The 2020 F1 Season has seen the return of some classic tracks. Imola, which was the venue for the San Marino Grand Prix up until 2006 made a return in 2020, this time under the guise of the Emilia Romagna GP. The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a track owned by Ferrari and one of the few circuits to run in an anti-clockwise direction. It would host a truncated F1 weekend with only one practice session on Saturday before Qualifying and the Race.
Italy would have hosted 100 races in F1 at the end of this race besides hosting three in 2020 itself. Kudos to the country that was one of the worst-hit by the pandemic COVID-19.
The logistical challenges associated with moving men and equipment from Portimao to Imola was the reason behind this move.
A two-day event posed a unique challenge for the teams and drivers; they would need to compress their Qualifying and Race simulations into one session subject to reliability.
Overtaking isn't the easiest on this old school track, and race strategy could tilt the battles up and down the field.
Raikkonen was the only driver from the current grid to have driven at Imola in an F1 car.
Meanwhile, there were updates in the Drivers' Line-up for 2021. Alfa Romeo retained Raikkonen and Giovinazzi while Williams squashed all rumours by announcing that Russell and Latifi would continue with them for 2021. A podium and an unlikely win at Monza got Gasly another year at Alpha Tauri.
Alfa Romeo renewed their partnership ( as Title Sponsor ) with Sauber Engineering for another year.
Mercedes had the chance of lifting the Constructors' Title if they outscored Red Bull by 34 points, and Hamilton looked to extend his unassailable lead of 77 points against Bottas. Ferrari hoped for a good showing at their home track.
How did the drivers fare at this iconic circuit? Time for a quick recap!
The solo practice session before Qualifying was a 90 minutes affair with Hamilton topping the time charts from Verstappen and Bottas. Gasly was 4th for Alpha Tauri while Leclerc bagged the 5th fastest time. The Renault drivers took up the next two spots, a second slower than Hamilton while Kvyat suffered a lock-up at turn 2, but managed to set the 8th fastest time. Albon and Stroll completed the top 10. The midfield battle was close as ever with Perez, Vettel, Grosjean and Sainz separated by half a second. Sainz and Norris set their best times on medium tyres, the latter having an incident with Magnussen while contending for track position. The Dane also had a run across the grass, but the car suffered no harm. Norris split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen while Magnussen split the Williams of Russell and Latifi. A brake-by-wire issue compromised Latifi's session.
There was more learning to be done by the drivers during Qualifying, and Q1 saw a fair bit of traffic on track. 13 cars exited the pits at the start of Q1 with all drivers hoping to do multiple runs. Hamilton hit the kerb on his flying lap and asked the team to check for damage. The lap times kept dropping as the track evolved with more rubber getting laid. Ricciardo was the only driver yet to set a banker lap with ten minutes left on the clock. Verstappen, Leclerc, Hamilton, Gasly, Kvyat and Norris were the top 6 with Latifi, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo in the drop zone. Bottas, along with Albon, had his lap time deleted due to exceeding of track limits at turn 9. Ricciardo finally set a banker lap with the 11th quickest time.
Verstappen, Gasly, Leclerc, Kvyat stayed put and didn't come out for the final minutes of Q1. Magnussen ran wide at the last corner and lost the chance of making it into Q2; Giovinazzi suffered a similar fate with a mistakes laden lap. Russell put in a stellar effort to go 14th while Stroll made it into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Bottas went the quickest at the end of Q1 from Hamilton and Verstappen. Leclerc, Gasly and Norris completed the top 6 and those eliminated included Grosjean, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Latifi and Giovinazzi.
Q2 got underway with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull opting for the medium tyres and the rest of the field the softs. Verstappen reported a loss of power and returned to the pits. The team quickly wheeled him into the garage to check for issues, and the culprit was a faulty spark plug. The replacement procedure required a minimum of 15 minutes, but the Red Bull mechanics tried to beat the clock in full earnest.
Meanwhile, on track, Bottas still had the best time from Hamilton and Gasly with Ricciardo, Norris and Perez slotting in behind the trio. The medium tyres weren't suiting Albon who was in the elimination zone and suffered a spin to add insult to injury. Stroll, Russell, Vettel and Verstappen were others under threat of elimination.
Everyone switched to the soft tyres for the final run of Q2 with Verstappen still stuck in the pits. Kudos to the mechanics who beat the clock and managed to get him out in time to put in a lap. The Dutchman emerged with the medium tyres, pushed hard and didn't disappoint as he set the 6th fastest time safely getting into Q3. He would start the race on medium tyres, just like the Mercedes duo who backed out of their final flying laps ( on softs ).
Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Alpha Tauri had both their cars into Q3 along with the Renault of Ricciardo and Ferrari of Leclerc. Perez missed out on Q3 by a hundredth of a second while Stroll who had set a lap time worthy of qualification had exceeded track limits which resulted in the deletion of his time. Ocon, Vettel and Russell were the others eliminated at the end of Q2.
It was time for the final shootout ( Q3 ), and Renault released Ricciardo straight into the path of Verstappen, much to his displeasure. Hamilton stepped up and was on provisional pole at the end of the first run with Bottas only three-hundredths of a second adrift, the Mercedes duo one second clear of Verstappen in 3rd. Gasly was a commendable 4th from Leclerc and Norris with Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz and Albon completing the top 10 going into the final minutes of Qualifying.
It was time to put on another set of soft tyres to battle for the best spots on the grid for race day! Hamilton and Bottas were neck and neck with Hamilton going purple in sector one and Bottas in sector two. However, Bottas managed to find almost a tenth throughout the lap and snatched pole position from Hamilton! Verstappen came home in 3rd, half a second adrift. It was a stellar performance on a Saturday by Gasly who put his Alpha Tauri on row 2 for Sunday. Ricciardo and Albon took up row 3, followed by Leclerc and Kvyat. An all McLaren row 5 completed the top 10 starters for the Emilia Romagna GP. P4 to P10 were separated by half a second, a close affair indeed!
Bottas managed to dig deep and get the pole, maintaining the momentum from Q1 and Q2. He would have the best position to start his race from and hoped to reduce the deficit to Hamilton in the championship. It was the 74th front-row lockout for the Mercedes cars. Verstappen wasn't far behind, and Red Bull had a comparable race pace to fight for victory. Alpha Tauri had the measure of its midfield rivals and hoped to maximize their results come Sunday while Ricciardo showed his consistency with yet another 5th place in Qualifying. It would have been ideal to have both cars in the top 10, but Ferrari would be impressed with what Leclerc had achieved with an underperforming car. McLaren and Racing Point would be disappointed with their performances, but the latter has a free tyre choice for Sunday and could salvage some points with a more optimal strategy. Vettel was a lowly 14th, behind Russell in a Williams, his final months at Ferrari seemed to be coming to a tumultuous end. Haas and Alfa Romeo came up short but would have the chance of turning it around on the day that matters.
Mercedes replaced the seat on Hamilton's car while mechanics were frantically working on Gasly's car on the grid.
C2, C3 and C4 were the available compounds for the race, and except Giovinazzi, all others outside the top 10 were on medium tyres. The drivers hoped to finish the race on a one-stop strategy.
Bottas suffered a lock-up on the formation lap, causing a small flat-spot on his front left tyre.
The five red lights illuminated and the race got underway. It was a clean start for Bottas, but Hamilton came under pressure from Verstappen and Ricciardo. Verstappen moved up into 2nd while Ricciardo slotted in behind Hamilton, having made two positions at the start. Vettel made contact with Magnussen, and the Dane got spun around with Vettel suffering damage to his endplate. The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards deemed it as a racing incident. The Alfa Romeo drivers were the biggest movers with Giovinazzi up by six positions and Raikkonen four. The midfield was tight, and Ocon shut the door on Stroll causing the latter to lose a big part of his front wing. The Canadian had to pit at the end of the opening lap for a new front wing and switched to the hard tyres.
The trio at the front slowly started to pull away from the rest of the field with Hamilton and Bottas trading fastest laps. Sainz got past Norris with the help of DRS for P9 on lap 6. Hamilton was now in DRS range and pressurizing Verstappen for P2. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on the 8th lap while Alpha Tauri asked Gasly to return to the pits as they had a terminal issue, and would retire the car. The coolant leak in the radiator was the culprit, and the Frenchman had a dismal end to the race after a brilliant Saturday. Grosjean got past Latifi for P16 and pitted for hard tyres on lap 10. Giovinazzi also switched to the hard tyres, rejoining in 17th. Bottas put in another fastest lap on lap 12 while Russell was the next driver to switch to the hard tyres, rejoining in 16th ahead of Giovinazzi. Hamilton reported that his right front tyre was degrading at a rapid rate while Leclerc, Ocon and Norris pitted on lap 14 with Leclerc switching to the hard tyres and the others switching to the mediums. The story of pit stops continued with Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat pitting a lap later for hard tyres, covering themselves from any undercuts. Ricciardo exited the pits just in front of Leclerc who went in too hot, locked up his tyres and almost rear-ended Ricciardo.
Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Vettel, Raikkonen, Latifi, Magnussen and Ricciardo were the top 10 at the end of lap 17.
Kvyat and Albon contended for 12th, the duo making contact, but Albon held on. Sainz pitted for the medium tyres and rejoined in 13th ( lap 18 ) while Verstappen switched to the hard tyres, rejoining the race in 3rd ( lap 19 ). The Mercedes pit crew were ready for Bottas on lap 20 who switched to the hard tyres, conceding the lead to Hamilton. Hamilton went on to set the fastest time, requesting the team not to pit him and the team reiterating that they were extending his stint. Bottas was losing performance after he suffered floor damage on the 2nd lap from debris on the track. A part of Vettel's endplate had got lodged into the bargeboards on the left. Hamilton was setting blistering lap times as Verstappen slowly closed in on Bottas getting within DRS range. The team asked Hamilton if he would be able to extend his stint by ten more laps and the response was in affirmative.
There was a train forming up behind Magnussen with Ricciardo, Leclerc, Albon, Kvyat and Sainz on fresher tyres.
Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Vettel, Raikkonen, Latifi, Magnussen, Ricciardo and Leclerc were the top 10 on lap 27, but the order was to change soon. Ricciardo got past Magnussen for 8th on lap 28 while Leclerc followed suit despite some dogged defending by Magnussen. Perez pitted for hard tyres and rejoined in 7th, having jumped six positions, the others getting stuck behind a slower Magnussen. Disaster struck when Ocon pulled to the side of the track with what seemed to be a clutch issue ( lap 29 ). Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race, and the stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to clear the stricken Renault. The VSC period allowed Hamilton to pit for a fresh set of hard tyres, the Briton losing only 17 seconds against the usual 27. Stroll also took the opportunity to switch to medium tyres, rejoining in last. Bottas relinquished the lead of the race, the Finn undone by the timing of the VSC. Latifi pitted on lap 36, switching to the hard tyres and rejoining in 15th while Stroll got past Magnussen for P17.
Vettel and Raikkonen were the only drivers yet to make a pit stop, having extended their stint on the medium tyres to 37 laps. They hadn't lost any performance as they set competitive lap times in 4th and 5th. Meanwhile, at the front, Red Bull informed Verstappen that they were losing time behind Bottas and he needed to try an overtake. The Dutchman was pushing hard, and his opportunity came when Bottas made a mistake at the penultimate corner. Verstappen tried to get past with the use of DRS, but Bottas fended off the challenge. Vettel finally pitted on lap 40 for hard tyres, but the right front and left rear tyres got stuck, resulting in a slow pit of 13.1 seconds! The German rejoined in 14th, the hopes of a strong finish in the points now gone.
Bottas made another mistake, running wide in the middle of Rivazza corner, which allowed Verstappen to close upon him, the Dutchman getting past into 2nd on lap 43. Further down the field, Vettel began his recovery with an overtake on Giovinazzi for 13th. Magnussen felt unwell, reporting that he was getting a headache due to the upshifts on his Haas. The team asked him if he would like to retire, but he retorted that it was his job.
Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 49 while Raikkonen finally pitted after completing a mammoth stint of 49 laps on the medium tyres. He switched to the soft tyres, rejoining in 12th behind Russell, having jumped Vettel. Magnussen pitted as well, retiring from the race due to health issues.
There was drama on lap 51. Timing screens showed Bottas back into 2nd, and on track, Verstappen was on the gravel with what seemed to be rear right tyre delamination. The Dutchman was unable to get unstuck, and was out of the race! Mercedes were 1-2 and firm favourites to lift the Constructors' crown at the end of the race. The stewards decided to deploy the Safety Car while replays showed that something had broken ( without warning ) on the rear of Verstappen's car. The Safety Car deployment brought about a slew of pit stops with those pitting switching to the soft tyres. Perez who was up into 3rd, but the team decided to switch him to soft tyres which relegated him to 7th. Ricciardo who chose not to pit ( along with Leclerc and Albon ) now had the final podium position. Hamilton and Bottas pitted as well, the race now a shootout to the finish. Russell was in 10th, having moved up places due to cars around him pitting, and looked set to bag the first point of his F1 career. Disaster struck on lap 53 when he, trying to build temperature into his tyres, lost control of his car and hit the barriers at Acque Minerale during the Safety Car period! It was race over for the Briton, who was distraught and sat down by the side of the track, unwilling to interact with the track marshalls. The crash led to the extension of the Safety Car period. Meanwhile, Stroll failed to brake in time, hitting the front jack man during his pit stop. Thankfully, the medical centre declared the mechanic fit and fine.
Racing resumed at the end of lap 57, and it was a clean getaway for Hamilton. Bottas suffered excessive wheelspin but was able to hold onto 2nd comfortably. Kvyat was the big mover at the restart, getting past Perez, Albon and Leclerc! The Russian in his Alpha Tauri was up into P4 and hunting down Ricciardo for that final podium position. Perez relegated Albon to 7th who made an uncharacteristic error and got spun around. Sainz took avoiding action, and Albon was out of the points in 15th. Grosjean tried to pressurize Latifi for 11th, but the Canadian held on. Leclerc was able to bring his hard tyres up to operating temperatures and held off a challenge from Perez for P5. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 60 while Albon switched to the soft tyres due to vibrations on his flat-spotted hard tyres. Hamilton extended his lead at the front by pumping in fastest lap after fastest lap.
He took the Chequered Flag and the victory at the Emilia Romagna GP. Bottas came home in 2nd to complete another Mercedes 1-2, crowning them the Constructors' Champion for 2020!
Renault celebrated another podium with Ricciardo with Kvyat producing a stellar drive for 4th in his Alpha Tauri. P5 was the best Leclerc could do for the works Ferrari team while Perez came home in 6th, the chance of a possible podium missed. Sainz and Norris ensured that both McLarens scored points in 7th and 8th while Alfa Romeo scored their first double-points finish in 9th and 10th with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi.
It was "so near yet so far" for Latifi who was 11th for Williams from Grosjean and Vettel whose botched pit stop cost him a points-finish. Grosjean got a 5 seconds time penalty for exceeding track limits and was demoted to 14th, behind Stroll but ahead of Albon who was the final classified finisher.
Mercedes was the first team to win seven consecutive Constructors' Championships! They accomplished it at a circuit owned by Ferrari, the previous record holders.
Hamilton scored the 93rd win of his F1 career, extending his lead at the top. Verstappen was out of the race, and Bottas only had a mathematical possibility of winning the Drivers' Title in 2020.
Ricciardo's second podium of the year helped Renault to 3rd in the Constructors' Championship, one point clear of McLaren and Racing Point tied on 134 points apiece. The Enstone based outfit was improving with each race, and they would have had an even better finish had Ocon not retired due to a mechanical failure. Alpha Tauri could have been on the podium had both its cars finished the race, but their 4th place finish with Kvyat was a great result nonetheless. Leclerc did the best he could for the works Ferrari team while Vettel suffered from step-motherly treatment yet again. Racing Point justified their move of pitting Perez again under Safety Car while McLaren was the only midfield team to have both cars finish in the points.
Kimi Raikkonen was the "Driver of the Day", having made up nine places from where he started besides completing an unthinkable stint of 49 laps on the medium tyres. His team-mate Giovinazzi maintained his 100% record of making up places on the opening lap and was 10th, having made up ten places himself. Alfa Romeo would be pleased with their performances, the incentive of contract renewals doing wonders for both its drivers. A points-finish still eluded Russell who made an uncharacteristic error and would learn from his crash. Haas would want to end this season as soon as possible to start afresh next year.
The European leg comes to an end, and there are four fly-away events to bring the 2020 season to a close. COVID-19 threatens to put the continent of Europe into lockdown again due to the onset of a second wave. Hopefully, F1 would be able to march on in the face of this adversity.
The Turkish GP beckons in a fortnight and Hamilton could be Champion for the 7th time! Can the inevitable be delayed?? The chances seem bleak.