Ricciardo, Remembrance, Romagna

Welcome to Imola – a track which will always be tinged with sadness. Before the race began, fitting tributes were paid to both Aryton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who tragically died at this track in 1994 in separate accidents, but on the same race weekend. Unfortunately, as a newcomer to Formula One my knowledge of Senna only derives from the film adaptation of his racing career. I remember watching the footage and trying to empathise with the other drivers that weekend who must have been petrified, and all of the team members who had just lost their inspirational friends. I also remember feeling angry that the racing was allowed to continue and completely shocked that the two accidents seemed to be so similar. It is something which will always hang over this track and this sport, so my small way of paying respect to those drivers is by including them in this opening paragraph.

Although there was a sad atmosphere which was only amplified by the strange Covid vibe which has haunted this season, the show must go on. This was the 100th Grand Prix to take place in Italy and we saw a fitting virtual tour of the track with historic clips of old races shown for each turn. Television and motorsport have come a long way since then.

This weekend we saw Bottas qualify in pole position (74th front row lockout for Mercedes in qualifying) and reduced practice time. Track limits were also proving an issue for our 20 drivers and caused a fine for some. In previous races at Imola there haven’t been any DRS zones, so I was inclined to disagree with Hamilton when he said confidently that we were going to have a boring race.

In fact, when the lights went out (4 months ago I wouldn’t have known what that means) I struggled to keep up as usual. Ricciardo neatly gained a place on Gasly and Verstappen gained a place on Hamilton. Magnussen crucially span out within the first few turns but it was unclear what had happened until we later heard that Vettel would be under investigation for causing a collision. I’m still not sure what the outcome of that one was.

Lance Stroll came into the pits on lap 2 because he had lost a wing after a slight touch with another car. Gasly was chasing Ricciardo for 4th place and looked like he would have a chance but on lap 8 he had to box and retire. It was very confusing to me how the car could develop such a serious engine issue, which is how I often feel when these things happen during the race, but we heard on lap 40 that this was actually a coolant leak. I wonder how the mechanics can fix other issues within minutes but yet a coolant leak defeats them – that shows you how much I know about the technicalities of an F1 car.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you’ll know that I’m a Daniel Ricciardo fan, so forgive me if I focus on him. Ricciardo’s tyres were in a mess on lap 13 and Charles LeClerc, who was chasing him, had to pit for new tyres. LeClerc changed onto hards and Red Bull chose the same strategy for Ricciardo 2 laps later. He managed to get out of the pits just in front of LeClerc, who tried to overtake but locked up on cold tyres. I’ve always thought that it’s very sketchy when drivers come out of the pits and join the race again and I don’t know how there aren’t more crashes.

The Mercedes boys were faced with a bit of inconvenience as Hamilton was struggling with his front right tyre, and on lap 22 Bottas was told via the team radio that he had sustained damage to the floor of the car. In a quick interview with Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull, he said that “running in dirty air punishes the tyres quite badly”. The concept of ‘dirty’ air is one which will take time for me to fully understand and I do think it’s mind blowing how aerodynamics can affect a driver’s performance.

Verstappen was being held up by Bottas as he started to slow due to the floor damage, and meanwhile Magnussen was holding up the midfield as he hadn’t yet pitted and was trying to keep a reasonable position in the pack. We saw a real difference in driving abilities and technique as the backlog of drivers behind Magnussen made their move. Ricciardo passed him with ease, shortly followed by LeClerc and then Kvyat and Albon were within a hair’s breadth of Magnussen’s rear end, weaving with frustration. Albon didn’t manage to overtake. Luckily for him that didn’t matter because Magnussen then pitted.

The race was now roughly halfway through, and Ocon had to pull onto the side of the track to retire due to clutch issues. Both French drivers were now out of the race and a virtual safety car was deployed. This meant Hamilton could change onto hard tyres and maintain his position as leader of the race. Verstappen was still chasing down Bottas when the race re-started and Bottas was doing an amazing job of defending while managing the damage on his car: “The aero damage has been there since lap 2 and is getting significant.” Bottas had no idea how this had happened, but his team also thought that there was some debris caught under the car as well.

On lap 40 Vettel had absolutely awful luck as his pit crew took 13 seconds to get him back out on track. When a time like that is considered to be a disadvantage, you can really appreciate how small the margins are in F1 and how highly trained/skilled the teams are.

Shortly after this, Bottas went off track and Verstappen tried to pass him but Bottas veered back in front and there was almost contact between them. Undeterred, Verstappen attempted to overtake again but this time succeeded, and so slid into 2nd place with a happy message to his team on the radio: “SEND ITTTTT”. I do love his personality on the radio and it’s a welcome change to drivers like Hamilton who are very focused and only want essential information.

Magnussen on the other hand was on his radio to complain about his discomfort: “I’m getting a massive headache from all these upshifts. It’s like getting a kick in the head every time”. I felt really sorry for him as opposed to Martin Brundle who had zero sympathy. Ted Kravitz on the other hand was concerned and the Haas team were asking him if he wanted to retire. He replied, “It’s my job isn’t it but it’s really painful man”. A few laps later he retired. Poor guy.

In the meantime, Perez was yet again putting in an impressive drive sitting in 5th, having gained 7 places since the start of the race. The commentators aptly joked “the postman is delivering again”. With Vettel replacing Perez next year and Perez not having a replacement team to fit into, these performances are absolutely key for his driving career. At this point Ricciardo was in 6th place behind him.

During lap 51 Verstappen was suddenly in the gravel. We couldn’t see what had happened as viewers but his tyre was absolutely ruined. Vettel said something had also broken on the car, so the safety car came out to play. Bottas and Hamilton pitted again followed by Perez. This was controversial for Racing Point as it meant that Perez lost his position and Ricciardo could slide into 3rd place. I do not understand why they pitted Perez with 10 laps to go as they lost him a podium place. This was ultimately the final piece of the puzzle which enabled Ricciardo to gain his second podium in 3 races.

George Russell span off track whilst sitting behind the safety car and looked absolutely downtrodden as he sat on the grass waving the marshals away from him. Watching the replay, I was so unsure of how this happened and how the car could react so dramatically. Parts of his car lay everywhere while it sunk in that he had just lost his first chance of a points finish.

Russell wasn’t the only one to provide some drama, because on Stroll’s pit stop he came in way too hot and knocked the car jack into a waiting mechanic. The mechanic was so winded he fell over and rolled backwards but Stroll annoyingly didn’t seem too bothered: “sorry about that, brakes were cold”. I was not best pleased with his reaction.

Just after the safety car went back in, Albon span out and completely lost it. There was some debate about whether Perez had caused the issue, but the arial camera shot showed that it most definitely was not because of Perez. Albon was now in last and I’m sure the depths of F1 social media will be putting his seat up for sale. There were now only 15 cars left in the race.

Kvyat was now in 4th place. I’ll say that again… Kvyat was now in 4th place, and he was giving Ricciardo a run for his money. The two had me on the edge of my seat on the last 2 laps as I screamed at Ricciardo to get another podium. Obviously, my cheering worked, because Ricciardo bagged another 3rd place and is now sitting pretty in the drivers’ championship at 4th.

Bottas finished 2nd and Hamilton, surprise surprise, claimed 1st at the Emilia Romagna GP. This line up created pure joy for Mercedes, as they would now win their 7th consecutive Constructor Championship – the first time ever this happened for a team in F1. Mercedes now have 100 wins as a team, which is an amazing achievement, but I was disappointed with the coverage from Sky Sports.

There was no attention on Ricciardo at all until about 2 minutes after the race, then we finally heard his radio and my new favourite quote from him: “holy mac and cheese balls”. They completely missed the moment of Ricciardo greeting his team after the race, and instead focused on Hamilton/Bottas/Toto. It was very biased, and although I might be biased because I love Ricciardo, I do feel like he should have been celebrated just as much as Mercedes because essentially, he is the underdog.

I’ll end with one last thing…

RICCCCIIIAAARRDDDDDOOOOOOOOOOOO

Sophie Middleton @‪MotorsportSoph