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Aussie watch ahead of the F1® Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix 2024

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 16 May 2024

An old-school track with undulations, evocative corner names and history everywhere you turn – F1® returns to Europe for Imola this weekend, and four Aussies have points and progress on their minds.

It’s hard to imagine a trio of Formula 1® circuits – and locations – more disparate than the gleaming steel and glass of the Shanghai International Circuit, the palm trees and teal of Miami, and this weekend’s location, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (May 17-19).

Heading to Italy from China via Florida, round seven of the season is hosted by one of the sport’s more enduring old-school circuits, but one that has only come back on stream in recent times. F1® hadn’t been to Imola for 14 years before it was shoehorned back into the calendar to complete the 2020 covid-compromised season, and it’s here to stay, until the end of next year at least.

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After last year’s Imola visit was cancelled at the 11th hour because of floods in the region, you can bet the Ferrari tifosi will be out in their droves to follow the fortunes of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the track just 90 kilometres from Maranello. Corners with names like Acque Minerali, Variante Alta, Rivazza … Prancing Horse flags adorning balconies on the adjacent houses … this event always feels like a throwback to F1’s grainy past, just now in modern-day HD.

It's not all about F1® this weekend, either; if it seems like it’s been a while since you saw FIA Formula 2® and FIA Formula 3® mentioned on this website, you’d be right – Melbourne in late March was the last time either category raced.

With an eight-week break between rounds and little time on track other than a three-day test in Barcelona in mid-April, expect Aussie F3® duo Christian Mansell (ART) and Tommy Smith (Van Amersfoort Racing) to be primed for Saturday’s 18-lap Sprint and Sunday’s 22-lap Feature.

What other talking points are front of mind this weekend? These.

Piastri gets the full package

Oscar Piastri was the full package in Miami – a brilliant start and a decisive move to second was absolutely top-shelf given he was racing a McLaren with half the upgrades afforded to Lando Norris, who used a superb last stint (mentioned by our TV feed) and a load of luck with a fortunately-timed safety car (not mentioned quite as much, but we digress) to take his maiden F1® win.

Piastri’s pace – he set the fastest lap of the Miami race following an unscheduled pit stop after being hit by Sainz, the Ferrari driver penalised for the collision – was superb in Florida, and worthy of much more than a 13th-place result. More encouragingly, he’ll have the full update to the MCL38 this weekend, which should give him an extra boost at a track where he’s never raced in anything before.

Note the use of ‘raced’: Piastri has gleaned plenty of intel from a couple of days’ running at Imola in old McLarens before this weekend, doing a track day in the team’s 2022 car as recently as March. McLaren won at Imola six times when the track hosted the San Marino Grand Prix (1981-2006), and if there’s a team to upset Red Bull this weekend, there’s a stronger chance it’ll be dressed in orange rather than red.

Ricciardo takes a weight off

Daniel Ricciardo’s Miami weekend was an embodiment of the famous Gennaro Gattuso meme (Google it); the joy of five points after a brilliant Sprint Saturday coming before the pain of a back-of-the-grid start and 15th place on a sobering Sunday.

Given how wretched the start to his season was, Ricciardo still left Miami with a smile, and with good reason; the pointless wait was clearly a weight on his shoulders, and while he didn’t return to F1® to sit 14th in the standings after six rounds, it’s an improvement on the alternative.

Imola should help to brighten his mood, too; Ricciardo has managed top-six results in qualifying on all three F1® visits, and the 31st of his 32 career podiums came there for Renault in 2020. It’s a place where history suggests his Miami momentum – the Saturday part, thanks Gennaro – could continue this weekend.

The ‘other’ home team

Speaking of Ricciardo … while Ferrari will be seen as the home team this weekend, it’s RB who have more claims on that tag, with the team’s Faenza base just 20 minutes down the road. Whether an Austrian-owned team with two American title sponsors and a base in the UK can be called an ‘Italian team’ any more or not … we’ll leave that up to you.

RB had a superb weekend in Miami, with Ricciardo’s sensational Sprint and Yuki Tsunoda’s double-points haul (eighth in the Sprint, seventh in the Grand Prix) seeing the team score more points in one weekend (12) than any race since the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Tsunoda finished fourth and Pierre Gasly fifth.

With 19 points in six rounds – AlphaTauri had just 25 all of last year – RB has distanced itself from the back of the pack quartet (Haas, Alpine, Williams and Sauber), scoring more points than those four teams combined. There’s still a 23-point deficit to Aston Martin for fifth in the constructors’ championship, but the signs are good ahead of a ‘home’ race that RB can continue to pounce on any profligacy from the sport’s heavy hitters.

Emilia-Romagna fast facts
Circuit name/location: Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola
Length/laps: 4.909km, 63 laps
Grands Prix held/debut: 3, 2020 (Imola also held the San Marino Grand Prix from 1981-2006, and the Italian Grand Prix in 1980)
Most successful driver: Max Verstappen (two wins)
Most successful team: Red Bull Racing (two wins)
2023 podium: 1st: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), 2nd: Sergio Pérez (Red Bull Racing), 3rd: Lando Norris (McLaren)

The Formula 1® Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix 2024 will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our article What time does the F1® Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix 2024 start for Australians? for your local timings.