Round two of the 2021 Formula One Championship season kicked off today with Free Practice at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari – and it did not disappoint.
Among the unplanned spins, collisions, and technical issues, was an undeniable battle for the fastest laps among a number of teams.
Although Mercedes managed to clinch the fastest laps across both sessions, there is no definitive proof that the World Champions have it in the bag ahead of qualifying.
Red Bull remain their closest competitors on track, but after a collision with Esteban Ocon in FP1, Sergio’s morning was cut short, followed by technical issues for Max Verstappen at the opening of FP2, meaning neither driver had a real chance to push for better lap times on Friday.
Meanwhile, AlphaTauri proved a force to be reckoned with, as Pierre Gasly made the most of his AT02, splitting the Mercedes for a number of laps this afternoon – and ultimately coming away third fastest.
Ferrari also showed major improvements on pace and finished out the day with Carlos Sainz in P4 and Charles Leclerc in P5 – even after a snap of oversteer coming into Turn 19 resulted in a collision with the barriers for the Monegasque driver, and an end to the session.
Our 2021 contenders hit the track tomorrow morning for FP3 ahead of Qualifying – and the fight for pole position will no doubt be nail-biting.
So let’s see what some of the drivers had to say after a hectic first day at the historic Imola:
“The car is feeling much better than on the first day in Bahrain. As I said yesterday, it is a different track and type of circuit with different grip levels and surface. The weekend has started in a positive way, I’m much happier with the balance of the car.
“The car feels better, we still have the same type of issues as in Bahrain but less so. Still not perfect but we are only on event two out of 23 this season so hopefully we have time to fix it. I feel like we’ve made steps forward so that’s really good.
“The whole grid from midfield to the front looks very close. We didn’t see the best from Red Bull today but we’ll see that in Q3 tomorrow.
“No doubt they are going to be fast. We still don’t think we are the fastest car and we really need to improve on that on Saturday.”
“The team worked very hard to understand what happened in the last race where we were weak and to see if we can try to tweak the car for a better set-up. I also think the track has come a little bit more in our direction.
“We started off with a really good set-up today, a few tweaks here and there but no major issues. So far, good pace from us this weekend.
“We haven’t seen the best from the Red Bulls yet. It looks like they had messy sessions with traffic but it will be interesting to see just how quick they are tomorrow. Positioning is important here – it’s hard to follow around this track so nailing the set-up and maximising tomorrow is going to be so important.”
“I like Italy. The food is good and I enjoy being here but we don’t seem to have been that lucky with the driving here recently, so hopefully that will change.
“I had a driveshaft issue so we had to stop the car in FP2 and it wasn’t the easiest to get the car back to the pits so I couldn’t get back out on track.
“The car felt alright in FP1 and it is difficult to say how the second session would have been but we will still be able to look at the data and see what we can do better for tomorrow in terms of balance.
“Of course it would have been better to have the session but I don’t think missing running in FP2 is the end of the world as we know what we need to do tomorrow.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and make sure we get the best out of our package.”
“It was definitely good to get a decent amount of laps in the second session today and to get a feel for the car on a different track.
“The track conditions are obviously very different here compared to Bahrain so I’m just learning how the car behaves on different tracks.
“We’ve learnt a lot today as a Team and for every lap I do, I learn a few tricks here and there.
“The race pace seems to be strong and the car felt good, hopefully we can pull it all together in qualifying tomorrow.
“With the incident this morning, we didn’t have radio so I think there was a miscommunication through there and I think it was just bad timing.”
“I think this has been one of our best Fridays as a team, P4 this morning and P3 this afternoon, and I was so close to the top guys.
“I’ve felt good in the car since the first lap and I managed to push pretty hard, as well as drive the way I wanted, so I think it’s been a successful day.
“We focused on short runs initially with the Softs, which looked strong pace-wise and then completed some high-fuel laps in preparation for the race on Sunday.
“We’ve continued to work hard to improve against our main rivals in the midfield and I think, so far, we’ve shown that the pace is good.
“We’ll analyse the data that we’ve collected again tonight and hopefully we can find a little bit more again in Qualifying tomorrow.”
“I didn’t manage to complete many laps during FP1, due to an issue, and only managed four push laps in total but the car felt good whilst I was out.
“The team fixed the issue during the break and I was able to build-up my pace in FP2 as I continued to push more – hopefully I’ll be able to improve again in tomorrow’s practice session ahead of Qualifying.
“I’ve completed a lot of laps here pre-season, but I think I still managed to gain a lot from the sessions today. I particularly learnt about tyre management around this circuit and have a lot of interesting data from the Softs that I can now go and analyse.”
“It wasn’t a bad day for us, even though the timesheets don’t really show it. We couldn’t put a lap together in the short runs, so I am not too worried: let’s see what we can do tomorrow.
“There are things we can improve a bit tonight, as always, so hopefully we can get a bit more performance out of the car. The objective is the same – to clear Q1 and fight for a spot as high on the grid as we can.”
“We had a good start of the weekend. FP1 was a good session, a bit compromised with the radio and data issue – but that applies to everyone.
“I was very happy with the car in FP2, both in the short and long runs. We need to adjust a few things to make the car even better for qualifying as we know it will be tight – even more than it was in Bahrain.
“It’s hard to say where we expect to be, as a tiny difference between a lap and the other can make a big difference: we need to put together a perfect lap in qualifying.”
“I think it was a very positive day. For the most part we ran without hitches and we were able to get through the run plan quite smoothly.
“I was expecting the car to feel much better than it did in Bahrain, and it was better than expected. We still have some work to do, you don’t get anything for having a strong Friday.
“Tomorrow afternoon is when it counts, but we are setting ourselves up nicely to have a strong Saturday and Sunday.”
“As a team we are looking relatively fast, but personally I am a bit off the pace. Nicholas is driving really well, probably the best I have seen him drive.
“I need to improve quite a bit to close the gap to our competitors, and to Nicholas.
“As a team we are in a good position, we have a lot of data to review but I’m sure that my engineers and I can figure it out.”
Racing resumes tomorrow for FP3 at 10:00 am Irish time, following by Qualifying from 1:00 pm.