Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Shanghai International Circuit, 2024

Do Red Bull finally face a real rival? Five Emilia-Romagna GP talking points

Formula 1

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Formula 1 prepares for its first grand prix in Europe of the season in Imola this weekend after one of the most remarkable results of recent times in Miami.

McLaren did not just win last time out, but Lando Norris pulled away from Max Verstappen who could not keep up.

Now both Norris and team mate Oscar Piastri will have the same upgraded McLaren this weekend and will arrive at Imola with high hopes of making a bid for victory.

Here are the talking points for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Do Red Bull have competition?

In Miami, for only the third time in the last 29 grands prix, a team other than Red Bull took the top step of the podium. And for the first time in that span, it was McLaren who achieved that victory.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Imola, 2022
Verstappen won F1’s last race at Imola two years ago
Although Norris certainly gained an advantage from the timing of the Safety Car, allowing him to jump into the lead of the race for the restart despite not having overtaken anyone on track, his pace over the second half of the race. Max Verstappenhad no answer for the McLaren’s lap times over the final 30 laps of the race – a sentence that hasn’t been applicable for a long, long time.

While Verstappen’s Red Bull was damaged when it clobbered the bollard at the chicane, Norris was also benefitting from McLaren’s first major upgrades of the season. Focusing on the car’s suspension, Norris was the only one of the two McLaren to have the full package on his car last weekend, while team mate Piastri had only a partial set of upgrades.

Miami has not been a strong circuit for McLaren in recent years and they could be even stronger at other circuits. Amore conventional track like Imola should reveal just how much of a threat theytruly are to Red Bull and Ferrari. If they prove themselves genuine contenders, then the dynamic of the 2024 season and the remaining 17 rounds will change dramatically.

A return to Imola

After over a decade off the calendar, Imola made a welcome return to Formula 1 during the pandemic-struck season of 2020. But after that, it has been on the calendar ever since.

Sadly, however, there was no race in 2023 as planned as a result of the horrific flooding which struck the Emilia-Romagna region last year, making this the first grand prix at Imola since 2022, when the event formed the first sprint round under the new technical regulations.

Naturally, Ferrari can expect to have vocal support across the weekend with the Tifosi there to cheer on Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr. But it may be an especially difficult challenge for the Scuderia to compete for the victory given McLaren’s big step forward and the expected resurgence of Red Bull.

The last two races at Imola, in 2021 and 2022, were both affected by wet weather conditions. Early forecasts suggest there is a possibility that rain could again be on the cards for Sunday, which could potentially mask the outright performances of the top teams if it comes to pass and leaving us none the wiser as to what the true order could be heading into Monaco.

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A poignant anniversary

Amid the excitement of the sport’s return to one of its favourite circuits, there will be a sombre element to this year’s event. Just over 30 years ago this month, the San Marino Grand Prix weekend of 1994 saw one of the darkest chapters in Formula 1 history.

Start, Imola, 1994
The deaths of Imola’s 1994 grand prix will be commemorated
Rubens Barrichello suffered a serious accident during Friday practice that left him hospitalised, before 33-year-old Simtek driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed in a brutal 150mph crash during the second qualifying session on Saturday. While the sport mourned the loss of one of its own, Sunday proved just as horrific when three-times world champion Ayrton Senna inexplicably crashed at Tamburello on the sixth lap, suffering fatal injuries.

The major advancements in track and car safety resulting from that weekend can be seen today, three decades later. To commemorate the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger, there will be a series tributes paid over the weekend. Sebastian Vettel will demonstrate a McLaren MP4-8 raced by Senna in 1993 before the race weekend, while Alpine driver Pierre Gasly will also race with a helmet design in tribute to Senna.

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Magnussen on the brink

Kevin Magnussen arrives at Imola this weekend in a fair amount of trouble. His Miami weekend will go down in history as one of the most notorious performances of recent times, being hit with several penalties in both the sprint race and the grand prix itself, earning five penalty points on his superlicence as a result.

Because of his penalty spree in Florida, Magnussen now has ten penalty points in total – just two away from an automatic one-race suspension. Based on precedents set by several incidents so far in 2024, Magnussen can expect at least two points if he is deemed responsible for causing a collision this weekend – something he has done in the last two grands prix.

Even if he manages to avoid the wrath of the stewards this weekend, he will have to keep a clean record over the remainder of the season to avoid being sat on the sidelines for a race weekend. But if he does end up with a suspension, Haas will have a clear choice for who to replace him with…

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Spotlight on Bearman and Antonelli

Before Magnussen gets in the Haas for this weekend, he will first have to pass his car over to Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman. Having turned 19 since his impressive debut for Ferrari in Jeddah, this will be his second appearance in a grand prix session this year, and third for Haas following his runs at the end of last season.

Oliver Bearman, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2024
Bearman will return in practice for Haas
With more championship points than Magnussen and just as many as Nico Hulkenberg thanks to his seventh place finish in Jeddah, Bearman looks near-certain to fill Hulkenberg’s seat when he leaves the team at the end of the season. But once Friday practice is finished, Bearman will turn his attentions over to Formula 2, where he is sitting near the bottom of the championship with only two points and will be eager for a strong weekend.

But someone else who will be motivated to make an impact in F2 in Imola in Bearman’s Prema team mate Andrea Kimi Antonelli. The Mercedes junior has already been linked with Williams as a possible in-season replacement for Logan Sargeant as Mercedes look to evaluate him ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s departure at the end of the season.

Although the rules say that Antonelli will not be able to race in Formula 1 until he turns 18, the governing body has already received a request for dispensation. Until any movement happens on that front, Antonelli will help his cause by having a good showing this weekend. He has raced in Imola before in both F4 and FREC, but has never won a race here. Can he change that this weekend and take a big step towards a stunning promotion to Formula 1?

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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23 comments on “Do Red Bull finally face a real rival? Five Emilia-Romagna GP talking points”

  1. Do Red Bull have competition? – Too early to judge, but I’m positive the Miami GP was only a one-off for the time being.

    A return to Imola – Hopefully, a good race & if rain hits only on race day, I wouldn’t mind, but I hope it’d at least only be light in any case because of how FIA has treated heavy rain-affected races for a while.

    A poignant anniversary – Gasly already had a Senna-themed helmet design in 2020, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the 2024 edition design will look llike & Seb’s demo run is also interesting as well as all other 30th anniversary references over the event.

    Magnussen on the brink – He definitely needs to be careful for what feels like forever in motorsport terms, & even otherwise, given the risk of costing the team higher points opportunities over & over again.

    Spotlight on Bearman and Antonelli – Too early to consider Bearman a near-centainty, especially considering Gene’s general preference for experienced drivers since sacking Mick, & Toto already made clear on the last race weekend that they haven’t requested a dispensation, so still speculating about this matter is contradictory, & people should also remember that Sargeant is a clear-cut priority, so even a 2025 drive is solely his to lose rather than something he’s guaranteed to lose in any case, & as the Miami GP weekend as a whole was positive for him, he’ll definitely guarantee himself a third season if he can keep up an upward trend as the season progresses further.
    Besides, even if Williams ultimately wanted to replace him, I could see them offering someone like Bottas a drive, given his vast experience & past familiarity with the team, as midfield teams need two consistently performing drivers, so replacing Sargeant would make sense only if it were for a driver who’d definitely be an improvement from him & guaranteed to perform consistently alongside Albon.

    1. notagrumpyfan
      14th May 2024, 10:22

      still speculating about this matter is contradictory

      I never expected you to be critical of ‘speculating’ :P

      1. Only when it’s pointless & or lacks truthfulness.
        I prefer to always be wholly realistic with my expectations.

        1. And that’s even funnier.

          1. I think Jere has pretty realistic expectations usually, the only thing where I would say he’s in for a surprise is magnussen: he can do what he wants now, he will first get a 50% discount on penalty points, then complete immunity, unless he does something really dangerous, like when grosjean actually got banned for a race.

          2. And if I turn out to be wrong on this I don’t mind, but I just have 0 trust on the stewards to not manipulate situations like this like they did with gasly.

        1. @esploratore1

          I have zero trust on stewards consistency; but I’m fairly confident Magnussen will be resort to his typical way. You cant change his spots, and he’s been this way for countless seasons. Just google mag in 2019 and the years after that with contact and blocking.

          Still, he’ll probably get away with it for a while.

  2. John Barrowman
    14th May 2024, 9:36

    I’m off to the Grand Prix this weekend and Monaco the weekend after.
    Really interested to see how well McLaren have developed vs how much of last race’s gap related to Max’s floor damage.

    Reply moderated
    1. That’s quite the trip!

      And yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how most of the major teams have gone through their first upgrade package and whether or not that makes any difference in the races.

  3. Surprised to not see a reference for the significant Ferrari upgrade. Also it seems RedBull will have an upgrade.

  4. Do Red Bull have competition? No.

    A return to Imola. This is one of those races that I look forward to, the possibility of rain is only adding to the excitement.

    A poignant anniversary: I hope they don’t forget to include Roland in the tributes they run over the course of the weekend.

    Magnussen on the brink: He needs to be careful, but he most likely won’t be.

    Spotlight on Bearman and Antonelli: It’ll be interesting to see how Bearman performs. No one expected anything in Saudi, but people will be expecting things now.

    1. maybe if Red Bull turn down their power unit again, and refuse to try and challenge the guy in front…

      tall order I would imagine, but its better than having the FIA step in and let Merc,Ferrari,Renault unfreeze their motors.

      Only thing I have gotten from this season is that the FIA and Red Bull are very friendly.

      1. I think you need to check the sources of the information you pass off as fact my friend…

      2. ah yes baseless conspicaries, for the weakminded without an actual argument.

  5. Can’t we just call it Imola instead of making up a new name?

    I’ll be surprised things don’t return to the normal RBR (well one of them) way out front this weekend.

    The battle for next best though promises to be pretty good this year now that Mclaren seems to have found some pace. The battle between them and Ferrari should be epic.

    Further back at the front of the DRS train, Aston and Merc with possibly one of the other teams should have a fair battle as well.

  6. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    14th May 2024, 12:34

    I know the cars are too big for great racing here but I do love seeing f1 cars on a proper historic track. Love just watching it even if the race is boring.

    1. And if it rains it actually can be an exciting race even at this track.

  7. Everyone has a chance this race. The track crew is the worst and takes at least 15 laps behind a safety car to clear minor wrecks. Will need some crashes or retirements but if there are some it should be exciting. (Except for the safety car laps)

  8. Not if people know what’s good for them.

    -Jos The Boss

  9. Watch out for Oscar! I think he will shine this weekend.

  10. After so many bland street tracks and cookie cutter desert tracks, it is nice to be back to a proper racetrack. Okay, Suzuka is amazing, and Shanghai is good too, but ever since it was reintroduced, I have been psyched about Imola.
    I know that it has been hobbled by chicanes, and that the current F1 cars are probably a bit too big, but the romance of the place has me looking forward to the weekend. In fairness, anytime that I get to see cars move through corners that have actual names and history, it gets me excited.

    1. I like all circuits that have significant track height changes.

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