2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix | 9 talking points

19th May 2024
Damien Smith

A couple more laps and Lando Norris reckons he would have had a shot at Max Verstappen to claim his second consecutive grand prix victory. But a pass for the lead, at Imola? That would have been a tall order. Here are the talking points from a largely processional, albeit intriguing, Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.


McLaren on the rise

McLaren’s form at Imola supported the case that its technical upgrades introduced in Miami has elevated the orange cars ahead of Ferrari as Red Bull’s closest challenger. Norris and Oscar Piastri could have locked out the front row of the grid at the verdant Italian track, only for Verstappen to pick up a handy tow from Nico Hülkenberg’s Haas to just snatch pole position. He ended up a scant 0.074sec ahead of Piastri and 0.017sec up on Norris. And pole position was key at a circuit where overtaking is sadly a near-impossible feat without a significant tyre performance offset.


Norris proves Miami was no fluke

In the first stint on the medium Pirelli tyres Norris couldn’t live with Verstappen and appeared resigned to settle for second place. But the Miami Grand Prix winner grew into a genuine threat once he’d taken on the hard tyre for the second stint, nursing his rubber for a late attack that finally created some tension in what was otherwise a less than thrilling race. Norris closed, closed, closed on the Red Bull in the final laps – but came up just 0.7sec short. Whether he could have found a way past with more time has to be considered doubtful given the nature of racing at modern Imola, but the Briton’s frustration at finishing a fine second is a good sign of the potency he knows McLaren has given him. The team now expects to challenge Red Bull at every circuit. Miami was no fluke and the McLaren threat is real.


Big win for Verstappen

In such a run of sustained success, how Verstappen especially relished his 59th grand prix win was a sign of how much he’d worked to achieve it. Red Bull didn’t enjoy a straightforward, easy weekend at Imola; Verstappen struggled for balance on Friday and pretty much all the way to the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon, too. Pulling that big lap when it counted in qualifying was key, and then Verstappen stepped up again and made the difference to thwart the impressive Norris and McLaren in the race. Evidence right here that top drivers earn their money, even when they have the best car. You only have to look at the seismic difference to his team-mate Sergio Pérez to see that.


Piastri rues missed podium

A three-place grid penalty for unintentionally impeding Kevin Magnussen in qualifying undid Oscar Piastri’s good work. That left him fifth on the grid instead of second, and so fighting on the back foot in the race. While Charles Leclerc ran third throughout and briefly looked a threat to Norris’ second place, Piastri was frustrated to find himself bunged up behind Carlos Sainz in the first stint. A fine undercut lifted him above the Spaniard – offering the only major change in position up front in the whole race – but Piastri could offer no threat to Leclerc.

McLaren took the rap for creating the on-track scenario that led to the Magnussen moment, so the Australian probably achieved all he could to finish fourth. At least the two-four result lifts McLaren further away from its powertrain supplier Mercedes in a solid third in the constructors’ standings. They sit 58 points behind second-placed Ferrari, so even if on current form they’re the second-best team, McLaren still has plenty of work to do to make that official.


Russell gives up sixth to Hamilton

George Russell had reason to feel aggrieved after another lacklustre performance from Mercedes at Imola. He’d outperformed Lewis Hamilton throughout the weekend and was running ahead in the race when Mercedes called him in for a second pitstop. Such was the gap to Pérez, the strategy was a belt and braces security call to secure a six-seven finish for the team – but now Hamilton finished ahead of Russell, the seven-time champion surviving a clumsy moment through the Acque Minerali gravel. But as the younger man pointed out, that he was giving up a position for a middling points finish rather than a podium meant he could suck it up as one of those things. Even if he was far from happy about it. Odd times at Mercedes.


Pérez poor in second Red Bull

Further evidence that the Red Bull RB20 is only F1’s quickest car in Verstappen’s hands. In contrast, Pérez struggled to turn it on at Imola and missed the Q3 cut to line up only 11th on the grid. That led to the team running him on an alternate strategy, ‘Checo’ starting on the hard tyre and then switching to the faster medium for what should have offered a performance advantage for the race’s second half. But a mistake that left him ploughing through the gravel at Rivazza contributed to a dispiriting Sunday afternoon. As he hung on to the hards, Pérez briefly held up the frontrunners after their pitstops, but that was the only way he was going to be a factor in this race. He trailed home a distant eighth on a weekend when he fell well short of the supporting role to Verstappen that Red Bull expects from him.


Tough times for Aston Martin

Lance Stroll drove a good grand prix from 13th on the grid to finish ninth, having outperformed a strangely error-prone Fernando Alonso. But this was another unhappy and worrying weekend for Aston Martin, which has dropped deep into the midfield this season despite its own technical upgrades. How will the Silverstone-based team respond to the slump, particularly when the cost cap restricts the cause?


Tsunoda excellent again

A superb seventh on the grid only became a 10th place finish in the grand prix. But this was another accomplished performance from Yuki Tsunoda – still our cameo star of 2024 so far. The Japanese is driving consistently and with maturity right now. Is he putting himself in the frame for a promotion to the Red Bull A-team for 2025? That remains to be seen, but he continues to outshine Daniel Ricciardo and probably couldn’t be doing much more to impress.


Albon’s loose wheel at Williams

Alex Albon has re-committed his future to Williams this week, but the Thai driver endured a miserable grand prix at Imola. After pitting early from 14th, Williams sent him back out with a loose wheel. Albon did well to stay out of everyone’s way as he toured slowly around the track and back to the pits. The team error did earn him a stop-go penalty for being released into the race in an unsafe condition, but he did well to avoid further sanction, claiming he could see the wheel had enough attachment to its spindle not to fall off. Still, his race was effectively over. As for his team-mate Logan Sargeant, he increasingly appears to be staring down the barrel when it comes to his F1 future. Bets on the American seeing out the season wouldn’t be wise right now.


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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