Dre’s Race Review: F1’s 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

Max Verstappen gets back to winning ways, but he had to earn it against a rampant Lando Norris. 2024 just got interesting as Dre reviews Imola.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 6 mins

“Fucking hell, I had to work for it!” 

On many levels, it’s good to be back in Italy. A year on from the horrible flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region, the sport returned with a heavy heart as F1 paid tribute to the 30th Anniversary of that horrible Imola 1994 weekend that took the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. At least the track gave us a fun ending as Max Verstappen took Career Win #59… but man he had to earn it. 

For 40 laps out of the 63, this was playing out like most F1 races we’ve seen in the last two and a half years or so. Max Verstappen out front, a comfortable six-and-a-half second lead. Bit tight behind him as Charles Leclerc is racing Lando Norris hard for second, ahead of Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz. It feels like it’s just about done here, assuming Max just manages his hard tyres to the flag.

But that’s the issue. Max was so light on his hard-compound tyres, that they dropped out of their ideal performance window. And by the time he had to push to counter-attack the hard-charging Norris, seeing an opening having escaped the chasing Charles Leclerc, Max couldn’t get his tyres back in the window again. He accidentally made himself a sitting duck, while on a tightrope given he was on a track limits warning too, and had lost his five-second buffer.

Norris got to within a second, 0.765 over the line on the final lap, the first he truly entered Max Verstappen’s DRS zone. Do I think Norris gets there if it’s a 65-lap race? Maybe. I do worry about the lack of McLaren power given the difficulty teammate Oscar Piastri had when it came to trying to pass the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz in the early going. I fear Norris might not have gotten quite close enough to force the issue. 

It speaks more to the issues of Imola as a circuit. The DRS Zone was shorter compared to the last race here in 2022. And it showed that passing was really difficult unless you were within .4 of the next car leaving the last Rivazza. Pirelli bringing the softest compounds available in an attempt to open up strategy was a complete bust, it was yet another conservative one-stopper. I get that the sport wants to protect its historic venues, and Imola gets excellent reviews as a driver’s track, but in terms of spectacle, this race is a turd with diamonds sprinkled on it at the last minute. 

If there’s any solace we can take from this race, it’s McLaren has their validation. Lando Norris won in Miami but there was always that smoking gun of the perfectly timed Safety Car that handed Lando Norris track position for free. I think it’s still close without it, but this was straight proof that the B-Spec McLaren is legit and fast. What is it with Woking and mid-season upgrades?! Still, McLaren’s leaving Imola in brilliant shape, it’s found even more against Red Bull than it had at the end of last season, and is now F1’s #2 team again. Bodes well for the future.

Red Bull didn’t win this race on Sunday, it did on Friday night. Max Verstappen had his worst Friday on track in years. Off-track multiple times at Variante Alta and the Acque Minerali. Couldn’t handle the soft tyre at all as McLaren and Ferrari looked super strong. Red Bull got to work with Sebastien Buemi and Jake Dennis, two Formula E Champions and a World Endurance Champion, broke out the simulators, made the changes, and took some history for Max to his eighth Pole Position in a row (Tying Ayrton Senna’s record from 1989), and kept Red Bull’s status as for me, still the best car on the grid. 

As I’ve said before, the operational excellence of Red Bull can’t be understated. They had years to hone their craft and had to be perfect to give Mercedes a fight towards the end of the Silver Arrow’s reign of terror, and we’re seeing that reflected as it defends its crown. 

Max won the battle. The war has only just begun…

Speaking of the intro, if you never got a chance to see it, Sebastian Vettel led a beautiful tribute to Senna and Ratzenberger in his own McLaren MP4/8 around the track this morning. It was powerful, poignant and touching and I think it’s a must-watch. Seb has become a wonderful ambassador for the sport, a genuine cultural leader even from outside the paddock, and seeing him lift the Austrian flag in the car, something Ayrton himself never got the chance to do, was wonderful. 

It would be the most Ferrari thing imaginable if they’d seemed to be doing everything right in their pursuit of Red Bull and they might now be behind McLaren leaving Imola in the third spot.

Oh Checo. Just when he was doing enough to convince folks he was worthy of another year with the Bulls, he had an absolute stinker of a weekend. Eliminated in Q2, in the gravel trap during the race, and finishing a distant eighth, 54 seconds off the win. The way the field is playing out, Perez is about to face his toughest test.

The Doomsday scenario I predicted last year he is here a year early. The field HAS caught up to Red Bull. If Perez is consistently three-tenths or more off his teammate, he’s going to haemorrhage points to McLaren, Ferrari, and maybe even Mercedes. Perez has already cost Red Bull one Constructor’s Championship in 2021 for failing to match then-Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, he could leave them vulnerable to lose another. And looking down the grid, if Carlos Sainz thought he had no better option, he’d have signed his Audi deal by now. He hasn’t. Why?

And as a bonus note: What’s Yuki Tsunoda got to do to be in contention? He’s had his toughest teammate yet in Daniel Ricciardo and he’s smoking him repeatedly now. 

Going back to Imola’s future for a minute, it’s also interesting that F1 straight up denied that they’re going for a fourth bite of the American cherry and that instead it wants more races in Asia, with Thailand (A Bangkok Street Circuit) and South Korea potential targets. F1’s not going to shorten its calendar, it hit its sweet spot at 24, so with that in mind, that means the European races might be vulnerable. We’ve already lost Germany and France, I do wonder if Imola, one of the shorter race contracts in the sport (2025 is the only guaranteed year left, maybe 2026 due to the 2022 flooding) could be next. Because if anything will be chopped, it’s the European rounds. 

So Williams slyly tried to skirt the FIA Superlicense rules in an attempt to bring in Kimi Antonelli as a 17-year-old, and now they had Valtteri Bottas come out of their hospitality this weekend asking for “coffee”. Logan Sargeant should probably start cleaning out his locker now. 

As said before, Max Verstappen scored his 59th career win with Red Bull this past weekend. All the other Red Bull drivers’ wins combined since its inception? 59. (Vettel’s 38, Webber’s 9, Ricciardo’s 7, Perez’s 5) PS: He won this race while also being a driver in his eSports Team and winning the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. Glad Team Redline let him take part in an F1 race on the side. Hell, he even celebrated with the iRacing pose.

Including the Sprints – Charles Leclerc has now beaten Carlos Sainz for five races in a row. It’s not a sexy story, but I’m glad the wheels are quickly falling off the “Sainz is better” argument. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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