After Mercedes defied the percentages to beat a sooner Crimson Bull to a slender victory on the first in Bahrain, the world champions completed the primary day of observe at Imola trying just like the favourites.
However was it a case of returning to enterprise as typical or will Crimson Bull hit again in qualifying?
A drivershaft failure prevented Max Verstappen from setting a aggressive lap time in the course of the second observe session at Imola on Friday afternoon, paving the way in which for Mercedes to complete the opening day of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in first and second.
Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to the quickest time — as he did in qualifying at this circuit final 12 months — however neither driver appeared to push the restrict on their scorching laps.
Sergio Perez was a second off the tempo in fifth place for Crimson Bull, with F1’s two Italian groups, Ferrari and Alpha Tauri, filling the 0.860s void between the Mexican and the 2 Mercedes.
With Verstappen’s Crimson Bull breaking down earlier than he had an opportunity to point out its potential, all of it seemed a bit like final 12 months.
However do not be fooled, the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix nonetheless has loads of potential to shock.
A house benefit?
Bottas’ 1:15.551 on the medium compound tyre sat proudly on the prime of the timesheets on the finish of second observe, however it wasn’t the quickest lap on Friday.
That honour went to Charles Leclerc, who set a 1:15.367 — 0.184s sooner than Bottas — solely to have his time deleted for exceeding monitor limits on the exit of Flip 9, generally known as Piratello.
GPS information tells us Leclerc was capable of carry 5km/h extra pace by means of Piratello than Hamilton on their respective quickest laps utilizing comfortable tyres, however it’s arduous to inform whether or not that pace benefit got here because of Leclerc working huge or Ferrari working a extra highly effective engine mode.
Break up occasions reveal that the center sector of the lap, during which Piratello is positioned, was the one one of many three sectors the place Leclerc had a bonus over the Mercedes drivers, so it is truthful to imagine Mercedes has a lot in reserve and was capable of make up a big quantity of efficiency in different corners across the monitor.
What’s extra, neither Mercedes noticed the anticipated 0.5s lap time acquire from switching from mediums to softs, firming up suspicions that it had its engine turned down for its quickest laps.
Mercedes’ sandbagging mustn’t solid a shadow over Ferrari’s progress, however simply helps to put Leclerc’s deleted lap time within the appropriate context.
Over a nine-lap run on medium tyres, Leclerc’s common lap time was a 1:19.232 earlier than he ended the session within the wall on the second Rivazza.
Apologising to his staff on the radio, Leclerc mentioned: “Sorry, guys. I used to be pushing actually arduous.”
His efficiency as much as that time on his future was eclipsing that of the 2 Mercedes drivers, which had been averaging occasions within the 1:19.4s utilizing the identical tyre compound however was virtually actually right down to a lighter gas load.
But the actual fact a pink automotive is in the fitting ballpark once more acts as proof of the progress that’s being made simply 90kms down the highway from Imola in Maranello.
“The automotive feels loads higher in these situations, it feels nice this weekend, even when we examine it to the final 12 months, in the event you examine it, it feels significantly better,” Leclerc mentioned. “The stability is healthier, the grip is excellent and I’ve fairly a little bit of confidence within the automotive, so I am trying ahead to tomorrow.”
But when Ferrari is concentrating on a best-of-the-rest end behind Mercedes and Crimson Bull at its house race this weekend, it’ll face powerful competitors from the one staff with a more in-depth manufacturing unit to the Imola circuit, AlphaTauri.
Pierre Gasly completed the session third quickest, simply 0.078s off Bottas, and did so with out abusing monitor limits.
GPS information once more backs up the speculation that Mercedes was working in a low energy mode as he discovered 0.55s of his lap time in opposition to Bottas on the straights, however the AlphaTauri seems to be a fast automotive at this circuit.
Gasly additionally backed up his one-lap tempo with a aggressive long-run.
He spent nearly all of his high-fuel working on the comfortable tyre, which appears like a weaker race tyre in comparison with the medium Leclerc was utilizing, however when he additionally switched to the medium on the finish of the session, he instantly set two aggressive lap occasions faster than Leclerc’s common on the identical compound.
Sarcastically, any hope of gaining extra information to check with the Ferrari was stopped quick when Leclerc’s accident prompted a pink flag and ended the session 5 minutes early.
Does Mercedes have the sting over Crimson Bull at Imola?
Verstappen’s absence from second observe makes it extremely troublesome to attract any conclusions concerning the battle between Mercedes and Crimson Bull.
The Dutch driver completed 0.058s off Bottas’ quickest time within the morning observe session, indicating the tempo was within the automotive, however enters the race weekend on the again foot after lacking crucial monitor time within the afternoon.
Teammate Perez struggled to get the automotive attached over a single lap, leaving him fifth quickest, however his long-run tempo seemed extra promising and instructed Crimson Bull shall be near Mercedes if it stays dry on Sunday.
The monitor format at Imola and the considerably cooler situations in comparison with the opening spherical in Bahrain appear to have performed to Mercedes’ strengths, and, if something, seem to have given the world champions a slight benefit.
“[The car balance] is so significantly better than Bahrain,” Mercedes staff principal Toto Wolff mentioned. “The automotive appeared collectively this morning and within the afternoon.
“In all probability the temperatures helped a bit bit as a result of that is the place we had been struggling notably in Bahrain. For a Friday, I’m very glad to see that.
“It was a type of [driver] debriefs which might be very nice as a result of they mentioned the stability feels in the fitting place with the understeer, exit oversteer however usually they really feel superb with the automotive.”
Hamilton added: “I believe the staff has undoubtedly labored actually arduous to try to perceive what occurred within the final race the place we had been weak and see if we are able to try to tweak the automotive a bit bit higher with set-up.
“However I additionally assume the monitor has additionally come a bit bit extra in our path.”
Perez, who missed out on over 20 minutes of the primary observe session after tangling with Esteban Ocon in an incident that was not caught on digicam, additionally famous a distinction to the final race, however was assured Crimson Bull would discover extra efficiency forward of qualifying.
“Very totally different, very totally different points to Bahrain,” Perez mentioned. “In a approach simply getting higher with it. Each lap that I do I actually study a couple of tips right here and there.
“Total, extra efficiency to be gained tomorrow… which I believe we all know the place to search out it and hopefully we may be a lot larger up for qualifying as a result of the race tempo appears to be robust.”
As soon as once more, the battle on the entrance appears finely poised, with Mercedes holding a slight edge due to a smoother two observe periods for its drivers on Friday.
Nonetheless, any type information derived from the opening two observe periods might be fully skewed if Sunday’s forecast of rain holds true.
For the second race weekend in a row in 2021, it is just too near name.