After a week hiatus to ship equipment from Australia back to mainland Europe, Formula 1 returns with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix from Imola, Italy on Sunday. Ferrari will look to continue its strong start to the 2022 campaign as Red Bull and Max Verstappen look to rebound from a catastrophe in Melbourne. This weekend has an interesting twist to the format that gives us more uncertainty in a season full of them so far.
Last Time Out
The race in Melbourne was the Charles Leclerc show. Leclerc pulled off the grand slam: He finished P1 in qualifying, had the fastest lap of the race and won the race leading every single lap. It was just the 61st grand slam in Formula 1 history and he became the 26th driver to pull off the feat and the first for Ferrari since Fernando Alonso in 2010. Max Verstappen had one opportunity to overtake Leclerc and couldn’t do it and was clearly second best until the 38th lap when he reported a weird smell coming from his car which then caught fire and knocked him from the race. It was the defending champion’s second DNF in three races this season. Sergio Perez finished second and the Mercedes duo George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished third and fourth. Mercedes is still lagging far behind in pace, but they’re also the only team that has completed every single lap of the season in both cars this season which is a positive.
Leclerc has a 34 point lead in the World Drivers Championship standing over Russell who is in second ahead of Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz. Verstappen is 46 points adrift of the lead. When you consider that he had three races where he missed points last year and one ninth place finish while winning the title by the most razor thin margins, the two DNF’s this season have all but eliminated his margin for error if he hopes to repeat. How Verstappen races with no room for error and how Leclerc handles the pressure of being the massive favorite will shape the rest of the season from the looks of things.
Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari – Imola, Italy
Length: 3.05 miles, 63 laps
Defending Champion: Max Verstappen
Imola was a regular fixture of the Formula 1 season from 1981 to 2006 before being dropped for the Belgian Grand Prix. It made its return in 2020 because the pandemic made it impossible to run some of the circuits on the schedule and was intended as a one-off but returned to the schedule in 2021 and made it onto the schedule again this season. In 2020 Lewis Hamilton took the lead after a virtual safety car and Verstappen punctured a tyre giving chase allowing Hamilton to win pretty easily. The race last year was affected by rain, but Verstappen managed it well and despite nearly spinning out at one point, was able to save it and drive to a comfortable victory. Imola will be an interesting test of the new cars because it has been a tough track for overtaking in the past and it’s the only one so far this year that is identical to the setup from last year. The final straightaway, thanks to DRS, is really the only place on the track that has had overtaking in the past.
Imola will be the first of three circuits to feature a wrinkle introduced last year to the racing weekend: the Sprint. Instead of two practice sessions Friday and a practice session and qualifying on Saturday, there will be a practice session and a qualifying session on Friday. The qualifying session sets the grid for the Sprint race on Saturday. The sprint is what it sounds like, a 100km race where no pit stops are required. It’s a 30-ish minute mad dash race. The Sprint not only sets the grid for the full race on Sunday, the top eight drivers get points in descending order from eight to one. Last year only the top three drivers got points in the sprints. Imola wasn’t one of the races with a Sprint last year so how the drivers will handle it is an unknown.
Qualifying was a complete mess because of the rain. We didn’t really get a chance to see the cars at their full potential which clouds the data, but at the same time with a 50-50 chance for rain on Sunday we may not get to see a lot of top end speed on the track. Mercedes struggled mightily again with both cars struggling to get out of Q1 and failing to get out of Q2. Max Verstappen ended up on the pole for the Sprint race ahead of Charles Leclerc in second as rain and a red flag due to a Lando Norris spin out ended Q3 a bit early. Norris will be on the second row for the Sprint next to Kevin Magnussen.
I’m not in the business of betting on F1 races without having all the data at my disposal. Without the Sprint race results we can’t formulate a fully formed opinion on what to expect. The way Ferrari, and particularly Charles Leclerc have been running this year, he was approaching the point where he should be even or minus money at most tracks. He was +120 coming into the weekend, but with rain possibly in the forecast for Sunday it adds variables to the equation here. Max Verstappen has been really good in the rain in his career so landing on the pole in the rain wasn’t entirely surprising and might level the playing field here. The odds just re-opened at FanDuel Sportsbook as of this writing and Leclerc is +115 and Max Verstappen is +120. Knowing what we saw today and what we know now I’d favor Verstappen at those numbers. The sprint race doesn’t seem likely to change things all that much before Sunday and if the weather turns bad, that seems to be something that would favor him as well. Check out the Sprint race on Saturday to see what more information we get and I’ll post any bets I like on my Twitter feed @ReallyDanWeiner as more open up.