Saturday F1 storylines: Game on in Imola


If Friday’s pair of practice sessions at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix are any indication, then Saturday’s qualifying session can be previewed with a simple two-word phrase.

Game on.

With a number of teams bringing upgrades to Imola including Red Bull — more on them in a second — Friday offered a glimpse at what could be in store when the lap times count for real. When the dust settled Friday it was Charles Leclerc atop both FP1 and FP2, while Max Verstappen was left to lament “a bad day.”

“A difficult day,” Verstappen admitted to F1.com. “[It was] just difficult to get a good balance, and [I was] just not really feeling comfortable in the car. Moving around a lot, it’s very easy to lose the car, so [there are] a few things that we have to look at because today [was] just bad, just not comfortable.”

While Verstappen struggled, others thrived. We can start with Mercedes, of all teams, and a glimmer of optimism post-practice from both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. The Silver Arrows brought the second half of an upgrade package they introduced at the Miami Grand Prix, and both drivers seemed much more comfortable with the W15, as both finished inside the top ten in FP1, and inside the top five in FP2.

“It’s been a good start to the weekend. We had a productive day and were able to run all three compounds,” said Hamilton. “The balance of the car felt good, and I had a positive feeling out there. Several other teams look quick, in particular McLaren and Ferrari, but we’re a lot closer than we have been so far this season. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves though so let’s see how tomorrow goes.”

“The car was feeling great today and both Lewis and I were happy behind-the-wheel,” added Russell. “We looked reasonably competitive and slightly closer to the front of the field than we looked in Miami. Come Qualifying tomorrow we will find out exactly where we stand in the pecking order.”

There was also optimism over at McLaren, which saw Oscar Piastri finish FP1 up in P2, and in P9 in FP2. Teammate Lando Norris, coming off the first win of his F1 career in Miami, was down in P8 in FP1 and P12 in FP2, but he was on a blistering push lap during the first practice session that was extremely quick through the first two sectors, but saw him pull out of the lap in the closing stages.

“I think it’s been one of our better Fridays and we seem to be in a pretty good place. It’s very tight out there so we’ll see what we can find for tomorrow, but it’s been an encouraging day,” said Piastri. “I’ve felt pretty comfy from the first lap this morning, so I’m excited for tomorrow. The team have done a good job with getting the remaining upgrades on my car, so thank you to them.”

But if there is a biggest threat to Red Bull at the moment, it looks to be one of the home teams. Ferrari brought their own set of highly-anticipated upgrades to Imola after putting them through their paces during a pair of filming days last week, and Leclerc topping both sessions is certainly a positive.

Even F1.com’s race pace simulation shows how tight it could be between Ferrari and Red Bull on Sunday:

Screenshot 2024 05 17 at 4.49.29 PM

However, this is Saturday, which could be even better for Ferrari according to F1.com’s qualifying simulation:

Screenshot 2024 05 17 at 4.50.58 PM

“It has been a positive day overall. Everything went smoothly and we ran all the tests we planned on track. We seem to be pretty competitive for now, however the conditions will change quite a bit tomorrow, especially in terms of the wind, so we will have to anticipate that,” said Leclerc following the session. “The updates seem to be working as expected, which is another positive.”

However, this is still Verstappen we are talking about. As we have seen before, the Red Bull driver has endured some frustrating practice sessions, and then put his car on pole position the following day. There is still a very good chance that Verstappen comes through again later today, especially with one more practice session to refine the setup of the RB20.

But as this Saturday breaks, it certainly seems that it is game on in Imola.

A VCARB shocker?

If you dig into F1.com’s qualifying simulation a little bit, you might notice something.

Just how close Visa Cash App RB F1 Team is to Mercedes.

Friday was a strong day for the team, especially Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda finished P6 during the first practice session, and then a stunning P3 during FP2. While Daniel Ricciardo lagged a little bit behind his teammate, finishing 13th in FP1 and 11th in FP2, the RB01 showed pace at time for both drivers.

According to Sporting Director Alan Permane, getting both drivers into Q3 should be the goal.

“It’s been a little bit of a mixed day for us. Starting with Yuki, he was happy with his car from the very first lap of the day and has really built on that and his confidence. We ran all three tyre compounds today and he set his fastest lap on the softs midway through FP2 and was generally happy with the car,” said Permane in the team’s post-practice report. “As always, there are some little things to look at tonight, to tweak and improve even more for FP3 and qualifying tomorrow. Daniel on the other hand wasn’t that happy and complained about oversteering in the first laps of the morning. That’s been improved and he’s generally getting happier with the car.

“There’s still work to do, but we’ll analyse things tonight and get him up and closer to the front of the grid, and with that, we can aim to get both cars into Q3 tomorrow afternoon.”

As for Tsunoda, as noted by Permane he was happy from the first lap of the day.

“I’m feeling good. It’s been a very positive and consistent day for us straight from FP1, and I’m excited for the coming days of our home race. Returning to a normal weekend again, I feel more comfortable and less stressed because we know we have time to progress and build up our laps,” said Tsunoda. “At the same time, the performance was there straight away. Now we just continue progressing from session to session, put it all together and maximise the car package. So far, top ten is likely but anything can happen and the midfield remains very tight, so we need to stay sharp.

“We’re obviously aiming for the highest position possible but at the same time, just try to focus and extract the performance of the car.”

Could we see a VCARB shocker today?

The Prince of the Paddock

Mandatory Leo Leclerc interlude:

As you were.

Nico Hülkenberg’s Imola debut

Nico Hülkenberg is no stranger to F1. He first appeared in the grid back in 2010, driving for Williams, and has started 209 grands prix.

Yet, this is his first F1 weekend racing at Imola.

So far, he is enjoying the experience.

“This morning we did a bit of rake running to gather aero data to compare the launch car to the current car. In FP2, we went back to the normal program and it all felt okay,” said Hülkenberg in the post-practice report from Haas. “It was very windy out there today, so cars were quite difficult to drive because it’s inconsistent in terms of grip, hence making it easy to run off the track a bit. It’s an intense track, pretty fast but also has a great feel to it as well, I’m enjoying it.”

As you can note from F1.com’s qualifying and race simulations, Haas might have some work to do to close the gap to the teams ahead of them. But Team Principal Ayao Komatsu noted that they already saw improvements between FP1 and FP2.

“We had Ollie [Bearman] drive FP1 in place of Kevin [Magnussen] and as he’s done before, he did a very good job,” described Komatsu. “The first run we used to get him familiarized to the car, and he had a decent run on the soft tire, high fuel and did well on tire management as well, so that was another really good job. In FP1, Nico had a bit of car trouble, but we largely used Nico’s car to gather data on this latest package, so it wasn’t really a performing session for him.

“In FP2, Kevin hopped back into the car, and I think it’s pretty clear in a few corners, we are really struggling so we’re going to look at set-up changes for tomorrow. Other than that, on the lower cornering-speed corners, our performance is decent,” added the Haas boss. “On high-fuel, I think our limitations are pretty clear so we’ll work on that tonight. FP2 was already definitely one step better than FP1 though, so we’ll look at what changes we can make overnight to make it better tomorrow.”

Can they deliver the changes they need?

Is time running out for Logan Sargeant?

News came earlier this week that Williams and Alexander Albon had agreed to a new, “multi-year” deal that will keep Albon in the fold through the 2026 season, when the new set of F1 regulations arrive.

However, the matter of who his teammate will be seem open for discussion.

Williams Team Principal James Vowles made his clearest statement yet on Friday regarding Logan Sargeant, who in Vowles’ words is “at risk” of losing his seat at Williams for next season. Speaking with Sky Sports F1, Vowles noted he had a “direct conversation” about the driver’s form with Sargeant.

“But the simple matter of facts are, what I’ve already explained, is that he is at risk. That’s a simple matter of fact behind it,” stated Vowles. “He has to perform above where he is. This is meritocracy. I’m helping him on that journey. I want him to be successful. But in the meantime, we are talking to a few other drivers because we have to get our ’25, ’26, ’27 line-up correct.”

However, Vowles made it clear that the discussion regarding Sargeant relates to 2025 and beyond, and there is not thought of replacing the second-year driver midseason. “[W]hat I’m talking about is ’25, ’26 drivers. Nothing about the season. What I’m talking about is how do we create the right foundations going forward on things,” he added. “It will be me ready to say to the world ‘this is where we are’. Part of it is out of respect to Logan. I’ve given him an opportunity and these are where he has to step up towards things.”

Sargeant finished FP1 in P18, and was P20 in FP2.

“For sure FP2 was quite heavily compromised; we only got a couple of laps on low fuel, on which we had a little trouble getting the [tire] working, so that’s the main topic to focus on. The balance of the car is in a good place but we’re not getting everything working as it should around it, so we need to figure that out,” said Sargeant after Friday’s practice sessions. “I’m really enjoying the track, it’s really cool and it’s on the edge. Tomorrow will be tricky, but we’ll do our best to get everything out of it.”

Vowles’ comments made it clear that Sargeant is on the thinnest of ice right now. Can the second-year driver deliver the results he needs to keep his seat for 2025?



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top