Will Perez beat Verstappen to Red Bull’s first 2021 win at Imola?

2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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There’s very much a sense that “anything can happen” in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday – even if it doesn’t rain.

One of those outcomes could quite realistically be a victory for Red Bull – and not the driver who’s done all of their winning for the past two seasons.

Sergio Perez claimed the first front row start of his Formula 1 career in qualifying, and will start on Pirelli’s soft compound tyre. The cars to the left of him on the grid, one just ahead and the other just behind, will both be on the more durable medium tyre generally considered the more tactically sound compound to start on.

Perez, who became a grand prix winner just three races ago, is well aware he’s got a big challenge ahead of him.

“If there is a place that you don’t want to come 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 team mate Max Verstappen can’t say the same from third on the grid, as a driveshaft problem stopped him from doing long runs in practice on Friday. But he doesn’t think that “will be a big issue”, particularly after rivalling Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix pole-winner Lewis Hamilton all the way to the chequered flag in last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

“We have two cars close to Lewis on different tyres. So hopefully that will give some excitement tomorrow,” Verstappen said.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Imola, 2021
Verstappen squandered his shot at pole position
An off-track moment early in his Q3 lap hurt Verstappen’s grid placing, ending his long streak of out-qualifying his team mates, and putting him behind two cars that are at least as quick as his on a track where it’s difficult to overtake.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was sure Verstappen had a pace advantage in qualifying on the soft tyre which would should have assured him of pole position. But as the driver in first place observed, “we could all go back and look at our data and say we could go faster – at the end of the day, it’s what you do in that one moment that counts.”

Look into the data and it suggests that Hamilton has the advantage over Verstappen on the medium compound over one lap. Verstappen’s driveshaft fault in second practice means there is little comparative data for long runs to suggest which of the two will be quicker in the race. Then there’s Perez, who wasn’t sure he could make it to Q3 on the medium and had to use the soft, hence it’s his starting tyre.

Pirelli and the teams’ estimations on the gap in performance between those two compounds have been revised several times during the weekend, but there’s a consensus now that the more durable tyre isn’t necessarily going to give an immediate advantage if the race takes place in fairly cool conditions.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Imola, 2021
Hamilton will have two Red Bulls breathing down his neck
It may warm up quicker, as most drivers took at least two laps on qualifying runs to get the soft into its performance window, but there’s nothing to suggest it will last longer – not least when attached to the car of renowned tyre-whisperer Perez.

“We felt as a team that the soft is nowhere near what it was last year,” explained Perez. “So it’s a good race tyre. It’s just different to the medium, and it was very important and crucial for me to get that learning, that consistency and that progression [by using it in Q2].”

Pirelli’s F1 tyre chief Mario Isola expects little graining of the soft tyres, and also thought “the medium is working quite well for Mercedes” on Friday when rear tyres were running at a 19psi starting pressure. That was then raised to 20psi, which will change the feel for the drivers if not the lap times.

In this case, Perez doesn’t necessarily have to be ahead of Hamilton in the first stint of the race. As long as he can keep pace, he can pick up even more experience of the compound and gather data on it prior to his main rivals for victory switching over to it, and if Red Bull decides for a two-stop strategy then he will have a clear pace advantage with a switch back to softs for his final stint.

Hamilton is well aware of the strategy freedom Red Bull may have over Mercedes, particularly as his own team mate Valtteri Bottas only qualified sixth after an issue warming up his softs in Q3, but says there’s more to the race if he leads the field through the opening laps.

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

“I’m not really sure what happened with Valtteri, it’s very hard to overtake here. So probably won’t have the support of him early on, but nonetheless, maybe he’ll make it through. But otherwise we just got to focus on our job and and try to do absolutely everything and more to keep these guys behind.”

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Imola, 2021
Fresh rubber could bring Sainz into play
Drivers further down the order are convinced it will be a one-stop race unless it rains, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon foresees a big gap from his ninth place on the grid to the cars ahead after getting the “maximum” out of his machinery in qualifying. That could either lead to a train of cars behind him or a race-long 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 beginning the race on fresh rubber as a result of not reaching Q3. His race pace in Bahrain was strong, particularly later on, and Ferrari look like they have the pace to be further up the order – even if team mate Charles Leclerc has said he’s unsure where they really stand in the pecking order at Imola.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’14.8231’14.817 (-0.006)1’14.411 (-0.406)
2Sergio PerezRed Bull1’15.3951’14.716 (-0.679)1’14.446 (-0.270)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’15.1091’14.884 (-0.225)1’14.498 (-0.386)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’15.4131’14.808 (-0.605)1’14.740 (-0.068)
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’15.5481’14.927 (-0.621)1’14.790 (-0.137)
6Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’15.6691’15.033 (-0.636)1’14.826 (-0.207)
7Lando NorrisMcLaren1’15.0091’14.718 (-0.291)1’14.875 (+0.157)
8Valtteri BottasMercedes1’14.6721’14.905 (+0.233)1’14.898 (-0.007)
9Esteban OconAlpine1’15.3851’15.117 (-0.268)1’15.210 (+0.093)
10Lance StrollAston Martin1’15.5221’15.138 (-0.384)
11Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’15.4061’15.199 (-0.207)
12George RussellWilliams1’15.8261’15.261 (-0.565)
13Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’15.4591’15.394 (-0.065)
14Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’15.6531’15.593 (-0.060)
15Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’15.8321’15.593 (-0.239)
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’15.974
17Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’16.122
18Mick SchumacherHaas1’16.279
19Nikita MazepinHaas1’16.797

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton23.633 (3)25.787 (7)24.908 (1)
Sergio Perez23.630 (2)25.668 (2)25.059 (4)
Max Verstappen23.730 (4)25.617 (1)24.965 (2)
Charles Leclerc23.853 (7)25.690 (3)25.060 (5)
Pierre Gasly23.806 (6)25.728 (4)25.131 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo23.739 (5)25.856 (8)25.231 (11)
Lando Norris23.554 (1)25.737 (5)25.163 (7)
Valtteri Bottas23.917 (9)25.747 (6)25.008 (3)
Esteban Ocon23.975 (12)25.920 (12)25.222 (10)
Lance Stroll23.920 (10)25.907 (9)25.189 (8)
Carlos Sainz Jnr23.910 (8)25.910 (10)25.204 (9)
George Russell23.937 (11)25.914 (11)25.410 (15)
Sebastian Vettel24.115 (15)25.932 (13)25.307 (12)
Nicholas Latifi24.143 (16)26.013 (14)25.307 (12)
Fernando Alonso24.072 (13)26.120 (15)25.401 (14)
Kimi Raikkonen24.090 (14)26.172 (16)25.603 (18)
Antonio Giovinazzi24.275 (17)26.223 (17)25.572 (17)
Mick Schumacher24.362 (18)26.242 (18)25.545 (16)
Nikita Mazepin24.494 (19)26.319 (19)25.905 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1George RussellWilliamsMercedes295.5 (183.6)
2Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes294.5 (183.0)-1.0
3Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault294.2 (182.8)-1.3
4Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes293.0 (182.1)-2.5
5Esteban OconAlpineRenault292.7 (181.9)-2.8
6Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes292.5 (181.8)-3.0
7Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda292.2 (181.6)-3.3
8Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes292.1 (181.5)-3.4
9Max VerstappenRed BullHonda291.8 (181.3)-3.7
10Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes291.8 (181.3)-3.7
11Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes291.6 (181.2)-3.9
12Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari291.3 (181.0)-4.2
13Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari291.0 (180.8)-4.5
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari290.8 (180.7)-4.7
15Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes290.7 (180.6)-4.8
16Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari290.6 (180.6)-4.9
17Sergio PerezRed BullHonda290.6 (180.6)-4.9
18Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari289.8 (180.1)-5.7
19Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari288.6 (179.3)-6.9

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Over to you

Will Perez beat Verstappen to a first win of 2021, is the soft tyre as close to the pace of the medium as Red Bull expects, can Bottas recover from his dissapointing Q3 result and will the two-stop strategy be attempted by anyone?

Share your views on the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in the comments.

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2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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27 comments on “Will Perez beat Verstappen to Red Bull’s first 2021 win at Imola?”

  1. As he is on the soft tyres, he has to win the first corner battle and disappear into the distance to have a chance of winning this.

    1. deg is ok on the soft and low on the medium.

    2. Does not need to though – if they decide on going for a 2 stopper, he can just be shortly behind Hamilton and make the undercut work to force Mercedes hand @reggio68.

  2. Yes, it will be interesting to see who gets to turn 2 first, Checo has a good chance, but Lewis is an expert in putting his car in the gray area of the regulation, let’s see if Checo can solve it, if he passes, Checo will to be a very interesting race with the strategies, Checo and Max have to be very close in the last laps, … let’s see.

  3. Will Perez beat Verstappen to the first win of 2021? – On pace, I doubt.
    Is the soft tyre as close to the pace of the medium as Red Bull expects? – Possibly.
    Can Bottas recover from his disappointing Q3 result? – Yes, albeit overtaking is difficult in Imola, so the sooner he reaches 4th, the better.
    Will the two-stop strategy be attempted by anyone? – Yes, at least by the ones starting on the medium (or hard).

    1. I heard many people say that Checo had no chance of beating Max in Quali, this is the second race and he clearly beat him.
      This is just beginning, let’s see what happens later.

      1. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t one of those, I knew perez would do better than albon and gasly, because honestly, beating in qualifying a driver of verstappen’s calibre isn’t a tough ask from a f1 driver, it were just those 2 who couldn’t drive a top car.

        1. I mean beating in qualifying once a year.

        2. @esploratore Isn’t it more like Verstappen dropping the ball rather than Perez stepping up? Verstappen should have been half a second ahead of Perez again.

          1. You have to wonder where Albon would have been on that grid. On a good day, I reckon he’d make the front row but he never had very many good days.

          2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
            18th April 2021, 9:50


            This is exactly what I think.

            As much as Perez certainly did well, Verstappen did a rare mistake. The fact one stage of his lap looked as messy as it did and he was barely slower than Perez and also only a tenth off pole shows that he likely would have got it by several tenths if not for this.

            One other time when Verstappen made an obvious mistake was in japan 2019 where albon set an identical time to him.

            I could be wrong, but this may be simialr to this. I personally only see Perez matching or beating verstappen maybe another 2 or 3 times this year if that. Most of the time i expect he will only be a little closer time wise than albon was. That is unless verstappen continues making mistakes.

    2. @jerejj I’m a bit less optimistic.
      Will Perez beat Verstappen to the first win of 2021? – Depends on the start, but under normal circumstances Hamilton will win quite easily.
      Is the soft tyre as close to the pace of the medium as Red Bull expects? – Maybe, otherwise Pérez may be holding up Verstappen, thereby making it even harder for Red Bull to win.
      Can Bottas recover from his disappointing Q3 result? – Nope. He won’t be a factor unless the midfield teams adopt the same poor strategies as they did last year.
      Will the two-stop strategy be attempted by anyone? – Of course not, unless there is a late-race safety car.

  4. I guess there is also the chance that Tsunoda will want to play aggressively at the start (to amend his error), mixed with some rookieness of he and Mazepin, and we have a recipe for an early Safety Car which can spice up the strategy and give a little bit of advantage to the tire-whisperer Perez.

    1. A safety car or red flag is practically a given in modern F1 and especially around here, meaning even more disadvantage to soft tyre starters like Perez with a shorter safety car window and having to stop 2 times.

  5. Wouldn’t be surprised if RB stops Checo very early to force Lewis in a very early stop as well. Maybe so early, Checo will have to do a two stop. It is irrelevant who leads after the first lap in this case, either Lewis has to box to prevent the undercut (if he leads) or will end up being stuck behind a RB on older tyres (if Checo leads and stops early). I believe putting him on soft has all to do with strategy and nothing with the Barhein Q2. Max had a bad qualy, but is still the fastest car, can’t imagine RB keeping him stuck being Checo all race.

    1. Last year extending the stint proved to be the right call rather than the undercut, Hamilton was helped out by the VSC but he would probably have made it out in front anyway.

      1. It only worked because Max was stuck behind Valtteri, who had a Ferrari part stuck under his floor and was slow. Also Lewis boxed under VSC. In normal situations an overcut will not work in Imola.

    2. The problem is that the field is very close, so pitting early means you lose a lot of positions, which isn’t ideal, especially as overtaking is very hard and tire wear is low. The opening stint will be very much about tire management, as everyone is trying to eke out as much tire life as they can. Pitting as late as possible is key.

  6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    17th April 2021, 21:27

    The battle for middle earth has begun ;-)

  7. Can he? Maybe. Will he? Probably not. Like realistically he still appears to be several tenths off of the pace of Max, which is fully understandable in only his second race for the team. And if Max is behind him and getting held up by Checo, then he’ll be asked to move over and let Max through.

    With Max and Lewis both being able to go longer in the first stint of the race, I also don’t think there’s much of a chance for Perez to have the upper hand on strategy either.

    So all in all, I don’t think it’s likely to be in the cards for him to win this race, but it would be cool if he pulled it off. Who knows, maybe Lewis and Max will fight hard on track and Perez can take the lead and disappear into the distance sat the start.

  8. With Yuki at the back in a quick car and Mazepin desperately trying to prove himself I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a safety car. I foresee a strategy game tomorrow and that would seem to be advantage Red Bull… but which one?

  9. We have no reference for Perez starting on the front row. I hope its something we see more of as the season unfolds.

  10. I think it would be best to answer the question whether Red Bull can win first.

    I think Merc and Lewis will take the win, and Perez will get dropped by his team behind Verstappen…

  11. soraya pellegrini
    18th April 2021, 3:22

    i’m not sure. hamilton and verstappen will both be on mediums, while perez will be on soft. bc the pit lane is so long, two stops can be costly, so it’s hard to say. if perez wins, it will probably be due to a dnf, botched pit stop, or a penalty for hamilton or verstappen. best of luck to him though:)

  12. Not sure if its because Daniel is still yet to get comfy in his new car, but Lando absolutely schooling Daniel is something i never expected. Just imagine when once Dan gets going…
    Amazing team this.
    The performance could narrow down to conditions but if i were Ferrari, i would be slightly concerned about the massive advantage mclaren seem to have at the moment atleast in qualifying.

  13. Funny to look back and read these comments

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