ANALYSIS: Assessing the field – 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

The Formula One World Championship returned to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Imola) for the first time since 2006. Back in 2006, out of the current grid of drivers, Kimi Räikkönen was the only one who contested in the San Marino Grand Prix that year, most were still in infant school. Never would we have thought fourteen years later we would be back at the historic Imola circuit. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic putting a sledgehammer straight through the original plans for the 2020 season, the return to Imola was the fourth time Formula One has raced at a ‘guest’ circuit. The teams again had no data and those that did, it was from fourteen years ago.

Not only was the weekend’s racing a historic moment in itself, Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team clinched their seventh Constructors’ Championship which turns out to be their seventh in a row, also surpassing Scuderia Ferrari’s record of six consecutive constructors titles. This was helped by the team’s two drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas securing the top two steps of the podium. 

Renault DP World F1 Team’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded off the podium, with his second third place finish in three races. 

Fans alike were excited for the return to Imola, but as the weekend progressed, it was clear that the track made overtaking difficult, which saw many drivers stuck in trains unable to pass into clear air ahead. Though this did not mean that the race was dull, it could only be described as wild: Five drivers failed to finish the race and both Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN drivers crossed the line inside the top 10. 

Without further ado, here’s how we rated the drivers and their performances at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: 

Top of the class

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team mate: +0.097s  |  Race margin to team mate: -5.783s

May have said this before, but I always struggle to say anything about Hamilton that isn’t heaps of praise. He is arguably one of the greatest of all time. Hamilton took the opportunity to lead earlier on in the race. He pushed Gasly out wide, who ended up conceding. The virtual safety car which was ordered so Esteban Ocon could be recovered, allowed Hamilton to pit from the lead on lap 29 and allowed him to return the front of the pack unphased. Hamilton held onto the lead following the second safety car at the late stages of the race which helped Mercedes on their way to their seventh constructors’ title. 

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team mate: -0.097s  |  Race margin to team mate: +5.783s

Pole man Bottas may have lost the lead on the opening lap to his team-mate but there was more to the Finn’s drop in pace than simply his team-mate being quicker… On lap two he ran over some debris, which in turn caused damage to the floor of the W11, affecting the aerodynamics. It later turned out to the the front wing right end plate from Vettel’s SF1000 which dislodged after contact with Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen. Bottas did an incredible job to stay in podium positions through the race, he later lost second to Verstappen, but regained it after the Dutchman retired with a right-rear tyre puncture. It was clear there was a struggle due to the damage, and Valtteri is to be applauded that he kept on the pace for as long as he did without, seemingly, a hitch. 

Daniel Ricciardo – Renault DP World Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team mate: Ocon out in Q2   |  Race margin to team mate: Ocon (RET)

A second podium out of three races for Daniel Ricciardo. It is really great to see the honey badger reap the rewards when he finds his rhythm with the car, turning it into results like this. Unfortunately this time, it means Renault DP World F1 Team Principal Cyril Arbiteboul will not be getting a second ‘Danny Ricc’-inspired tattoo – we are still waiting to see the first one. We did however witness the legendary Shoey celebration on the podium this time and the Australian was joined by race winner Lewis Hamilton in the honour. Lewis also drank from one of Daniel’s sweaty shoes, even though the Brit declared in 2017 he would most definitely not drink from a sweaty shoe, especially one that belonged to Daniel.  

Sergio Pèrez – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team mate: -0.433s |  Race margin to team mate: -9.511s

Every time Pèrez outperforms Lance Stroll, or is well within spitting distance of a podium finish during a race, you can’t help but bring up the age-old: “Why does this man not have a seat for 2021?” It is exactly that though. The Mexican was within reach of third place after the major reshuffling through the pit stops and safety cars but dropped back down to sixth following the last round of pit stops. He was also lucky not to have been taken out by Albon on lap 58 also… 

Daniil Kvyat – Scuderia Alpha Tauri

Qualifying margin to team mate: +0.194s  |  Race margin to team mate: Gasly (RET)

Daniil made up for his team-mate Pierre Gasly’s disappointing retirement from the race with power unit issues, by crossing the line in his highest scoring position of the season, fourth place. It was a stellar drive from Kvyat, who didn’t buckle under the pressure from Leclerc and Perez, however I don’t think it was enough to secure his seat alongside Gasly for 2021 especially with a number of drivers linked to the seat including Yuki Tsunoda

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team mate: Vettel out in Q2  |  Race margin to team mate: -9.342s

With his team mate’s weekend quite unsavoury, it was great to see Charles Leclerc finish the race comfortably in the middle of the points. He enjoyed a great race fighting for position with Ricciardo and Kvyat, and staying out of any trouble. It was his second top five finish in a row, and a testament to his driving skills after he was heard complaining the car was difficult to steer over the team radio. 

Homework to do

Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 

Qualifying margin to team mate: -0.396s |  Race margin to team mate: Verstappen (RET)

Italy has not been kind to Verstappen this season. The Dutchman has a full house of retirements from the championship’s three visits to the country this year. He had been running well, again the only competitor close enough to challenge the Mercedes duo, and he actually split them up early on in the race. The right rear tyre blew just as he was coming up to Villenueve. It was there he went spinning into the gravel releasing the safety car. The same safety car period which marked the end of a points finish for his team mate too, which brings me onto…

Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team mate: +0.396s  |  Race margin to team mate: Verstappen (RET)

After the spin on lap 58 as the grid was released from behind the safety car is what has landed Albon here. I really think he is now in hot water, in terms of his seat at the team next year. Albon has been watched like a hawk for pretty much his entire time at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and the pressure has been mightily piled on recently. Albon was the team’s last hope of a points finish after Verstappen’s retirement, with the Thai racer sat in sixth place behind Daniil Kvyat just before it all went wrong. A number of cars had been racing close together within a few tenths of the car in front, and Albon put too much on the throttle on new tyres, which was lucky not to cost Carlos Sainz Jr.  his race either. Albon did finish the race, however in last place – which at this point was fifteenth. 

George Russell – Williams Racing

Qualifying margin to team mate: Latifi out in Q1 |  Race margin to team mate: Russell (RET)

I felt so, so harsh placing Russell in this category after his retirement on Sunday, and the subsequent heartfelt and humble apologies he’s posted on social media since. I sense there was a collective: “Geooorrrrggggeeeeee” when his Williams FW43 went crashing into the wall behind the safety car when he was sat in tenth place. He could’ve scored his first Formula One points in his career but it wasn’t to be. 

I think the reason why I place him here is that there is homework to do, but more in the case of learning from the error. He’s done it now, and he knows what to do next time his tyres are too cold while going at slower speeds. You see him in the replays boot the throttle in order to get some heat into them and it was just a little too much. It is not a criticism here, that Russell has been placed in this category. You could immediately tell he put all the blame on himself and other drivers came out to support him on social media, such as Hamilton and Grosjean.

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team mate: Vettel out in Q2  |  Race margin to team mate: +9.342s

I am sick of placing Sebastian in this category. It’s more the team than him, again, this time. Some fans think that there is some kind of disparity between the two SF1000s, we see one up in the points regularly (props to Leclerc) and then we see the four times world champion struggling with the pace of his. 

Contact with Magnussen in the early laps of the race saw Vettel suffer from damage to the front wing, namely the right end plate (you know where I’m going with this one). Team radio messages indicated that Vettel assumed there was an issue and damage, which was denied by the engineers on the pit wall… Fast forward to the closing stage of the race and what should pop out from under Bottas’ W11? The right front wing end plate from Vettel’s car. Mercedes dutifully returned it. 

Not only that, a 13.7 second pit stop also added to Vettel’s misery, sending him back onto the track down in fourteenth place. What gives this some salt, is that Stroll’s pit stop, where he accidentally overshot the pit box knocking a crew member flying, was three seconds quicker than that. Vettel did however recover a position before the flag.

I feel like all I do is despair for Sebastian at every single race and continually wish to console him every single time. 

Rest of the field 

Can’t go without mentioning the double points finish for Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi. The pair finished in ninth and tenth place after a number of incidents on track played into their hands. Räikkönen was one of the last drivers to make their first pit stops which saw him up as high as fourth place, after a 49 lap stint on his tyres. Couldn’t help but think if the Finn held off a couple of laps longer before making the change, he would have finished the race higher than tenth. The safety car which succeeded it would have worked in his favour, but this cannot take away from the fact that it was the first double points finish for the team. 

Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was on for a career best weekend. After qualifying fourth it looked like he was on for a podium spot come the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon. However it 

wasn’t to be, as we saw mechanics frantically studying the car on the grid, which later resulted in his retirement from the race on lap eight with power unit issues: A coolant leak. It was this week that the team had confirmed that the Frenchman will remain with the team next year, which we think is all round the best move for Pierre as he seems comfortable and at home with the Italian team. 

Sainz had a mixed race on Sunday, with him almost deserving to be top of the class because of the quick evasive action he took to avoid Alexander Albon on lap 58, which you can see below. It was a real heart-in-mouth moment as it looked like the Spaniard was about to plough his MCL35 into the side of the RB16. Sainz and his team mate Lando Norris had another mediocre race with the pair sitting in the bottom half of the top 10 for the duration of the Grand Prix. Both had expressed post-race that they were frustrated that they couldn’t break the train they had been stuck in as they believed they had the pace to contest ahead. 

Lance Stroll has had a difficult time lately, and it has been reported he’s been struggling both mentally as well as physically recently. The BWT Racing Point driver had previously sat out of the Eifel Grand Prix having been unwell and then testing positive for coronavirus before Portimão. He had a difficult qualifying session followed by a dour race which involved a collision with one of his crew during a pit stop. The Canadian has suffered at the hands of relentless criticism online throughout his career, which is mostly unfounded, and it’s taken another peak recently when he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to continue with press interviews after Sunday’s Grand Prix.

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