The second race of the 2021 season just concluded, and boy, what a race it was.
The venue for this heart-thumping Grand Prix took place on the hallowed grounds of Imola, situated in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. Imola certainly lived up to its temperamental nature by providing fans with unpredictable weather, which certainly pushed both teams and drivers to be at their best.
Let's take a look at what went down during the race weekend.
2021 regulation changes challenged the drivers
Bahrain showed how tricky the 2021 cars are to handle. However, Imola brought out the worst in them. At face value, the nineteen corner track doesn’t seem all that speedy or daunting. But it's the unassuming nature of the track that catches out even the most seasoned veterans. Imola has one of the highest Apex speed traps on the whole F1 calendar. Not to mention that Imola has claimed lives in the past, most notably Roland Ratzenberger and Aryton Senna during that fateful weekend in 1994.
Another interesting point is the 2020 cars that ran Imola last year had insane amounts of downforce. The new regulations wiped out most of the aero advantages. That meant the drivers driving styles had to change and adapt. Their struggles were evident at the fast corners, particularly at the Tamburello chicanes, Aqua Minerale, and the Ragazza corners.
Numerous drivers (aside from Mazepin) found themselves spinning out or running wide, as the cars were switching from severe understeer or snap oversteer mid-corner. As the race weekend progressed, it became evident which teams have the most stable cars and which drivers had things under control.
Rain, rain go away
If that wasn't enough on everyone's hands, the racing gods decided to sprinkle a bit of rain just a few minutes before the race on Sunday. Wet weather isn't usually a problem, but the downpour only affected a few zones, with the rest of the track staying bone dry. It caused havoc on the grid, with teams scrambling to put on wet weather tires on the cars after "sightseeing" laps.
The weather did play its cruel trick on the whole grid, as cars twitched around, causing numerous (or brave) overtakes and even some crashes along the way. Everyone had a sketchy moment, from the backmarker mainstays Haas to the top dogs at Mercedes-AMG. Sir Lewis Hamilton himself spun off and damaged his car while lapping a backmarker. Just a few moments after that, teammate Bottas figured in a horrific and controversial crash with Williams’ George Russell.
Other notable incidents were Mick Schumacher hitting the wall during a safety car, Nicholas Latifi slamming into the wall on the 1st lap, and the various spinouts by Sergio Perez, Kimi Raikkonen, and Yuki Tsunoda. Carlos Sainz Jr. even explored the sand traps and runoff zones of the track. Not on purpose, of course.
Red Bull on the charge
Red Bull pretty much dominated the Bahrain Grand Prix, they may not have won the race, but the car certainly looked convincingly quicker than Mercedes-AMG. However, in the recent past, Red Bull’s cars weren’t the most consistent across the whole F1 calendar.
At Imola, though, Red Bull was quick but not dominating as they did in Bahrain. The team had a few issues with the car during the free practice sessions, but they sorted it out eventually. Qualifying was another driving showcase by Hamilton as he put his car on first, but both Red Bulls were just a few tenths away.
When race day came, the rain ensured that the tides had changed. Max Verstappen pulled off a heck of an overtake to claim first place and sailed off into the sunset. Even the safety car periods and even the red flag didn’t hamper his race at all as he cruised his way to an eventful but easy win. He did have a bit of a scare during one of the safety car periods when he did a half spin before restart.
It wasn’t a strong performance for his teammate though, Sergio struggled throughout the weekend. His high point came only during qualifying when he placed 2nd for the race start.
The race win was an affirmative stamp on Red Bull's claim on a championship run this season. Let's see if both drivers and team can keep the momentum going.
The 2021 drivers line-up is the most accomplished and decorated yet. Apart from multiple race winners, there are currently four champions on the grid. These include defending champ Hamilton, Vettel, Raikonnen, and Alonso. Despite that, Hamilton seems to be the only one with a semblance of the “championship experience”. The other three were languishing at the other end of the field.
That said, Raikonnen isn’t contending for race wins (due to his car), but he is still as consistent a racer as ever. Alonso and Vettel, though, currently seem to have their powers zapped out of them, Space Jam style. Both haven’t scored a single point yet. Alonso retired in Bahrain and was outclassed by his teammate in Imola, while Vettel's pace is way behind his teammate. Granted, there are external factors, but you'd think they'd be giving their younger, less experienced teammates a good scare.
Whatever is affecting their driving performance, though, the clock could be ticking on the old-timer's racing careers. Let's hope both don’t give Alpine and Aston Martin buyers remorse as the season progresses.
If you haven’t been watching F1 recently, now would be a great time to get in on the action. The season only being two races in has provided much entertainment and intrigue already. At this point, everything is still up in the air and up for grabs. There is no predicting who will be champion or the top constructors until the final chequered flag drops at the last race of the season. Stay tuned.