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via Reuters

Coming into the 2024 season, after the RB20 was revealed, many expected Red Bull and Max Verstappen to run away with the championship like in 2023, and so far it looks like the Dutchman will most likely win it. However, with the field being closer than ever and Ferrari and McLaren closing the gap to Red Bull at the start of the season, things were expected to be a bit interesting. And we’ve already seen a Ferrari and a McLaren take wins away from Verstappen’s grasp.

With the upgrades for Ferrari arriving at the Imola GP and the upgraded McLaren from the Miami GP performing well, Max Verstappen might be under a bit of pressure. And with all the changes made to the Imola circuit and rain predicted for the weekend, it can be anyone’s win to grab. Unlike the previous races of the season, Max Verstappen is no longer the favorite to win the race, with Charles Leclerc eyeing his first win of the season, Carlos Sainz wanting to prove to Ferrari that they made the wrong decision by sacking him, and Lando Norris wanting to continue his winning form.

The changes made to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari

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Track Limits have become a huge problem over the last couple of years with FIA checking every car at every corner for the same. Sometimes this leads to a driver’s lap being deleted after the session, and other times it goes unnoticed. Leaving the track and running wide allows the drivers to carry more speed and get a faster lap. At other times, their mistakes go unpunished. To solve this, changes have been made to the Imola circuit. 

The first half of the Imola circuit was fine in terms of track limits as gravel traps were on the outside of corners, however, the latter part of the track was the problem. During Lewis Hamilton‘s 2021 pole lap around the circuits, he could be seen extending the track on multiple occasions. To solve this, Turn 9 (Piratella), Turn 11,12, and 13 (Acque Minerali) and the chicane of 14 and 15 (Gresini) have all been changed, and gravel traps have been added, or the tarmac runoff area has been reduced in size.

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As a result, the drivers will now have to be careful, as any little mistake will touch the gravel and end up in the barrier. Norris, Hamilton, and Verstappen are known for going the extra bit wide to find that extra tenth. We’ve seen Verstappen pushing the car past its limits and hitting a barrier on the corner exit during the 2021 Jeddah qualifying. Such a move by the Dutchman around Imola might give the Ferrari drivers, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, an advantage.

Rain shower predicted for the Imola GP main race

The weather is expected to be clear and sunny for the Practice sessions on Friday and the qualifying on Saturday. The temperatures throughout the weekend are expected to be in the low-mid 20s. However, for the Main Race on Sunday, it is predicted that rain showers are likely to hit the track. Nothing like last year when the race had to be canceled, but some parts of the showers are predicted to hit the track this Sunday. 

This can change the race on its head, as depending on where you are on the track, you can react to the rain faster than others, or pit earlier than others. We saw Max Verstappen pit in a lap later at the 2023 Monaco GP, which almost caught him in the race, but Aston Martin with Alonso in P2 messed up the strategy as well. The changes in a safety car are also increased during the rain, and we saw in Miami how Lando Norris benefited from it, and won the race. 

It is however, a double-edged sword and might favor Max Verstappen. It’s a matter of luck at that point in time, being at the right place at the right time. And if that wasn’t enough, Ferrari is bringing a huge upgrade to the Imola GP.

Ferrari’s massive upgrade package for the Imola GP

Frederic Vasseur has been teasing us with hints about Ferrari’s upgrade for the Imola GP and we finally got to see them as the Scuderia ran the upgrades during the filming day at the Fiorano track. And just as the rumors suggested, the upgrades are massive and might position the Scuderia right next to Red Bull or even in front. Red Bull is bringing some upgrades of their own but they’re expected to be minor upgrades.

As the pictures of the Ferrari surfaced after the Fiorano test, the first thing that the naked eye noticed was how the sidepod inlets had changed. The Maranello-based team moved away from the underbite style inlets to make way for the new RB20-inspired overbite side pod inlets. As a result, the radiators and cooling lines inside the sidepod would’ve also been changed, which then led to the change in the design of the engine cover. The car also features a completely new floor.

All these changes are expected to make the car 3-4 tenths faster per lap, or in technical terms, the Sf24 has gained 15 Downforce points. In qualifying trim, Ferrari is generally 2-tenths slower than Red Bull and this will put them ahead of the Milton Keynes-based team. These upgrades will put the Scuderia on par with Red Bull in terms of race pace, where they were 4-5 tenths slower earlier. 

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Keeping all these factors in mind, who is most likely to come out as the winner at the Imola Circuit?

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris or Ferrari? Who’s most likely to win the Imola GP?

Imola is an extremely technical track, just like Miami. Red Bull failed to configure the car to Verstappen’s liking at Miami, and as a result, the Dutchman struggled throughout the weekend. The Ferrari is generally very good at technical tracks and Tifosi’s support at Imola will only increase the morale and the confidence level of the Scuderia drivers. The race can be switched in favor of either of the three teams, depending on who makes the best strategy call. 

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Max Verstappen, on the other hand, after losing the Miami GP to Lando Norris, is coming with a feisty spirit, as he said that he plans to win “With a margin of at least twenty seconds. I’ve fought a lot all my life and experienced close racing, so I now like it much more when we know for sure that we can win with a large margin.” On the other hand, Lando Norris after his Miami win suggested that this is just the start for him and that more wins are incoming. And that upgraded McLaren package sure does look capable of winning races. 

Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen, and Lando Norris, all 4 have the tools and ability to take the win at Imola GP. The pendulum swings equally in favor of these 4 and Max Verstappen is no longer the favorite. If Ferrari’s upgrades do work the way they are expected to, it’ll be a tight fight between Leclerc and Sainz. Who do you think will win the Imola GP?

Written by

Pranay Bhagi

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Pranay is a senior F1 writer and content analyst at EssentiallySports who effortlessly blends his technical knowledge and passion for F1 in his writing. He has a knack for content research, and his work resonates with die-hard fans and newcomers to Formula 1. Pranay’s notable coverage of Guenther Steiner’s departure from Haas received widespread appreciation from readers.
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Edited by

Garima Yadav