Max Verstappen took first place in the 2021 Imola Grand Prix. Jenny Alderton reports on a race that was filled with drama!
Brakes on fire, cars running off the track, rainy conditions causing chaos—and this is before we even start!
A downpour before the race starts creates the first wet session of the weekend, leaving the teams with difficult strategic and tyres choices to make on very little data. Some parts of the track are wet enough for full wet tyres, some parts are dry enough for slicks—most teams opt for the inters. Alonso runs off getting to the grid and needs a nose replacement; Leclerc is luckier when he runs off on the warm-up lap. These are very difficult and slippery conditions. As for the brakes on fire: both Aston Martins suffer brake issues, with Stroll’s rears catching fire as he leaves for the grid. Reassuringly, the Canadian is told to drive faster to put the fire out. Aston Martin mechanics do a great job to get both Astons up and running for the race.
Speaking of which…from the grid, Verstappen makes an outstanding start, moving from third into first after getting alongside pole-sitter Hamilton and making a bold move for the lead into the first chicane. Hamilton is made to go slightly wide and bumping over the curbs damages his front wing slightly. There’s jostling throughout the grid as drivers try to find their feet in these tricky wet conditions. Norris loses a few positions, Sainz slides wide, and Laitifi spins off completely. A safety car is brought out when Latifi—seemingly not seeing Mazepin after rejoining from his spin—collides with the Russian and ends up in the wall.
The safety car period ends and, after the race restarts, Verstappen pulls away from Hamilton, making up a 5-second gap within a few laps. Leclerc lies in third, followed by Perez and Ricciardo. Sixth place is where all the action is as Gasly—one of the few drivers to start on full wet tyres—is struggling on the not-wet-enough track. Sainz battles with Gasly, the two trading places, before Norris joins in and they go three abreast down the pit straight with Stroll and Bottas right on the tails. Within a few laps both Norris and Sainz pass Gasly, behind whom—over the following few laps—a small train of cars form. The Alpha Tauri team have bet on more rain, but as the track dries, the wets lose more and more speed, and Gasly drops down the order.
The race then settles down for a short while with large gaps forming between the cars. Norris is the driver on the move at this time, and—under the team’s request—an obliging teammate in Ricciardo lets him pass into fifth.
We then enter the tricky phase of the race. As the track dries up, the big question is: when is the right time to move onto dry tyres? No one wants to blink first, but also, no one wants to be left behind on the slower tyres. At this point Hamilton is gaining on Verstappen—the Mercedes working really well on the old worn inters. Vettel is the first to roll the dice, opting for slicks, and initially lacks speed, but after a few laps reports, it is the right time for slicks and there’s a flurry of pitstops. Verstappen pits and Hamilton stays out, using his pace on the old inters and hoping to jump Verstappen and gain the lead. The tactic may very well have worked if it weren’t for a slightly slow pitstop, which sees him return to track behind the Red Bull.
Again, gaps begin to form—with the most exciting battle being down the bottom of the top ten. Stroll overtakes a struggling Bottas, with Russell and Raikkonen right behind the Finn—who seems bogged down in the midfield and unable to find good pace in his Mercedes.
An eventful two laps see drama for the Mercedes team. Hamilton slides off the track having left the dryline to lap Russell. He does manage to get out of the gravel trap but valuable time and places are lost. The Brit pits under somewhat useful yellow flags for a new nose cone and returns to the race in eighth position, as the yellow flags turn into even more useful red flags for the Brit.
The incident which brought the race to a stop was a dramatic crash for Bottas and Russell. At the incredibly fast turn, the two cars collide and end up in the barriers. Both drivers are fine but blame one another, with some choice words from Russell and a very choice finger in response from Bottas. Russell had the speed with DRS open and is committed to an overtake when he perceives Bottas to make a move slightly to the right. Russell reacts to this, moving away from Bottas, putting his tyre on the wet grass and sending his Williams into the side of the Mercedes and skittling them both out of the race.
With the red flag, the race is essentially reset. Cars will start in the position they were in when the race stopped but—importantly for Hamilton—lapped cars will un-lap themselves before the race gets underway.
It’s a rolling restart, and despite Verstappen almost losing it under the safety car, he gets a good restart and sails off into another comfortable lead. Behind him, Norris gets a cracking restart, using his faster soft tyres to blast past Leclerc’s Ferrari and move into second position. Perez makes a rare mistake, sliding wide and dropping from fourth down to fourteenth.
The latter third of the race is all about how many positions Hamilton can recover. Dispatching Stroll and Ricciardo within ten laps, he chases down the interesting battle between Norris and the Ferraris in second, third and fourth. On a track notoriously hard to pass on, Hamilton eventually gets the better of Sainz, but has a harder job on his hands with Leclerc. The Monagesque has been steadily reeling in Norris ahead of him and now has DRS himself—making it impossible for Hamilton to pass for several laps. With a slow lap, Leclerc drops out of DRS range and this allows Hamilton to pass. Five laps later—despite some lovely defensive driving—Norris too is passed by the resurgent Hamilton. From ninth to second Hamilton gets himself onto the podium. Norris finishes a very well deserved third as the two Ferraris—who have been threatening to hunt him down in the final laps—aren’t quite able to catch the Mclaren.
How The Teams and Drivers Did
With an amazing start, faultless drive and consistent performance, Verstappen took a commanding—and much deserved—victory. Teammate Perez had worse luck, receiving a penalty after overtaking under the safety car, and later running off-track and losing positions. A shame for the Mexican, who had good pace this weekend and ran fourth for much of the first half of the race. Still, it shows that Red Bull has great pace and can really take the fight to Mercedes this year.
A mixed bag of a race for Mercedes saw a rare mistake from Hamilton, but also a great recovery drive. Bottas never looked like he was able to find pace in the Mercedes today, spending a long time lingering in the bottom part of the top ten before the crash with Russell put pay to a disappointing race for him.
Norris had great pace throughout the weekend and delivered on that with a podium result. From a tricky start, the Brit executed some good overtakes and made his tyres last long enough to give him a much deserved third-place finish—he now stands third in the drivers’ championship. Teammate Ricciardo had a quiet race, though good defensive diving in the last section of the race saw him fend off Stroll and Gasly for a 6th place finish.
Ferrari will be happy with fourth and fifth, and both drivers had solid races, despite a few minor offs for Sainz. Having found his feet a little more with the team, the Spaniard seemed more comfortable to push and was rewarded with a net six place gain from the start of the race.
Despite gaining on Ricciardo towards the end of the race, Stroll just couldn’t get by, although this close running did enable him to utilise DRS to defend against Gasly behind him. After finishing in seventh position on track, Stroll was given a 5-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage—which dropped him to eighth place. A difficult race for the Astons, both having brake issues before the race and gearbox issues towards the end. Stroll drove very well to keep these issues under control and end in the points. Vettel was less fortunate, consistently running out of the points and retiring with the aforementioned gearbox issues just before the end of the race.
Gasly made a good recovery drive to finish in the points in seventh after Strolls’ demotion. Alpha Tauri committed to the wet tyres on Gasly’s car at the beginning of the race, presumably believing more rain was on its way. The reset with the red flag allowed them to un-lap themselves and give Gasly the chance to make up a few places. Tsunoda had a race of two halves. Initially gaining nine places and putting in some good overtakes, he then put a tyre offline, sending him into a slow spin and dropping him down the order, where he then lingered for the rest of the race. Alpha Tauri can be rightfully disappointed with this result as I believe they had better pace than the result reflects.
At one point, both Alfa’s were in the top ten—on merit. Unfortunately, Giovinazzi had to do an extra pit and Raikkonen went slightly wide losing a few places. Despite coming in ninth on track, the Finn was demoted to 13th after receiving a penalty for failing to enter the pitlane on the re-start. Again, I think Alfa can be rightly disappointed with this result; with good drives and pace which saw them running in the points, it must be disappointing for them to leave empty-handed.
Ocon and Alonso rounded out the top ten running closely to one another throughout what seemed a pretty uneventful race for the Alpine team.
Haas round up the finishing cars. Schumacher had a spin early on in the race; bumping the wall requiring him to fit a new nose cone. Teammate Mazepin left it to the end of the race for his spin but kept it away from the walls. Ultimately, it seems that Haas just doesn’t have the pace this year.
Williams…well…definitely a disappointing race, with two cars coming back in bits. They can take heart that Russell was running in tenth—on merit—as tricky conditions like this often play into the hands of slower cars and they were really able to capitalise before the crash.
What a race! We had it all. Setting up the 2021 Verstappen vs Hamilton battle extremely well, just a single point separates the two at the top of the drivers’ championship. The Ferrari’s and Mclarens seem to have a similar pace and I don’t doubt we’ll get some great battles between these four drivers throughout the season.
Driver of the day- Norris
Honourable mentions – Verstappen, Sainz.
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Results 2021
- Hamilton (Fastest Lap)
Seven minutes very well spent!!
We go to Portugal! A year after its blistering F1 debut, we race again at Portimao.
Where to watch:
USA: Sunday 2nd May Live on ESPN race start at 11:00am EST
UK: Sunday 2nd May Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 3:00pm GMT
Highlights on Sky One and Channel Four, time TBC Sunday 2nd May.