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F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

A slow burner race turned into a fierce all out battle in the closing laps

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Fans had to wait for the action to kick off, but F1 delivered an enthralling race in Emilia-Romagna. 

F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Emilia-Romanga Grand Prix (Image Credit: McLaren Racing Media Centre)
F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix (Image Credit: McLaren Racing Media Centre)
McLaren passes first post-Miami test

McLaren being quick at Imola has massive ramifications for F1 in 2024. The track is the polar opposite of Miami and a further demonstration that the aerodynamic upgrades to the MCL38 fitted in Miami have seen the team jump ahead of Ferrari.

Certain corners of the internet will have you believe McLaren’s Imola pace was a fluke. Verstappen lost victory in the Sunshine State due to floor damage, they said, but he would romp to victory at Imola.

Initially, the naysayers looked to have called it during the race. But, as the laps began to count down, Norris started to close on Verstappen. He was a tantalising 1.5 seconds behind the Red Bull with five laps left.

He ultimately lost out on the victory, finishing just 0.7s behind the Dutchman. McLaren now has genuine pace, and Red Bull’s position at the front looks vulnerable.

But one more test remains: Monaco. The fabled streets of Monte Carlo feature long, low-speed corners, McLaren’s Achilles heel since 2018. While this problem has considerably improved over the last twelve months, it still needs another season to be ironed entirely out of its designs.

Monaco will prove or disprove that McLaren is at a stage where it can challenge for podiums at low-speed tracks. If it can, it is game on for the rest of 2024.

Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths still haunt F1 after thirty years
Sebastian Vettel drives his MP4/8 waving the Brazilian flag (Image Credit: @F1 on X)
Sebastian Vettel drives his MP4/8 waving the Brazilian flag (Image Credit: @F1 on X)

F1’s unofficial (and very welcome) ambassador, Sebastian Vettel, led the tributes to Senna and Ratzenberger. Leading a run around the circuit, Vettel and the runners attached locks to the catch fencing to “lock in” their thoughts about the legendary three-time world champion. They later stopped at Tosa to remember Ratzenberger.

The run was a classy move by all involved. Imola 1994 remains F1’s darkest weekend for a good reason, and Vettel’s touching tribute remarking on the legacy of safer cars sent shockwaves through the crowd.

But the best tribute came on race day. Vettel took to the track in his owned McLaren MP4/8, one of F1’s most iconic cars, originally driven by the Brazilian in 1993. Powering around Imola, Vettel stopped on the start line, got out, and bowed in front of the car, dressed in Senna tribute overalls.

The German was visibly emotional, and rightly so. The appreciation and emotions from the crowd, the Senna family, and others show that the spectre of Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths still haunts F1 today. May their legacies live on.

Ferrari’s evaporating pace
Charles Leclerc racing during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix (Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre)
Charles Leclerc racing during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix (Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre)

It is difficult not to feel sympathy for the Tifosi after Imola. Strong performances on Friday during practice indicated the Scuderia was the team to beat. But their pace disappeared on Saturday, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz qualifying P4 and P5.

The race did show improvement, with Charles Leclerc catching Norris in the second half. But this was down to Leclerc pushing his hard compound tyres early. Leclerc took P3, delighting the Tifosi in Ferrari’s homeland and ending a podium drought that lasted back to 2006.

Ferrari bought a large upgrade package to Imola, with hopes high in Italy that this would bring the team back on terms with McLaren. However, according to Ferrari, the new-look SF-24 was never going to transform the Scuderia’s pace.

Both drivers played down the upgrades, stating the package was less extensive than McLaren’s. Regardless, Ferrari’s pace has evaporated since its win in Australia. It looks at risk of losing touch with McLaren.

Leclerc’s consistency puts him P2 in the standings. But with McLaren now a clear step in front, the development war between the two teams will be intriguing over the rest of the year.

Race from hell for Williams
Logan Sargeant leads Pierre Gasly's Alpine during the race (Image Credit: @WilliamsRacing on X)
Logan Sargeant leads Pierre Gasly’s Alpine during the race (Image Credit: @WilliamsRacing on X)

Imola was a truly terrible weekend for the Grove outfit. Alex Albon’s electrical issues on Friday acted as an omen of what was to come. Limited track time saw him qualify P14 before enduring a nightmare race. A tyre not fitted properly at a pit stop led to a further emergency stop for repairs.

He received a ten-second stop-go penalty for the incident before retiring, two laps down on the leaders. Imola was not the way to celebrate a contract extension.

Sargeant needed a strong weekend after a public confirmation that his seat is under threat. Struggling in practice with track limits, he once again started at the back. But his defensive driving to keep Yuki Tsunoda behind him for several laps and his move on Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas prove that the American can still show pace.

The FW46 is faster than its predecessor, but the team remains P9 in the standings and has yet to score. Williams needs an urgent reversal of fortune. Fitting tyres incorrectly will not help that cause and highlights the scale of the mountain the team needs to climb.

Aston Martin’s failed upgrade
Fernando Alonso launches over the kerbs at the Variante Alta chicane (Image Credit: Aston Martin F1 Media Portal)
Fernando Alonso launches over the kerbs at the Variante Alta chicane (Image Credit: Aston Martin F1 Media Portal)

Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso were the biggest losers of F1’s return to Imola. The team brought a huge swathe of upgrades to the AMR24 to Emilia-Romanga, hoping to close the gap on the top three teams.

Alonso looked uncharacteristically off the pace all weekend. He had several excursions into the gravel during practice before a shock Q1 elimination on Saturday. A pit lane start became the lesser of two evils, allowing the team to make set-up changes. This sadly did not work, as the Spaniard came home last of the runners. The car looked a handful and lacked poise as well as grip.

Teammate Lance Stroll fared better, but his P9 finish was 79 seconds away from leader Verstappen and 32 seconds away from George Russell’s Mercedes, which pitted in the closing stages.

This upgrade was an unmitigated disaster that Aston Martin must investigate thoroughly. Featuring a floor redesign and a new front wing and diffuser, potential momentum quickly turned to concern.

Poor upgrades blighted the team in 2023, costing places in the final standings. To avoid a repeat, the so-called “aggressive” upgrade will need to show its teeth in Monaco, or Aston Martin will be cut adrift in the next few rounds.

 

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images

 

 

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