RACE DEBRIEF

    Now in its third consecutive year since returning to the calendar in 2020, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix gets set to host its first-ever Sprint weekend in 2022. So ahead of the action, here are the favourites for pole, points, podiums and victory in the Grand Prix – while we also check in with how you’re voting on F1 Play, our awesome predictor game.

    Vying for pole

    The last two editions of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix have seen Mercedes claim both pole positions, Valtteri Bottas taking it in 2020, Lewis Hamilton in 2021.

    However, given the Silver Arrows haven’t got within half a second of pole so far this year (0.680s their closest, in Bahrain), it won’t be a surprise to say that Red Bull and Ferrari head into the weekend as favourites for pole once again.

    READ MORE: Sainz to remain with Ferrari until 2024 following contract extension

    Charles Leclerc will be looking to claim what would be his third pole of the season in front of the loyal tifosi, while team mate Carlos Sainz felt aggrieved last time out in Australia that issues prevented him from challenging for P1 himself.

    In the Red Bull camp, Max Verstappen qualified a full 0.286s adrift of Leclerc in Australia, and will be keen to show that that result was just a blip – while team mate Sergio Perez actually qualified narrowly ahead of the Dutchman here last year.

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    Perez qualified on the front row in Imola last season, ahead of his team mate

    Some housekeeping at this point: bear in mind that pole position will be awarded at the end of Friday’s qualifying given that it’s a Sprint weekend, with the pole winner starting the Sprint in P1, while the Sprint result itself will then decide the grid for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

    One factor that could come into play is the weather, however, with heavy rain forecast across Friday – which could open up possibilities for the rain masters in the field.

    Pole-sitters 2020-2021:

    • 2021 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
    • 2020 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: Heading into Melbourne, we had the slimmest of margins between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen in the battle to be the fastest man over a single lap. Well, the weekend’s events Down Under brought a seismic change. Ahead of Imola, Leclerc has three times as many votes on F1 Play as the reigning champion.

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    In the mix for victory

    Should rain come into play for qualifying, that could make for a topsy-turvy Sprint grid for Saturday, which in turn could have ramifications for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

    Putting those variables to one side for a minute, Ferrari undoubtedly head to one of their two home races this year with the advantage, Charles Leclerc having won two out of the three races so far this season – while he missed out on victory in Saudi Arabia by less than a second too.

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    Can Leclerc make it three from four - or will the weather dampen his spirits?

    Max Verstappen relishes the challenge of Imola, however, having driven a stirring race in 2020 before suffering an issue that spat him into the gravel, while in 2021, he muscled past Hamilton at the start before taking a comfortable victory. And after the pain of his second DNF in three races in Australia, the Dutchman will be hopeful of bouncing back in Italy, if only to lift him from his current P6 in the drivers’ standings.

    READ MORE: What tyres will the teams and drivers have for the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and Sprint?

    Meanwhile, despite out-qualifying Verstappen last year, Sergio Perez then endured a bit of a disastrous race that he’ll look to make amends for this weekend – while Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz finished a solid P5 here last year, narrowly behind Leclerc himself, and will be keen to repay Ferrari’s faith in him at Imola, after the Scuderia announced a contract extension to keep the Spaniard in red until 2024.

    Winners 2020-2021:

    • 2021 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
    • 2020 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    FAN VIEW: That dominant victory for Leclerc a couple of weeks ago has him way ahead in the F1 Play voting to top the podium as well. Again, the ratio is about 3:1 over Verstappen heading into race week for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, with nobody else getting a look in. Lewis Hamilton has less than 1% of the votes so far.

    Podium outsiders

    “We know we haven’t got the pace of the Ferrari and Red Bull right now,” said Toto Wolff ahead of Imola, “but we’re working hard to reduce their advantage.” Mercedes may have matched Red Bull for podiums so far this year – two apiece for both teams – but given both Mercedes have finished every race so far, while Red Bulls have retired from three out of six potential finishes, Mercedes will know that they’re podium outsiders currently on a standard Sunday.

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    Russell wound up on the podium in Melbourne - but a repeat in Imola might be tricky

    Still, with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix having witnessed a Safety Car in both 2020 and 2021, and the potential for that mixed up Sprint grid, who’s to say that this will be a standard Sunday?

    Elsewhere, Alpine have showed decent form so far in 2022, with Esteban Ocon having finished no lower than P7 this year, while Fernando Alonso felt he was on course for a pole and podium in Australia until his qualifying crash. Could they be capable of nicking a result this weekend, at a track where Daniel Ricciardo earned the squad a podium in 2020?

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    And then look for McLaren too, whose driver Lando Norris finished on the podium here in 2021 (to go with Ricciardo’s 2020 Renault podium), while the team enjoyed improved form in Melbourne. They felt that was track-specific – but given they’ve scored the second-most points here of any team (behind Mercedes) in the last two years, could that bode well for McLaren in 2022?

    Podiums 2020-2021:

    • Mercedes – 3
    • Red Bull – 1
    • McLaren – 1
    • Renault – 1

    FAN VIEW: Grim stuff for the Silver Arrows, but we absolutely have to put them down as podium outsiders right now. Hamilton has more F1 Play votes than Russell in the Mercedes rivalry, but they are both well behind Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz in the voting to claim even third place in Imola this coming weekend.

    READ MORE: 5 of the best F1 Sprint weekend moments so far

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    Norris finished on the podium here last season in a rain-hit race

    Points potential

    Haas driver Kevin Magnussen felt his team’s lacklustre Australian Grand Prix was an “outlier” after their banzai start to the 2022 season – and the American team will be anxious to prove that that is the case this weekend, at a track where they’ve only had the car in the previous two years for a best result of P14.

    Williams scored their first point of the season thanks to Alex Albon’s quirky strategy in Australia, but the team appear to need cunning, guile and a touch of planetary alignment in their corner currently to net those kind of results – while Albon’s team mate Nicholas Latifi will aim for a confidence-restoring weekend in Italy, having endured a tough start to 2022.

    READ MORE: Ferrari favourites on home soil as the Sprint returns – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the Emilia Romagna GP

    Aston Martin are now the only team yet to get off the mark in 2022, after something of a nightmare weekend in Melbourne. But Lance Stroll took a well-deserved P8 at Imola last time – a repeat of which would be a welcome tonic for the team in green.

    Points 2020-2021:

    • Mercedes – 63
    • McLaren – 33
    • Ferrari – 32
    • Red Bull – 25
    • Alpine/Renault – 18
    • AlphaTauri – 18
    • Aston Martin/Racing Point – 12
    • Alfa Romeo – 3
    • Williams – 0
    • Haas – 0

    FAN VIEW: McLaren had a massively improved weekend in Australia with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo P5 and P6 respectively. They are seen as near certainties to figure in the points again at Imola, while two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso is expected by F1 Play voters to bounce back after a tough day in Melbourne.

    Haas - Australia - Sunday.jpg
    Haas were off the pace in Australia - but was that race an outlier?

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