Winners and Spinners - Imola Grand Prix
Goodness gracious that was gripping! But who made the most of the soggy circuit, and who slipped and slid their way to the side?
A race that could have swung either way, either a dull procession of cars jostling to overtake each other, but never making a pass, or a series of laps packed with action. Thankfully we saw the latter, even if it was at the expense of George Russell, but anyway, we'll get to that in due time. First though, the winners.
Could this be the year we hear "Max Verstappen you are the champion of the world!"?
Max Verstappen - This the first win for Honda as a power unit provider since 1991 with Senna in the MP4/6, the RB16B is proving to be a fiercely competitive car in the hands of Dutchman Max Verstappen. Leading essentially every lap of the race from lights out to the chequered flag. Unwilling to give Lewis an inch, it was going to be crucial to make the passes he needed to in order to gain track position in the opening corners of the race. Squeezing Hamilton and dominating his line to just get the car hooked up and sod off into the distance at a rate of knots. From there Max was largely unaffected by the goings-on behind him. A strong pit strategy from the Red Bull pit wall kept him fighting away, while it was close trying to get the overcut over the Mercedes behind him, it paid off. Especially when Max could keep his tyres alive and his momentum up as he moved through the backmarkers. A cracking drive from start to finish. Better than can be said for his teammate.
I love this photograph. What mood. Mmm yes!
Ferrari - As a fan of the team in red this might sound overly optimistic, but P4 and P5 at the chequered flag is not a bad result at all for this team. The SF21 still isn't as strong as previous Ferraris have been, but the constant growth of Charles as a driver and Carlos' flexibility behind the wheel have seen the team do very well indeed. Mightly well this weekend, Carlos, despite having a few forays off the track, aping his rally driving father in Extreme E, bouncing over the gravel, found the limit of the car and its adhesion in the wet conditions around the track. This gave him the chance to work as the 'second driver' allowing him to keep the pressure on, holding up Lewis from Charles ahead of him. Exactly the teamwork that Ferrari needs to rebuild itself, hopefully, some more nurturing from the team will keep this partnership going as strong as it is.
You can't not like this!
Lando - A new king of tyre preservation is standing in the wings at the McLaren garage. How Lando kept those softs on form for 33 laps I'll never know. A stupendously mature drive from the young Brit saw him keep his MCL35M on the podium despite the pressure from Charles LeClerc and Lewis Hamilton behind him. But it is not just his run on the soft tyres after the restart that was a standout, remember his three-wide pass on Gasly with Sainz in the rain early on? What a move, sitting in the slipstream of the Frenchman and then popping it out to the right as the track widens and using that extra pace to rocket off to the Tamburello chicane. A premium drive indeed.
Hey Siri, show me serotonin in papaya.
McLaren - While I've singled out Lando, I want to commend the McLaren team while I'm at it. Daniel played his part on track brilliantly, he had his chance to try and close up to the cars ahead, but couldn't and when asked to make way for his teammate he let him by without a quibble and used the clear air Lando left for him to make good distance over the cars behind. Credit, where it's due, has to go to the pit wall for the risky strategy they put Norris on for the second half of the race, but that risk paid off.
Lewis to Ferrari? Ferrari on the podium? There's rather a limit to how many unfunny jokes one can make from the new fizz on the podium.
Lewis Hamilton - A quick doff of the cap to Lewis. How he can reset and get his mind back in the game so well and put in such a strong recovery drive? A show of skill that you would expect from a seven-time world champion, most definitely. A very well done indeed.
Struggling through the spray, not a weekend to remember for Sergio Perez.
Sergio Perez - Everything was looking to go so well for the Mexican, but the changing conditions in the Italian hills unstuck Checo and undid all of his stellar work in qualifying. Max rocketed past him off the line and from there he rather struggled all race long. Wobbles and visits to the gravel kept him from acting as a support car for Max, although thankfully with Bottas suffering a similar plight, it didn't cost Red Bull. A ten-second penalty served in a pitstop triggered by some overtakes under the safety car when he found himself once more in the gravel sums up the Mexican's Sunday, messy. Hopefully, we'll see Sergio find his feet at the team in the Iberian double-header.
I'd like to think that somewhere in Lance's helmet the thought "send it!" flashed through briefly.
Aston Martin - Yes, Lance somehow came home in 7th which is deeply impressive given the fact that his race started with his brakes on fire. Vettel had the same issues with a braking issue cooking the 'cake tins' that sit over the rear brakes on the AMR21, resulting in both Astons receiving a lot of work on the grid. Although car number 5 being the slower of the two to get repaired, seeing Seb start from the pitlane. Still battling against their rake philosophy that isn't right for the new floor regs, Aston Martin is coming into each race weekend on the back foot it seems. However with Lance putting in a good drive, it suggests there is still something to be tapped into in that car, Seb just hasn't been able to. Yet.
Edit; a 5-second time penalty has been handed down to Stroll!
The Canadian passed Gasly off-track at Tamburello and has been in to see the stewards and walked away with a five-second penalty. This drops him to P8 and boosts Gasly to P7.
Gotta go fast!
George Russell - Oh my dear sweet George. I'm not sure how to call his crash with Valterri, he had his DRS open and was making a big ole send on the Mercedes ahead of him, a send for a position on track, not an unlapping as you'd think. What was going on there from the second Mercedes? We'll get to that. So much hard work and skilled driving sent spinning off into the barriers. I think I'm still too angry to write anything coherent. So we'll leave this here.
When you're saying you salvaged some points at a race weekend, you know something went wrong somewhere.
Alpha Tauri tyre strategists - What was Pierre doing on those wets for so long? Alpine knew what to do and got rid of those wets on Esteban's car when they just weren't right for the conditions, but for some reason Alpha Tauri left Pierre out on them for way too long, causing an enormous train of cars stuck behind him as he slowly slipped down the order. I hope if we continue to race here at Imola that the pattern of Pierre smashing Saturdays only to suffer on Sunday doesn't continue. Regardless he did well to come home P8 and net some points and is now ahead of his rookie teammate. I don't think a poor strategy played a role in Yuki's race, just a little bit of rookie exuberance seeing him drop it in sector one and score a five-second penalty due to track limit infringements.
"Get out, that's my seat". Or whatever the Netflix team chose to deep fake into this scenario for series 4.
Valtteri Bottas - A short aside for the Fin, what was going on today? I didn't have high hopes for car number 77 today, as when he's stuck back in the pack Valtteri often struggles to make up ground and this race was yet another example of that. Think about how he dropped down the order at Monza last year? He can't seem to get the W12 into the groove of the midfield. Then when you're being diced up by a Williams, with such a great closing speed from not only DRS but also from a good exit out of Rivazza you need to be on your toes, especially when you're on the back foot like this. Which is quite a lot of foot-based set of phrases, but I think it works. Regardless, not a positive weekend from Bottas' perspective and he'll be heading home with a lot to learn. No doubt the Netflix team are rubbing their hands at this one.
The amount of helmet pictures I'm accruing on my laptop is concerning. Take from this what you wish.
Nicholas Latifi - It was all looking so good for the Williams boys, up until Latifi lost it through Acque Minerali, but he managed to gather it up and rejoined the track only to get caught on the front wing of the number 9 car and pit manoeuvre himself into the wall on the run down to Variante Alta. Potentially the wet and tricky conditions catching out the inexperienced Canadian at this unforgiving circuit. I won't hold it against him and hopefully, he'll come away from this a wiser driver.
Mick leading Mazepin. A scene that is becoming common.
Haas - Despite running two laps under the safety car without a front wing, Mick Schumacher still crossed the line about half a minute ahead of his teammate. Pitting off the wets I believe once the pit lane had reopened (no sneaking into a closed pit a la Monza this time) and getting a new nose and wing fitted to his VF-21 Mick put in a good drive to catch up to the pack and makeup distance on the back of the group jostling for places, leaving his teammate to wallow in his spray. A strong race from that viewpoint, but committing a Grosjean, putting it in the wall while warming tyres is going to be a learning curve. Credit to his engineer who I would like to have engineer my life. I think it's Gary Gannon. A sound chap indeed.
The stop that likely got Esteban his points.
Alpine - I don't really know what to say for the French outfit? A points finish for Ocon, a struggle for Alonso in the wet in a chassis that still doesn't seem to be finished. It's a better car than the Haas is, but it's not as strong as it was last year, but unlike Aston Martin, they haven't chosen to complain to teacher, which I commend them for. Ocon again showing why he's in F1 with a very metered and mature drive, helped by making the right call to swap off of the full wets early on, a move which saw him lose a lot of places, places he could then earn back once on a better tread choice. I'm still waiting to see something from Alonso that makes me happy he's back in the sport, maybe it's the coverage and it hasn't shown him making a worldie of a move? All it really did today was an "Office" style zoom out from the wrecked Williams and Mercedes cars to find the Spaniard's Alpine sitting across the curbs at Tamburello.
Kimi steaming through the spray and on his way to a points finish. Only to lose it post race.
Alfa Romeo - Much like Alpine, there really wasn't a lot to be said about the Alfa Romeo drivers. Gio was hampered by a blocked brake duct on the restart seeing him lose a lot of places he'd carefully built up, and Kimi put in yet another 'Kimi' drive, slowly marching up the order and ploughing through the wreckage of George Russell's making to get into the points. Although I'm not sure what's going on with him with regards to that restart? Does he seem to have been out of place? At the time of going to press I haven't heard anything. At one point I recall Antonio doing well on track, again a position neutralised by the red flag and his brake issues after the restart. Things are looking positive for Italian Jesus, fingers crossed we'll see him run well in Portugal in two weeks time.
Edit; Kimi has been hit with a 30-second penalty post-race!
The restart infringement has been through the official lines of enquiry and seen the Fin dropped out of the points, elevating Ocon to 9th and Alonso to 10th and a double points finish for Alpine.
And that rather wraps that up. A gripping second round of what is lining up to be a belter of a season, one point separates Lewis and Max at the top of the tree with Lando Norris behind and Charles behind him. Bottas meanwhile is two points ahead of both Carlos and Danny Ric, so needs to put in some strong performances in Portimao and Catalunya to keep his lead.
Ver, Ham, Nor. Not a terrible podium. Not terrible at all.