- Lando Norris [Copyright: McLaren]

F1 Imola GP, Saturday: Top 3 tussle, Norris/Bottas off, Giovinazzi/Mazepin

The qualifying had many stories as well.

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The Saturday in F1 Imola GP had lots in play with Red Bull hunting Mercedes, mistakes from drivers and controversy too.

It was one of those days, where even though the pole-sitter did not improve on his second and final lap, he still managed to secure it from his nearest rivals. Even though it was just 0.087s separating the Top 3 in F1 Imola GP, but it was enough for Lewis Hamilton.

He had a scrappy second lap, which was same for Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, where the Mexican F1 driver managed to beat his Dutch teammates in his second outing. They were almost beaten by McLaren's Lando Norris too.

Norris was second on his final lap, but for track limits, which dropped him to seventh. For Hamilton, it will be a new situation for now, with Perez and Verstappen behind him, whereas Mercedes F1 teammate Valtteri Bottas ended up only eighth eventually.

I think honestly, once we finished P3, for example, we had that gap to the Red Bulls, I couldn’t go sixth-tenths faster – but we just kept our heads down and worked on just tweaking the car a little bit into qualifying," said Hamilton. "Generally very, very smooth. Great strategy in terms of getting us out in nice clean air on all of our runs.

"And, of course, I managed to do my time on the Medium, and then I got to have a practice run on the Soft, and then I knew, going into qualifying and particularly that last lap, was going to take something special. It really had to be the most perfect lap that I could do – and a little bit more, in order to beat the Red Bulls. They really have been fast all weekend. So, I didn’t honestly know whether or not we could do it.

"Like that last lap, it started up… the first lap, for example, of Q3, started I think a tenth up out of Turns 1 and 2 and I knew that I was onto a good lap but the second sector lost a little bit in Turn 12. The second time around, unfortunately came out of Turn 2 and 3 a tenth and a half down, I think it was, or a tenth down, and by the time I got to Turn 9, I was a tenth and a half down but managed to regain that through the middle and the last sector.

"So, having those two together I think would have been the perfect, perfect lap – but I’m honestly so happy with that lap. The first lap really is obviously where it counted. So, grateful for it," summed up Hamilton, as he added on taking on both the Red Bull in Sunday's F1 race, without the help of his teammate in the first stint.

"I can’t remember the last time I saw the Red Bulls so close," said Hamilton. "If we’re able to get off in order then they obviously have a bit of a better set of cards in terms of strategy but that doesn’t mean we can’t pull out something unique and do something different. I’m not really sure what happened with Valtteri.

"It’s very hard to overtake here so obviously we probably won’t have the support of him early on but nevertheless maybe he will make it through but otherwise we’ve just got to focus on our job and try and do absolutely everything and more to keep these lads behind," summed up Hamilton, as Perez talked though his lap. The Mexican F1 driver will be starting on the soft compound while both the pole-sitter and Verstappen will be on medium.

"I have a pretty good reference in Max, it’s just getting 100 per cent all time out of the car, it’s just adapting myself to it, learning step-by-step," said Perez. "I wasn’t expecting myself to be here at the moment because I feel that I am miles away from where I should be. Things are not coming naturally yet.

"So it’s a good boost in confidence, not just for myself, also for the team, to make them feel that they have both drivers and that we can push the team forward together. That’s an important bit," he summed up, as Verstappen added about his mistake and taking on Hamilton as a Red Bull F1 duo, with Bottas far behind.

"I went off in Turn 3 with two wheels," said Verstappen. "I know that Honda makes good lawnmowers but I don’t think this is suited for that. At least I tried. It was really just a scrappy lap and I haven’t had that in the long time, so we just need to understand why that happened. It has been going really well for a very long time so… unfortunately we are not robots. I can’t programme myself like that.

"But yeah, sometimes it happens that you make a mistake. It’s going to be interesting what can be done, but not only with that but also what the weather is going to do, if there is a bit of rain or not so I guess we just have to wait and see what’s going to happen but hopefully, in the race, it will be close again," summed up Verstappen.

For Bottas, it was another bad day in the office, as he explained about not feeling his rear enough on his laps. "In Q3, the first run I went into Turn 2 and I had a really sudden snap from rear end and it really continued through sector 1 and I lost a lot of time," he said. "And actually it was the same thing in run 2.

"It was never there - I couldn’t trust the rear end of the car, and it was something that I didn’t feel in the whole qualifying before that. So I don’t know what happened, we need to investigate, but for sure it’s disappointing." There was some disappointment in McLaren F1 camp too, especially for Norris, who almost did a solid job.

Instead, he finds himself seventh behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo, whom he had been beating comfortably in all of Imola F1 weekend. Norris cursed himself when speaking to TV media and stood by his sentiments post-qualifying when talking to media including FormulaRapida.net. "I still agree with what I said," he said.

"It’s what I did, it should have been P3. So, I’m not happy about what I’ve done, am I? I think there were a lot of positives from the session, the fact I actually could have been P3 I think is a huge positive for us. Just how the whole of qualifying went I think was very strong, and it wasn’t just Turn 9 which was a good corner, the rest of the lap was also very good, sector one was strong.

"We should have been P3, we should have been in with a chance to score more points. “It’s not an easy track to ever take on. Of course, I agree with the comment that I made because it’s exactly what I did. To be honest, I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t think of it when I was doing my lap or anything.

"But I think the reason I think that is because all my other laps were very close and very similar, obviously just a few centimetres further left. When you’re driving the car you don’t really feel those couple centimetres all the time," summed up Norris, as teammate Ricciardo noted that he still needs to up his game, and doesn't wants to use the 'new driver to the F1 team' excuse.

Their closest F1 rivals on the track were Ferrari and AlphaTauri, albeit, with one car each for the time being. Charles Leclerc continued his fine performance, showcasing the pace he has, while Carlos Sainz only missed by just for a place in Q3, as he is in a similar place to where Ricciardo is with McLaren in their second race for their respective teams.

In the mix was AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, who thought, McLaren were tiny bit quicker than them but he managed to get ahead as he had a cleaner lap than the others. In fact, the Frenchman reckons that the British F1 team's speed in the corners on medium tyres to be mighty, which will come handy on a track where it is difficult to overtake.

His teammate Yuki Tsunoda, unfortunately, will have to start from last after crashing out in Q1. "The crash in qualifying was my mistake and I want to apologise to the team – I was pushing too hard into the entry of the chicane and just couldn’t control the car after that," he said. "It’s a shame because up until that corner the car felt really good and it was a strong lap – I think we could’ve gotten through to Q2 on just one compound."

Among others, Aston Martin had Lance Stroll again in the Top 10 but Sebastian Vettel was outside in 13th. While the Canadian F1 driver had his lap time deleted, the German felt much better than what he did in Bahrain. He is still getting to grips with the brand new car, which is not in its best shape. In a similar position was Fernando Alonso with Alpine, having finished only 15th in the end.

With Esteban Ocon in the Top 10, Alonso felt, he didn't do a good job simply. The Spaniard was beaten by both the Williams F1 drivers even, with George Russell in 12th and Nicholas Latifi in 14th. For the Brit, he was happy to pull it together when it mattered after not feeling too well with the car all weekend long. He also had a moment with Perez.

As for Latifi, he revealed that he almost didn't make it to qualifying after his FP3 crash, but the red flag for Tsunoda's crash, helped the crew to complete the fix. "I’m very pleased with qualifying, especially with Q1,” he said. “We almost didn’t make it out for qualifying, I don’t know if the cameras were on the car at all, but I had the crash, the little bump with the wall in P3 and even though we did manage to get out there and do laps there was some sort of residual thing that we needed to check over.

“If it wasn’t for the red flag with Yuki’s crash, I wouldn’t have made it out for qualifying, so yeah, kind of thankful for that – obviously unfortunate for Yuki – but it gave us the time to repair the car, put it back together and Q1. Really pleased with the lap; Q2, a little bit disappointed… but overall with the result I’m quite pleased," summed up Latifi.

The surprising team at the back were Alfa Romeo, who were predicted to be little higher in the group. They were knocked out in Q1 along with Haas, but not without some controversy, involving Antonio Giovinazzi and Nikita Mazepin - it was similar situation like in Bahrain, when the Russian F1 driver was alleged to have broken drivers' agreement.

Replays showed Mazepin behind Giovinazzi in the final corner, when the Russian moved to the side of the Italian and went ahead. The latter reckoned the former broke the un-written drivers' agreement. "It's quite clear," said the Alfa Romeo driver. "We respect each other on this, starting the lap, and he didn't respect this.

"This is really not correct for a qualifying lap. I didn't make my last lap. We a have kind of agreement, every driver, that you need to leave a space to start a lap and it was not a correct way to go. He was just behind me and beside me on the main straight.

"So I think then he destroyed his lap and he destroyed my lap. I don’t know why he makes like this, but that’s his story," summed up Giovinazzi, whereas Mazepin added: In F1 it is a bit difficult as there's 20 cars, obviously in segment one, which is where we are. Everyone is going out at the same time and the track is just not big enough for all of us.

"We had this chat about the gentlemen's agreement and obviously I didn't have a problem with that. But when there is three seconds on the clock, it is either you go or you have to box, and you're going across the start/finish first. So I don't think there's an issue with it. I'm here to do my laps and, you know, we are all in the same world.

"You exit from the pits and I left quite a significant gap, going slowly in the pit lane, to make sure that when people are backing up in turn 17 and 18 I have my space. I’ve learned all the necessary braking and warming of the tyres down to turn 14 and 15.

"Then when I arrived to the straight down to turn 17 I saw five or six cars going very slowly. The first car leading it was one of the Mercedes cars and I believe he was going very slow. I’m not sure why that was, potentially that’s what he needed for his tyres. I was obviously in the queue, respecting the drivers agreement, and then when I got to turn 17 my engineer said that there’s 10 seconds to go, you need to start to push now.

"Ricciardo and Russell arrived on the back of me, because they wanted to go, so I started to accelerate, Antonio saw it, also accelerated, and then I was very close to him on the main straight and my only option was to go forward," summed up Mazepin.

In other F1 news, having not shown the replays on Friday, the FOM finally released the video of the crash between Ocon and Perez, here: www.formula1.com/en/video/2021/4/2021_Emilia_Romagna_GP__Unseen_footage_of_Perez_and_Ocon_FP1_crash.html

[Image courtesy: McLaren] [Note: This story was written on FormulaRapida.net]

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