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IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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Fresh from one of the newest additions to the Formula 1 calendar and a thrilling race in Miami, it’s time to head to an iconic venue for the next round. As the European season gets underway, there are plenty of storylines that will be hot topics as the weekend kicks off in Imola.

Can McLaren keep the pressure on?

McLaren were trying to downplay the performance step that could be seen from their upgrade in Miami ahead of the race weekend, with expectations high after the major leap forward they made mid-season in Austria last year. But they’ll do well to keep a lid on things now…

BUXTON: The posts, the stories and the reels can write themselves now – it’s Lando 'No Wins' no more

Lando Norris’ first ever victory in Formula 1 was special enough on its own, but for McLaren it came with the 24-year-old showing he had the quickest car in the field on the day, rapidly closing in on the front runners on old medium tyres when released from traffic, and then pulling away comfortably on the hard compound after the Safety Car period.

Norris reflects on maiden win

Oscar Piastri had roughly 50% of the upgrade on his car and was also in the mix at the front – generally keeping pace with Max Verstappen – until being caught in incidents with Carlos Sainz, and he’ll have the full package available to him in Imola.

Miami wasn’t a particularly strong venue for McLaren last year, but then few places were prior to the Austria upgrade. A sample set of one is always dangerous to make predictions based on, but Imola will provide an even clearer answer as to whether they are now true challengers to Red Bull at most tracks.

READ MORE: Stella outlines what McLaren need to do to ‘seriously challenge’ Red Bull going forward

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Ferrari targeting another step

It’s not just McLaren who will hope to be fighting for the win in Imola this weekend, with Ferrari also having a similar target at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

The McLaren victory in Miami caught the eye, but compared to Red Bull there was little performance difference for Ferrari, as Charles Leclerc finished second in the Sprint and third in the Grand Prix, while Carlos Sainz showed excellent pace late on Sunday.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 05: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 on track during

Ferrari will also hope to challenge for a win in Imola

Ferrari had the car to beat Red Bull in Australia don’t forget and, paired with the McLaren win, that means Red Bull have already failed to win on more occasions in the first six rounds of this year than they did in the entirety of last season.

To try and add further wins to the Melbourne success, Ferrari are expected to bring the first significant upgrade of their own to Imola, targeting a home race and the first round of a back-to-back involving Monaco. Based on Miami, they won’t need a huge gain from it to be right in the mix, assuming Red Bull don’t bring an update as well…

READ MORE: Vasseur believes Red Bull are no longer in their ‘comfort zone’ after Miami GP defeat

Magnussen’s penalty points

While the picture at the front of the field is particularly exciting at the moment, there’s a driver on the grid who might be feeling a little bit more on edge after Miami due to the penalties he picked up.

Kevin Magnussen was having a strong Sprint but picked up a time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage trying to keep Lewis Hamilton at bay for the final point. With his team mate Nico Hulkenberg one place ahead in seventh, and now guaranteed to drop out of the points himself, Magnussen then went into team player mode and did all he could to keep Hamilton at bay.

Regularly ending up running wide trying to outbrake the Mercedes or defend robustly, Magnussen picked up multiple more penalties and the accumulation of the same offence caught the eye.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 05: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Haas F1 walks in the Paddock prior to the

Magnussen has amassed 10 penalty points since Jeddah

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella suggested a one-race suspension would not be overly harsh if drivers are deliberately ruining another’s race through punishable means, even if it’s to try and benefit their team as a whole.

Those comments came after the Sprint, but Magnussen then moved even closer to a race ban with the collision that eliminated Logan Sargeant from his home race on the Sunday, leaving the Dane on 10 penalty points since Jeddah.

Two more points between now and March next year would trigger an automatic one-race ban, and are likely to mean any incident involving Magnussen comes under intense scrutiny.

MUST-SEE: Relive Magnussen and Hamilton’s bare-knuckle battle in the Miami Sprint

A special return to Imola

It has been two years since F1 raced in Imola as a result of the devastating floods that hit the area last year. The sport donated €1million to the relief fund when the race had to be postponed, and it will make for a poignant return as the Emilia-Romagna region continues to recover.

There will be emotional scenes at the track, too, as Imola hosts a race just two weeks after the 30th anniversary of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the circuit. A special event has already been hosted at the track on May 1 – attended by thousands of fans – but there well be more tributes during the race weekend.

Sebastian Vettel will get behind the wheel of Senna’s McLaren MP4/8 – the car that he last won a race in at the end of 1993 – and display it for fans across the three days.

“Ayrton Senna was not only a driver who I valued highly for being one of the best racing has ever seen, but also a man of great compassion,” Vettel said. “It’s been 30 years since his accident and I would like to pay tribute to Ayrton.”

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A special event took place on May 1 at the circuit to mark the 30th anniversary of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

Eyes on Antonelli as F2 returns

One of the off-track news items to emerge from the Miami weekend was the fact that a request has been put in for Mercedes youngster Andrea Kimi Antontelli to be granted a Super Licence from the FIA before his 18th birthday.

Rules currently state that drivers have to be 18 to race in F1, but Williams has requested the talented Italian be allowed to do so before turning 18 later this year. As it stands, the first race he could appear in is Monza, but special dispensation would allow him to be evaluated earlier.

READ MORE: Who is Andrea Kimi Antonelli – and why is he such a hot topic in the Miami paddock?

That has only increased the interest in Antonelli – who has been testing Mercedes F1 machinery in recent weeks – and the Formula 2 rookie returns to racing action this weekend for PREMA. Currently with a best result of fourth place in the Australian feature race last time out, Antonelli is seeking his first podium in front of what will be a passionate crowd at Imola.

His team mate Oliver Bearman – who raced for Ferrari in Jeddah and is a Haas reserve if Magnussen does miss a race at any stage – is also looking for a big result to kickstart his own season, with just two points to his name after having to forfeit his pole position in Saudi Arabia to race in F1.

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