Emilia Romagna GP: Imola predicted to be ‘big weekend’ as F1 rivals continue Red Bull pursuit | F1 News

F1 enters “a big weekend” at the Emilia Romagna GP which is poised to define the next phase of the 2024 season with Red Bull now “looking over their shoulders” at their improving rivals, according to the latest edition of the Sky Sports F1 podcast.

Two weeks after Lando Norris delivered a superb maiden F1 win at the Miami GP in an upgraded McLaren car after prevailing in what proved a late-race head-to-head with Max Verstappen, a number of other teams – including championship leaders Red Bull – are bringing their own latest round of updates to Imola, which stages the season’s first European round.

Speaking on the podcast before heading to Italy, Karun Chandhok underlined the importance of the weekend to the next phase of the season which features six races in eight weeks.

“It’s going to be a really interesting one because it’s the first European race and we know Ferrari have already run an upgrade, we saw they did a filming day, and there were pictures on the internet,” said Chandhok.

“We have heard from Helmut Marko that Red Bull are bringing quite a big update to this weekend as well.

“Mercedes will bring something; Aston will probably have something.

“We have had this first chunk of flyaway races, we are six races in and a quarter of the way through the season now. It’s still early enough [for upgrades to make a difference].

“I still don’t think anyone is going to beat Max for the championship but what we want to see is other people at least being able to pick off a couple of races. We don’t want to see him winning all but three races like last year, we want to see other people at least in the fight at certain circuits and in certain circumstances.”

Chandhok added: “This is actually a big weekend for F1 2024 on the whole because this will set the tone for the next run of European races coming up.”

Will McLaren go back-to-back?

Chandhok was joined on the podcast by Harry Benjamin, who is making the first of three appearances in 2024 as lead commentator on Sky Sports F1 at Imola standing in for David Croft.

Reflecting on the significance of Norris’ Miami win, Benjamin suggested McLaren were here to stay back at the front.

“I think this could be a real turning point now,” he said.

“I’m really excited not just by this season but what the future holds. McLaren last year demonstrated straightaway with the upgrade they brought in Austria ‘bang, hello, welcome to the party’ and they’ve done it again this time around, but the baseline was much better this year.

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Lando Norris backs McLaren to win the F1 world championship title next year and says he wants to challenge one of the best drivers ever in Max Verstappen

“Norris and (Oscar) Piastri, who will get the full upgrade this time around in Imola, I have the sense this is McLaren challenging week in, week out.

“Maybe not always pipping Red Bull and Max Verstappen because they still have an inherent advantage, but I think Red Bull are going to have to be looking over their shoulders now.”

Chandhok is also expecting big things from McLaren at Imola, where Norris finished third on F1’s previous two visits in 2021 and 2022.

“He’s always been good around Imola,” pointed out Karun.

“I seem to recall he had his lap deleted [in 2021] when he went wide at the Rivazzas but was devastatingly fast in qualifying and ended up coming through in the race to get a podium anyway.

“The upgraded car which they had in Miami will work well in Imola – it’s fast, flowing corners again. Miami actually wasn’t really a track on paper that should have suited them, a lot of slow corners, yet the car was genuinely very quick.

“So I am very optimistic that McLaren will be in a good place when we get to Imola this coming weekend.”

Red Bull are aiming to avoid consecutive race-day defeats for the first time since July 2022, when Ferrari won two on the spin.

Will Ferrari’s upgrade propel them into the fight at home?

On home soil for the first of two weekends this season, Ferrari will be aiming to reassert themselves as Red Bull’s closest challengers after being upstaged by McLaren in China and Miami.

The Italian outfit have their own suite of upgrades to debut and asked if they could prove a threat at Imola, Chandhok replied: “Everything’s possible, especially given the fact that the McLaren upgrade seemed to be four tenths of lap time.

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The Sky Sports F1 podcast panel discuss where Carlos Sainz could be driving next season and if he could replace Verstappen at Red Bull

“How big is the [Ferrari] upgrade? How big is the Red Bull upgrade? It is impossible for us to answer it sitting here today. But one thing you have to keep in mind is the weather looks a bit unpredictable again. I saw a forecast of 40-60 per cent chance of rain on most of the days, so that could throw a little bit of a curve ball.

“We have had two wet weekends there in 2021 and 2022, intermediate tyres etcetera, and last year’s race got cancelled because of flooding in the area.”

Mercedes’ long search for a breakthrough continues

Mercedes, meanwhile, also have more updates to add to their W15 as they look to finally find some consistent form and improved pace to challenge 2024’s early leading teams.

The team are yet to finish higher than fifth in a Grand Prix this season and occupy fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship – 60 points behind third-placed McLaren, who run their engines.

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The F1 Podcast team discuss where McLaren’s form leaves Mercedes and whether the Brackley team can make any headway in 2024?

Chandhok believes the former champions are “still looking for that silver bullet”, while Benjamin added: “Mercedes are not in a good spot still.

“They brought upgrades in Miami. They said themselves, I spoke to some of the team, they chucked a big wing on there which they knew would put them down on straight-line speed and especially that long back straight you are going to suffer.

“But, considering all of that, it was probably one of Lewis Hamilton’s best weekends of the year in terms of scrapping and a decent points result. But this is where Mercedes are at the moment, in the lower points of the top 10, and I just get the sense that they are still lost.

“Yes, they can still bring more upgrades, but it just feels like are one point you are slamming your head against a brick wall.”

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Sky Sports F1’s live Emilia Romagna GP schedule

F1 visits Europe for the first time in 2024 with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola

Thursday May 16
1.30pm: Drivers’ Press Conference

Friday May 17
8:50am: F3 Practice
10am: F2 Practice
12pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice One (session starts at 12.30pm)
2pm: F3 Qualifying
2:55pm: F2 Qualifying
3:45pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)
5:30pm: The F1 Show

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Ride on board with Michael Schumacher as he duelled with Fernando Alonso on the final laps of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix

Saturday May 18
9am: F3 Sprint
11:15am: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)
1.10pm: F2 Sprint
2.10pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying
5pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
5.30pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Sunday May 19
7.30am: F3 Feature Race
9am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Emilia Romagna GP build-up
4pm: Chequered Flag: Emilia Romagna GP reaction
5pm: Ted’s Notebook
8pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Formula 1 heads to Europe as Imola returns to the calendar following last year’s cancelled race. Watch the Emilia Romagna GP on May 17-19. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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