2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix practice round-up: Verstappen fires warning shot ahead of qualifying


Max Verstappen looks like the man to beat once again heading into Emilia Romagna Grand Prix qualifying

Max Verstappen, 2021 Emilia Romagna GP

Verstappen laid down the marker ahead of qualifying

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Max Verstappen left Lewis Hamilton half a second down as the Red Bull was the only car to dip into the 1min 14s this weekend in final practice.

Valtteri Bottas took both sessions on Friday but it was a different story just hours out from qualifying.

After the Dutch driver hit trouble in FP2, he bounced back in a big way to leave rivals scratching their heads heading into a crucial qualifying hour.

Track limits played a big role in FP3 with plenty of lap times deleted at Turn 9 for exceeding the limits which could play a crucial role when it comes time to set the grid.

Here is how practice for the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix unfolded.



Teams and F1 were hit by technical issues in Imola, with timings, data and broadcast not transmitting as normal.

The track conditions were tricky for drivers to get a handle on, with several taking to the gravel in the early moments as they got their first taste of the Imola circuit for almost six months.

Nikita Mazepin was one of the first to fall victim to the track conditions, spinning by himself on cold tyres into the gravel before resuming. Yuki Tsunoda was another to run wide into the gravel at the Tamburello chicane. The Japanese driver just about managed to crawl his way out of the stones and back onto the circuit.

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Not long after it was Verstappen’s turn to run off track. He understeered wide into the gravel in a similar incident to Tsunoda but was able to skip across to rejoin and continue on.

A bizarre incident involving Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez resulted in contact and put both cars out of the session. The rear right of the Red Bull was damaged with a tyre deflated while Ocon had parked his Alpine up at the side of the track after a coming together. With the broadcast feed not yet working, it’s unclear as to exactly what happened.

The session was red-flagged briefly to recover both cars but once it got going again, but the incident-packed session wasn’t quite finished there, as Mazepin had a second spin in the dying moments of FP1.

The Russian took too much exit kerb coming out of the second Rivazza left-hander and his car was pitched into the barriers in front of the pit lane entry. His car suffered a broken front wing but no more substantial damage. His crash brought out the red flags once again to bring the session to a close.

With the track lacking rubber and drivers still getting acclimatised to the circuit, the first practice session is a little difficult to read too much into but Mercedes has started on the right foot with a one-two.




Warmer conditions and a slightly more rubbered-in track surface provided more representative conditions than the morning session though disaster struck Red Bull just 15 minutes into the session.

Verstappen slowed on the main straight and was forced to pull over to the side of the track with an apparent issue with his RB16B. The Dutchman said he felt something snap in the car that was reported to be a driveshaft failure.

Mercedes had no such issues and were out trying both medium and soft compound tyres. During their flying laps, both drivers were quick on the mediums and only Hamilton was able to improve on his time on the soft compound tyre, albeit by just a tenth of a second.

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Race runs were the main focus of the session with the majority of the second half spent on longer runs. Charles Leclerc’s pace on mediums was promising for Ferrari, lapping in the 1min 19sec range for the majority of his run. Team-mate Carlos Sainz complained of front graining in his race run on soft tyres but was lapping in a similar range to his team-mate, albeit closer to the high 1min 19s.

Hamilton and Bottas were setting low 1min 19s on their medium tyres with Mercedes which both cars ran and Hamilton was looking the slightly quicker of the two, opposite to how the order seems over a single lap.

The sole-remaining Red Bull of Perez carried on the team’s run plans solo on medium tyres. The Mexican ran in the 1min 20s, occasionally dipping into the 19s.

Ferrari’s strong session ended in tatters though as Leclerc brought out the red flags with a crash at the final corner. The Monégasque driver lost the rear end of his car on corner entry and the close proximity of the outside wall and gravel runoff sent the Ferrari into the wall, breaking the front right suspension. With just over two minutes left of the session, it brought a premature end to Friday’s running.




The fast starts on Friday were not repeated on Saturday as teams were reluctant to appear from the garages for the first 15 minutes.

Both Haas drivers had their first laps deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 9, something that became a running theme in the session.

Ferrari ran the new floor that appeared to work well on Friday on both cars and went one-two in a continuation of their pace from the day before, Charles Leclerc leading on a 1min 16.795sec on mediums.

That was until the Mercedes drivers emerged on soft tyres with Valtteri Bottas going top of the times briefly before his time was deleted.

Lewis Hamilton had started to wind up for a lap but the red flags were quickly thrown preventing his lap from finishing.

Nicholas Latifi went into the barriers at the exit of the Villeneuve chicane, losing the rear end of the Williams mid-way through the right-hander. He took the front wing off his car but was able to recover back to the pits.

After the green light was back on, Sergio Perez put his Red Bull top of the pile on medium tyres and Max Verstappen turned it into a Red Bull one-two until his time was deleted for track limits.

Hamilton put his first flying lap in to go P2, a tenth down on team-mate Bottas but his time was also deleted for track limits at Turn 9.

Perez improved his P2 time to go withinn four-tenths of Bottas on medium tyres. Gasly had a scary moment out of the Tosa hairpin with 20 minutes to go, catching a snap of oversteer that almost sent him into the outside wall on corner exit.

As the temperatures rose the times tumbled. Verstappen had another run on soft tyres to go quickest of all by a slender margin before Gasly sent AlphaTauri fastest on mediums by 0.005sec. That time was immediately usurped by Leclerc though.

Hamilton finally got a clean run in to go fastest of all by two-tenths on soft tyres with 15 minutes left of the session on a 1min 15.515sec. Lando Norris had been near the top end of the timing sheets all session and went second on his flyer within 0.022sec of Hamilton’s time.

The McLaren driver’s second lap put him top of the times by a tenth over the Mercedes.

While Gasly was at the top, team-mate Yuki Tsunoda was stuck to the bottom of the times having been baulked twice in the Rivazza corners, firstly by Perez and later Sainz.

In the final 10 minutes, Verstappen was the first driver to dip into the 1min 14sec range to go 0.4sec clear of anybody at the top. Perez’s effort was over a second off his team-mates effort but the Mexican’s lap looked like a scruffy one. He improved his time in the final minutes to go fourth, 0.59sec down on Verstappen.

Kimi Räikkönen had a trip through the gravel on a previous flying lap and team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi suffered a similar experience, dropping the rear on cold tyres and sliding into the gravel in the final five minutes.