Bulls Spoil Ferrari’s Party


Max Verstappen came away victorious at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, the 2022 Formula 1 (F1) season continued as the teams landed in Italy for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, commonly known as Imola. Coming into Imola, Ferrari were riding off of a victory in the previous round back in Australia courtesy of Charles Leclerc.

One key thing to note about Imola was that this was the first sprint weekend of the year, which changed the weekend schedule. Qualifying was moved to Friday, replacing the standard second free practice. Saturday still had a practice session but with qualifying moved to Friday, that space was now filled with the sprint race. The sprint race is only one-third of the normal race, with the drivers going flat out and no mandatory pit stops. Qualifying set the order for the sprint race, which in turn would determine the grid for the race on Sunday. One key difference from last year’s sprint format were the points. Instead of only the top three getting points, it is now expanded to the top eight, with the winner getting eight points, second getting seven points and so on until eighth place.

Heading into qualifying, the threat of rain was imminent. That meant that when it was dry, the teams had to take advantage of the conditions to send the cars out for their laps on dry tires since they are much faster than wet tires. After a session that saw a record five red flags shown, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed his first pole position of the season ahead of Leclerc in second and the McLaren of Lando Norris qualifying third. The big shock of qualifying was the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Both were knocked out in Q2 which meant that this was the first time since the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix that Mercedes did not have a car in Q3. 

When it came time for the sprint race, the conditions were much better with no chance of rain which meant that we would see the cars be at their fastest as they would go all out in the sprint to better their starting position for the race on Sunday. When the lights went out, Leclerc was faster off of the line and passed Verstappen for the lead with the tifosi roaring the home team on. The safety car was quickly brought out due to an incident between Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo and Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri. After a few laps under the safety car, the green flag was eventually shown with Leclerc leading Verstappen into turn one. Leclerc was able to create a gap and get out of Drag Reduction System (DRS) range. Meanwhile in the rest of the grid, both Verstappen’s and Leclerc’s teammates Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz were gaining positions after their poor qualifying positions. 

After 13 laps, Perez was able to get into third with Sainz up into sixth. At the front of the pack, Verstappen was starting to reduce the gap to Leclerc and was able to get within that critical one second gap to use DRS and make him faster on the straights. In the second to last lap, Verstappen was able to use DRS and retake Leclerc for the lead. After 21 laps, Verstappen crossed the finish line to win the sprint, followed by Leclerc in second, Perez in third and Sainz in fourth.

On Sunday, it was raining the entire day. With about one hour to go before the race, it started to clear up but with that much water on the track, it was unclear if the cars would start on dry or wet tires. As the start time grew closer and closer, the teams chose the intermediate tires to start, but all eyes were on the sky as forecasts showed potential for more rain during the race. When the lights went out on Sunday, Verstappen got away cleanly compared to Leclerc. Perez also got a wonderful start and was able to pass Leclerc before the first turn to make it a Red Bull 1-2. To make matters worse, Leclerc also lost a position to Norris on the start, putting him down into fourth. As the 20 cars went into the first few turns, Sainz was battling Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo who had a great start. Ricciardo had no grip due to the conditions and lightly tapped Sainz, sending him into the gravel trap making it back to back DNF’s for Sainz. The safety car was called out before going back in after a few laps with Verstappen leading from Perez with Norris in third. 

Shortly after racing resumed, the Alpine of Fernando Alonso joined his fellow compatriot in retiring from the race with half of his sidepod falling off. Meanwhile, on lap eight, Leclerc was able to pass Norris to take third. At this point, the track was drying and there was a clear racing line. However, there were forecasts of potential rain which meant that if a team pitted for dry tires and it rained, they would plummet down the order because they would have to pit again for wet tires. On lap 18, Ricciardo pulled the trigger and pitted onto mediums. The following lap, other drivers followed suit including Perez. After Perez, both Verstappen and Leclerc pitted the next lap with Leclerc coming out ahead of Perez. However, Perez was able to use his warmer tires to retake second from Leclerc while Verstappen was still ahead. Leclerc was right behind Perez trying to get up into second with Perez expertly defending. 

As the laps went on, Verstappen was dominating and lapping all of the backmarkers.  On lap 40, he even lapped Hamilton who just 4 months ago was in a title fight down to the final lap with Verstappen. On lap 50, Leclerc pitted again for soft tires with Perez immediately responding by pitting the lap after. When Perez emerged from the pits he was just ahead of Leclerc. On lap 53, Leclerc was pushing to get closer to Perez, but caught too much of the kerb and spun off the track. He was able to continue and pit for new tires and a front wing, but it pushed him down into ninth, promoting Norris who had a quiet race up into third. Leclerc kept on pushing and was able to get back into sixth.

Meanwhile at the front, Verstappen dominated the race, leading every lap and never looking back. After 63 laps, he won at Imola for the second time, with Perez finishing second and Norris rounding out the podium in third. This was a dominating performance from Red Bull and to do it in Ferrari’s backyard is some feat. Verstappen earned his second ever grand slam by taking pole position, winning the race, getting the fastest lap and leading every lap of the race. This is the first time in history where back to back grand slams have ever occurred with different constructors with Leclerc doing it last race in Australia. Another thing to note about this race is that with Aston Martin scoring points with both drivers, all 10 teams have scored points in the season in just four races.

With this commanding victory, Verstappen is up into second in the standings after having a rough first few races. You can take a look at the full standings here. The next race is in two weeks where F1 will head to the United States for the first ever race in Miami for the Miami Grand Prix. After a poor home race, expect Ferrari to bounce back. Also expect Red Bull and Verstappen to push to try and build momentum in this long season. With this being a new track, expect the drivers and the teams to be busy as they get used to the circuit and analyze the data to get the most out of their cars.