2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Review
By Jim K. April 19 2021
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Image: AMG Mercedes F1
Image: © Red Bull Media House
With Imola returning to the F1 calendar in 2021, I'll admit I was one of the disappointed fans. The twisty narrow track was never one where overtakes are prevalent, and even with the DRS addition in 2020, things barely improved. So color me surprised when the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend served up a spectacle on both Saturday and Sunday. Max Verstappen won by 22 seconds from Lewis Hamilton, but these somewhat predictable front two finishers mask a lot of action in Italy.
As far as qualifying sessions go, we haven't seen such tightness at the front of the pack in a while. The top eight were within half a second of one another, with surprises throughout. Sergio Perez got the better of Max Verstappen in only his second race with Red Bull. Valtteri Bottas, the polesitter for 2020's Imola GP, could only summon an embarrassing eighth-place start. And Lando Norris was in contention for pole position, if not for a track limit violation. If all of 2021's Q3 sessions are like this, F1's Saturdays could become just as unmissable as Sundays!
Lewis Hamilton took his 99th P1 start, but he wasn't the leader by the first braking zone. In the damp conditions, Max Verstappen was able to demonstrate his wet weather prowess once again. The Dutchman's rocket start saw him pass the fellow Red Bull of Sergio Perez to be side-by-side with Hamilton into the Tamburello chicane.
F1's two titans gave each other approximately one millimeter of space, with Max forcing Hamilton onto the outside. It was hard and fair racing, with Hamilton needing to bounce over the yellow curbs to avoid contact after neglecting to be the first to brake. His front wing endplate was the sacrifice of that decision as an element fell from Hamilton's Mercedes. The reigning champion was fortunate to retain second place despite this but was helpless to stop Verstappen from streaking away ahead.
An early safety car swiftly halted Max's progress, however. Nicholas Latifi's Williams couldn't find any grip, spinning the Canadian off the track. Upon Latifi's rejoin, he was unaware of Nikita Mazepin's Haas behind him and tapped the Russian's front wheel before smashing into the barriers. To make Haas's weekend even rougher, Mazepin's fellow rookie teammate, Mick Schumacher, span under the safety car as he looked to warm his tires. Schumacher may not have made any records to match his legendary father yet. But I can't recall a driver being unable to enter the pits for repairs thanks to the debris of his own accident before.
Once the racing got back underway, Verstappen continued to push his advantage and grew a five-second lead in the drying conditions. While Hamilton was in hot pursuit behind, further down in the points-paying positions providing overtaking action was Pierre Gasly. But not in the way he would like. AlphaTauri took a gamble on further rain coming and kept the Frenchman out on wet tires on an ever-drying track. Gasly had qualified in P5 for the second successive race, and the baffling decision of his team might've cost him a shot at the podium.
Image: Williams F1
Image: Scuderia Ferrari