Helmut Marko, the group supervisor at Red Bull Racing, had his worries after the world champion’s false start, who failed to finish twice in the first three races: “If we don’t win again soon, Max could actually become a time bomb!” Indeed, the Dutchman was already heading towards uncontrolled aggressiveness again, but then Adrian Newey, lord of the skies, found some new aerodynamic solutions for Imola, with which the champion went into the weekend almost untested. And got the best out of it: pole position, victory in the sprint race, victory in the Grand Prix, fastest race lap. Get 34 championship points in one weekend.
Despite the difficult conditions, it was more or less a lonely Sunday ride. Max and the maximum, the play on words was finally correct in view of the dominance in the Autodromo. “I couldn’t expect that,” admitted the day’s winner, “that’s a great booster.” In the few difficult moments, the team and parade drivers were in no way inferior, stayed focused and made the right decisions. “That must have been one of our best results ever,” says team boss Christian Horner.
Michael Schumacher remains the last driver to top the podium for Ferrari at Imola in 2006, his last season for Scuderia. Charles Leclerc had every chance to refresh history. But he’s not only due to his driving error ten laps before the end, but maybe also a little bit due to the pressure from a six-digit Ferraristi on the track. The week that began with his luxury watch being stolen ended in disaster – losing the point for the fastest lap due to the spin, plus secure third place.
But he was also lucky that he was able to continue at all. In sixth place, he lost 19 points to opponent Verstappen in one weekend. Of course, a 27-point lead in the World Cup is still comfortable, but it doesn’t prevent Leclerc from struggling a lot after unintentionally ruining his own party: “There’s no excuse, it’s a shame. I have a mistake did that I shouldn’t have done and I overshot the limit. I really screwed up.”
Double success for Red Bull Racing on Ferrari terrain is mainly due to the Mexican. Sergio Perez is not only a strong number two because he finished second in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. But because he – as in the final World Cup drama last year against Lewis Hamilton – has his back free for the number one in the team rather unselfishly. Charles Leclerc is desperate for him, his slip-up may have been part of it forced error As in tennis, Perez is a terrific defender.
The 32-year-old describes the duel with the Ferrari driver as “quite intense” and, like Verstappen, he admits his rival with mild pity: “With these tires it’s so easy to make a mistake.” He didn’t do a single one himself, neither at the start, nor at the restart, nor at the finish. Perez is just as relieved as Verstappen: “After the bumpy start to the season, it was all the more important for us to bring it home this time.” Clear away win, the first double success for the team since 2016.
When the team boss reports in Formula 1 after crossing the finish line, it is usually to congratulate them. Toto Wolff, the Austrian at the head of the Mercedes team, often acts counter-cyclically and is therefore often successful. In the event of failure, this also applies to him. “Sorry, Lewis,” he radioed record world champion Lewis Hamilton, “the car we gave you is undriveable.” Even before his 13th place at the European opener of Formula 1, the record world champion had mercilessly judged the situation in the Silver Arrow camp: “At the moment, every race weekend is a rescue operation.”
The humiliation of being lapped by Max Verstappen after two-thirds fits into the picture. George Russell, the entry in the subscription champions, saved the company’s honor with fourth place. He usually gets along better than his tall British compatriot. That’s why there’s no threat of trouble in the team at the moment. Wolff remains pragmatic: If you can’t rely on physics and science, then you have to fight against it with passion and determination.
The last two nations represented in the Formula 1 driver field have now been able to collect points if there were something like a country medal table in motorsport. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, fellow sufferers at the Aston Martin racing team, benefited in eighth and tenth place from their luck in qualifying and in the sprint and the numerous unpredictability in the fourth World Championship race itself. But it is still balm for the sore soul of the Heppenheimers, who recently only attracted attention due to his enormous bad luck in his job.
“Under these conditions and with us, we got more out of it than the others and put the car where it doesn’t really belong,” admits the 34-year-old. He also knows why: “There’s more leeway in the rain, you can be a winner there.” The rumors of resignation at the end of the season, which are already being circulated in England in view of the contract expiring at the end of the season, seem premature. His team boss Mike Krack also sees it as a long way off: “It would be stupid not to try to keep him if we can give him a car that motivates him.”
The 25th race of his Formula 1 career would have been a great reason to finally score his first championship point. Starting position ten with a Haas-Ferrari, which is currently always good for the top ten, as teammate Kevin Magnussen regularly demonstrates. It becomes clear early on that Schumacher junior cannot do anything from his best starting position so far. He gets caught up in the fray after the start, crashes into Fernando Alonso and falls back to 17th place. He stayed there even after he spun spectacularly in the wet late in the race, sledded across a meadow and was warned for it.
Schumacher is the only driver in the field who has never scored a point. His mood is accordingly: “A difficult race for me, at the beginning I lost everything. It was really unlucky, after that nothing worked anymore. Really very annoying.” It somehow also fits with the other decision of the weekend: After Ferrari and Carlos Sainz jr. has extended, this career step is blocked for the time being.
Carlos Sainz Jr
Scuderia Ferrari’s record at a race that officially still proudly bears the “Made in Italy” suffix can be summed up in just one word: “Frustrating.” Company boss John Elkann and team boss Mattia Binotto had not warned of the (excessively high) expectations for nothing. For Carlos Sainz junior, freshly equipped with a contract until the end of 2024, it should have been compensation after a tough start to the season. But from fourth place on the grid, the plan ended shortly after the start with a collision with Daniel Ricciardo in disaster: Gravel, engine off, that’s it. “Quite unfortunate and difficult to accept,” summed up the 27-year-old after something went wrong for him for the third time this season. In the internal duel with Leclerc, he continued to lose ground. The only consolation is a sentence from the treasure trove of quotes from frustrated racing drivers: “The season is still long.”