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Emilia Romagna GP Takeaways: Verstappen and Red Bull feel the heat

Emilia Romagna GP Takeaways: Verstappen and Red Bull feel the heat

Emilia Romagna GP Takeaways: Verstappen and Red Bull feel the heat

Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing, for the second race in a row, have gone racing looking over their shoulders and we can thank McLaren, and somehow Ferrari, for that.

In one of our long Formula 1 discussions, and when tackling the “F1 is boring because Verstappen in winning” statement, GrandPrix247 Editor in Chief Paul Velasco rightfully said that it was not Red Bull’s fault they are winning.

On the contrary, it was the fault of the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren who dropped the ball so badly at the start of the current F1 regulations in 2022 while Red Bull nailed them.

And while Mercedes are still chasing their tails, their W15 no better than it’s vicious predecessors, McLaren and Ferrari have got their act together, McLaren more though, and started giving Red Bull and Verstappen a run for their money.

McLaren finished 2023 strongly but started 2024 sluggishly, while Ferrari did the opposite, and while now the Papaya cars are faster than the Red ones, the latter should close the gap as the upgraded SF-24 made its debut at Imola, the upgraded MCL38 in Miami, and the Italian team will need more time to dial it in.

But for now, we can only tip our hats for the folks down and Woking as for the first time in 2024, we can seriously hope that the rest of the season will not be “boring because Max is winning”. Even of he keeps winning it won’t be as easy and that’s always fun to watch.

And with the reigning F1 Champion and his team, we start our Takeaways from the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP.

For the first time since 2022, the RB20 was not the fastest car

Verstappen: I was counting down the laps until the end

Who would’ve thought! Since 2022 an Adrian-Newey designed F1 machine was not the fastest over the course of an F1 weekend. At Imola, it was the McLaren MCL38.

Now to give Red Bull some credit, they have not upgraded their car like McLaren or Ferrari did yet, but that was not a problem for them in 2022 and 2023. Even when McLaren brought their huge game changing upgrade in Austrian last year, the became second fastest, but could not hold a candle to Red Bull.

What is more worrying is that Red Bull, for the second consecutive race weekend, have arrived to the track with a baseline setup that does not work. That was the case in Miami when Verstappen struggled for grip and lost out to Norris in the end.

In Imola, the Dutchman did not feel at one with the RB20, especially in the second sector, but Red Bull turned things around overnight thanks to an all-nighter by Sebastian Buemi in the team’s simulator as revealed by team boss Christian Horner.

Verstappen the took matter in his own hands in qualifying and delivered a masterful lap in Q3 (Nico Hulkenberg’s tow helped) to retain his grip on pole position so far in 2024, but by the slightest of margins.

In the race, the #1 Red Bull could not disappear in the distance, and towards the end the #4 McLaren started catching it, and it took all of Verstappen’s talent to keep Norris behind.

It was Verstappen that made all the difference in Imola as he managed to win with what was effectively the second-fastest car last weekend.

And for those who used to say, it’s the car and not Verstappen, well, let’s just say that after the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP, they won’t look smart if they persist with their claims.

McLaren rise to the challenge

I have to admit that I was disappointed when none of the McLarens bagged pole, especially Oscar Piastri, who looked fantastic from the first time he jumped into his fully upgraded MCL38. The kid just needs more experience, and then Norris will have his hands full.

Piastri being demoted to fifth, after his grid penalty for blocking Kevin Magnussen in qualifying, was a shame, and a blow to the Sunday show. Had he started from second with Norris behind, the racing would have been more tasty.

McLaren have sorted out their car, and we can only hope they keep their upward development trajectory, but they still need to eradicate operational errors like the one with Piastri, while the Australian and his teammate must rise to the challenge and deal with the pressure of fighting for wins more often.

Norris chasing down Verstappen in the final part of the race was edge of the seat stuff, as two great talents put everything on the line for the win, and while the Briton claimed he would’ve won had the race been a couple of laps more, I doubt it. Catching Verstappen was one thing, passing him though, is a totally different thing.

Norris needs to show that he has the apex predator traits all F1 Champions possess.

When will Ferrari rise though?

Leclerc: Plenty of positives to take away from this race

As I said above, Ferrari started 2024 in a better way than McLaren and as such are second in the F1 Constructors’ Championship.

Their major overhaul of the SF-24 in Imola was a good one, and the Red single seater seemed rapid, but not when it mattered, which shows there was quite some showboating to entertain the Tifosi.

However that doesn’t mean Ferrari got it wrong. After all, Charles Leclerc was just over seven second behind Verstappen at the end of the 63-lap-race, something team boss Fred Vasseur made sure to point out.

I feel Ferrari need more time to understand their Red Bull-inspired upgrade (did you see the sidepod inlets?) and in a couple of races they should be on top of the setup, unlocking more performance and pace.

So I predict, I hope, Ferrari will rise up to the challenge soon, and with a long season still ahead of us, we may well be treated to a three-way fight for wins from now till Abu Dhabi.

It’s time Red Bull brought some major improvements to their RB20 or they will risk looking bad if their performance drops just after Newey announced he’s leaving them.

After all, Horner was at pains insisting the team’s technical department will not be affected by the departure of their legendary F1 designer.

Emilia Romagna GP Quick Hits

  • A disastrous weekend for Aston Martin at Imola. Their heavily upgraded AMR24 didn’t seem to work, Fernando Alonso couldn’t get it to work. At least, Lance Stroll scored points for them.
  • Another decent weekend for VCARB just a few miles away from them base in Faenza. Yuki Tsunoda continued his strong run scoring points while both he and teammate Daniel Ricciardo made it into Q3 in qualifying.
  • A tough weekend for Sergio Perez, out of qualifying in Q2, and only eighth at the chequered flag. I will give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but he should not make a habit of such poor performances.
  • Mercedes, well Lewis Hamilton and George Russell summed it up quite nicely, albeit sadly: They are in no man’s land.