Reflecting on the 2021 Emilia Romagna GP

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Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521 leads team mate Fernando Alonso (ESP) Alpine F1 Team A521.
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Sunday 18th April 2021. Imola, Italy.

A little bit of time has passed since Formula One’s 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. With no race this weekend, let’s look back at what we saw at Imola.

Haas and Williams

We know this year’s Haas is what is known in the industry as a dog.  Slow and with a tendency to bite the drivers.  The car needs dragging round the back of the barn and shooting.   This is why it is particularly unfortunate that Haas have two rookie drivers this year.  We all know why of course.  But Mazepin and Schumacher will no doubt be grateful to see the chequered flag come Abu Dhabi.

It says a lot about how low Mazepin’s stock is currently in the F1 paddock when he was insta-blamed for the crash that ended Nicholas Latifi’s race.  Replays quickly showed that Mazepin was actually going around the recovering Latifi who rejoined the track in an incredibly reckless manner.  I’m a little surprised that more isn’t being made of that, really.  We don’t want to see drivers resuming the racing line at below full racing speed when traffic is around them.

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Mazepin didn’t impress much for the rest of the race.  I can only assume he was carrying damage to fall behind his teammate so quickly and be so hopelessly off the pace.  Speaking of his teammate, Mick Schumacher isn’t the first and won’t be the last driver to make that slow-speed mistake.  We all remember George Russell losing the car under the safety car at this race last year.  That doesn’t make it any less embarrassing though for Mick.  Especially as I don’t think we’ve seen a driver being forced to stay out and not pit for repairs due to his own accident closing the pitlane.  Top marks for originality on that one.

Russell and Bottas – Seat rivals clash

In an F1 world where every second is normally captured from dozens of angles, it is infuriating that we don’t have more angles of the Russell and Valterri Bottas incident.  Bottas appeared to make a late defensive move.  Russell reacted to the move, hit the damp surface, and his car speared into the Mercedes.  It was a pretty scary accident to watch, especially seeing Russell’s wheel riding up near Bottas’s head and the sickening violence of Valterri’s final barrier impact.

We saw plenty of overtaking down the main straight throughout the race. It is pretty much the only place to do it at Imola with the current cars.  Bottas claiming the move was not sensible or possible is utterly refuted by every other pass.  The defensive jink was reckless from my point of view and, again in my eyes, caused the crash.  I’m not sure I can blame the crash on Russell’s Imola curse instead!

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As for Bottas and his race weekend.  Topping the times on the Friday and having the commentators say how Imola suited his style turned out to be the highlight.  Qualifying only P8 and falling back to 10th early on is pretty inexcusable in a Mercedes.  To then have a Williams legitimately try to pass him on pace alone  And with his teammate within seconds of lapping him.  That’s got to rank as one of the poorest performances of Bottas’s Mercedes career.  His head seems lower than ever.

Knowing that Bottas and Russell are likely rivals for a Mercedes W13 seat in 2022 makes this incident incredibly spicy.  Russell had the better of Bottas for much of the Sakhir Grand Prix last year.  How much that one race in equal machinery is weighing on both their minds is anyone’s guess.

Midfield stragglers: Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, and Alpine

A wet race has always been the chance for heroics from the smaller teams.  So it was disappointing to see that Vettel, Raikkonen, and Alonso didn’t really feature in the race for any good reasons.  Vettel had a pre-race penalty, mechanical issues and finally retired with his engineer saying the gearbox was “loose”.  Bit worrying when it is a stressed member and the rear suspension hangs off it!

Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo initially bagged two points but then lost them with a penalty.  Raikkonen’s spin on the lap from the pits to the restart was unfortunate.  The team not knowing the correct procedure and then misinforming the stewards is a massive failure.

Alpine were disappointing.  9th for Ocon and 10th with Alonso only picking up a point from Raikkonen’s penalty is underwhelming.  How long will the veteran Spaniard stick around this time?

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Lance Stroll drove a great race.  Struggling with his gearbox all race, he still dragged himself home in the points.  Aston Martin are desperately appealing to the FIA to change the rules that have punished their low rake car.  But in the meantime, Stroll is making the most of what he has got.  At Imola, he showed why he deserves to be in F1.

A question of penalties

The rule that Vettel fell foul of before the race was a safety measure.  He was given a 10-second stop/go penalty, the oldest and most draconian penalty short of disqualification.

Perez also broke a safety rule.  Overtaking under the safety car is such an obvious no-no, he should have known better.  Irrespective of the two cars hesitating as if checking to see if he would retake his place.

So how is overtaking under the safety car a lesser offence than not having your wheels on five minutes before the race?  Answers on a postcard addressed to “Duhhhhhh Stewards.”

AlphaTauri: Speedy car, slow decisions

AlphaTauri made a horrendous strategic mistake with Gasly this race.  As soon as it was clear that his wet tyres were the wrong tyres to be on, they should have got him in and onto intermediates.  He would have been at the back, yes, but with clean air and good pace.

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The golden rule of wet races is to be on the right tyres at the right time.  Malaysia 2009 is the example and should be required watching for all budding race engineers.  Picking up a handful of points in 7th is a decent enough result for Gasly but it could have been so much more.

Meanwhile, his rookie teammate was busily having a weekend of woe.  Tsunoda is lightning fast and we’ve been backing him as one to watch for a while.  His qualifying crash was soon forgotten as he put together a great drive in the early part of the race.  Sadly it all went downhill from there.  Spinning on the restart, and a penalty for repeated off-track excursions before finishing 20 seconds behind Gasly.  This was not a vintage Tsunoda race.

Pressure on Perez: Self-inflicted?

Sergio Perez being on the front row was the feel-good story of Saturday.  He’d shown the paddock that Red Bull were right to back him.  So why did it all go to pieces on Sunday?  I think Perez is feeling the pressure of being in that Red Bull seat, but not in the way Gasly and Albon did.  They struggled to find the pace, their heads dipped and it snowballed from there.

Perez is different.  He’s unlocking the pace of the car.  But in a similar way to his McLaren season, he’s driving his with his Billy-Big-Balls and not his brain.  We did not see the measured giant killer of a driver from his Sauber or Racing Point days on Sunday at Imola.

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Is there a touch of entitlement that crept into Sergio’s mind from being equipped with what is the fastest car on the grid?  If he can change that mindset, we are going to see some awesome results from the Mexican this year.

Verstappen vs Hamilton

The Verstappen vs Hamilton battle is already shaping up to be an absolute belter.  I hope we see them fighting wheel to wheel more than we have so far.  But I would settle for a monster strategic battle played out across the season.

Max Verstappen didn’t put a wheel wrong where it mattered on Sunday.  No doubt he was startled by arriving into Rivazza 1 completely sideways but seconds later he was able to charge off and win the race.  It was classic Verstappen and a great drive.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton showed us in excruciating detail just how good the Mercedes and Red Bull are.  Scything his way back from 8th to 2nd showed the difference between the top tier and everyone else.

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I’m not sure we can blame Russell for the Tosa incident.  Hamilton passed several backmarkers offline and on the damp.  Perhaps the combination of reeling in Verstappen and unfamiliarity with the inside of the corner caught the champion out.  A healthy dollop of luck brought him back into the race but he sure made the most of it.

Ferrari and McLaren

It’s sometimes hard to believe that the last time either of these powerhouses won a title was in 2008.  McLaren’s slow climb back to the top seems a little higher up the ladder this season.  A huge relief for all the fans of the Woking team.  Lando Norris was incredibly impressive all weekend.  The podium was absolutely on merit and well deserved.

I was astonished at how fast Norris was able to pull away from Daniel Ricciardo.  The Australian is far from a slow driver but in this race, he was made to look very average by his teammate.  It’s going to be a brilliant scrap between the two of them all year long.

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Over in the red camp, both drivers had spins and adventures but brought home a big haul of points for the team.  4th and 5th is a great result compared to last season.  Sainz continues to be a “smooth operator” while Leclerc is one of the most exciting talents on the grid.

When the top three were Verstappen, Norris and Leclerc, I commented “Get used to seeing that graphic.”  Along with Sainz and Russell, these three represent the new generation who will be dominating F1 for the next decade of racing.

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