Mercedes presented new upgrades ahead of the second race of the season, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2021
By Olivia Kairu
Free Practice sessions are notoriously known to be mechanical, with cars covered in flow-vis paint and tyre strategy taking precedence. But things took a turn for the better at the start of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend on Friday, as teams gave their drivers room to get familiar with the track, which made for much more colourful sessions.
Valtteri Bottas was the quickest driver on the track in both sessions, edging teammate Lewis Hamilton by 0s041 in the first session and 0s010 in the second. Mercedes was able to take full advantage of the sessions to bring new upgrades, which Bottas admitted are an effort to “try everything (they) could in the time between the races, to catch Red Bull.”
Their rivals for the 2021 constructors’ championship, on the other hand, didn’t do so well.
Italy continues to bring misfortune to the Red Bulls after 3 DNFs for Max Verstappen in the previous season at the three races held in the country. The first practice session took Sergio Pérez out of the running after an incident with Esteban Ocon. Both Alpine and Red Bull were only able to rely on second-hand information from the drivers after technical difficulties left the teams relatively in the dark.
Perez “was on a flying lap (when) there was contact between the two” into the Villeneuve chicane, said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Max Verstappen was able to get a good first session in, nearing the top of the timesheet at 3rd with a 1:16.622 lap time before trouble caught up to him in FP2. Suspected driveshaft issues left the Dutchman unable to finish the session and brought out red flags after he reported that “something snapped in the rear.”
Red Bull, unable to complete both sessions in their entirety, is left on the back foot in terms of strategy for the race weekend and have their position as favourites questioned very early in the season.
Canadian drivers Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi finished 8th and 9th in the FP1, respectively, dropping back to 10th and 12th in the FP2. In total, Stroll completed 44 laps while Latifi ran for 51. Stroll’s best lap time was 1:16.737, 1s186 slower than Valtteri Bottas in the second free session. Latifi’s best time was 1:16.823, 1s272 slower than the Finish driver.
‘Mazespin’ strikes again
Nikita Mazepin began his first European free practice much like he did his debut race: with a trip to the gravel. Haas troubles continued into FP2 again for the Russian driver as he veered off into the grass again at Rivazza. Yuki Tsunoda succumbed to the same fate in the first session.
Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi put in a good time and landed himself 8th on the timesheet giving promise for Italian fans. Italian teams Ferrari and Alpha Tauri also showed tremendous pace with good times placing: Pierre Gasly at 3rd and Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz at 4th and 5th in the lineup, respectively.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, as Leclerc’s run-in with the wall on Rivazza lead to an abrupt end to the session after the second set of red flags were brought out.
Imola has shown its hand at being tough on the drivers and cars this weekend.
Frequent track limit infringements at Piratella led to track time deletion for multiple drivers. Daniel Ricciardo was one of them, suffering from a low 18th place after a flying lap time got erased. Damage to chassis from curbs and frequent passings on the gravel from low track temperatures are evidence of the challenges for teams this weekend at Imola.
Free practice 3, on Saturday, begins at 5 AM Eastern Time, 2 AM Pacific Time, with qualifying taking place at 8 AM Eastern Time, 5 AM Pacific Time. The race on Sunday is scheduled for 9 AM Eastern Time, 6 AM Pacific Time.
Further reading: F1 changes this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix schedule out of respect for the Royal funeral
Further reading: PREVIEW | F1 season continues, will we get Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen: Part II in Imola?
Check the full classification and watch the higlights for both Friday free practice sessions below