10 things we learned from the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

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After Charles Leclerc and Ferrari utterly dominated the Australian Grand Prix to grab an early advantage in the 2022 Formula 1 season, Max Verstappen and Red Bull repaid the favour at Imola – profiting from both the sprint race format and Leclerc’s late error at the Variante Alta.

F1 returned to Europe for the first time since the tentative days of the opening pre-season test in Barcelona which marked the start of the new rules era, and while the tifosi turned out in numbers for another Ferrari show, it was Red Bull who made all the headlines.

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Elsewhere, McLaren demonstrated its early season struggles have been resolved as Lando Norris returned to the podium, but the same cannot be said for Mercedes despite George Russell’s creditable fourth place.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

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10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Red Bull missed out on taking a maximum haul by just one point, as Verstappen pulled off a Grand Slam

Red Bull missed out on taking a maximum haul by just one point, as Verstappen pulled off a Grand Slam

Global Tech News Daily

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

1. Red Bull is far from out of title contention

At Imola, Red Bull produced the perfect response to its Australian Grand Prix shocker – where Max Verstappen couldn’t match Charles Leclerc for ultimate pace or in-race tyre management even before his retirement.

In Italy, it was the reverse. Red Bull was able to switch on its tyres better than its red rival, which Verstappen used to grab his first pole of 2022. Then in the sprint and later in the GP, his tyres stayed in better shape while Leclerc’s rubber grained – by that stage in the second race the championship leader was fighting Sergio Perez after his slow wet start on the less grippy side of the grid.

Red Bull also took the risk of running updates even with the reduced practice running on the sprint weekend, which Ferrari did not, and seemed pleased with the results of its new floor keel winglet and revised brake cooling. Critically, no reliability gremlins threatened Verstappen’s masterful run to double victory, while the RB18 is now closer to the 2022 weight limit – an issue that added time at all of the early-season races before Imola.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Leclerc threw away a podium finish pushing to catch Perez

Leclerc threw away a podium finish pushing to catch Perez

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

2. An old mindset mistake brings Leclerc’s first big error

What a turnaround for Ferrari – from Melbourne domination to a disaster on home soil back in Italy, where it had senior company executives in attendance.

Leclerc’s big gap to Verstappen in qualifying was exacerbated by the various Q3 red flags, but he nevertheless seized the chance to lead when he could as the Dutchman’s gear sync problem meant he was slow away at the sprint start. However Ferrari’s car balance problem – another element that was the reverse from Melbourne, where Red Bull struggled with inconsistent handling – meant he was sliding more than Verstappen. This led to front tyre graining and eventually being repassed.

Then in the GP, after Leclerc had battled back from running fourth early on behind Lando Norris, he couldn’t get close enough to Perez before the same tyre trouble arose.

PLUS: How Ferrari’s Imola F1 blunders gave Verstappen a lonely cruise to maximum points

Desperate to stay within DRS range late on the softs and make a difference in a slower package, Leclerc pushed too hard at the Variante Alta and spun after whacking the first apex kerbs. He was fortunate not to be out in the barriers on the outside in an incident that was reminiscent of his early Ferrari career crashes (plus Monaco last year), from which he said in Melbourne his car finally being a title contender meant he felt he had moved on making such a mistake.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Ferrari is yet to deliver upgrades to its 2022 F1 car

Ferrari is yet to deliver upgrades to its 2022 F1 car

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

3. Ferrari needs its development drive to start soon

Ferrari was the only team not to bring a single updated part to last weekend. It did so because the reduced practice running on the sprint weekends meant it wanted to avoid having to assess new parts as well as prepare for Friday evening qualifying – and in any case the wet running also reduced the data-gathering time for the teams. But the season’s first European race is a chance for the teams to bring something to help their causes after the early flyaways, which Red Bull did to its benefit.

There’s an argument that if a team is confident in its upgrades from its work back at the factory, then having less practice time available shouldn’t be an issue, but Ferrari has still preferred to wait to add anything of note since back in pre-season testing. Therefore, F1 is still waiting to see if it can match Red Bull on development – something Verstappen’s squad is very good at. And for the next round in Miami, it sounds as if Ferrari will bring a low-downforce arrangement rather than a major update package.

PLUS: Can Ferrari maintain its F1 title push?

The gaps are still very small between the top two teams, with the tyre troubles really making the difference at Imola, so what Ferrari plans to add to its car could well be decisive this year. From what was on display around Imola – the respective natural strengths of the F1-75 and RB18 suggest Ferrari should be the favourite at Monaco and other slower speed venues, while Red Bull will be tough to catch at Baku and Monza. Miami too, may well favour Red Bull unless Ferrari can make its drag profile much more efficient.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Norris has claimed three of his six F1 career podiums when racing in Italy

Norris has claimed three of his six F1 career podiums when racing in Italy

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

4. McLaren’s progress since Bahrain is clear

Back in Bahrain last month, McLaren had a disastrous test, blighted by brake problems and Daniel Ricciardo’s absence with COVID-19. But that poor form then transferred to the season-opener, where it appeared as if its positive progress in recent years had not just stalled, but been reversed.

Things weren’t much better in Jeddah as the orange squad continued to work on its front brakes, but then in Australia the team was firmly in the points. At Imola, Norris scored the team’s first podium of the year – capping a pretty stunning turnaround. It needed Leclerc’s late off to get him onto the rostrum, but this was yet another impressive display from the Briton.

McLaren’s Bahrain form is looking to be most likely a one-off, but Norris is still adamant the team needs “improvements everywhere: high speed, medium speed, and slow speed”. He also said that McLaren needs “maybe more bias towards the slower to medium speed”, as the MCL36 generally isn’t as good as its rivals in slow-speed turns.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Russell complained of back and chest pains due to Mercedes porpoising issue

Russell complained of back and chest pains due to Mercedes porpoising issue

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

5. Mercedes porpoising problems causing more pain than ever

Porpoising has been the word of the season so far – such was the shock at engineers across the grid to encounter the problem on the eve of pre-season testing and because of how much it is blighting Mercedes’ campaign.

F1’s dominant team has been firmly knocked from its perch as the ‘no-pod’ W13 design just isn’t capable of winning races. Both Silver Arrows drivers were eliminated in Q2 last weekend as the team scored its worst qualifying result in a decade. However, it should be noted that Carlos Sainz’s crash and the subsequent stoppage meant they didn’t get the chance to show what they could do with the extra prep lap they needed.

Mercedes’ Imola issues centred on not being able to get the tyres warm for a one-lap flier, but the porpoising was so bad on the bumpy track surface that George Russell – one of the stars of the weekend nevertheless – said the bouncing “really takes your breath away” and was “the most extreme I’ve ever felt it”. 

“This is the first weekend I’ve truly been struggling with my back, and almost like chest pains from the severity of the bouncing,” he added.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Hamilton already feels his F1 title chances are over in 2022

Hamilton already feels his F1 title chances are over in 2022

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

6. Hamilton vows not to give up, but frustration was clear at Imola

For the second year in a row at Imola, Verstappen lapped Lewis Hamilton – albeit in wildly different circumstances this time around. Back in 2021, Hamilton slid off at Tosa while lapping then Williams driver Russell, keen to stick with his Red Bull title rival getting away up front. But in 2022, Hamilton has already conceded that he and Mercedes are not even in title contention.

The porpoising problem is so bad that Mercedes must raise its rideheight to get a quick lap, but it still then occurs badly and robs the drivers of confidence at the same time. Having qualified behind two places behind Russell, Hamilton then slipped back at the sprint start before being unable to replicate his team-mate’s gains in the wet start to the GP. From there, Hamilton endured a fruitless chase behind Pierre Gasly following his stop for slicks, where he was also impacted by Esteban Ocon’s unsafe release, to finish a lowly 13th.

After being spotted on TV cameras having an animated discussion with team boss Toto Wolff post-qualifying, some interpreted this as Hamilton’s frustrations at the W13’s lack of performance boiling over – which Wolff dismissed. Indeed, Hamilton vowed after the GP that “no-one that’s giving up”, but he is wisely being realistic that his chances of an eighth world title may well have to wait until 2023.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Vettel and Tsunoda starred at Imola despite some previous difficulties

Vettel and Tsunoda starred at Imola despite some previous difficulties

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

7. Vettel and Tsunoda recover well from adversity

Sebastian Vettel arrived at Imola after a shockingly bad first race weekend of his season in Australia, but left having helped Aston Martin take its first points of 2022.

The German driver had started the sprint in ninth after making it through to Q3 with some assistance from the Sainz red flag. In the first race he slipped back to 13th, but that was on the grippy racing line for the GP start. There, he gained places and benefitted from the Ricciardo/Sainz crash ahead, before being the second driver to pit for slicks helped him rise further.

Leclerc’s recovery meant he ended up eighth – which Vettel called “like a victory” for Aston given the team had made no car performance progress since Australia. Team-mate Lance Stroll, who also recovered from a tough weekend in Melbourne to finish 10th in the GP, reckoned the cooler conditions last weekend aided his and Vettel’s chances with what remains a challenging car to handle.

PLUS: Emilia Romagna GP Driver Ratings 2022

Another driver to come by Vettel late on was Yuki Tsunoda, who led AlphaTauri’s charge at its home race – the scene of his qualifying crash and race spin a year ago. This time, Tsunoda held his ground on the less grippy side of the grid at the GP start, then made solid progress with a series of good passes to score his best result of 2022 so far.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Albon’s Imola weekend started in with a nightmare of an exploding brake fire in Q1

Albon’s Imola weekend started in with a nightmare of an exploding brake fire in Q1

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

8. Williams’ updates help Albon show his class again

Fresh from his point in Australia with a near-race-long first stint, Alex Albon produced a display at Imola that he called “just as good as Melbourne” despite coming home one place short of the points on this occasion.

After a brake fire and explosion during qualifying meant he started last in the sprint (he recovered to 18th, helped by Pierre Gasly and Zhou Guanyu clashing), there were two keys to Albon’s excellent GP progress. The first was being among the first to stop for slicks (like Vettel and Gasly, he came in the lap after Ricciardo first made the switch from the intermediates) and he was able to jump Gasly with better tyre warm-up when the Frenchman was slowed by Ocon emerging from the pits just ahead.

Albon then rued DRS being inactive as he in turn chased Ocon, as Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson explained that getting caught in the Alpine’s dirty air limited his chances to gain any more ground. But Albon still stayed ahead of Gasly and the chasing Hamilton, despite not having DRS of his own.

This, Albon said, was down to Williams’ “new rear wing configuration” reducing drag – something it’s designed to do even better when DRS is active, which reinforces his case that he might’ve made more progress had he been able to use the overtaking aid.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com Ferrari was not the only fans favourite at Imola

Ferrari was not the only fans favourite at Imola

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

9. F1’s current interest surge shows no signs of stopping

Imola returned to the F1 calendar in 2020, but due to the impact of Italy’s COVID-19 prevention measures no fans had been able to attend either of its first two races back on the schedule.

But they were allowed in this time, with F1 reporting Sunday was a sell out and 64,000 people were in attendance. This is significantly below the gigantic numbers reported from Australia – and events such as Silverstone and Austin last year – but this simply reflects the fact Imola is a smaller venue compared to other events.

The Tifosi was out in force to celebrate Ferrari’s return to title-challenging potential but did not get to cheer a home win for Scuderia thanks to Leclerc and Sainz’s various misadventures. But the atmosphere fizzled even during the weekend’s wet moments, with this race again reflecting F1’s current strong interest levels leading to packed events.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com F1’s sprint returned for 2022 with Imola hosting the first of three

F1’s sprint returned for 2022 with Imola hosting the first of three

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

10. F1’s best sprint so far, but the format still has issues

F1 has now held four sprint races, with the Emilia Romagna event the first to run with the new car formula. Imola was selected to remind fans as an early point in the season that the alternate format is still at the forefront of F1’s thinking (Bahrain was also a contender to host a sprint too).

Of the three in 2021, the GP results from Silverstone and Monza came about directly because of what had happened the respective day before those races, while in Brazil all the action centred on Hamilton’s remarkable recovery at a track where overtaking generally isn’t a problem.

This time, there was action up and down the field across the sprint’s distance, while the fight for the race one win finally became a race-long battle (all three sprints in 2021 were settled well before the finish). There is therefore a serious case to be made for Imola being F1’s best sprint so far.

However, there are still problems. Awarding points for an extra race that only appears at three rounds remains contentious (F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn revealed that the championship still aims to have six in 2023), while it was clear the issue of some drivers not wanting to risk a low GP grid spot in a late-sprint crash remains. Plus, Verstappen said he’s “still not a fan of sprint races because in the end it doesn’t change anything” and prefers the usual schedule.

10 things we learned from the 2022 emilia romagna grand prix
© Autosport.com The F1 sprint continues to be met by a mixed reception from fans and drivers alike, allowing Sainz and Perez to start the grand prix in more representative positions

The F1 sprint continues to be met by a mixed reception from fans and drivers alike, allowing Sainz and Perez to start the grand prix in more representative positions

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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