After a 14 year absence since the last time it hosted a Grand Prix, Imola returned to F1 for 2020 with a difference. Not only was it returning with a new title named after the Emilia Romagna region of Italy (having hosted the Italian Grand Prix in 1980 and the San Marino Grand Prix 1981-2006), it was also a shortened format with only one practice session before Qualifying and the race. It was different for the teams and drivers to rise to.
It was a first for a circuit that despite its absence is steeped in history; a fact marked by the drivers paying their respects at the Ayrton Senna memorial and some of the drivers wearing tribute helmets. Imola saw more history made after what was admittedly a lacklustre race when overtaking proved difficult due to the narrow layout of the circuit and a DRS zone that was perhaps 100m too short. The only real excitement came at the start and in the final 6 laps after the Safety car was called upon but it saw Mercedes make history by clinching an unprecedented 7th successive Constructors Championship [Pictured celebrating in the feature image; above image from RaceFans.net].
Winning the race with their fifth 1-2 finish of the season was more than enough for the Brackley based team. This is, without doubt, the most dominant era in F1 history; Ferrari during the Michael Schumacher era managed 6, Mercedes have managed 7 and you wouldn’t bet against them making it 8 next year. During the hybrid era, they have 100 out of 134 races, taken 200 podiums, 107 pole positions. It is scary numbers and I can understand how it can be boring for the neutral seeing such dominance. However, this is a special era for the team and how they keep themselves grounded, keep pushing, don’t get complacent taking nothing for granted. They deserve all the success they have had and it is something that should be admired.
For Lewis Hamilton, a week on from his record-breaking 92nd win, it was win 93. The World Champion looked to have pole position in Q3 before being pipped at the last by his teammate and starting on the dirty side of the track appeared to impact him as he ‘had a tricky start’ and fell to 3rd behind Verstappen into turn 1. From there, the win looked unlikely as he followed in 3rd until the pit stop phase. The decision to stay out longer on his Mediums proved a masterstroke as he pulled out fastest lap after fastest lap. The VSC was fortunate but he had already opened up such a gap he would have come out in front regardless. The win wasn’t in doubt especially fending off Bottas at the restart to put him on the verge of a record-equalling 7th drivers title.
I am saying it again but you have to feel for Valtteri Bottas in recent weeks. The Finn topped all three parts of Qualifying as he took his 15th career pole position with an excellent effort at the end of Q3. He led from the start and looked set to be on his way to a much-needed win. Then came the defining moment on lap 2 when he caught a huge chunk of Ferrari debris that ‘got stuck on the car somehow, which made the car really tricky to drive’. Just how much it impacted him is unclear but after pitting on lap 15, he didn’t have the performance on the fresher tyres to prevent Hamilton overcutting him or to keep Verstappen behind as he ran wide several times and only claiming 2nd because of the latter’s tyre failure. A disappointing result for Bottas but he deserved more.
Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:14.221……………15th Lance Stroll 1:15.822; 16th Romain Grosjean +0.096, 17th Kevin Magnussen +0.117, 18th Kimi Raikkonen +0.131, 19th Nicholas Latifi +0.165, 20th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.386
Q2: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:14.585………10th Lando Norris 1:15.051; 11th Sergio Perez +0.010, 12th Esteban Ocon +0.150, 13th George Russell +0.272, 14th Sebastian Vettel +0.334, 15th Lance Stroll +0.443
Q3: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:13.609, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +0.097, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.567, 4th Pierre Gasly +0.593, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +0.911, 6th Alex Albon +0.963, 7th Charles Leclerc +1.007, 8th Daniil Kvyat +1.087, 9th Lando Norris +1.205, 10th Carlos Sainz +1.302
To deny Mercedes, Red Bull needed to outscore them by 34 points; something they’ve done only once since 2014 and that was when neither Mercedes finished. At Imola, they failed to score any points.
Max Verstappen led the charge for Red Bull as has been the case all 2020 but it was not without drama at Imola. The Dutchman was very fortunate to get it Q3 and his mechanics deserve all praise for quickly getting the car ready after a spark plug issue. He, fortunately, qualified 3rd and his race drive was equally strong. It is not often a driver will overtake both Mercedes cars for position but still, Verstappen came away with nothing. Beating Hamilton into turn 1 he had to bide his time to pass Bottas on lap 43 after putting him under sustained pressure. He was set to finish 2nd when ‘suddenly on the straight I lost the car because of some sort of tyre failure’ which sent him into the gravel, prompting the safety car. That was his race and 2020 challenge mathematically over.
It then fell to Alex Albon to lead the Red Bull charge in the closing stages. Albon had qualified almost four-tenths slower than Verstappen, had to use the Softs to get into Q3 and had laps deleted in all three sessions for exceeding track limits, he qualified 6th. At the start, he fell behind Leclerc on the opening lap but was up to 5th during the Safety Car period after his teammate crashed out. Having battled to keep Kvyat behind up to that point, he was caught napping at the restart and fell behind Kvyat but then spun off on his own accord pushing too hard ‘to try and stay ahead of the cars who had pitted under the Safety Car’ as he fell back eventually finishing a disappointing 13th. It was a mistake he could ill afford with his position at Red Bull looking insecure for 2021.
In terms of the midfield battle for 3rd in the Constructors Championship, a podium was in the offering and for Daniel Ricciardo, after a two and a half year wait for a podium, two come along in three races. We got a shoey on the podium but there won’t be a second tattoo, ‘Cyril’s suffered enough!’ The Renault was back to being competitive at Imola after struggling at Portimao and the honeybadger hooked up a good qualifying to start 5th. The Australian had a decent start from there passing Gasly on the opening lap and pitted for the Hard tyre on lap 14. Having persevered behind the late stopping Magnussen, Ricciardo had fallen behind Perez and was somewhat fortunate that the Mexican pitted a second time behind the safety car. It gifted Ricciardo track position, which he did not relinquish despite a late charge from Kvyat on fresher tyres.
Esteban Ocon wasn’t as fortunate at Imola. The Frenchman hasn’t quite been performing to the same level as Ricciardo and after being fairly close in practice to fell to almost a quarter of a second adrift in Qualifying in 12th. His race wasn’t that strong either as he maintained position until pitting fairly early on lap 13 to deal with a break duct issue. However, ‘then we had a gearbox problem’. The stop had dropped him to 16th and hadn’t made much progress when he was forced to pull over to the side of the circuit with the issue on lap 29. His fourth mechanical DNF of 2020 brought out the VSC and he may have fancied his chances of some points so it is deeply unfortunate for Ocon and Renault apologised for his poor luck.
If there is a driver that felt disappointed at Imola it was Sergio Perez as he said on team radio post-race, ‘Another podium that we give away’. The Mexican qualified 11th but that disappointment was turned into a positive in the race with a very strong opening stint taking his Mediums to lap 27. It allowed him to overcut Ricciardo and Perez so he was up to 3rd when Verstappen spun out. However, Racing Point pitted him for fresh tyres. He came out in 6th having conceded track position. Perez was caught out by Kvyat while attacking Albon and was from there unable to push on for a podium finish that his performances in 2020 sorely deserve. He has scored points in every race he has driven and it will be a big shame if he is not on the grid in 2021. He deserved a better finish at Imola.
On the other side of the garage, Lance Stroll had this to say, ‘There is not a lot of positives to take’. The Canadian struggled in Qualifying and ended Q2 bottom of the pile in 15th after having his best effort chalked off for exceeding track limits. His race didn’t get much better. After a poor opening lap in which he lost part of his front wing sent him to near the back of the field the only memorable moment of his race was coming into the put lane with cold brakes and knocking his front jack man over. He put that down to having ‘really cold brakes’ but thankfully, he was alright in the end. The incident cost Stroll some time as e finished 13th and disappointingly outside of the points but it was miraculously his first race finish since his podium at Monza.
Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:28:32.430, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +5.783, 3rd Daniel Ricciardo +14.320, 4th Daniil Kvyat +15.141, 5th Charles Leclerc +19.111, 6th Sergio Perez +19.652, 7th Carlos Sainz +20.230, 8th Lando Norris +21.131, 9th Kimi Raikkonen +22.224, 10th Antonio Giovinazzi +26.398, 11th Nicholas Latifi +27.135, 12th Sebastian Vettel +28.453, 13th Lance Stroll +29.163, 14th Romain Grosjean +32.935, 15th Alex Albon +57.284, George Russell DNF, Max Verstappen DNF, Kevin Magnussen DNF, Esteban Ocon DNF, Pierre Gasly DNF
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton 1:15.484
A driver who will have hoped to be involved in the podium mix such was his performance level at Imola was Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman produced a stellar Qualifying impressively sitting in the top 5 throughout as he qualified a career equalling best 4th. It was an excellent and consistent performance from Gasly who hooked his car up well at Imola. Unfortunately, a coolant issue was detected on the car on its way to the grid meant his race would be ultimately short-lived. He lost position to Ricciardo off the start but was still running 5th and in a consistent rhythm when he was instructed to retire the car after 8 laps. ‘It’s very sad because there was a big opportunity for us today’ was what he had to say and without that issue, he would certainly have finished in the mix for the podium and at least 4th.
Instead, the challenge from Alpha Tauri fell to Daniil Kvyat. The Russian got into Q3 and qualified a season-best 8th. Kvyat enjoyed the race, ‘the car felt amazing’. Key to his result was the decision to pit for fresh Softs when the Safety Car came out. From 7th at the restart, he had an electric lap passing Perez, and Albon before turn 1 and then Leclerc later in the lap. He deserves immense credit for that storming restart which put him on the cusp of the podium and only just missed out on a podium to former teammate Ricciardo. I didn’t expect to see Kvyat there and while he didn’t look a match for Gasly he rose to the challenge. Unfortunately, the strong performance may well have come a bit too late to save his F1 drive which I think will go to Albon or Yuki Tsunoda.
For the second successive weekend, Charles Leclerc outperformed his Ferrari. The Monegasque was slightly disappointed with his Q3 performance as he qualified 7th but still, he was well clear of his teammate who did not make the top 10 at all. Leclerc had a strong start from 7th passing Albon for 6th and the gained 5th when Gasly retired. The attempted undercut on Ricciardo didn’t work and he spent the remainder of the race behind the Renault though did pull off a good move on Magnussen on lap 27 to keep pace. Like Ricciardo, Leclerc didn’t [it for fresh tyres behind the Safety Car and was caught napping by Kvyat on the first lap of the restart and could not recover the position once lost. 5th he felt ‘I think we did the maximum’.
His performances are perhaps best shown in the struggles of Sebastian Vettel. The four-time World Champion was almost half-second adrift in practice and ended Q2 four-tenths behind his teammate as he failed to reach Q3 for the 10th successive Qualifying; ending up 14th as he struggled ‘to get a feel for the car’. He lost ground to Giovinazzi at the start while battling Magnussen losing a bit of his front wing. Considering that, his run to lap 39 on the Mediums which brought him into points contention was a solid effort. Unfortunately, it was undone by an agonisingly slow pit stop as the mechanics struggled with the tyres. He would’ve come out behind Norris in 9th if not for that and instead ultimately finished a disappointing 13th. His Qualifying performance had not helped matters but he was let down on points by his team there.
Just like in Portugal. I think McLaren will have been slightly disappointed by their result against their midfield rivals. Carlos Sainz lost out in the Qualifying stakes but then had the better feel for the car in race trim. Apart from an excellent move around the outside of his teammate at turn 1 on lap 6, he found ‘overtaking was extremely difficult and I couldn’t move up the order as much as I obviously wanted’. He felt there was more in the car. The Spaniard two stopped, remained ahead of his teammate at the Safety car restart and it must be said, did extremely well to avoid the spinning red Bull of Albon. Just how he avoided the Red Bull I don’t know! That was key to him finishing 3 places higher than where he started in 7th.
Lando Norris has struggled in recent Grand Prix against his teammate but will have been happy to take the spoils in the Qualifying battle at Imola even if it was only by a tenth for 9th for only the 2nd time in the last 8 races. In terms of race performance, it doesn’t feel like he has an answer for Sainz at the moment as he lost position to him on lap 6 in the race. After that, he was unable to push on and described it as ‘a race of trying to defend our position’. Oddly, he pitted two laps later than his teammate behind the Safety Car, a decision that may have cost him ground as he dropped from 6th to 9th. Could McLaren not have split strategies? Perhaps, but it is still some points on the board for Norris who scored for the first time since Mugello.
Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 26, Valtteri Bottas 18, Daniel Ricciardo 15, Daniil Kvyat 12, Charles Leclerc 10, Sergio Perez 8, Carlos Sainz 6, Lando Norris 4, Kimi Raikkonen 2, Antonio Giovinazzi 1
Constructors: Mercedes 44, Renault 15, Alpha Tauri 12, Ferrari 10, McLaren 10, Racing Point 8, Alfa Romeo 3
Alfa Romeo confirmed both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi would be staying wot the team for 2021. At 41, Raikkonen staying on was a slight surprise but he demonstrated the hunger and desire was still there at Imola. The Iceman beat his teammate in Qualifying and produced a diver of the day performance in the race. A large part of his result was an impressive 48 lap opening stint on the Mediums which saw him running in the top 6 for almost half of the race and as high as 4th before pitting. Pitting brought him out in 12th and just before the Safety car which he didn’t think ‘it would have made much of a difference’ as the misfortune of the Red Bulls and Russell propelled the 2007 Champion into a 9th place finish; his second points finish of 2020 after a fantastic drive.
Giovinazzi I had expected to be replaced by another Ferrari junior, either Mick Schumacher, Callum Illot or Robert Schwartzman. Qualifying has been a weak spot for the Italian in recent races and qualifying bottom of the pile will have been a huge disappointment on home soil feeling the ca ‘warranted so much better’. He delivered in the race with an impressive opening lap gaining six places and despite running a short opening stint, he managed to do 53 laps on the Mediums to the end making progress through undercutting the likes of Magnussen, Latifi and Vettel. He finished behind his teammate but executed his race well to finish 10th, a result that ‘really was the most we could do’ to secure Alfa Romeo their first double points finish of the year.
Still searching for their first 2020 points is Williams. George Russell was arguably having host complete weekend of F1 action having put in another strong ‘Mr Saturday’ Qualifying performance to get into Q2 and started 14th. Just like in Portugal, he was having a strong race drive too and was well placed to score points. He was 10th behind the Safety Car. All he had to do was keep the car on the road and maintain position but behind the Safety Car, he managed to spin his car into the wall. It was an embarrassing moment for Russell and his inconsolable reaction trackside shows he knew exactly what it meant for him.
That was arguably his best chance for points in 2020 and he blew it. The maturity he showed post-race was commendable as he reflected, ‘It is absolutely gutting, and I am really sorry to the team. We were having an amazing race up until then, we were pushing really hard every lap and the pace was good. There are no excuses, I have to go away and learn from this and come back stronger next time’. His prospects remain bright not leats because the Perez to Williams rumours had been rubbished by Williams but with Fernando Alonso singling him out for praise and Hamilton defending him post-race.
Nicholas Latifi had a fairly strong Grand Prix at Imola. The Canadian was outgunned by his teammate in Qualifying again but less than two-tenths was the difference between getting into Q2 and 19th. Starting on the Mediums, Latifi had a strong opening first stint going to lap 34 and holding his own against the Haas of Magnussen. At the Safety car restart, he was 11th ad in a prime position to attack for his first f1 points but a poor restart by his own admission meant the challenge never materialised but agonisingly felt ‘with one more lap maybe I could have got past him for 10th’ after Giovinazzi had made a mistake on the penultimate lap. It wasn’t to be but perhaps his best race drive in F1 to date.
Haas hasn’t announced who will be driving for them next season but based on Imola perhaps all parties involved at the team are relishing a fresh start in 2021. Under a tenth denied Roman Grosjean a spot in Q2 but he did win the Qualifying battle with his teammate as he generally had the better pace at Imola. However, his race turned into ‘a long afternoon’ for the Frenchman who lacked the straight-line speed. That meant even with the field hunched together by the Safety car, he wasn’t really able to challenge those in front although he did have some choice words for Latifi’s defensive driving. He finished 12th on the road but fell back to 14th after the stewards applied a 5s time penalty for exceeding track limits; the only driver to be penalised.
Kevin Magnussen also had a difficult weekend in his Haas. The Danish driver lost out to Grosjean in Qualifying as they both fell out in Q1 but the narrow deficit to Grosjean (0.020s) was partly attributable to a gearbox issue that returned in the race. Magnussen wasn’t helped by being spun by Vettel and sent to the back on the opening lap in what was ruled a racing incident. Despite the spin, a long opening stint saw him hold off the likes of Ricciardo and Leclerc, effectively aiding Perex to pull off the overcut on them. However, the gearbox issue caused issues that meant ‘by the end I just had a massive headache – I told the team. I think they felt there was nothing to fight for, so they boxed me.’
Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 9, Valtteri Bottas 7.5, Daniel Ricciardo 9, Daniil Kvyat 8.5, Charles Leclerc 8, Sergio Perez 8.5, Carlos Sainz 7.5, Lando Norris 6.5, Kimi Raikkonen 9, Antonio Giovinazzi 8, Nicholas Latifi 7.5, Sebastian Vettel 6, Lance Stroll 5, Romain Grosjean 5, Alex Albon 5, George Russell 6, Max Verstappen 9, Kevin Magnussen 6, Esteban Ocon 6, Pierre Gasly 8.5
Constructors: Mercedes 9, Renault 7.5, Alpha Tauri 8, Ferrari 7, McLaren 7, Racing Point 6.5, Alfa Romeo 8.5, Williams 6.5, Haas 5.5, Red Bull 5
After his win at Imola, Lewis Hamilton (287pts) takes an 85 point lead into the final four races over his teammate Valtteri Bottas (197pts). Max Verstappen is now mathematically out of contention on 162 points. In the battle for 4th in the standings, Daniel Ricciardo’s (95pts) podium means he has built a 10 point lead over Charles Leclerc (85pts) who has pulled two points further ahead of Sergio Perez (83pts). Four points separate the two McLarens (Noris 69pts to 65pts for Sainz) while Alex Albon (64pts) has now dropped to 9th and Pierre Gasly rounds off the top 10 (63pts). Daniil Kvyat’s 4th place finish lifts him to 13th and ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the standings while Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi are level on four points each.
Mercedes (479pts) wrapped up the Constructors crown at Imola and have more than double the points of 2nd place Red Bull (226pts) such has been their dominance in 2020. It is the battle for 3rd that is really heating up with only one point separating Renault (135 pts), McLaren and Racing Point (both 134pts). Ferrari remain 6th having surpassed the 100 point mark (103pts) and Alpha Tauri (89pts) remain 7th. Alfa Romeo has developed a five-point gap to Haas for 8th while Haas and Williams remain unchanged in the bottom two positions.
After Imola, F1 takes a week gap before racing returns to another circuit that was not on the original 2020 schedule and returns after a seven-year hiatus. Lewis Hamilton could secure his seventh driver’s title next time out. Valtteri Bottas would need to outscore him by 10 points to prevent the celebrations. The Hermann Tilke designed circuit became an iconic circuit and fans favourite with its notorious turn 8. It is Istanbul Park for the first Turkish Grand Prix since 2013!