By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service
Coming off of the Portimão rollercoaster, spirits were high as the Formula One 2020 season returned to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari – better known as Imola – after 14 years for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The famed tarmac where Formula One legend Ayrton Senna once took six victories produced yet another dazzler as Lewis Hamilton led Mercedes to their record seventh consecutive constructors’ title.
Two-day race weekend
With a shortened race format, this Grand Prix proved to be a whirlwind with plenty of “blink, and you might just miss it” action.
Hamilton, who predicted a “boring race” in his pre-race interviews, had a slow start, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen zooming past and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly mounting the pressure.
The weekend shaped up well for young Gasly, whose heroics in the cockpit during Saturday’s qualifying session earned him a place on the second row of the grid. But unfortunately, the Frenchman retired early on Sunday with a coolant leak in his car.
Car troubles also plagued Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, who enjoyed a strong start to the weekend with a pole position for Sunday’s race. He lost out after picking up debris from Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari on Lap two. With significant damage to the floor of his Mercedes, Bottas was left vulnerable to the attack of his teammate Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen.
While Bottas couldn’t seem to catch a break, luck was on Hamilton’s side yet again when a Virtual Safety Car (VSC), prompted by a clutch failure on Esteban Ocon’s Renault, gifted him an easy pitstop. The VSC’s fortunate timing in no way takes away from Hamilton’s blistering pace on his extended opening stint, which would have seen him ahead of his closest competitors in normal racing conditions anyway.
Verstappen, who got ahead of Hamilton at lights out, was having an incredible day behind the wheel before a tire failure at the Villeneuve chicane ended his race rather abruptly. This incident brought out the safety car that triggered all the drama.
George Russell, who was skirting near his first-ever points finish for Williams, was on course for a 10th place finish after Verstappen’s exit. With Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen – who had just completed a mammoth first stint and had been fitted with new soft tires – right behind, the chance to defend never came. Due to a combination of cold tires and quick acceleration changes, Russell crashed into the barriers in an embarrassing and costly turn of events. In a Mika Häkkinen-esque moment of grief, the cameras cut to Russell sitting by the track with his head in his hands.
It wasn’t a much better day for Russell’s best mate, Red Bull’s Alexander Albon. Red Bull gave a very public ultimatum for Albon, giving him two races to claim his seat for 2021 amidst his declining performance in the last few races. Imola might have been the final nail in his coffin – in a cruel twist of fate, the safety car restart saw Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez, the man most likely to replace Albon, pass him as Albon spun off to finish the race last.
Ferrari and McLaren recorded uneventful performances, as the fight for third in the Constructors Championship heated up. There is only one point separating McLaren, Renault and Racing Point in the Constructors’ standings as the intense midfield battle for “best of the rest” continues.
Despite losing one driver to mechanical issues, Renault and Daniel Ricciardo got their second podium in the last three races, finishing third behind the Mercedes duo. AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, despite rumors of replacement by F2 driver Yuki Tsunoda next season, also had one of his best performances, almost catching Ricciardo for that final podium spot.
2020 Constructors Champions
Winning 11 of the 13 rounds in the Formula One 2020 season, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team is the Constructors’ World Champion for a record seventh consecutive year with a total of 479 points. It is now only a matter of time until Hamilton wraps up the 2020 Driver’s Championship.
Only three races remain on the race calendar of a peculiar and frantic season. Next stop, Istanbul for the Formula 1 DHL Turkish Grand Prix 2020.