2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix report: Racing gods shine on Hamilton


Mercedes won its seventh successive F1 Constructors' Championship at Imola, with a 1-2 finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. But Lewis Hamilton's win required luck - as well as one of his less glamorous strengths

Shoey - Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo drink champagne from race shoes on the podium at Imola after the 2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Joao Filipe / DPPI

Lewis Hamilton predicted Imola was going to deliver a boring race, and for 48 laps he was generally right. But it’s not just overtaking that leads to excitement and the trigger for a dramatic conclusion turned out to be a Red Bull tyre.

It was a race that fell into Hamilton’s lap but it was also one that allowed him to demonstrate one of his most crucial – although admittedly not glamorous – strengths.

Starting from second, Hamilton’s getaway wasn’t good enough to withstand the threat of Max Verstappen, who instantly picked up the slipstream from Valtteri Bottas and pulled ahead of the championship leader. At that point it really looked like game on, with Bottas leading but Verstappen able to stick with the Finn and Hamilton not able to get close enough to attack from third.

But the reason Verstappen could follow Bottas so closely soon became clear. Sebastian Vettel had tapped Kevin Magnussen into a spin on the opening lap at Tosa, and in turn damaged his own car. A bit of the Ferrari was sitting on the track and when Bottas came round again a lap later he cleaned it up.

Kevin Magnussen spins on the opening lap of the 2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola

Debris from Vettel/Magnussen contact was bad news for Bottas

Davide Gennari/Getty Images

“It was on the racing line and I didn’t have time to react, there was that big piece of carbon,” Bottas said. So, I decided and what I had time to do was to, at least, aim at least on how to hit it, so I went straight over instead of going over with one of the tyres and possibly getting a puncture.

“But, unluckily it got stuck under the floor and apparently it was 15 points of downforce, which in lap time it’s quite a big chunk.

“How it affected the car, I would say it made that in some corners I could feel the car sliding a bit and in some braking it was a bit unpredictable, so sometimes I would lock the wheels and sometimes it was stopping pretty quickly, so it was not really consistent the downforce I had in the car.”

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Mercedes estimate that cost Bottas around 0.75sec of lap time, and that was the first bit of fortune that fell Hamilton’s way. Overtaking was clearly going to be extremely difficult so, in order to at least maintain track position, Verstappen pitted early to cover off an undercut from Hamilton. As the leader, Bottas responded to protect his lead but that left Hamilton in clear air and Verstappen stuck behind a slow, damaged car.

“I thought I would get a better start today but it didn’t turn out the way I would have liked and I fell to third,” Hamilton said. “My next strategy was to try and get by the Red Bull but it was just impossible to get close and in trying to get close I was killing the front tyres. So I backed off and just tried to keep within distance.

“Then Max stopped much earlier than I thought he would and Valtteri stopped to cover him and there was no way I was doing the same. Naturally, at the beginning of the race we get given a bunch of different options of strategy and I understood that if I was in that position the only way to do something was to do something different – to extend as long as I could. But I didn’t know how long that tyre would go.”

The medium tyre would go long enough thanks to that often unsung talent of Hamilton for finding the sweet spot where tyre wear is minimised while pace is maintained. He had built up a lead that was big enough to allow him to pit and emerge ahead of his two main rivals while Bottas struggled. But as he hit traffic, that was starting to look a little less certain. Then the racing gods smiled on him once again as Esteban Ocon coasted to a halt with a suspected gearbox issue and the Renault sat stricken near Variante Alta.

Lewis Hamilton makes his pitstop at Imola in the 2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Hamilton’s pitstop under the brief virtual safety car handed him the race lead

Peter Fox/Getty Images

A virtual safety car was needed to push it off the track, and it was deployed just before Hamilton reached the pit entry. Thirty seconds later he was leaving the pits and the VSC ended.

“The start was good, I got Lewis, then I was trying to stay with Valtteri,” Verstappen explained. “We both pitted – I tried to do the undercut – and then he had damage on the floor so we were losing a lot of lap time. I couldn’t get close, this track is so hard to pass, and then of course Lewis jumped us.”

Still, Verstappen put pressure on the ailing Bottas and regular lock-ups at Rivazza hinted at the difficulty the Finn was facing. Eventually he went too wide, and despite brake-checking Verstappen at the final corner, the Red Bull was through with DRS. It looked like a cruise to second from there as he instantly matched Hamilton’s pace, until 15 laps to go.

Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes runs wide onto the gravel at Imola as Max Verstappen's Red Bull looms behind during the 2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Bottas’ error allowed Verstappen past to run second – briefly

Joe Portlock/Getty Images

“Once I got past Valtteri I think the pace was good, the car was feeling quite good and suddenly on the straight I lost the car because there was a tyre blowout. So I don’t know exactly what happened but when I looked at the car there was nothing broken on the car.

“It was a big shame because it was a lot more fun as well, pushing and trying to stay with them so it was a lot of fun out there. So it’s a shame of course to not be on that podium, but not only be on that podium but be second.”

Traffic was such a big factor that Sergio Perez had climbed to third at that stage, having started 11th on the medium tyre. Running longer than those on the softs promoted him, but Magnussen doing the same – after his clash with Vettel – held up Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, Daniil Kvyat and the McLarens behind.

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That had allowed Perez to pit and emerge ahead of all of them, but while the Mercedes pair could switch to softs under the safety car caused by Verstappen’s off, Perez did the same, inexplicably giving up track position and dropping to sixth.

“We were running P5 with roughly 15 laps to go, I think, and then there was the issue with Max, so that brought out the safety car,” Ricciardo said. “So I guess that put me in fourth on track, and then Perez pitted which obviously I was smiling about because I was ‘well, that’s given me third on track’ and I knew hanging on with the hard on the restart was going to be tricky but I was more than happy to fight for it at the end.

“Track position’s obviously very important around here so yeah, I think both myself and the team were very willing to keep me out on track. We held on. I think the threat at the end was Kvyat and that was very surprising. I wasn’t sure where he came from but I was told he was on the soft and he was coming on obviously very strong – but held on and just very, very happy.”

Alex Albon is chased by Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat at the restart of the 2020 F1 Emilia romagna Grand Prix at Imola

Kvyat sped past Perez and Albon at the restart

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Following heartbreak for his team-mate Pierre Gasly — forced to retire from fifth early due to a coolant leak — Kvyat was the star of the closing laps. On fresh softs he jumped Perez and Albon on the race restart and then overtook Leclerc brilliantly on the outside at Piratella to take fourth. While Leclerc and Perez would come home fifth and sixth, Albon spun on cold tyres to end up 15th.

If that wasn’t painful enough, George Russell dropped it on cold tyres behind the safety car when tenth and on for the first points in his career.

As Russell dealt with that pain, the team that manages him — Mercedes — were at least otherwise occupied, celebrating a record seventh consecutive constructors’ championship. Hamilton might have had some luck on his way to victory, but there’s been nothing lucky about that dominance.

2020 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix race results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 63 laps 26*
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +5.783sec 18
3 Daniel Ricciardo Renault +14.320sec 15
4 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri +15.141sec 12
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +19.111sec 10
6 Sergio Perez Racing Point +19.652sec 8
7 Carlos Sainz McLaren +20.230sec 6
8 Lando Norris McLaren +21.131sec 4
9 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +22.224sec 2
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +26.398sec 1
11 Nicholas Latifi Williams +27.135sec
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +28.453sec
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point +29.163sec
14 Romain Grosjean Haas +32.935sec
15 Alex Albon Red Bull +57.284sec
16 George Russell Williams DNF
17 Max Verstappen Red Bull DNF
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas DNF
19 Esteban Ocon Renault DNF
Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri DNF

*Includes additional point for fastest lap


F1 Drivers’ Championship standings after Round 13 (Emilia Romagna GP)

Position Driver Team Points
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 282
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 197
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 162
4 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 95
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 85
6 Sergio Perez Racing Point 82
7 Lando Norris McLaren 69
8 Carlos Sainz McLaren 65
9 Alex Albon Red Bull 64
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 63
11 Lance Stroll Racing Point 57
12 Esteban Ocon Renault 40
13 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 26
14 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 18
15 Nico Hülkenberg Racing Point 10
16 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo 4
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 4
18 Romain Grosjean Haas 2
19 Kevin Magnussen Williams 1
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 0
21 George Russell Haas 0


F1 Constructors’ Championship standings after Round 13 (Emilia Romagna GP)

Position Team Points
1 Mercedes (2020 champions) 435
2 Red Bull 226
3 Racing Point 126
4 McLaren 124
5 Renault 120
6 Ferrari 93
7 AlphaTauri 77
8 Alfa Romeo 5
9 Haas 3
10 Williams 0