Although rain threatened to pour during Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the only dark clouds that had an impact at Imola were the ones hovering over the Ferrari paddock.
Returning to their home circuit on top of the Formula One mountain once again, what should have been a dream race for Ferrari turned into a nightmare with Carlos Sainz bowing out on the opening lap and Charles Leclerc’s unforced error costing himself a spot on the podium.
Instead of Ferrari basking in the celebration of the “tifosi,” it was Oracle Red Bull Racing shining as Max Verstappen scored his second victory of the season to cut into Leclerc’s championship lead while teammate Sergio Perez finished second.
Another knife twist saw Lando Norris, of Ferrari’s longtime rival McLaren, round out the podium in third — the spot that should have been Leclerc’s.
Here are takeaways from the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Sainz’s DNF was only the beginning
It should have been smooth operating for Carlos Sainz. With a shiny new contract secured earlier this week, the Spaniard surged from P10 to P4 during Saturday’s sprint race and seemed poised to reward Ferrari with an early ROI.
That prediction aged like milk as Sainz got tangled up with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap and spun off the course for an early exit from the Grand Prix.
It was the second consecutive retirement for Sainz following the Australian GP — uncharacteristic for him following a remarkable streak of 17 Grand Prix finishes in the points and 31 without a DNF. Now, Sainz has his first back-to-back retirements since the Tuscan and Russian GPs in 2020.
Leclerc’s unforced error
For the want of a nail, or in this case the fastest lap point, the risk ended up costing Leclerc a podium finish and seven points. During the late stages, Leclerc pitted for softer tires in an attempt to snatch the fastest lap point.
Perhaps being a little too aggressive, Leclerc cut the curb too tight, lost control and spun off track. Luckily for Leclerc, he didn’t bin his car. Unluckily for Leclerc, he still needed to make an unnecessary extra pit stop for a new front wing. The Monegasque driver was able to salvage a P6 finish but in the process of trying to get one bonus point, Leclerc lost seven and allowed Verstappen to close the championship gap even further.
Leclerc still holds a 26-point advantage over Verstappen in the standings while the difference between Ferrari and Red Bull in the constructors’ is now down to 11 points.
That’s enough harping on Ferrari as the day was won by Red Bull with Verstappen victorious from pole position uncontested. It was a superb effort from the Dutchman as he charged out of the starting grid and had a clear view without the threat of water spraying him from the wet track.
After Leclerc and Perez pitted for fresh tires, Verstappen also boxed late for the softer compound and was able to lay down the fastest lap to score the bonus point, too.
Add in the points scored from the sprint race and it was a clean sweep this weekend for Verstappen. He needed to rebound after retiring in Australia and Verstappen bounced back big time with a dominant performance.
Whatever problems Verstappen had with his gearbox to start Saturday’s sprint race didn’t flare up again during the actual Grand Prix as he coasted to a flawless Sunday drive.
Lando lands on the podium again
There must be something about Imola that Norris has taken a liking to as the British driver earned his second consecutive podium finish at the track. Norris claimed a career best P2 last season and picked up another podium spot (or was gifted one if you’re a Ferrari fan) after Leclerc’s late mistake.
Norris has been steadily improving race after race this season and has outperformed his teammate Ricciardo at every outing. Ricciardo, who started sixth, was unable to recover from his opening lap mishap with Sainz and finished at the back of the pack in P18. Although the Australian driver did not receive a penalty as it was declared a racing incident, any slap on the wrist would have been moot.
Hamilton’s 13 unlucky numbers
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton finished P13, his worst result since Azerbaijan last season. Although that one was a result of a driving error as opposed to just being, well, uncompetitive. Hamilton expressed concerns on his radio prior to the start about his engine not running smoothly and was never in the mix Sunday.
The British driver languished behind Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri (not the Red Bull you thought he’d be challenging) and the only view Hamilton had of Verstappen was he was lapped. Who would have thought at the start of the season we’d see Verstappen lap Hamilton?
Meanwhile, Mercedes teammate George Russell showed no signs of misfortune and finished an impressive fourth after starting 11th on the grid. Russell had some good battles on the track with the man he replaced, Valtteri Bottas, who’s now at Alfa Romeo and getting the job done finishing fifth for his best result so far with his new team.
Sebastian Vettel (P8) and Montreal’s Lance Stroll (P10) picked up their first points of the season for the Aston Martin team to get them out of the basement in the constructors’ standings.
All 10 teams have now scored at least one point. Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi of Williams Racing finished 16th for the third time in four races this season. Latifi and Mick Schumacher of Haas are the only full-time drivers who haven’t scored any points yet this season. Schumacher started a career best P10 on the grid but made contact with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso early on and faded from the field finishing P17. His first-ever points will surely come as teammate Kevin Magnussen has shown the car is competitive finishing ninth.
Streets ahead: Formula One crosses the pond for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on May 8. The temporary circuit runs around Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, and Perez already got an up-close look of the track.