2021 calendar shifts to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola circuit for 2nd race of the season
By Marcus Rebelo
If Formula 1’s rare two-week break felt like another off-season wait, you’re not alone. Following another all-time classic in the desert for the sport’s season opener in Bahrain, the F1 season continues with Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at the historic Imola circuit.
And fans have been patiently waiting to see another battle between two of the sport’s best at the front of the grid.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen gave everyone another Bahrain Grand Prix to remember with Hamilton taking the victory over his on-track rival and perhaps provided a preview of a season-long battle for the championship.
As F1 looked to Europe to fill the 2020 calendar, last season saw Imola return to the sport for the first time in 14 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton took his 93rd F1 victory at Imola in 2020.
Imola is back again in 2021 as an essential replacement for the cancelled Chinese GP.
Here’s what you need to know heading into F1’s second race weekend of the season:
Sir Lewis vs. Max… again?
With Red Bull’s serious improvement over the off-season, as displayed in pre-season testing at the Bahrain circuit, it appeared that Mercedes seven-year championship run could be significantly challenged.
At the same venue where this season’s preparations took place, Hamilton and Verstappen treated fans and pundits to an epic duel to open the season, which could only have them hoping to see more of an increasingly rare on-track battle between the two drivers.
The British driver got the better of Verstappen in Bahrain, showing off his experience as a seven-time drivers’ world champion. The result, however, forced Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff to acknowledge Red Bull’s emergence as significant title contenders.
Although Red Bull’s upgrade in performance will see them as favourites once again, Verstappen, who took the fourth pole position of his career in Bahrain, will look to erase his poor record in Italy. The Dutch driver has yet to earn an Italian podium. In Monza, Mugello and Imola last season, Verstappen was forced to retire in each race.
At the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull will certainly draw the most attention.
Best of the rest
While Mercedes vs. Red Bull dominate this weekend’s Grand Prix headlines, McLaren, Ferrari and AlphaTauri will look to continue their strong showing from this season’s opener.
Daniel Ricciardo grabbed the final podium spot at the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix for the formerly named Renault, now Alpine. It was the second podium in 2020 for Ricciardo as part of the Enstone/Viry outfit. In his McLaren debut, the Australian finished in seventh despite suffering significant floor damage. His British teammate, Lando Norris showed great pace all weekend and finished P4 in Bahrain.
Ferrari have looked like F1’s most improved team to start the season after a sixth-place finish in the constructors championship in 2020, the Italian outfit’s worst result since 1980.
Charles Leclerc qualified a tremendous P4 for the Scuderia and finished the Bahrain Grand Prix in sixth. Carlos Sainz, who made his Ferrari debut in the desert replacing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, looked a lot more comfortable in the car than his German predecessor for the 2020 season. The Spanish driver finished P8. The poor performance of last year’s SF1000 seems to be behind the Maranello-based team.
Pierre Gasly stunned the paddock last season at Imola with a P4 showing in qualifying. Gasly was forced to retire in the race due to a radiator issue. The Frenchman has continued to prove the doubters wrong since his demotion from Red Bull to AlphaTauri. Gasly scored his first Formula 1 victory at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, and in this season’s opener, lined up a surprisingly fifth on the grid. In Sunday’s race, collision damage contributed to Gasly’s P17 result.
Formula 1 rookie Yuki Tsunoda has been a breath of fresh air for the sport with his on-and-off the track attitude. The Japanese driver showed off his highly entertaining driving style Sunday that culminated in a daring overtake over two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in the Alpine. The move on Alonso, who is 19-years-older than Japan’s newest F1 product, led the AlphaTauri driver to a points finish in P9.
Aston Martin, who managed to take the final point in the race with Canadian Lance Stroll in P10, will look to improve on their struggles. The Silverstone-based outfit along with the Silver Arrows have claimed to be hit hardest by the sport’s change in regulations over the winter.
At last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, George Russell made what he called “the biggest mistake of my career,” when the Williams driver crashed out behind the safety car on cold tyres. Russell was in prime position to earn his first-ever F1 point.
It can’t get worse any worse for Haas and Nikita Mazepin. The Russian driver had an early exit in his Formula 1 debut. On the opening lap, Mazepin spun out of the race, an issue that had plagued him all weekend.
Mick Schumacher’s highly anticipated Formula 1 debut in the American outfit ended quietly with a P16 result.
Canada’s Nicholas Latifi in the Williams with Russell, alongside Alpine, Haas and Alfa Romeo were all left without a point in Bahrain.
Although the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari provides drivers with a unique challenge unlike any other on the calendar, the circuit is more tragically known for a series of events that forever changed the sport.
The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend at Imola saw the death of two drivers and another seriously hurt. One of the greatest drivers of all-time, Brazilian three-time world champion Ayrton Senna was killed in a crash during the race. Senna was just 34-years-old at the time of his death which sent shockwaves across the world.
“This is the blackest day for Grand Prix racing that I can remember in the many, many years I have been covering the sport,” said legendary English motorsport commentator Murray Walker, who passed away recently at 97.
One day earlier, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger died in a crash during qualifying. During Friday’s practice that race weekend Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello, who considered Senna his mentor, suffered a serious crash. Barrichello would go on to achieve 11 Grand Prix victories and 68 podiums in Formula 1 while most notably driving for Ferrari from 2000 to 2005.
The cataclysmic weekend that began on April 29, 1994, prompted the sport to enhance safety protocols in all aspects of racing.
F1 changes this weekend’s Grand Prix schedule out of respect for Royal funeral
The schedule for this weekend’s Grand Prix has been changed out of respect for the funeral service of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Prince Philip, who had been married to Queen Elizabeth II since 1947, died at the age of 99 at Windsor Castle on Friday. He’s the longest-serving consort in British history.