Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: Imola homecoming becomes Ferrari horror show as Lewis Hamilton questions continue

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Costly error: Charles Leclerc was left to rue his mistake at Imola that lost vital points in the F1 title race (Getty Images)
Costly error: Charles Leclerc was left to rue his mistake at Imola that lost vital points in the F1 title race (Getty Images)

For a brief moment before the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the Ferrari faithful were able to throw off their rainwear and turn the grandstands at Imola red.

However, there were only minutes between the rain finally letting up and their drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, seeing their hopes of a home win go down the drain.

Leclerc, who started second on the grid after being jumped by Max Verstappen at the end of Saturday’s sprint race, was slow off the line and allowed both Sergio Perez and Lando Norris through.

Ferrari’s worst nightmare was then realised when team-mate Sainz was tagged by Daniel Ricciardo in a first-corner melee, beaching the Spaniard in the gravel.

It was the second crash of the weekend for Sainz, after he celebrated a new two-year contract by spinning off in Friday qualifying, and his second consecutive race retirement.

Carlos Sainz crashed twice during the weekend, retiring for the second consecutive race (Getty Images)
Carlos Sainz crashed twice during the weekend, retiring for the second consecutive race (Getty Images)

The track dried slowly, leading to a game of chicken over who would be first to pit for slicks amid threats of further rain. Even after the dry tyres were strapped on, the stewards took their time in deploying DRS.

F1 managing director Ross Brawn wants to expand the calendar’s sprint races from three to six, despite claims that the overtaking on Saturday was artificial, relying solely on the drag reduction system.

Yet, for much of this race, fans witnessed an F1 without it, and the race entered long periods of stasis as a result. Lewis Hamilton, in particular, found himself stuck well outside the points and staring into Pierre Gasly’s exhaust.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff apologised for providing the seven-time world champion with an “undriveable” car after he trudged home in 13th, while team-mate George Russell bagged fourth after a good start.

Wolff optimistically put his team’s chances of winning the world title at 20 per cent ahead of the weekend, but the Mercedes is simply not improving at any discernible rate.

Furthermore, being outgunned by Russell for three races in a row has raised eyebrows about Hamilton’s commitment, something he assures is unwavering.

“It’s been difficult, but I don’t really know what to say,” said Hamilton. “It’s definitely not easy. At least George got some points today, so my apologies to everyone that I wasn’t able to do the same. I am out of the championship, there’s no question about that. It has been a weekend to forget.”

By the time DRS was enabled yesterday, the pack was too stretched out and the race looked set for a stale conclusion.

Alas, Leclerc refused to settle for third place on a weekend that had never really gone his way, and he pitted for soft tyres with 13 laps to go.

In his desperation, Leclerc got it all wrong at Variante Alta and spun into the gravel. Able to keep his engine running, he rescued sixth position to claw back some dignity from Ferrari’s home-race horror show.

It was another weekend to forget for Lewis Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (PA)
It was another weekend to forget for Lewis Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (PA)

“Third was the best I could do,” he confessed post-race. “We didn’t have the pace for more and I was too greedy and I paid the price for it. It is a shame, it’s seven points that will be valuable at the end of the championship. This shouldn’t happen again.”

With pole position, the sprint win, every lap led and the fastest lap to his name, Verstappen was as dominant anyone could be.

Finally into the top two of the drivers’ championship, the defending champion bounced back from a retirement to win for the second time this season.

“The start of the season hasn’t been amazing, so we needed a good weekend,” said the Dutchman. “I didn’t expect it to be like this, but it’s incredible. We didn’t really make any mistakes.”

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