Motorsport journalist Sean Parker previews the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola as Ferrari and Charles LeClerc look to assert their dominance of the Formula 1 season.
We’re three races into the 2022 season and the European races kick off in Italy with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.
It’s the first sprint race of the season and what a place to kick it off at Imola. Ferrari will start as favourites on home soil after Charles Leclerc’s brilliant start to the season with two wins from the opening three races, including a dominant performance in Australia.
The sprint race format will see just one practice session on Friday, not ideal for teams who are struggling to gather enough data for the rest of the weekend. Mercedes is lacking pace behind the Ferrari and Red Bull cars and will look to make a big impact with the work that has been done ahead of the European races.
In other news, the fastest driver in the solitary Friday practice will earn the pole position title, and the top eight drivers to finish the sprint race on Saturday will earn points, unlike in 2021 when only the podium finishers did so.
Ferrari’s superior pace has been evident at tracks with slow to medium corners and the F1-75’s ability to accelerate out of those areas with aplomb. The scarlet car’s biggest rival, Red Bull, showed in Saudi Arabia how its superiority on longer straight sections gives it a slight edge. But overall, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have the upper hand. The 4,9km-long track features an extended high-speed section in the first sector which is followed by a sequence of downforce and acceleration-rewarding corners linked by relatively short straights.
Red Bull’s reliability issues will linger in the back of reigning champion Max Verstappen’s mind after another fuel system issue caused a second DNF of the season. The Dutchman lingers in sixth place in the drivers’ championship, 46 points behind Leclerc.
Mercedes will be buoyed by George Russell’s podium finish in Australia, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso have shown their strong pace in the opening races and will look to outscore constructors’ rivals McLaren.
Imola is a special place on the F1 calendar and the expectation is heightened with that of Ferrari’s excellent start to the campaign, with a full house expected in Italy the Tifosi will be in full voice in support of Leclerc and Sainz.
It’s a bumper weekend of racing, with many teams hauling tweaked cars and setups over to Europe. It promises to be a classic.