Imola GP: The Good, The Bad and The Unlucky
A summary of the winners and losers of F1's first European race of 2021.
1. Max Verstappen
Max celebrating his first win of the year.
After an almost perfect weekend in Bahrain, which nearly ended with victory for him, Verstappen showed again that Red Bull are a severe threat to Mercedes. For the first time since the beginning of the hybrid era, Red Bull seems to be ready to fight for the title straight from the start. But not everything was easy in Italy. Much of free practice was dominated by Mercedes. On Saturday, the pole went to Hamilton, with Verstappen being beaten by his teammate, Sergio Perez. However, on Sunday, everything went well for Max. An excellent start gave him the lead from an early age, and from then on, he was always in control. Hamilton's overcut attempt might have slightly startled Red Bull, and Max's short trip to the grass while warming up his tires for the restart threatened to blow his chances of winning. But Sunday was the day of Verstappen, and after Bahrain, it seems more and more certain that this will be the year of Hamilton vs Verstappen.
2. Lando Norris
Lando taking a champagne bath in the podium.
This was undoubtedly one of the best weekends for Lando Norris in F1. After being a mere centimetres away from 3rd place in qualifying and having a touch with Stroll on the first lap that led him to fall to 9th, things seem not to be going so well for Norris. But after the safety car, Lando made a remarkable recovery to 3rd, pulling a big gap to his highly-rated teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, in the process. During the red flag, an inspired decision by the team to put him on the softs allowed Norris to get to second on the restart, staying there for more than 20 laps. Eventually, Norris, already with the tires somewhat worn, ended up overtaken by Hamilton, who still had to work hard to overtake his fellow countryman.
3. Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton spraying some Ferrari champagne on the podium.
It may seem a little strange to say that Hamilton had a good race after he started first and finished second, especially given Hamilton's ability to capitalize on pole positions. Verstappen controlled the race, with Hamilton threatening only in the pit stop phase, and after Hamilton's mistake at tosa, while lapping Russel, he could hardly come close again. However, the fact that Hamilton continued after such an incident is something extraordinary. Any other driver would have gotten out of the car, but Hamilton insisted. For more than 1 minute, hamilton fought to get out of the gravel. The red flag indeed helped him because it allowed him to change the front wing and recover the lap in delay, but still, there is a lot of merit to recover from 9th to 2nd, thus minimizing the points lost to Verstappen, which will be crucial in the fight for the championship.
1. Valtteri Bottas
Bottas will likely want to forget this sunday at Imola.
After showing a good pace on Friday, qualifying went disastrously for Valteri Bottas. In Q1 and Q2, Bottas seemed to be in the mix for front spots. However, in Q3 Bottas, he finished in 8th, complaining of some instability in the rear. Sunday's race was not much better. In the beginning, Bottas dropped to 10th and passed much of the race there until the big accident with Russel. In the accident, neither Russel nor Bottas are 100% guilty, as, in my view, it is a racing incident. Bottas, seeing Russel approaching with DRS, positions his car farther to the right to make overtaking more difficult but still leaving enough space. Russel is startled by the movement of Bottas and puts a wheel on the grass, losing control of the car. However, Bottas should not have been in a fighting position with a Williams, and his inability to move up the rankings was further evidenced by Hamilton's comeback drive later in the race.
2. Sergio Perez
It was an Up and Down weekend for Perez.
The weekend started very well for Sergio Perez, qualifying for the first time in the front row and beating his teammate, Max Verstappen. His start to the race was not bad. However, the brilliant start of Verstappen meant that he dropped to third and was subsequently overtaken by Leclerc, falling to 4. But the worst was yet to come, as during the safety car period. After leaving the track, Perez decided to overtake Ricciardo and Gasly to recover his original position. That mistake later earned him a 10-second penalty. Even so, after the red flag period, Perez was still in fourth place and well in the fight for a spot on the podium. However, a mistake at the restart caused a trip to the gravel, throwing him out of the points. Perez still recovered to 12th, but he leaves Imola without points. Still, not everything was terrible this weekend. Perez showed a good race pace, similar to what he had shown in Bahrain, and showed that he could compete with Verstappen in qualifying.
3. Nikita Mazepin
Mazepin is having a hard time in F1.
I almost put Yuki Tsunoda in this section due to his mistake in qualifying and at the restart. However, despite his qualifying error, Yuki still managed to have a good race, reaching 8th place until his mistake at the restart. Mazepin's weekend, though an improvement over Bahrain, was clearly worse. On Saturday, he was beaten again in qualifying by the teammate and still managed to disrupt Giovinazzi's 2nd lap in Q1. Despite a spin close to the end and a touch with Latifi on the first lap, from which Mazepin is not to blame, the race went much more smoothly than Bahrain. However, Mazepin ended the race more than 1 minute from his teammate, even after hitting the wall and destroying the front wing behind the safety car.
1. Sebastian Vettel
Vettel has become very familiar with Murphy's Law during the first two races at Aston Martin.
The move to Aston Martin is not going smoothly for Sebastian Vettel. After a lot of disruption in the Bahrain tests and a Bahrain GP full of misfortunes and errors, Vettel finally seemed to be adapting to the car, reaching Q2 but still 2 tenths of a second away from teammate Lance Stroll. But Sunday was a disaster, a problem with the brakes on the lap to the grid led him to start from the pit lane. And as if that were not enough, the fact that the team did not mount the tires 5 minutes before the start caused a stop/go penalty. Vettel was the first to take a chance with the slicks. However, they took a few laps to reach the ideal temperature, stopping the good progress he was starting to make. When the tyres eventually started to work, the red flag was given, and in the second part of the race, both Aston Martins faced problems with the synchronization of the gearbox. Vettel ended well out of points, not even finishing the last lap of the race.
Williams showed some promise t Imola, but the goal is still far.
After a pointless 2020, it finally looked like Williams could score some points. First, on Saturday, both Williams moved to Q2 for the first time since Italy 2018, with Russel just over a tenth of Q3. Sunday's race did not start in the best way, with Latifi hitting the first lap and staying out of the race. However, Russell had a fantastic race, passing much of it in 10th place. Everything seemed to indicate that Russell would have his redemption after wasting his best chance of 2020 points on that same track. However, his race ended when he tried to overtake Bottas. Still, Williams can leave Italy with their heads held high. This weekend they showed competitiveness with 19 races to go Williams will undoubtedly have new opportunities to score.
3. Antonio Giovinazzi
Giovinazzi was a break problem away from the first points finish of the year.
After reaching Q2 in Bahrain, even beating his more experienced teammate Kimi Räikkönen, qualifying in Imola did not go well for Antonio Giovinazzi. Although Alfa Romeo did not show enough pace to pass to Q2, Giovinazzi would have hoped to beat Kimi again. However, his first lap was not good enough, and the second attempt was disturbed by Mazepin. Antonio gradually recovered during the race, managing after the restart to reach points-paying positions. However, on lap 41, bad luck knocked on the door, and Gio was forced to go to the pit to remove debris from the brakes, thus ruining the good recovery he was making.