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After returning to Australia earlier this month, Formula 1 (F1) headed across continents for the next race of the 2022 season in Imola, Italy for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (GP). The fourth race weekend of the season, which took place at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari from Friday, April 22 to Sunday, April 24, saw the sprint race format return for the first time this year, with the results of the sprint on Saturday setting the grid for the full-distance race on Sunday. 

The switch from the typical qualifying format saw Max Verstappen dominate qualifying, sprint, and the race, as the Red Bull driver put up a strong challenge to current Drivers’ Championship leader Charles Leclerc. Though Ferrari led both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships heading into the weekend, the strong show from Verstappen allowed Red Bull to close the gap and heighten the tension of the fight for the world championship so far this season. 

Free Practice 1

The first free practice (FP) session was filled with rain, giving the grid its first chance this year to see how the new cars would perform in rainy conditions. The wet track saw spins from all across the field, with both wet and intermediate tires being used during the session. A spin and temporary beaching in the gravel for Lando Norris brought out a brief red flag, while Valtteri Bottas later found his Alfa Romeo stuck in the gravel during his final timed lap. 

While both Ferrari drivers had excursions off the track, they managed to end the session at the top of the timesheets, with Leclerc leading teammate Carlos Sainz in P1 and P2 respectively. They were followed by Verstappen in P3, with Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher behind the Red Bull in a shockingly high P4 and P5 for Haas. The two drivers demonstrated a stunning result for Haas at the end of FP1, underlying the drastic improvements that the team has seen thus far in 2022. 

Behind the two Haas cars, Sergio Pérez finished the session in P6, followed by Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in P7 and P8 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda and George Russell rounded out the top ten finishers, with Lewis Hamilton in a surprisingly low P18 at the end of the session. 


The sprint race format for the weekend in Imola meant that Friday afternoon would bring a qualifying session for Saturday’s sprint race. The results of qualifying would set the grid for the sprint race, which would then determine the starting order of the full-distance GP on Sunday. 

Though the rain subsided enough after FP1 to allow drivers to go onto the slick tires for the first portion of qualifying, the rear brake of Alex Albon’s Williams caught fire and brought out a red flag just minutes into Q1. When the session resumed, the Aston Martins looked much better than in the last few races, with Stroll and Vettel both going to the top of the timesheets after their timed laps before the Ferraris and Red Bulls set their first fast laps. Both Aston Martins would make it through to Q2 in a good qualifying showing for the first time this season. It was down to Verstappen, Leclerc, and Sainz for P1 in the first part of qualifying, with Leclerc eventually setting the fastest time in Q1 ahead of Verstappen and Sainz. 

Shockingly, Mercedes was the team struggling the most in the closing minutes of Q1 as the track conditions seemed to be rapidly improving, with drivers’ final lap times dropping with every lap. Both Russell and Hamilton needed to do additional timed laps to stay safe, and Hamilton cut it extremely close when he managed to make it through to Q2 by just 0.004 seconds from Tsunoda, who was knocked out in P16. Behind Tsunoda, fellow Alpha Tauri driver Pierre Gasly, Nicholas Latifi, and Esteban Ocon were also knocked out in Q1.

Q2 seemed to be proceeding normally with most of the remaining 15 drivers setting competitive lap times, until Sainz spun into the wall at Turn 18, putting the Ferrari out of qualifying and bringing out a red flag. Though Sainz had managed to lay down a time before the crash that was good enough to get through to Q3, he would be unable to participate in the final portion of qualifying due to the damage to his Ferrari. 

The rest of the drivers were then further impeded by the arrival of rain, which prevented the improvement of times as intermediate tires became necessary. The timing of the rain eventually saw Russell, Schumacher, Hamilton, Zhou Guanyu, and Stroll knocked out, as they were all unable to set times improving on their previous timed laps. 

The results of Q2 were a stunning disappointment for Mercedes, as both Russell and Hamilton were knocked out in P11 and P13 respectively, marking the first time since the 2012 Japanese GP that Mercedes did not have a car make it through to Q3. Though Stroll was left in P15 for the start of the sprint, teammate Vettel made it to Q3 to take Aston Martin’s first Q3 appearance of the season. 

As the third portion of qualifying got underway, the rainy conditions continued to impact the drivers, with everyone on intermediate tires as they began to set their timed laps. The track conditions proved difficult, with Magnussen going into the wall at Acqua Minerale and bringing a red flag out until he managed to get his car back onto the track. 

It looked as though the final shootout for pole would be between Leclerc and Verstappen, a rivalry that has quickly become a common sight this season. Verstappen took provisional pole ahead of Leclerc just before yet another red flag was brought out for Bottas, who crashed at Turn 16. Once the red flag was cleared, it didn’t look as though the drivers would have a good chance of improving on their times. The chances of continuing the fight for pole were eliminated when Norris, who had been in P3, crashed, bringing about the end to a qualifying session that had been littered with red flags. 

Verstappen was left in P1 for the sprint ahead of Leclerc in P2 and Norris in P3. Behind the top three, Magnussen set himself up for an incredible P4 start in the sprint, with Alonso and Ricciardo behind him. Pérez, in the other Red Bull, would need to do some work in the sprint to catch up to his teammate from P7, while Bottas ended qualifying in P8. Vettel took P9 in a very good qualifying session for the Aston Martin driver in just his second race this season, showing that he can still put up fast timed laps when needed. 

c/o Haas F1 Team

c/o Haas F1 Team

Free Practice 2

Following the results of qualifying, the drivers returned to the track the next day for the second and final practice session in Imola. The weather cleared for FP2, giving way to a switch up of the order on the timesheets from the first practice session. 

Russell closed out FP2 in P1, while teammate Hamilton was in P4 by the end of FP2. Pérez and Leclerc were in between the two Mercedes, with Alonso and Sainz in P5 and P6 ahead of Verstappen’s P7 place on the timesheets. Alpha Tauri saw both drivers in the top ten in FP2, with Tsunoda and Gasly both setting solid times. On the other hand, both Aston Martin and Haas had their two drivers finishing outside the top ten in a change of results from FP1. 

Two drivers who were unable to get any extra running time, however, were Bottas and Ricciardo, both of whom spent the entire session in their respective garages. Mechanical issues kept the two off the track while the Alfa Romeo and McLaren mechanics worked to get their cars ready ahead of the sprint later that day. 

Sprint Race

The changes to the sprint race system from last year meant that the top eight drivers would receive points instead of just the top three finishers. Only Magnussen, Schumacher, and Latifi were on mediums for the 21-lap sprint, with everyone else on soft tires. 

As the lights went out for the sprint, Leclerc had an excellent getaway as Verstappen struggled pulling away from the grid, and the Ferrari managed to take the lead before the field reached the first corner. However, the chaos of the first lap saw Zhou tagged from behind by Gasly at Turn 9, sending Zhou into the wall and out of the race while Gasly received a puncture. The incident brought the safety car, with Leclerc controlling the restart well when the safety car period ended to maintain the lead of the race ahead of Verstappen. 

With the sprint race resumed, Leclerc kept his lead the front by over a second as he and Verstappen easily dropped Norris’s McLaren in P3. Pérez was able to pass Norris down the main straight on Lap 11, sealing out P2 and P3 for Red Bull. Further back, Sainz was making similar progress, with the Spaniard working through the field to get to P4. 

However, Verstappen began closing in on the lead Ferrari with just a few laps to go. He was within DRS range by Lap 18, and it was a long way coming when the Red Bull made the overtake on Leclerc into Turn 1 on Lap 19. After passing the Ferrari, Verstappen didn’t have any trouble in the final lap, crossing the line to win the sprint and take pole for Sunday’s race. Leclerc would line up behind him, with their respective teammates in P3 and P4 on the starting grid for the GP. 

Behind the top four, Norris and Ricciardo set up a great starting position for McLaren, while Bottas was also impressive in his P7 finish in the sprint ahead of Magnussen in a likewise remarkable P8 to round out the final sprint points position. Alonso and Schumacher rounded out the top ten finishers from the sprint race, setting them up to start in P9 and P10 for Sunday’s race. On the other hand, the sprint ended in a terrible result for Mercedes, with both drivers outside of the top ten. Russell would start the GP on Sunday in P11, while Hamilton was further back in P14. 


All drivers lined up on intermediate tires for the 63-lap race as they waited on the damp track for the start of the race. When the lights went out, Leclerc was unable to replicate his quick getaway from the sprint, getting away from the grid very slowly at the start of the race and losing places to Pérez and Norris as they headed into the first corner. 

In the other Ferrari, Sainz also had a bad start to the race as he was passed by Norris in the opening stages of Lap 1. His race went from bad to worse as the field headed into the Tamburello chicane, where Ricciardo hit Sainz on the inside and spun the Ferrari into the gravel, beaching Sainz before the first lap was even over. Schumacher and Alonso also had an incident when Schumacher’s spin sent him into Alonso’s sidepod, causing damage that would eventually lead Alonso to retire on Lap 7. 

The safety car came out as Sainz’s car was removed from the side of the track, and the shake up near the start of the field left Magnussen in P5 ahead of Russell in P6. On the other hand, Hamilton remained outside of the top ten and would struggle for the remainder of the race in the midfield. 

With the safety car ending on Lap 4, Verstappen led the restart well, keeping his lead at the front from Pérez and Norris. Leclerc made his way past the McLaren on Lap 8, but found himself with much work to do to catch up to and pass both Red Bulls. 

The field began to juggle pit stops when Ricciardo came in for mediums on Lap 16, followed by Vettel, Gasly, and Albon on Lap 17. Though it seemed early for a switch to slick tires, it soon became clear that pitting for slicks was the right choice, with Pérez coming in for mediums at the end of Lap 18 before Verstappen and Leclerc both pitted on Lap 19. With Leclerc’s stop 1.4 seconds slower than Verstappen’s, although the Ferrari emerged ahead of Pérez on the track, Leclerc was then immediately passed on the inside into the first chicane and relegated back to P3. 

The stops left all drivers on the medium tires, though Hamilton perhaps had the worst experience in the pits after a very close brush with Ocon that would later see the Alpine driver receive a five-second time penalty for the close release. The British driver was then undercut by Gasly’s Alpha Tauri, leaving Hamilton in P14 and far behind his teammate Russell in P5 on track. 

Verstappen’s dominance of the race was clear in the lead of over seven seconds that he held over his teammate on Lap 25, with Pérez keeping a steady P2 ahead of Leclerc despite the Ferrari’s best efforts to close the gap and pass the Red Bull. Similar to Leclerc’s struggles to chase down the Red Bulls, Hamilton faced a difficult afternoon as he spent much of the last half of the race attempting to catch Gasly. The attempted overtake was made more difficult by the lack of DRS until it was enabled by race control on Lap 34, but even with drivers allowed to use DRS, there was little change in the order as the drivers continued through the second half of the race. 

Given this stagnation, Ferrari would need to try something new if they wanted to improve on their current position, and the risky decision from the pit wall came on Lap 49 when Leclerc pitted for softs, coming out of the pits behind Norris but soon getting past the McLaren to retake P3. Red Bull, however, responded by bringing in Pérez on the next lap and then pitting Verstappen at the end of Lap 51 to put both their drivers on softs as well. The pit stop did bring Leclerc much closer to Pérez when the Mexican driver exited the pits, though, allowing the Ferrari to attempt to chase him down for P2 in the final laps of the race. 

In a drastic turn of events, however, Leclerc’s efforts fell apart dramatically in Lap 53, however, when a mistake at the Variante Alta chicane saw him take the curb with the bottom of his car, spinning him across the track to hit the wall. With front wing damage, Leclerc boxed to replace his front wing, pushing him out of any hopes of finishing on the podium. 

Norris was then in P3 ahead of Russell, Bottas, Tsunoda, Vettel, and Magnussen, who all made it past Leclerc’s Ferrari while his front wing was being replaced. Leclerc emerged in P9 and set out on a mission to limit the damage to the championship standings as much as possible, dispatching Magnussen easily before making his way past Vettel soon afterwards down the main straight. The Ferrari was able to make it into P6 past Tsunoda on Lap 62, but would finish the race there in a disappointing result for the Tifosi in the stands. 

In the final laps of the race, the battle for P4 between Russell and former Mercedes driver Bottas drew the most attention, with Bottas attempting to chase Russell down and getting within DRS range. The Alfa Romeo was ultimately unable to pass the Mercedes, with Bottas finishing in P5 behind the driver who replaced him at Mercedes this year. 

As he came onto the main straight and took the checkered flag, Verstappen won his second race of the year and also took the fastest lap as he crossed the line over 16 seconds ahead of Pérez, with Norris rounding out the podium in a great result for McLaren. The Dutch driver’s win was his second time being crowned victorious at Imola after winning last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and closed out a dominant weekend for the Milton Keynes team after having taken P1 in qualifying for the sprint race and subsequently winning the sprint.  

Norris’ P3 was a surprise finish on the podium for McLaren, though surely a welcome one given that Ricciardo was unable to recover from his first-lap incident with Sainz and finished in last place in P18. Russell came home in P4 by less than a second from Bottas behind him in P5, with both drivers finishing well above their teammates. Hamilton failed to score points in P13 after a difficult race, while Zhou also finished outside of the points in P15. 

The most disappointed driver of the weekend may have been Leclerc with his P6 finish, as while the Ferrari driver still leads the Drivers’ Championship with 86 points, Verstappen now sits behind him in the standings with 59 points. Ferrari also maintained their lead in the Constructors’ Championship with 124 points, but Red Bull has more than closed the gap to the Italian team as they leave Imola with 113 points in second place. 

Tsunoda took P7 for Alpha Tauri, while Vettel and Stroll finished in P8 and P10 respectively to bring Aston Martin’s first points of the season with a double points finish. The weekend was an encouraging showing of improvement for the Silverstone team after the lackluster results of the first few races of the season. Vettel put on a great performance all weekend, demonstrating his well-known skills in the wet despite the limits of the AMR22. Magnussen took P9 for Haas in another points finish for the team, though teammate Schumacher was much further down the field in P17. 

After the excitement in Imola, the next race of the 2022 F1 world championship will see the grid come to the United States for the first ever Miami International GP. The inaugural race weekend in Miami will take place from Friday, May 6 to Sunday, May 8, and is certain to bring a new energy to both the drivers and fans alike.

Jiyu Shin can be reached at jshin01@wesleyan.edu.

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