June 20, 2024

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What we learned in Friday practice for the 2024 F1 Imola Grand Prix

What we learned in Friday practice for the 2024 F1 Imola Grand Prix

After the inaugural series of continental rounds, the Formula 1 circus returned to its European heartland and descended on Imola. One of Formula 1’s classics returning after a long spell away, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari takes a popular step back in time. The scourge of the spacious and forgiving runoff has been largely eradicated by the welcoming spectacle of grass and gravel, which emerged during Formula 1’s two-year hiatus from the venue; Last year’s floods in the Emilia-Romagna region led to the cancellation of the 2023 event.

As is usual at the start of the European season, there were also plenty of upgrades that teams wanted to explore – and the logistical hurdles weren’t reduced much. The first ‘traditional’ weekend format since the Japanese Grand Prix meant that upgrades could be tested back-to-back in FP1 and their impact studied in FP2.

So, what’s everyone like? A Red Bull rampage looks somewhat less inevitable at this stage, and instead, Friday’s race was at the top of home favorites Ferrari – with McLaren’s Miami team narrowly ahead in the standings. As always, there is more to Friday’s detailed practices than just schedules. Let’s dive into the numbers and data that emerged from the first two sessions of the weekend.

Today’s story

Charles Leclerc stunned the crowd by sweeping Friday practice, leading both sessions to complete an impressive day for Ferrari. The Monaco topped the red-flag interrupted FP1 team with a time of 1:16.990 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than Mercedes’ George Russell in the first two afternoon sessions.

The session was temporarily halted due to Williams driver Alex Albon being locked out after a heavy collision with the Acque Minerali, resulting in an electrical issue that caused him to stop on the grass just after the corner exit. Leclerc’s goal came shortly after the green flag resumed on the soft tyres, while Russell led Carlos Sainz by a slim 0.026 seconds.

The 1m15.906s lap put Leclerc at the top of the final FP2 standings as Ferrari appeared to get into a competitive rhythm from the start of the weekend. He had taken the lead in the early rounds on the medium tyres, narrowly ahead of Max Verstappen, but a gap is starting to appear between the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers when it comes to the C5 race. Once the soft tire rounds began in the middle of the session, Leclerc set the pace with a lap of 1 minute and 15.969 seconds, and in another round, he increased his pace by achieving another 0.063 seconds. This time Oscar Piastri settled into second place, just under two tenths behind Leclerc.

Leclerc and several others dealt with gravel traps during Friday’s practice sessions

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

But the two are likely to be overshadowed by Miami winner Lando Norris, if the Briton completes his only publication on the soft shoe; According to GPS data, Norris was tracking more than half a second faster than Leclerc’s benchmark before completely overcooking the Rivazza. There was a lot of pavement midway through the left doubleheader preceding a gravel brush at the exit, which made for a quick retreat into the pits.

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Meanwhile, Verstappen was unable to do better than fifth and seventh in Friday’s two practice sessions. The championship leader appeared to spend more time on the gravel than off it, as he struggled with inconsistent balance throughout the sessions and was unable to adapt to the demands of Imola’s tight and undulating track.

Jock Clear revealed Ferrari’s upgrades aim to “tilt the map” of the car’s performance: in other words, boosting its performance in areas where the SF-24 is weakest – low-speed corners – while retaining its power in high-speed areas.

The nature of the circuit also greatly affected traffic, so lap times must be treated with caution – but handicapping calls are bound to play a role in qualifying regardless of running plans on Saturday afternoon.

Ferrari leads the line with new upgrades

A roar spread through the crowd like an audible Mexican wave as the Ferrari passed through the stands at Acque Minerali. It didn’t matter whether it was Leclerc or Sainz who appeared on the horizon: the simple presence of red elicited a Pavlovian reaction from the fans.

The Prancing Horse had pinned its hopes on a new, extensive upgrade package for the Imola, one that covered the distance on the day Fiorano was filmed. The side intakes were the main visual feature for those wanting to make comparisons with Red Bull, but this was complemented by changes to the front and rear wings, bonnet, bodywork, floor and diffuser. Jock Clear, the team’s chief performance engineer, revealed on Friday that these were intended to “tilt the map” of the car’s performance: in other words, boost its performance in areas where the SF-24 is weaker – low-speed corners – while retaining its characteristics. Versatility in high-speed areas.

No prizes for guessing who your favorite players are at Imola

No prizes for guessing who your favorite players are at Imola

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

Imola’s corner profiles tend toward the slow and medium end of the spectrum, so they’re an ideal place to determine if updates have succeeded at the “end” of performance. Exploring the GPS data, Leclerc appeared to carry more speed into the tight Tosa turn than both Verstappen and Norris, although Piastri briefly gained time on the Ferrari thanks to him staying on the throttle one touch later. However, Leclerc found time exiting the corner and charging towards Beratella, with Piastri only pressing the throttle again when Leclerc was approximately 50% on the pedal.

Leclerc carried some pressure on the throttle through the Acque Minerali and Variante Alta Chicanes, ensuring Ferrari could maintain the revs in fourth gear through both corners; Piastri dropped to third in both by swapping the accelerator pedal fully with the brake pedal to maintain engine speed.

Comparing Leclerc’s best lap in FP2 to his team-mate Sainz, the Monegasque driver appeared to fall behind slightly during the chicane phases around the lap, but he made up for that with stronger exits – although Sainz was unable to muster a clean second flying lap to claim second place. Really indicates Ferrari’s pace.

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McLaren’s outright pace was masked by Norris

Had Norris not dipped a wheel at the exit of Rivazza, he could have catapulted his McLaren to the top of the charts in FP2. The Briton carried more speed on the straights than Leclerc’s Ferrari, and was more than 0.4 seconds ahead on fastest lap when he stepped on the berths at the final corner. It could be argued that he carried too much speed into the corner, with Delta now 0.7 seconds clear of Leclerc in the transition between the two left-handers, but this carried him too far and prompted him to cancel his lap.

The McLaren clearly has competitive single-lap speed, but it’s the long-term speed that matters. The team quickly corrected Norris’ mistake, which led to him taking a 15-lap long drive down the middle. Although Ferrari appears to be ahead of McLaren in the overall average speed table (below), there are a number of key areas that suggest McLaren could pull ahead of the Italian team.

Average framerate running average FP2

position a team driver Average lap time Number of turns
1 Ferrari Leclerc 1 minute and 20.736 seconds 12
2 McLaren Norris 1 minute and 20.836 seconds 15
3 Red Bull Perez 1 m 21.025 s 8
4 Aston Martin Alonso 1 m 21.601 s 11
5 lord Tsunoda 1 m 21.911 s 15
6 Sauber potash 1 m 22.025 s 10
7 Williams Albon 1 m 22.064 s 9
8 Haas Hulkenberg 1 m 22.086 s 9

*Mercedes and Alpine recorded hard tire-only runs with best average times of 1 minute 20.991 seconds and 1 minute 22.323 seconds respectively.

First, the Norris run was generally longer and therefore more reliable for obtaining a larger data set. Furthermore, far fewer outliers had to be removed from the Briton’s race. Leclerc had two laps removed from his average to account for traffic and other errors that were not representative of the overall race pace. However, Norris was able to prove that McLaren’s pace was repeatable throughout his stint.

Although Norris did not shine with full lap times, his speed and that of the McLaren were clearly evident.

Although Norris did not shine with full lap times, his speed and that of the McLaren were clearly evident.

Photography: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport pictures

In other words, Ferrari had the lead for both sessions on Friday – but McLaren’s pace in qualifying and in the race should be stronger when it comes to important sessions.

‘Really bad’ Red Bull struggles with balance

Verstappen’s antics on the gravel highlighted the difficulties Red Bull faced on the opening day of its race at Imola. The RB20 particularly seems to struggle with how to press the soft tire into service; Verstappen reported that the front tires would “suddenly grip so much, I’d almost spin”, referring to the work the team needed to do overnight to ensure it had the balance needed to qualify.

In the longer runs on the medium tyres, Perez’s overall pace was slightly faster than Verstappen’s with fewer moments of drift, and was therefore more representative for inclusion in the averages once the outliers were removed. On that basis, it became fourth quickest of the bunch once the music stopped on Friday, with Mercedes having a strong day with the long hard tires keeping it third on the race pace – although Lewis Hamilton’s role as traffic builder throughout FP2 irritated some. From drivers.

“It was difficult to achieve a good balance and we did not feel comfortable inside the car. The car was moving a lot and it was very easy to lose the car at some points on the track.” Max Verstappen

“It’s very easy to lose the car, so we have some things we have to look at because today is definitely… just bad, just uncomfortable,” Verstappen said with a sigh. “Also the long run was pretty bad, so there are definitely some things we have to improve on if we want to be competitive tomorrow. Today we were very far off the pace that we need to fix.”

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Where Red Bull fell at a one-lap pace it seemed to be rallying in the final sector. Comparing Hamilton and Verstappen’s best laps, the RB20 had a clear advantage in the opening sector. But after Acque Minerali’s exit, Verstappen’s pace was much more erratic. The corner exit from Variant Alta was strong, but Hamilton gathered more speed heading into Rivazza and had the better exit out of the final left turn – a corner where Verstappen noticeably struggled to find a rhythm.

A series of upgrades to the RB20 have focused largely on the front wing and floor, but the jury is currently still weighing these improvements as Red Bull was unable to contend with good setups on Friday. For the on-call simulator drivers in Milton Keynes, expect them to burn the midnight oil to find their fix in time for the final training session on Saturday.

Red Bull relies on its simulation drivers to find setup fixes overnight

Red Bull relies on its simulation drivers to find setup fixes overnight

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

What did they say

Charles Leclerc: “It was a positive day overall. Everything went smoothly and we did all the testing we had planned on track. We look like we’re pretty competitive at the moment, but the conditions will change a little bit tomorrow, especially in terms of the wind, so we’ll have to anticipate that.” “

Lando Norris: “It was a reasonable day, if a little broken in places. We had a test program with some things to try after the upgrades in Miami, which is important to fit it in. But at the same time, we had to deal with the problem of some small issues here and there.” “Which made completing our plan a little more difficult than we had hoped. However, the car was in good condition and I think we made some good improvements during the day and I was happy with that tomorrow and I think we can have a good day.”

Max Verstappen: “It was a tough day today. It was difficult to get a good balance and we didn’t really feel comfortable inside the car. It was moving a lot and it was very easy to lose the car at some points on the track. There are some things we have to look at after today because “Our performance was not as good as expected and we were not comfortable.”

Who will excel at Imola?

Who will excel at Imola?

Photography: Zach Mauger / Motorsport pictures