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After a 3 week hiatus, Formula One returns for the 2nd round of the season in Italy. Following yesterday’s qualifying session, Lewis Hamilton will start the race on pole, with Sergio Perez alongside him.

Ahead of the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, here’s a compilation of what to expect for today’s race.

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.

Red Bull had a slow start to the weekend, with both cars missing parts of FP1 and FP2. But despite the slow start, Red Bull pulled off a swift recovery, with Verstappen taking 1st in FP3. In Qualifying, Red Bull continued to demonstrate a strong form, with Perez topping Q2, coming tantalisingly close to taking pole in Q3.

Imola is a track where overtaking is difficult. With Perez crucially on the front-row of the grid, Red Bull have a realistic chance of robbing Hamilton of the lead on the run-down to Tamburello in the opening stages of the race. Bottas being down the order also provides Red Bull with the opportunity to mount a dual-pronged assault on Hamilton, who is left without cover from Bottas.

The Battle for Third in the Constructors & Surprise Podium Contenders?

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 in testing, and Bahrain, 3 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. McLaren have had a roller-coaster weekend so far, with the car’s form varying from session to session. For today’s race, Ricciardo starts on the 6th row, in 6th while Norris starts 7th on the 4th row. While a podium appears unlikely, given the difficulties involved in overtaking in Imola, should any carnage break out in front, both drivers could seek to profit….

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. Unlike McLaren, both Ferraris have had consistent form this weekend, and appear to be the 3rd fastest. For today’s race, Leclerc starts on the second row in 4th, while Sainz sits further behind on row 6 in 11th. A podium is unlikely for Sainz, but Leclerc could certainly be a surprise contender for the podium.

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, even if it did not ultimately translate to results, due to Gasly’s incident. At Imola, Gasly has shown good form throughout the weekend, and is set to start from 5th, while Tsunoda starts 20th. As is the case in Ferrari, a podium is unlikely for Tsunoda. But Gasly could certainly be a surprise contender.

Overtaking

Last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix saw the lowest number of overtakes for the 2020 season. With a total of 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 2021 cars, the number of overtakes may not improve.

Max Verstappen voiced this out to the media, stating that he expects overtaking 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.

Tsunoda’s fightback

Three weeks ago, at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Yuki Tsunoda’s star shone brightly on track. A poor start saw the young Japanese driver fall down the order, falling to 16th within the first 5 laps. But Tsunoda skillfully cut his way through the field to climb into the points, finishing in 9th.

For the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Yuki Tsunoda looks to have to cut his way through the field once more. The AlphaTauri driver crashed hard in Q1, at the exit of Variante Alta, the resulting impact splitting his gearbox in half. Prior to the crash, Tsunoda was on his first “push” lap. As a result, he failed to set a time in qualifying, and will start the race from the back of the grid.

Unlike Bahrain, Imola is a much narrower circuit, with few passing opportunities. For Tsunoda, the lack of overtaking spots, will mean a long, arduous fight for points. But with his Bahrain performance, many eyes will be on him, and his fightback to the points.

Can Williams break it’s points drought?

For the Williams team, points are a distant memory. The last time the Grove-based squad scored points was at the 2019 German Grand Prix, where Robert Kubica finished 12th, before being promoted to 10th post-race. Had it not been for the penalty for the 2 Alfa Romeos, the drought would have started at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix.

At the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, George Russell looked set to take William’s first points for 2020, and his first points, until he crashed out under the safety car. This came after Russell showed pace in qualifying, reaching Q2 to start 13th. For 2021, both Williams cars have shown pace throughout the weekend, with both reaching Q2. Russell starts in 12th, while Latifi starts in 14th.

With Russell effectively starting just outside the top 10, and Latifi close behind, Williams appear to have a good chance at points for this race. Ending the points drought, which has stretched for over a year.

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