help "demonstrate the prestige of 'Made in Italy' to the world".

A somewhat ironic claim under the circumstances, for, without getting too political, even the most basic research will soon reveal why Italy was one of the European nations most affected by the pandemic, especially in the early days. While many of the goods coming out of Italy might sport the prestigious 'Made in Italy' label, the workers that make them are largely not Italian, nor the companies that manufacture them.

But we digress.

The anticipated rain showers do not currently look as though they are going to happen, nonetheless we should still be in for a great race.

While Sergio Perez starts alongside Lewis Hamilton, the Mexican is on softs, while the Briton, and Max Verstappen, are on mediums.

With Valtteri Bottas starting from eighth, not only is Hamilton up against two Bulls, the Austrian team has the luxury of having its drivers on different strategies.

Though Perez was delighted with his qualifying position, admitting that a late mistake probably cost him pole, Verstappen could barely contain his frustration at missing out on the coveted starting position, the Dutchman describing his final lap as "messy".

Though we have grown used to - and extremely bored with - Mercedes forever playing up its underdog stance, there was no mistaking Pete Bonnington's surprise at his boy, Hamilton, claiming pole. Indeed, the world champion appeared equally shocked.

From this dynamic trio we take a trip into the Twilight Zone, where anything can - and usually does - happen.

Ferrari has been on the pace all weekend, and while Leclerc served up another of his stunning qualifying performances, teammate Sainz was unable to make it through Q2 and therefore has a difficult afternoon ahead of him.

Wisely, Ferrari has been playing its chances down this year, but there is no reason why Leclerc shouldn't bring home a decent points haul this afternoon, and maybe even a couple from his Spanish teammate.

It was mixed fortunes for AlphaTauri, with little Yuki crashing out in Q1, breaking his gearbox in the process, and therefore starting from the back, while another epic performance saw Gasly qualify fifth.

Having had his race compromised before it had barely begun in Bahrain, the Frenchman will merely be hoping for a trouble-free getaway this afternoon, after which he will hopefully show us what the AT02 can do. As for Tsunoda, the excitable Japanese driver's bid to get into the points should be worth the price of admission in itself.

For the second successive weekend, Lando Norris starts behind his McLaren teammate, even though much of the weekend thus far has belonged to the Briton. Having marginally missed out on a front row start, Norris will be keen to make up for yesterday's costly Q3 error, while Daniel Ricciardo can always be relied upon to give 100%.

Starting from eighth, and like his Mercedes teammate, on mediums, we have Bottas, who, other than the task of overhauling the likes of the McLarens, Gasly and Leclerc, is likely to be under intense pressure from behind especially at the start and will do well to make it to the end of the opening lap intact.

From there we essentially move into F1's equivalent of the Wild West, with Ocon, Stroll, Sainz, Russell, Vettel, Latifi, Alonso and the Alfa pair all sure to provide some sparks.

As we have seen, it is notoriously hard to overtake here, consequently, other than those drivers willing to give it a try, most are going to rely on strategy, and in the wake of how Mercedes turned the tables on Red Bull in Bahrain it is going to be fascinating to see how things play out today.

Other than Aston Martin's call to have the aero rules changed, track limits continue to dominate, and have proved to be a real pain this weekend. However, as Norris acknowledges, rules are rules, and have to be obeyed.

Assuming it does indeed remain dry, for most drivers today will be one-stopper, for three main reasons. Firstly, it's hard to overtake around the narrow confines; secondly, the pit lane time loss is high at nearly half a minute; thirdly, the wear and degradation on the tyres is reasonably low.

A two-stopper will definitely be slower, so the teams will look to avoid that if possible. Track position is key and steering clear of traffic is important, so the timing of the stop will be critical. An advantage can often be gained by 'undercutting' direct rivals, so the selected strategy has to consider this as well.

Just under an hour before the start it begins to rain. However, to add to the fun and games, it is only one part of the track that is affected, Tosa, while the remainder of the circuit is dry.

As the drivers head out, Verstappen, who is on inters, reports "massive rain", while Alonso goes off and lightly clouts the barrier. As before, it is still only raining in one specific part of the circuit.

Alonso pits for a new front wing.

"The final sector is pretty much completely dry," reports Norris, "the rest is sketchy."

Meanwhile, both Aston Martins appear to have rear brake issues, Vettel's are smoking while his teammate's are ablaze. "Drive quickly to put it out," the Canadian is told.

Other than the rain, the air temperature is just 9.8 degrees C, while the track temperature is 18.1 degrees.

Bottas is advised that he has a rear-left puncture. "OK, interesting," he replies.

Stroll arrives on the grid and his crew get to work.

Though the rain has stopped, there remains a lot of standing water. Meanwhile, a heavy mist lingers over much of the circuit.

Following a national anthem sung with great gusto, there's a fly-past by the Italian Air Force.

As the clock ticks down, work continues on the two Aston Martins.

Hamilton is told there will be a light shower around ten minutes into the race, but after that nothing, and certainly no more heavy rain.

Race control says there is an 80% chance of rain.

So, while the soft/medium start strategy is out of the window, what we now have to look for is the switch from wets/inters to slicks.

Gasly, Ocon, Schumacher and Mazepin start on full wets, the rest are on inters.

Vettel will start from the pitlane as the team was unable to complete the work on his car in time.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap. While the grid is dry, come Tosa we see the traditional rooster sprays.

Leclerc spins off on the formation lap, the Monegasque lucky to make it through the gravel trap.

A lot of understandably nervous faces on the pit-wall and in the garages.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Imola, here.

They're away. Hamilton holds his lead, and while Perez is a little slow off the line, Verstappen comes up on the inside of the Mercedes. On the run to Tamburello Hamilton and Verstappen are side-by-side, the Dutchman slightly ahead, while Leclerc is coming through on the inside of Perez.

Into the chicane, Verstappen and Hamilton remain side-by-side, the Dutchman, who has the inside for the first part of the chicane, refuses to give an inch and consequently the world champion is forced over the kerbs, losing a small piece of bodywork (wing) in the process.

"I don't know if I've got damage," reports Hamilton, "he pushed me right wide in Turn 1". His cause wasn't helped by a bumpy ride over the kerbs.

Perez has retaken third from Leclerc, as Sainz goes off twice on the opening lap - the second time giving Stroll a nudge for good measure - and Latifi once. The Canadian subsequently goes off again at Acque Minerale, given a helping hand by Mazepin, and hits the wall.

The Safety Car is deployed.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Ricciardo, Gasly, Stroll, Sainz, Norris and Bottas.

Ocon pits at the end of the opening lap, while Hamilton is advised that he has damage to his front wing endplate.

Gasly is told that it is now raining in the pitlane as Vettel pits.

Schumacher spins whilst warming up his tyres and clouts the barrier near the pitlane exit. Having lost his front wing he has to complete a full lap before he is able to stop. However, the pitlane is closed so the German has to continue.

Behind the Safety Car, Perez goes off at Acque Minerale, he is able to rejoin but the overtakes the cars that had passed him. Questionable.

Schumacher is finally able to pit.

The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of lap 6.

Hamilton is told that his front-left brake disc is getting very hot.

At the restart Hamilton has a go, but backs off as the pair enter the first corner, discretion being the better part of valour.

The Briton subsequently runs wide which allows Leclerc to close, while Sainz and Gasly are having a great scrap for 6th.

Norris and Sainz attempt to go either side of Gasly, with Stroll and Bottas right behind ready to pick up the pieces.

Onboard footage reveals how poor the visibility is and how scary that three=abreast moment was.

Tsunoda is up to 14th.

Norris and Gasly are now fighting, while Sainz follows.

Out front, Verstappen has a 4.9s lead.

Sainz passes Gasly and sets off after Norris. The Frenchman is struggling on his full wets.

The stewards have noted that first lap incident involving Verstappen and Hamilton.

Now Gasly is battling with Stroll, as the Frenchman is told that more rain is coming. Which is exactly what he wants to hear on those tyres.

Sainz runs wide in Rivazza as a queue of cars builds behind Gasly.

No further action in terms of that Verstappen/Hamilton incident.

However, Perez is under investigation for overtaking behind the Safety Car.

Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (28.724).

Bottas sweeps past Gasly as Perez is handed a 10s time penalty.

As Hamilton posts another fastest lap (28.592) he closes the gap to the leader to 4.4s.

Russell passes Gasly to take tenth. Next to line up the hapless Frenchman is Giovinazzi.

Verstappen posts a 28.119, as Vettel passes Ocon for 15th, the pair having clashed in Bahrain. Vettel subsequently passes Gasly also.

Another off, this time at Tosa, for Sainz.

As Mazepin warns that his tyres are starting to go, Gasly pits for inters.

"I need clean air," says Norris as he shadows his marginally slower teammate. "I have a lot more that I cannot use at the moment."

Schumacher is given a confidence boost, told that there will surely be another safety car. "You are doing awesome," he is told.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo is told he has to allow Norris through.

Despite a 5.4s advantage, there is an edge to Verstappen's voice as he talks to his team. The Dutchman anxious as to when the switch to slicks will be possible, aware that Hamilton and Mercedes will be very much on the case.

"The track is drying, but not enough at the moment," reports Verstappen.

After 20 laps, Leclerc continues in third, ahead of Perez, Norris, Ricciardo, Sainz, Stroll, Bottas and Russell.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 21, the German the first to switch to slicks (mediums). As he exits the pits the Aston Martin is handed a 10s stop and go for his wheels not being fitted at the 5 minute signal.

Schumacher pits at the end of lap 22.

Bottas is all over the back end of Stroll's Aston Martin. Vettel's times suggest that conditions are not yet right for slicks. Indeed, the German pits to serve his penalty.

Out front, Verstappen's lead is down to 2.1s.

Asked about conditions, Verstappen replies: "Drying, but not enough."

Sainz closes on Ricciardo and in no time at all is past the McLaren.

"it's still wet in some places," reports Hamilton.

At the end of lap 26, Tsunoda pits for mediums. He rejoins in 15th.

At the same time, Vettel begins to improve his pace, posting a PB.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 27, even though the Dutchman is clearly unsure.

"Let's go for it Lewis, you've got one lap."

Verstappen rejoins in third on mediums. As Russell, Sainz and Ricciardo also stop.

Hamilton goes quickest in S1, the Briton subsequently pitting. He rejoins in 2nd, 2.5s down on the Red Bull.

Leclerc, Norris, Giovinazzi, Bottas and Ocon also pit. Perez also stops, the Mexican serving his 10s penalty in the process.

As Alonso pits, this means all 19 drivers have made at least one stop.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Imola, here.

Verstappen and Hamilton thread their way through the backmarkers, as Vettel posts a new fastest lap (23.756).

Verstappen laps Bottas as the Finn's day goes from bad to worse.

Disaster for Hamilton, he's off and in the gravel at Tosa, lightly touching the barrier.

For agonising moments he tries to get the car going again, eventually managing to find reverse.

"So sorry guys," says the world champion.

As he makes his way back to the pits the Safety Car is deployed as Russell and Bottas are off having collided. Moments later, Alonso spins just a few yards away.

Under the Safety Car Hamilton pits, rejoining in 9th.

Meanwhile, replay shows Russell passing Bottas and going over the grass on the run to Tamburello, at which point he has no control and as he rejoins the track hits the Mercedes. Both drivers blame one another.

"What the **** was he doing," asks Russell. "Honestly, for what?". Bottas is similarly flummoxed.

The race is red-flagged.

Out of their cars, awaiting the restart, Hamilton sits with his head in his hands.

There is a lot of debris, and as the cameras pick out the two badly damaged cars one cannot help but think back to that same spot almost thirty years ago.

As it stands, after 33 laps, it's: Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Tsunoda.

Giovinazzi is eleventh, ahead of Alonso, Ocon, Gasly, Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin.

The incident will be investigated after the race.

The race will resume at 16:25.

Ahead of the restart, the lapped cars - which means everyone from Stroll down, including Hamilton - are allowed out first to effectively un-lap themselves.

It will be a rolling start.

The fun and games continue, on their way to the restart, Raikkonen and Verstappen both have offs.

They're away, Norris catches Leclerc napping, while Tsunoda is off after spinning at T1.

Verstappen leads on mediums, while Norris is on softs. Perez, in fourth, is also on the red-banded rubber, as is Ricciardo.

Hamilton is all over seventh-placed Stroll.

"Thanks for all the messages," tweets Russell. "I'm fine, just disappointed. At the end of the day, it's an unfortunate incident. You're entitled to defend your position. But at 330kph, you have to respect the speed and the conditions when doing so. Gutted for the team. They deserved more today."

The Bulls trade fastest sectors, Verstappen posts a 20.353 while Perez responds with a 20.627.

At which point Perez is off and in the gravel after losing the rear at the Villeneuve chicane. He rejoins in 14th.

A new fastest lap from Verstappen (19.726), as Hamilton nails Stroll on the entry to Tamburello.

"What's happening with the shift," asks Stroll, who is told "we're looking into it."

Now Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (19.479), as Verstappen opens a 3.8s gap to Norris.

As Giovinazzi pits at the end of lap 40 with a brake issue, Hamilton closes on Ricciardo. The Australian, like his McLaren teammate, is on softs, while the world champion is on mediums.

Hamilton makes very short work of Ricciardo, the Briton 11.9s down on the race leader.

Further back, Alonso and Vettel are battling for 11th.

Hamilton, now 3s down on Sainz, posts a new fastest lap (18.332).

"There's still points to be had," Perez is urged.

Ah, we were wondering... Tsunoda has his lap time deleted for exceeding the limits at T9.

As he has another time deleted, Tsunoda is warned by his team.

At which point the AlphaTauri driver is shown the dreaded black and white flag.

Losing ground to Alonso with a gear shift issue, Vettel is now under attack from Perez.

Lap 46 sees a new fastest lap from Verstappen (18.011).

Perez passes Vettel in Tamburello, the pair rubbing shoulders, but the Mexican has to hand back the place as he cut the chicane. Shortly after the Red Bull driver makes a move that is fully street - and race track - legal.

Hamilton makes a move on Sainz, but the Spaniard is in no mood to yield.

However, at the next attempt the Briton is in no mood to take no for an answer.

"Happy with that Lewis," comes the call over the radio, "let's get after it mate."

"Getting vibrations," warns Norris, "I don't know what from."

Hamilton closes on Leclerc who is just 0.728s down on Norris. Verstappen is a further 14s up the road.

Gasly, who is closing on Stroll and Ricciardo is urged "we can do it".

Norris warns that he doesn't want any interference from the car ahead, a certain Mr Mazepin.

At the start of al 55, Hamilton - who has DRS - passes Leclerc - who doesn't.

"This is awesome work Lewis, you've got Norris ahead, come on, P2"

Tsunoda gets a 5s time penalty for constantly exceeding the track limits.

At the start of lap 57 (of 63), Hamilton makes a DRS-aided move on Norris at the first chicane, but is unable to make it stick.

A late off for Gasly who drops to 8th.

Seven titles or not, Norris places his McLaren inch perfect, keeping Hamilton at bay.

Finally, at the start of lap 60, Hamilton is through, the Mercedes sweeping past the McLaren. Verstappen, however remains an impossible dream, the Dutchman 20s up the road.

"He was too quick for me," admits Norris.

Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (16.702) and along with it a much needed point.

It wouldn't be race day without a spin for Mazepin, and the Russian duly obliges.

"The gearbox is getting loose," Vettel is told, "you'll have to retire the car. Box, bob. Box, box."

Verstappen begins his final lap.

He crosses the line, 22s clear of Hamilton, who finishes ahead of Norris, Leclerc, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Gasly, Raikkonen and Ocon.

Alonso is eleventh, ahead of Perez, Tsunoda, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin.

An almost faultless drive from Verstappen, but courtesy of that point for fastest lap - and a brilliant recovery - Hamilton retains the leads in the championship, albeit by that single point.

The big story will be the Bottas/Russell clash, for it happened on one of the fastest and most dangerous parts of the track.

Indeed, there was a 'don't mention the war' sense to the broadcast coverage, with no acknowledgement that this was the very same corner where Ayrton Senna perished.

Norris takes a well-deserved third, he could have held out for second but is clearly aware of the old adage that 'to finish first, first you have to finish'. Furthermore, there is no shame in losing out to a seven-time world champion.

Considering how bad things were last time they were here, Ferrari must be delighted with how things went. Of course, the Italian team was fortunate in the way things played out for Bottas and Perez, but nonetheless, other than finishing fourth and fifth, the Maranello outfit has looked good all weekend.

Ricciardo will probably feel miffed at having to let Norris through, but it was the right call at the time, and it would have been silly to throw away that podium for the sake of not upsetting the Australian.

Despite Stroll finishing in the points again, Aston Martin clearly has issues which go way beyond the aero regulations. The brake problem that affected both drivers before the race is one thing, but a "loose gearbox" on Vettel's car?

"Rollercoaster" is word liberally thrown around over race weekend, but what better term to describe Gasly and Tsunoda's day. The AT02 clearly has the pace, as do its drivers, all that remains is to getting everything working in synch.

Ninth-placed Raikkonen is under investigation for a "rolling start infringement" so it could well be that the Finn is hit with a penalty. Just 5s would see him drop to 12th. Nonetheless, on the road the 'old man' of F1 finished ahead of fellow champions Alonso and Vettel.

Ocon finishes tenth, but it is clear that, like Aston Martin, Alpine has issues, issues which need to be resolved. However, with the impending switch of focus to 2022, are we soon to see teams essentially give up on this season?

All in all a fun afternoon, though, not for the first time F1 rode its luck.

That said, after two races Hamilton and Verstappen are separated by just one point, and while neither appear to be able to rely on regular support from their respective teammates, it looks like these two alone should provide the incentive for fans to keep checking in.

Entertaining, incident filled F1 racing, Made in Italy.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Imola, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 18/04/2021
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