F1 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: FP1 & 2 Report – Bottas leads Hamilton in commanding Mercedes 1-2
The Formula 1 cars were back on track for the Friday practice sessions at Imola today.
We were eager to see what would be in store for us three weeks after a thrilling Bahrain Grand Prix. That ended with a surprise win for Lewis Hamilton after pole for Red Bull, but would RBR be the team to beat at Imola?
Mercedes seem to be finding their groove after a difficult couple of months in testing and the first race that seemed to be an opportunistic one. The Black Arrows aren’t up to the dominant form we expect, as there was a merry-go-round of fastest times with Bottas coming out on top. Here’s how it played out!
Everything about this year has, owing to the reduction in session lengths, felt far more urgent when the cars are out on track. Rather than running the aero rakes and doing cruise laps, the cars were pushing immediately, inevitably leading to mistakes. Similarly running less than faultlessly was FOM’s TV coverage on the world feed, leading to a number of missed moments. As it later came out, said moments may have been caused by team radio and driver tracker issues preventing optimum communication.
Perez and car number 9 spun early on in the session, followed by Tsunoda and Verstappen taking a trip across the gravel. Tsunoda’s teammate, Pierre Gasly led the first half of the session by around a tenth over Hamilton with a 1:17.470.
The session was then red flagged after 40 minutes due to an incident between Sergio Perez and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon at the Villeneuve chicane. Initial replays wouldn’t give away anything but the Red Bull rotating with the Frenchman’s car behind before coming to a stop with three wheels on their wagons.
The session restarted with 12 minutes to go, leading to a flurry of fastest laps between the expected front runners, with Hamilton, Sainz, Verstappen and Bottas all setting purple times. Latifi had a large off-roading trip at the penultimate proper corner, coming in a little too hot at the rear and taking a trip towards the apartment buildings over the catch fencing. Just before Mick Schumacher’s teammate bookended his session with a last corner spin almost into the pitlane, bringing out the red flags, Gasly mixed it up in 5th with a 1:16.888.
It was a slightly more unsettled start to the second hour-long session of the day, as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped thanks to the sun hiding behind the clouds, but nothing like the rain forecast for Sunday. Lando Norris did a trial run of what we’ll see should it be wet, and became the first to escape across the gravel in the session as the teams look to get the bulk of their race runs completed.
Max Verstappen brought out the virtual safety car as a failure in the driveshafts ended his running within 10 minutes. Given his experience and skill he should be able to work around his shortened running, but it’s not what Red Bull would have wanted in their crucial race run simulations.
Halfway through the session Bottas topped the times with a 1:15.551, just 0.010s faster than Hamilton. The Mercedes looked significantly more stable and more willing to do as demanded by the drivers than in the opening round, suggesting they’re getting the hang of how to set up the cars in this slightly adjusted formula for 2021.
It was less than smooth running for Fernando Alonso of Alpine bouncing across the Tamburello kerbs. Leclerc also had a bumpy final practice, having a number of final corner issues, culminating in a medium speed shunt to the barriers after a snap of oversteer, bringing out the red flag and ending the session.
Have Mercedes flipped the script on Red Bull?
It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Red Bull have fallen off the ball in the three weeks separating rounds 1 and 2, but while Brackley are good, they’re not that good.
Red Bull were beset by issues in FP1 and FP2, but given the times they set when both they and the Silver Arrows were on track doing what we can only assume were similar things, showed a little bit more parity than we saw in Sakhir.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff wouldn’t be drawn on whether they were fully in the belief that the rake issue was fixed nor would he say that the floor rules were specifically aimed at their car as Aston Martin have. More telling was his analysis that they’ve got the car performing well here after large amounts of setup work. They’ll be hoping that work continues to pay off over the next two days.
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:16.622||0.058|
|8||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:17.489||0.925|
|12||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:17.883||1.319|
|14||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1:17.984||1.42|
|15||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:18.058||1.494|
|16||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||1:18.228||1.664|
|6||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||1:16.411||0.860|
|9||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:16.513||0.962|
|10||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:16.737||1.186|
|14||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:16.999||1.448|
|15||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1:17.092||1.541|
|17||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:17.273||1.722|
Grid Talk Podcast
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more F1 action? Why not check out the Grid Talk Emilia Romagna Grand Prixview hosted by Ruby Price with Alex Booth, Sam Thatcher and Owain Medford. Available in both audio and video at the links below: