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Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2022

Can Ferrari delight the Tifosi at Imola, or will Verstappen stop the rot?

Formula 1 returns to Europe for the fourth round of the 2022 World Championship, and it's off to Ferrari's homeland, with Imola hosting the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

F1 returns to Europe for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix this weekend, with Imola playing host to the fourth round of the season.

The event is a particularly special one for Ferrari as they arrive in Italy with convincing leads in both championship tables, meaning a jubilant Tifosi awaits them in the grandstands as the Scuderia aim to keep the momentum up after such a strong opening trio of races.

With the Italian outfit landing as favourites to win the race, arguably for the first time in the hybrid era, Charles Leclerc's goal will be to replicate the stunning victory he pulled off against Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at Monza in 2019.

But going into a home race as favourites comes with its risks. While the opening handful of Grands Prix were a case of 'let's see what happens', the dominant nature of Leclerc's Australia win means the Tifosi will expect nothing less this weekend. If there's one thing Ferrari have been exemplary at in recent years, it's their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How will they react to the pressures of this weekend?

Imola has proven to be a popular venue in recent years, having made an unlikely return to the calendar during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Stuck with a lack of venues nearby, F1 returned to a circuit that was last used when it held the San Marino Grand Prix in 2006.

Full of character and surrounded by leafy parkland, the fast but narrow track held dramatic races in 2020 and 2021, with last year's event won by Max Verstappen as his title battle with Hamilton saw them both barrel into Turn 1 unwilling to yield to the other.

			© XPB
	© XPB

Return of the F1 Sprint

This weekend's race also hosts the first Sprint event of the season, even if Imola does seem like an unusual choice to hold the format. While the revised layout of the pit straight has opened up some overtaking opportunities, the circuit's narrow nature means it's never witnessed a deluge of passes.

With rain on the horizon for traditional qualifying on Friday, there's a few extra layers of unpredictability being added to the spectacle. Together with the fact that the teams will be locked into their set-ups from mid-Friday, after just an hour of practice, there are also plenty of opportunities for a team to stumble.

Leclerc's points lead could grow to a record-breaking number after four Grands Prix, should he win both the Sprint and the main race. But, equally, his entire lead could also be wiped out this weekend. The Sprint now awards eight points to the winner, meaning that, in theory, George Russell could draw level should he take victory in everything with Leclerc failing to score.

But, for now, it's probably not Russell and Mercedes that Leclerc and Ferrari will be focusing on. The updates being brought to Imola by Ferrari are believed to be relatively minor, due to the aforementioned Sprint element preventing meaningful real-world correlation – a decision that Red Bull and Mercedes look set to follow suit on.

Can Red Bull get their car in the right window?

While Leclerc dominated the Australian Grand Prix weekend, it appeared to be more a case of Red Bull dropping the ball as opposed to Ferrari suddenly finding extra pace.

This is somewhat borne out by the fact that the off-the-boil Mercedes were a constant headache for Red Bull, with Hamilton's bouncy W13 even quicker than Sergio Perez towards the end of the first stint.

All of the mutterings from the Red Bull camp were about "struggling to get their car in the window", and Verstappen's constant complaints and minor driving errors suggested the RB18 was, indeed, a tricky beast to drive in Melbourne. But, having been on pace in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, there's little reason for concern regarding speed.

Where they do need to worry is on the reliability front, after Verstappen's second retirement in three races with similar, but somewhat unrelated, fuel supply issues.

The different problems have been diagnosed and apparently fixed, with promises of "this won't happen again", but there's no doubt that Verstappen, in particular, will be particularly sensitive to every little dip of engine revs as he ploughs through the race this weekend.

There have been no such issues at Ferrari, whose F1-75 has been metronomic since it first hit the track in Spain two months ago.

The Scuderia's biggest drama is currently trying to keep Carlos Sainz from imploding, after his mediocre start to the year took a disastrous turn in Melbourne. The Spaniard is desperate to not let Leclerc storm away with the championship lead, and the team's focus, but is at risk of making the situation far worse if he can't keep his head.

With Perez firing on all cylinders at Red Bull, is it only a matter of time until Milton Keynes starts clawing back the deficit to Maranello?

			© XPB
	© XPB

F1's push for the future tempered by historic venues

Unusually, two of the first five races on the calendar this season are, essentially, brand new venues. Saudi Arabia was barely constructed in time for its inaugural race in November 2021, while Miami's new Autodrome is now nearing completion ahead of the Miami Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

With F1 pushing ever more for new territories and new markets to conquer, it's critically important for the sport to remember its past and the tracks that made Formula 1 what it is today.

There's no doubt that Imola is one of those venues. It's an old-school, narrow circuit that wasn't designed by software or committee, and it's a place where F1's history is palpable.

This weekend marks 40 years, almost to the very day, since the fateful events of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, a day on which the lives of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi were irrevocably changed as they claimed a Ferrari 1-2.

As ever, F1 heads to Imola with the memories of the 1994 weekend always in the background. On one of the sport's most tragic weekends, Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives in a little over 24 hours – unbearable tragedies that changed the venue in more ways than just the tangible.

There are also happier recollections, such as the tremendous battle between Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen in 2000, as well as Schumacher versus Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 before the circuit's sabbatical.

Can the 2022 edition of the race add to that list?

Also interesting:

F1 Podcast: Can fast but fragile Red Bull respond to Leclerc's charge?

RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher look back over the Australian Grand Prix, where Ferrari's Charles Leclerc triumphed and Red Bull's Max Verstappen retired.

F1 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix RN365 News dossier

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