Will Perez beat Verstappen in Red Bull’s first 2021 victory at Imola? RaceFans

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Imola, 2021

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We have the feeling that “anything can happen” on Sunday at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix – even if it’s not raining.
One of those results could quite realistically be a victory for Red Bull – and not for the driver who has made all of his victories over the past two seasons. Formula 1 career in qualifying, and will start with the Pirelli soft tire. The cars to its left on the grid, one just ahead and one just behind, will both be on the most durable medium tire generally considered the most tactically sound compound to start.

Perez, who became a Grand Prix winner just three races ago, is well aware that he has a big challenge ahead of him.

“If there’s a place where you don’t want to be in your second race with a new team, it’s probably Imola,” he said after qualifying. But then he added: “I think we have a fantastic car for the race. “

His teammate Max Verstappen can’t say the same for third place on the grid, as a driveshaft problem prevented him from making long races in practice on Friday. But he doesn’t think “that’s going to be a big deal”, especially after competing with Emilia Romagna Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton to the Bahrain Grand Prix checkered flag last month.

“We have two cars near Lewis on different tires. I hope it will give some excitement tomorrow, ”said Verstappen.

Verstappen wasted his shot in pole position

An off-track moment at the start of his Q3 lap hurt Verstappen’s place on the grid, ending his long streak of over-qualifying his teammates and putting him behind two cars at least as fast as his on a track where it is difficult to overtake.

Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff was convinced Verstappen had a pace advantage in qualifying on the soft tire that should have secured him pole position. But as the driver observed in the first place, “we could all go back and look at our data and say we could go faster – at the end of the day, that’s what you’re doing at that point in time. account.”

Look in the data and it suggests that Hamilton has the advantage over Verstappen on the middle compound over one lap. Verstappen’s driveshaft defect in the second practice session means there is little comparative data for long runs to suggest which of the two will be faster in the race. Then there’s Perez, who wasn’t sure he could get to Q3 on the midrange and had to use the soft, so that’s his starting tire.

Pirelli and teams’ estimates of the performance gap between these two compounds have been revised several times over the weekend, but there is now a consensus that the most durable tire will not necessarily deliver. an immediate advantage if the race takes place in fairly cool conditions.

Hamilton will have two Red Bulls breathe down his neck

It can warm up faster, as most riders took at least two laps in qualifying to bring the software into its performance window, but there is no indication that it will last longer – especially when it is. strapped to the famous tire whisperer Perez’s car.

“We felt as a team that the soft is far from what it was last year,” said Perez. “So it’s a good racing tire. It’s just different from the medium, and it was very important and crucial for me to gain this learning, this consistency and this progression. [by using it in Q2]. »

Pirelli F1 tire chief Mario Isola expects a little grain from the softer tires, and also thought “the midrange works quite well for Mercedes” on Friday when the rear tires were running at a starting pressure of 19psi . This was then raised to 20 psi which will change the feel for riders if not the lap times.

In this case, Perez doesn’t have to be ahead of Hamilton in the first stint of the race. As long as he can keep up with the pace, he can gain even more experience with the compound and gather data about it before his main rivals for the win get over it, and if Red Bull decides for a two-stop strategy, he will have a clear advantage of pace with a return to soft drinks for his last stint.

Hamilton is well aware of the strategic freedom Red Bull can have over Mercedes, especially since his own team-mate Valtteri Bottas only qualified sixth after a problem with his soft warming up in Q3, but says he There is more to the race if he leads the peloton through the peloton. opening rounds.

“I think tomorrow they have these, I mean if we’re able to go down in order, then they obviously have a better deck of cards in terms of strategy,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t put out something unique and do something different.

“I’m not really sure what happened with Valtteri, it’s very difficult to overtake here. So, he probably won’t have the backing of him from the start, but nonetheless, maybe he will survive. But if not, we just have to focus on our job and try to do absolutely everything and more to keep these guys behind.

Fresh rubber could put Sainz on the line

The drivers lower in the order are confident it will be a one-stop race unless it rains, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon predicts a big gap between his ninth place on the grid and the leading cars after having got the “maximum” from his machine in qualifying. . This could lead to a train of cars behind him or a battle for the lower points. Ocon’s admission could also give Mercedes and Red Bull a marker for pit stop timing to avoid traffic.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr is the first of the drivers to start the race on fresh rubber, not having reached Q3. His racing pace in Bahrain was strong, especially later, and Ferrari seems to have the pace to be faster – although teammate Charles Leclerc has said he doesn’t really know where he is in the pecking order at Imola.

Citations: Dieter Rencken

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Full qualifying time

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Will Perez beat Verstappen for a first win in 2021, is the soft tire as close to midrange pace as Red Bull expects, can Bottas recover from his disappointing third quarter result and the strategy of will two stops be attempted by someone?

Share your take on the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in the comments.

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Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna 2021

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