Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2022: Verstappen silences the Tifosi and reignites the title fight

Verstappen silences the Tifosi and reignites the title fight

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez delivered an emphatic 1-2 finish for Red Bull at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix of 2022 which is also the home track of Scuderia Ferrari.

Ferrari seemed confidently in control ahead of this race weekend, after a dream start to their 2022 F1 season. However, the prancing horse had its worst weekend so far in the season campaign.

A race that was governed by difficult weather and varying track conditions saw various team strategies and drivers put to the ultimate test - with a few coming out on top, and others failing to deliver. Here are the key takeaways from the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Leclerc’s blunder opens up the title fight

Championship leader Charles Leclerc had to settle for a salvaged sixth from what was clearly a comfortable third place finish for the Ferrari. 

This was the result of an overambitious turn into Variante Alta going wrong, after a second pitstop to challenge Red Bull’s Sergio Perez for P2 with only eight laps to go.

Charles Leclerc started on the front row alongside rival Max Verstappen but was instantly swamped by Perez and Lando Norris at the onset of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

The rain gods were not kind and left Leclerc on the wet line which made it difficult for him to start as well as Perez and Verstappen. 

Without the advantage of DRS, Leclerc finally managed to get past Norris and regained P3 in lap 8. From then onwards,  it was a futile attempt to challenge the race leader Max Verstappen the entire race, as Leclerc could barely even pose a threat to Perez in P2. 

Leclerc spent most of his race with a more attacking approach to try and pierce past Perez, while the Mexican focused on defending track position and enabling Verstappen to comfortably pull away further ahead.

Taking a more attacking approach to gain track position, the Ferrari used a lot of its energy reserves and experienced a higher rate of tyre wear. 

With apparently nothing to lose, Leclerc took a gamble and attempted a second pitstop on lap 49/63 to put on soft tyres and challenge for P2. Perez responded immediately on the next lap and emerged from the pits ahead of Leclerc.

With ten laps to go, the Monegasque got his Ferrari close enough to Perez and attempted to get within DRS range as they turned into Variante Alta. 

Leclerc pushed too hard and spun after taking in too much of the inner kerb. In an attempt to get within 1 second of Perez before the DRS detection line, the Ferrari nudged the barrier after spinning. 

This mistake proved costly for the championship leader as he had to box again and replace his front wing. This cost him valuable time, points and track position. From dropping to behind to ninth, he had to limit the damage done, ultimately finishing the race in sixth. 

Leclerc’s poor judgment and Red Bull’s impeccable race strategy resulted in Max Verstappen dominating the grand prix, closing the gap to the championship leader by 19 points. 

Carlos Sainz continues to struggle

The misery of Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari continued as he made an early exit in the gravel - although not as a result of his own making this time. 

An impressive recovery in the Sprint to start on P4 for the race all went in vain when a racing incident in turn one of the first lap at Tamburello involving Daniel Ricciardo forced Sainz into early retirement.

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, a home race for Scuderia Ferrari came with a lot of hope from the Tifosi that the reds would continue their dominance at the beginning of the European season; however, a good qualifying and a great Sprint result could not be converted to a successful race for the team, leaving them only marginally ahead of Red Bull this time.

Verstappen silences the Tifosi at Imola

After 2 mechanical DNFs in the first three races of the season and major reliability issues, all the pressure was on Max Verstappen and Red Bull to revive their title hopes at Imola - and they did not fail to deliver.

Max Verstappen had a flawless weekend under difficult weather conditions and drove impeccably on all three days at Scuderia’s home track. In Friday’s Qualifying, he secured P1 for the Sprint after completing a great flying lap. 

Sprint Story

Although he got off to a bad start and dropped to P2 after instantly being overtaken by Leclerc in Saturday’s Sprint, he patiently chased the leader till the end and timed his move on Charles to perfection. 

Max Verstappen managed his tyres well and made a crucial pass against Leclerc with just over a lap to go. Leclerc went very hard on his tyres to try and pull away from Verstappen, doing his best to keep him out of the DRS zone the entire race - but this resulted in graining on the front right which gave Verstappen the edge towards the end of the Sprint. 

A penultimate lap overtake and the Ferrari’s struggle with its tyres left Charles with no chance to recover. Verstappen secured the advantageous P1 to start Sunday’s Grand Prix, with Charles joining him on the front row.

Race Story

Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez started the race on the dry line and got off to a much cleaner start than Leclerc, who was also overtaken by Lando Norris into turn one. Perez’ primary role seemed to be one of defence against Leclerc for the entire race which allowed Verstappen to gradually increase the gap and dominate the Grand Prix as the front runner. 

Race Control kept DRS inactive for the first 33 laps of the race which also contributed to Leclerc not being able to get close enough to make a pass on Perez for P2 and further challenge the race leader. 

For the second stint of the race, Verstappen got on to the medium tyres as the track had an evident dry line and continued to lead the race. The initial plan was a one stop strategy. 

Both Red Bulls were comfortably capable of going till the end on medium tyres, but a late pitstop by Leclerc in an attempt to undercut Perez with 14 laps left resulted in the Red Bulls switching to soft tyres for the final stint. 

The undercut did not work, and Perez was still ahead of Leclerc. Verstappen remained devoid of any threat from the Ferrari and was within touching distance of victory.

In an over ambitious attempt to get within Perez’ DRS reach, Charles’ mistake at Variante Alta with ten laps to go further cemented Verstappen’s command on the top step of the podium.

The young Dutchman and current World Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen silenced the Tifosi and proved that this season is not going to be a one horse race for Ferrari. Red Bull made a strong comeback this weekend at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and now sit second in the Constructors’ Championship, only 11 points behind Scuderia after securing a massive 58 out of 59 possible points at Imola. 

Verstappen secured the maximum number of points up for taking by qualifying in P1, winning the Sprint, winning the race as well as clocking the fastest lap and leading every lap of the race - completing his second Grand Slam and massively reducing the gap to Charles Leclerc in the Drivers’ Championship.

McLaren’s first podium and bittersweet weekend

Lando Norris

Despite being a result of Leclerc’s final stint misfortune, Lando Norris finished in third place and brought McLaren their first podium of the season after a lonely race in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

It was impressive enough that Lando Norris secured P3 in Friday’s qualifying, but that was only the start to his glorious weekend. 

Lando’s only misfortune came when he spun in the last minute of Qualifying; however, that played in his favor as it prevented the rest of the grid from clocking their final flying lap, with Norris putting in a time good enough for P3 in Saturday’s Sprint.

After 3 races, it was evident that Ferrari and Red Bull are the front runners this season whereas the midfield order is still not quite clear. Norris and Ricciardo both managed their tyres well amidst difficult Sprint conditions and secured P5 and P6 on the grid for Sunday’s race, top of the midfield.

Lando Norris started the race on the dry-odd number line on the grid, and instantly sped past Leclerc into P3. After 8 laps, Norris was overtaken by Leclerc who had the superior race pace. 

From then on, he showed exemplary composure, managed his tyres, stuck to the dry line and stayed clear ahead of any threat from behind - especially George Russel’s Mercedes. 

Throughout most of the race, it felt like Norris would finish just out of the podium places given how stable the front three drivers seemed. However, Ferrari's blunder gifted Lando Norris a well deserved third place.

Daniel Ricciardo

On the contrary, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo had a race to forget as he collided with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz into turn 1 of the first lap at Tamburello. 

Entering the turn, he got on to the kerb which forced him wide, leaving not enough space to let two cars by, resulting in the collision. 

Race Control judged it to be a racing incident, but Sainz paid a very heavy price for a mistake not of his own making. Ricciardo made an early pit stop at the end of lap 1 to correct the damage, and it was difficult for him to recover thereafter. 

It was a weekend to forget for the Australian and his side of McLaren,  given that his counterpart finished on the podium and showed extreme superiority amidst the midfield while being in the same car.

Russel proves himself as Mercedes’ struggles continue

Finishing in fourth at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, George Russel became the only driver on the grid to complete every race this season within the top five places. The young Brit finished nine places clear of his teammate and seven time world champion Lewis Hamilton, in only his fourth race as a full time Mercedes driver.

Starting in P11 on the dry odd-numbered side of the grid, Russel quickly made up places in the first lap. The collision between Sainz and Ricciardo at turn one boosted Russell’s Mercedes upto an early sixth place. He was also assisted by Valterri Bottas who was slowed down by lightly hitting Ricciardo’s spinning McLaren. 

After getting a few laps into the first stint, George proved that the Mercedes is a far better car in race conditions as compared to qualifying. 

It was capable of running at the same pace as McLaren and Alfa Romeo - two teams that comfortably out-qualified the Mercedes. Russel was also able to overtake the Haas of Kevin Magnussen who was initially in fifth place. 

Further into the race, Russel benefitted from Leclerc’s spin as well as Bottas’ 9 second pitstop delay. He ran in fourth position thereafter and repeatedly, albeit skillfully defended off Valterri Bottas into the Tamburello chicane almost every lap which made his race all the more impressive.

Finishing 40 seconds behind the winner is not a race Mercedes are used to, but damage limitation is their current strategy and in yet another race, Russel lived up to what his team needed by emphatically finishing in an impressive fourth place from P11 on the grid. 

Lewis Hamilton

It was a race to forget for Lewis Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2022, who began with a gripless start on the even-numbered side of the grid at P14. 

He made up two places into P12 behind Yuki Tsunoda but just did not have the straight-line speed to get past him, especially without DRS. 

Hamilton’s pitstop exit did not go to plan as he had to suddenly brake to avoid the unsafe release of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine. There was minor contact as well which cost him valuable track positions and put him behind an unbreakable DRS train. 

His second stint was uneventful and frustrating, spent behind the second AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly - who always had DRS from Alex Albon’s Williams ahead of him who in turn was in the DRS of Ocon, Stroll and Tsunoda ahead.

Lewis Hamilton was also lapped mid-race and finished out of the points in an astonishing thirteenth. Team Principal, Toto Wolff apologized to Hamilton for the state Mercedes are in via team radio after the race.  

Although external circumstances varied and Lewis was stuck in a DRS train, it was worrying for the Mercedes garage to see the difference in race performance between the two cars. This was the second race out of four where Hamilton was significantly outdone by his new teammate, George Russel, in the same machinery. 

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