Winners and Spinners - Imola Practice and Qualifying
Who's come out on top of Friday and Saturday's running, and who needs to try harder.
Right, I'm back from the pub, finally on the correct side of the bar and it is time to crack on with sorting out the winners from the spinners so far this weekend in Imola.
Track limits - Nothing else has gotten so much coverage as the white lines that hem in the tarmac around Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Where can you place your car, where can't you in that bid to find the fastest line around what is essentially a rural Monaco? A twisting sinew of track wound around an area of southern Europe steeped in motorsport heritage, narrow and unforgiving with a limited menu of overtaking opportunities, the parallels are uncanny. Had Norris' time stood by the end of Q3, he would be lining up directly behind Sir Lewis, in P3 with the best starting position of his career. However, at turn 9 he strayed too far wide of the line and saw his time deleted by race control. My fear is that this could play as much a deciding role in the race outcome as it did in Bahrain.
Red Bull - A strong weekend so far for the team putting the pressure on Mercedes. Perez setting an astonishing P2 qualifying after some less than convincing practice and early qualifying runs, he still doesn't look at home in the car on cold tyres on a cold track, but equally who does in an F1 car. And that Red Bull is still a bit of a handful to manage, so credit where it's due, Sergio you most certainly are a winner in my books. Add in coming back from that tumble with Ocon and so far, Checo has put in exactly the drive Horner and Marko are looking for, and then some. The same glowing report can be cast over the rest of the RB crew for sorting Max's rear axle problem from Q2. Q1 was a bit of a wash-out with the limited data and tricky communication issues, thus putting the pressure on later sessions to gather critical data for Sunday about tyres, cornering, fuel loads and so on. And with one car spun off by a flying Frenchman and the other suffering a drivetrain issue, the team did well to have both cars out and running flawlessly for qualifying, really putting the wind against Mercedes.
A man on a mission.
Pierre Gasly - A man with as much to prove as Pierre does has an enormous task on his shoulders. A podium and win to his name, as well as a strong qualifying in Bahrain now spatter his record book with good words, but the question is, can he keep it up? And if the weekend so far is anything to go by, yes he can. A decent showing throughout the practice sessions and a qualifying session that'll see him line up 5th on the grid is just what he needs to put on another outstanding display of driving. This is all in part helped by the AT-02 which seems to be coming into its own as a very capable race car, even if on cold tyres it isn't afraid to bite, but more on that.
I'll admit it, the livery for the FW43B is growing on me.
Williams - Yes, I'm counting this as a win. Both Latifi, a driver who I'm really falling for as he grows in skill and maturity and the ever astonishing George Russell made it through to Q2 this weekend, something they haven't done since Hungary last year! It's not like the grid behind them was beset with technical issues either, both drivers seem to be finding a groove with the FW43B. And it is a strong groove, with the Canadian outpacing two-time world champ Alonso for 14th on the grid, and Russell beating out four-time world champ Vettel for 12th, just 0.123 seconds off the pace of 10th place man Lance Stroll. A lot of this can be put down to the drivers given Williams have said that they aren't looking to develop the car much, instead focussing on getting the FW44 (I guess) ready for the 2022 season. Fingers crossed we'll see a strong showing from George and Nicholas tomorrow!
That looks... expensive!
Yuki Tsunoda - This feels harsh putting Yuki in 'Spinners', but he did put his AT-02 in the wall at Variante Alta and triggered a red flag period. Let's say he's an honourable spinner. Pushing hard to rival his teammate on track, the cold tyres and chilly track temps got the better of the rookie on his second race weekend and saw him climb from his car into the pile of parts that was once his rear wing, axle, diffuser and gearbox. He'll start from the back of the grid, but I think we'll also see him make some ripping overtakes on Sunday. Watch this space.
Notice the squared-off section on the trailing edge of the front-wing endplate on Ocon's car. That's new. Small, but new.
Alpine - Again, I don't want to put Alpine here, but come on, P9 and P15, and Ocon then Alonso. It's not what you'd expect, but something just didn't click for the French outfit this weekend, struggling with a number of things, including dialling in their upgrade package, a new front wing, aimed at channelling more air to the rear floor of the car to pick up crucial downforce. While the A521 isn't as low a rake a car like the Mercedes or Aston Martin, it doesn't share the same high rake philosophy as the Alpha Tauri cars do, so likely is finding the new floor regs detrimental, hence the constant tweaking of their cars. Look back through the preseason testing and check out how many engine covers Alonso and Ocon got through, something isn't right with this car, and seeing such a spread of results from drivers who can and should do better suggests that while they aren't 'spinning', they are definitely on the slide.
Do you think Gene Haas tots up the damage in Rubles?
Nikita Mazepin - Twice he has dropped it through Rivazza, trying to find the limits of his ability and the VF21's handling. Two categories that are generally regarded as substandard. Again during qualifying, Nikita failed to follow the unwritten rules of "don't be a manus" and opted to overtake Giovinazzi down the pit straight only to then be so slow through his run that he ruined Antonio's run as well, leaving the Italian rather peeved and the Haas only elevated off the bottom of the grid by Yuki's crash. Numbers-wise he was over half a second from his teammate, Mick Schumacher who was having a decent weekend, having avoided binning it in the gravel trap a Rivazza and was looking to learn a lot from his weekend in the Bologna hills.
Red car go zoom.
Ferrari put in another promising performance throughout the weekend with shows of speed in one session of another coming from both Carlos and Charles, with the latter besting the former once qualifying rolled around. Initially running faster than 10th place Stroll, Sainz looked set for a decent Q2 appearance, but couldn't get close to the Canadian running his race set of tyres. Maybe he was saving them for a good opening stint on Sunday with a single stop (I can't remember what tyres he ran in Q2, so this point may be moot?).
Oh to be a 'tog on the sidelines getting these shots. I'd be so happy.
Mercedes have had a fairly plain weekend so far, their only disappointment being Valterri Bottas coming home 8th behind both McLarens. Maybe Toto has a master plan that is beyond my comprehension, maybe the Fin was just struggling to get his tyres into a comfortable operating window to set a good time that wouldn't be deleted by the FIA.
Norris, blasting along.
McLaren has had much the same weekend as Mercedes, as I see it. Mixing in the top eight where the spread is less than half a second is doing well and reminds you of how close things are this season. Daniel Ricciardo seems to be coming to terms with a car that isn't built to his particular style of brake late and SEND IT! Regardless, he's coming along well, and ended up qualifying behind his teammate Lando Norris, who as I mentioned previously would have been on the second row of the grid had it not been for running barely a foot wide at Piratella. Hopefully, this speed will come out as the fuel burns off towards the end of the race and we see some last lap Lando antics and some wild sends from the lad.
Mick on track.
Haas, I feel I've largely covered, although a few words on MSC never go amiss. Mick seems to be adapting to the car and its foibles a lot stronger than his teammate is, putting in consistently better lap times and not arguing with his race engineer when his lap times are deleted. It's the little things.
Stylish and suave, this man brings panache to F1 and I won't hear otherwise.
Alfa Romeo has shown glimpses of good this weekend but seems to have been unable to capitalise on that. A few rough moments from both Kimi and Antonio stick out to me from their running so far this race weekend, but equally, Antonio was P9 in a practice session at one point, which is exactly the promise I'm on about. (Ed: it was FP2 and he was just under a second off the pace, you really are a fanboy for that long-haired Italian aren't you?).
Lance making the best of a less than optimal situation.
Aston Martin is really becoming a bit of a sorry state. I can't keep trotting out harsh words on them, rawe ceek in, race week out, for a problem that is so deeply ingrained in last year's Mercedes. Short of bringing in an entirely new car for the rest of the season with a completely new aero ethos, the Silverstone team are going to have to battle against the upgrade regs, cost caps and practicalities of it all, to improve the AMR21. Lance seems to be making the most of the car, potentially where its less adherent chassis is closer to the F2 cars he's more recently used to than Seb is. That more dancing, less stuck down driving style still a part of his pattern more than it is for Vettel who's driven through several iterations of the F1 car, it's a miracle the guy knows which way is up. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Who's lining up to come out on top in Imola? What do you think the podium is going to look like? Will we see another safety car mix up the order? Let me know in the comments.