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After a 3 week hiatus, Formula One returns for the 2nd round of the season in Italy. Ahead of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, here’s a compilation of what to expect this weekend at Imola.

Bahrain Recap

The Bahrain Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton claim the chequered flag ahead of Max Verstappen, with teammate Valterri Bottas rounding out the top 3. Hamilton’s victory came after a hard-fought, but highly controversial race, marred by inconsistency from stewards regarding track limits.

In the closing stages of the race, it had seemed all but certain that Verstappen was poised to take the win from Hamilton. With 4 laps to go, Verstappen took the lead from Hamilton, only to give up the position later in the lap. This was due to Verstappen running wide and going off track at Turn 10 while overtaking Hamilton. The instruction to give up the position came from Race Control, who issued the order to Verstappen’s Red Bull team.

After giving up the position to Hamilton, Verstappen attempted to mount a second challenge on Hamilton. Unfortunately, Verstappen was hit by the dirty air coming off the back of Hamilton’s W12, ultimately losing time to the Brit, failing to overtake him again.

Outside the podium, the top 10 were: Norris, Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Tsunoda and Stroll.

Finishing outside the points were: Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Russell, Vettel and Schumacher.

The Circuit

The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, also simply known as Imola, is a permanent motorsports complex located outside the town of Imola. The track was named after the late Enzo Ferrari and his son, Alfredo Ferrari. 

The track features a total of 2 configurations, a Grand Prix circuit, and a Motorcycle circuit. Formula One will use the 4.909 km Grand Prix circuit without the Variante Bassa Chicane. Throughout the years, the circuit has undergone several layout changes, with the last change occurring in 2008. The 2008 track changes saw the elimination of the Variante Bassa Chicane on the Start/Finish straight, alongside a new pit complex with a longer pitlane.

Today, Imola features a mix of medium to high-speed corners, alongside a series of elevation changes in the second sector. Lewis Hamilton holds the official lap record, with a laptime of 1:15.484.

As was in 2020, the track will only have a single DRS Zone, located on the start/finish straight. Compared to 2020, the DRS Zone has been extended, with the activation point now situated 60 metres ahead of the Turn 19 Kink.

Things to watch:

Mercedes v Red Bull

Barring any exceptional circumstances, no other team apart from Mercedes & Red Bull appear likely to win at Imola. While Mercedes appeared to have the weaker car between the 2 in Bahrain, Bottas setting the fastest lap showed that the W12 was still no slouch against the RB16B. But we left Bahrain knowing one thing: Red Bull has indicated its intent to fight Mercedes for the title this year, and for the first time in years, they may have the tools to successfully pull it off.

If Red Bull can pull off a 1-2, or a 1-3, this weekend, it will prove that it’s Bahrain form was no fluke….

Overtaking

Last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix saw the lowest number of overtakes for the 2020 season, coming in at just 6. To combat the lack of overtakes, the sole DRS zone on the start/finish straight was extended for the 2021 race. With dirty air continuing to be a problem for the 2021 cars, it stands that the number of overtakes may not improve, even with this change applied.

Max Verstappen voiced this out to the media, stating that he expects overtaking to continue to be “super hard” even with an extended DRS Zone. Responding to a question posed by RaceFans, Verstappen felt the track could have a second zone, placed after the Variante Alta chicane.

The Battle for Third in the Constructors

The season opener saw Mercedes and Red Bull battle it out for the top 2 places in the constructors, taking home 41 & 28 points respectively. Further behind the 2 teams were McLaren and Ferrari, who took home 18 & 12 points respectively, while AlphaTauri lurked further in the distance, with 2 points.

Based on performances shown in testing, and at the season-opener, these 4 teams look to be contenders for the “best of the rest”. McLaren’s strong Bahrain form showed that the car had seemingly lost no pace despite the numerous changes necessitated by switching to Mercedes power. At Ferrari, the engine team appears to have successfully clawed back the power losses that led to the 2020 struggles at power tracks. On the chassis side, the SF21 also appears to a step forward compared to it’s predecessor, the ill-fated SF1000.

Further behind McLaren and Ferrari, AlphaTauri look to be contenders as well. In Bahrain, AlphaTauri demonstrated strong pace in both the race, and in Qualifying. Pierre Gasly took 5th on the grid, while Tsunoda set the second-fastest time on Softs in Q1. In the race, if not for the contact with Daniel Ricciardo early on, Gasly should have brought home a 7th-placed finish at the very least. This is supported by Tsunoda’s performance, with the Japanese driver clawing his way up the order into 9th, from 13th on the grid.

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