We’re not racing at Sakhir? Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preview

Formula one spent several weeks in Bahrain for winter testing, before staying there for round one of the 2021 season. Couple that with the two races in Sakhir last year, and F1 has been very Bahrain heavy recently.

So time to freshen it up a bit, and the circus has travelled just over 5000 kilometres north-west to the legendary Imola circuit for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, following an enormous three-week break.

Almost as sizeable is the official name of the race, which really is not worth going into, but either way, going racing again is a relief as we gear up for what will feel like the first race of the season following such long breaks between the last few races.

But if we can cast our minds back three weeks, we seem to have a title fight on our hands. Lewis Hamilton saw off Max Verstappen by just under a second, after the Dutchman was controversially denied a race-winning overtake.

It seems an age since we last raced, though it was only three weeks ago – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen took pole for Red Bull, and Sergio Perez’s magnificent last to fifth drive means that we have the mouth-watering prospect of a Constructors’ battle between Mercedes and Red Bull.

Which brings us to Italy, where things were tight between the two teams last season too – Verstappen passing Valtteri Bottas before seeing his miserable Italian season capped off by another non-finish following a puncture.

Hamilton, though, got himself a win, as he did so excellently on many occasions last year en route to his seventh title, but he will know that the pressure to win the eighth has been ramped up in 2021.

Elsewhere, things are equally as ambiguous as the battle up top. There were inconsistent results for many of the midfield teams in round one, with Sebastian Vettel making painfully familiar errors, and the returning Fernando Alonso’s race being wrecked by a sandwich bag in Bahrain three weeks back.

Fernando Alonso was enjoying an entertaining race until a sandwich bag ruined the fun – Courtesy of Alpine F1 Media

Alonso’s Alpine team managed a podium here last year though with Daniel Ricciardo, and given the competitiveness amongst themselves, McLaren and a handful of other teams, this year’s race will hopefully be every bit as exciting as last year.

In 2020, some of the racing was tremendous, some of the crashes were painful – just ask George Russell – and let’s hope that this year’s race will be every bit as enticing as November.  It is great to be racing again as a title battle for the ages finally resumes.

Scintillating speed and painful memories – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preview

The Emilia Romagna region in Bologna plays host to round number 13 of the 2020 championship this weekend, as F1 makes a welcome return to Imola.

Having last appeared on the Formula One calendar 14 years ago, the 4.9 kilometre rollercoaster of a circuit has undergone several incarnations in its 40-year F1 history, for some reasons more pertinent than others.

Michel Schumacher won the last race here in 2006 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the same weekend in 1994 rocked the world of racing, and left us with indelible and painful memories that, in many ways, have helped shape F1 into what it is today.

Having said that, we have seen plenty of other reasons to remember this track, and the high-speed, flowing and alluring nature of the track is certainly one of them. Michael Schumacher’s various different pole position laps are ample example of that.

And with this current generation of Formula one cars, which will of course be replaced at the end of next season, this track will surely provide all the thrills and spills we have already witnessed over the course of the 2020 season.

Surprise podiums and race winners have joined surprise additions to the calendar this season, and Imola was certainly one of said surprises. Last week in Portimao was a one-off race that we were left extremely grateful for.

Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Portuguese Grand prix last time out – Courtesy of Mercedes media

Off the back of an outstanding weekend at the Algarve, Imola has a fair bit to live up to, and how Lewis Hamilton would love to take his 93rd win and claim victory at the 29th circuit in his career.

But not only is this a different track – it is a different weekend. If I may cast your minds back to when this race was announced in July, it was confirmed that it would be a two-day weekend, and here is how it will work.

There will be one practice session on Saturday morning, and as such the drivers will have 10 sets of slick tyres available as opposed to the 13 they are accustomed to. Qualifying and the race will go ahead as usual, but there will be a larger gap between practice and qualifying to allow for consultation between the teams and the FIA to consider any suggested changes.

Will this have any bearing on performance? Probably not, but it will be a test of adaptability to slightly different racing conditions for the drivers, and this may provide more shock results, such as McLaren and Renault podiums, and who can forget Pierre Gasly’s remarkable win in Monza a few weeks ago?

Pierre gasly’s remarkable win in Monza was the first of his career – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

And speaking of the Frenchman, he has this week signed a new contract for 2021 with his Alpha Tauri team, who also completed some pre-season testing at this track prior to the season’s start.

As for who is really expected to perform well though, it is rather interesting. Imola has a decent amount of straights, but the highly technical corners and chicanes littered around the place provide plenty of banana skins for the drivers to negotiate around, and this will provide the opportunity for Red Bull to close up to Mercedes.

Couple that with the fact that Ferrari, McLaren, Renault Racing Point are all showing marvellous signs of rapid improvement, this weekend could provide a mega battle for the podium, if not for the win.

Racing Point and Ferrari have joined McLaren and Renault in showing impressive improvement lately – courtesy of racing Point media

That top spot, however, is expected to be taken by Lewis Hamilton, and at the scene of the tragic accident that claimed his hero Senna, a 93rd win here would be on of the most personally significant of his career.