Imola Grand Prix Weekend Preview

After a seemingly endless three-week break, it’s finally time for race week! Round two of the 2021 Formula One season is set to get underway this weekend in Imola as the Italian circuit makes a triumphant return after its successful substitution last year following a fourteen-year absence from the calendar. After such a long wait, we surely can hope for a race as good as what we witnessed in Bahrain, all the way back in March. Can Max Verstappen enact his revenge on Sir Lewis Hamilton or will the Mercedes/Hamilton pairing come out on top yet again?

Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Tanishka Vashee 

The ‘Gran Premio del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia-Romagna’ (Imola GP) will take place around the ‘Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari’ road circuit situated in the idyllic Italian town of Imola, east of Bologna. The circuit, named after Enzo and Alfredo Ferrari, consists of 19 turns as drivers attempt to navigate the ferocious 4.909-kilometer (3.05 miles) lap at an average speed of 219km/h (136mph). This year’s race will feature 63 laps as the 2021 grid attempts to chase down the lap record of 1:15.484 set by previous year’s race winner, Lewis Hamilton. Last year’s pole time, set by Valtteri Bottas, was an impressive 1:13.609. 

The Grand Prix in Imola is a historic affair as the circuit hosted its first Italian Grand Prix in 1980, before taking on the role of hosting the now-infamous San Marino GP from 1981. The track hosted 27 Grand Prix until 2006, before making its return in 2020. Throughout this 27-year-long tenureship, the circuit played host to some of the most iconic races in Formula One history.

It was here in 1996 that the Ferrari and Michael Schumacher pairing truly kicked off as Schumacher scored his first pole for the team in front of the adoring Tifosi. His brother, Ralf, also made history at the track, claiming his first victory in 2001. It was at Imola in 1985 that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost would first battle wheel-to-wheel as Senna in his Lotus attempted to hold back the much quicker McLaren of Prost. Mika Häkkinen surely remembers his costly spin in 1999 which caused him to crash out of the race, giving Ferrari their first win at the venue since 1983 and Schumacher the lead of the championship. Yet another titanic rivalry would become infamous at this circuit is that of Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. The duo would engage in a tense battle during the race in 2005 with the Spaniard winning by just two tenths!

The track, however, is most remembered for the tragic events that unfolded in 1994. On Saturday, the world of Formula One would lose one of its young rising talents as Austrian Roland Ratzenberger would, unfortunately, lose his life following a crash during the weekend’s Qualifying session. Tragically, the following day, the sporting world would lose a legend and a truly good man as Ayrton Senna, who would crash from the lead of the race into Tamburello corner, causing him to sadly lose his life. 

With history as deep as Imola’s, what can we look forward to this year? The main story is definitely regarding the rivalry between Mercedes and Redbull – or more specifically between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Following a tense race-long battle for the lead in Bahrain, as well as a controversial overtake and track limits argument, fans will be eager to see if RedBull truly has the pace that they showed last time out and if they will be able to hold a candle to the German manufacturer. Max Verstappen will surely be eager to beat out the seven-time world champion whilst his teammate, Sergio Perez, will be wanting to have a smoother weekend than in Bahrain. 2020’s pole-sitter, Valtteri Bottas, will be hoping that he can stick with the front two and remain relevant for the entire race – something which he seemed to struggle with last time out. 

Ferrari and McLaren were embroiled in several epic wheel-to-wheel battles in Bahrain as the two teams fought to cement themselves as the best of the rest. Daniel Ricciardo will be looking to outperform his younger teammate, Lando Norris, this weekend following his defeat in Bahrain whilst the Ferrari duo will be hoping to be closer to the Woking-based team with both cars as Carlos Sainz was beaten by his Monégasques teammate, Charles Leclerc in the season opener.

Further down the grid, the midfield battle of Alpine, Aston Martin, and Alpha Tauri is expected to be as close as ever as each fight for valuable points. Aston Martin will be looking to improve on a generally poor weekend in Bahrain as they fell away from their true rivals of McLaren and Ferrari with Lance stroll finishing in the tail end of the points whilst four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, endured a miserable race with a mediocre strategy and a strange crash with Esteban Ocon. Ocon too will be looking for more from his Alpine team as they failed to score, with Fernando Alonso retiring from the race supposedly due to a sandwich wrapper. Alpha Tauri saw a tale of two fortunes last time out as Pierre Gasly achieved a spectacular P5 in Qualifying only to get caught up in the mess of the safety car restart causing him to eventually retire from the race, whilst his rookie teammate of Yuki Tsunoda fought through from a disappointing Qualifying to score two points on his debut with a P9. He will be looking to bring this race pace forwards with him into Imola.

Rounding up the grid, Alfa Romeo will be looking to replicate their Bahrain results this weekend as the team saw good race pace from both cars to finish just outside the points in P11 and P12 with Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi. Williams will be happy to not be at the back as they look to continue their resurrection up the grid following a decent race in Bahrain with George Russell proving the car had good race pace as he ran inside the points for a short while, but would ultimately finish P14 whilst Nicholas Latifi had to retire from the race. Haas will be hoping to pretend that the Bahrain Grand Prix never happened as they aim to turn over a new leaf this weekend. The team saw one car, driven by Nikita Mazepin, retire after three corners following a violent spin; whilst the team’s other car, driven by Mick Schumacher, spun at turn four after the safety car restart to eventually finish last of the classified runners.

This weekend’s session times have been adjusted slightly to avoid a clash with the funeral of the late Prince Philip. As a result, Qualifying has been moved forward by an hour to start at 1 pm BST with Free Practice three also being moved forward an hour to start at 10 am BST. Friday Practice has been moved forwards by half an hour. The race is still set to begin at 2 pm BST on Sunday, so be sure not to miss anything as this weekend is set to be a stunner!

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Be sure to check out our recent interview with Gabriel Casagrande, found here. Also, check out our recent featured article on sustainable motorsport, found here.

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