How Ferrari’s dream of winning Imola became a nightmare

IMOLA, Italy — Ferrari will be reluctant to admit it, but the pressure mounts when they’re driving on home soil. Expectations of victory are always multiplied significantly in Italy and the costs of mistakes are massively increased.

It’s a pressure no other team in F1 faces. Individual riders may feel extra pressure racing in front of a home crowd, but no team carries a nation’s hopes as high as that of Italy.

It’s impossible to directly link that weight of expectation to the mistakes made by Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz at Imola over the weekend of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but it makes the missed opportunity all the more galling for a team that always continued is an intoxicating mixture of emotion and passion.

“Certainly expectations were very high here in Italy and we tried to calm them down,” said team boss Mattia Binotto on Sunday evening after Ferrari left Imola with just 20 points out of a potential 59. “We did everything we could internally as a team to try to take the pressure off and make sure we stayed focused and focused over the weekend.”

Ferrari have only won once in the last 12 years thanks to Leclerc at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2019 and Imola seemed like the perfect opportunity to reward their loyal following with another home win. At the final race in Australia, the team looked unbeatable as Leclerc took no chances on his way to his most comfortable win of his F1 career, but it was different at Imola.

Sainz’s weekend started badly as he spun in qualifying and damaged his car so badly that he was unable to take part in the pole position shootout. He later said the accident was not due to pressure and that he was simply experimenting with different lines through the Rivazza corners, but the error put him behind for the remainder of the weekend before he was eventually pulled out of Sunday’s Grand Prix a first corner collision with Daniel Ricciardo.

It was also clear during Saturday’s sprint race that the track layout and mixed weather conditions at Imola appeared to favor Ferrari’s rivals Red Bull. Leclerc did well to pick up the fight against Max Verstappen in Saturday’s 21-lap sprint, but over a full Grand Prix distance Red Bull were ahead.

It was also clear during Saturday’s sprint race that the track layout and mixed weather conditions at Imola appeared to favor Ferrari’s rivals Red Bull. Leclerc did well to pick up the fight against Max Verstappen in Saturday’s 21-lap sprint, but over a full Grand Prix distance Red Bull were ahead.

As a result, Ferrari had to get inventive with their race strategy after Leclerc dropped to third place behind the two Red Bulls at the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix. With 15 laps to go the team edged him out of third place in the hope that a new set of tires would give him a better chance of attacking the two Red Bulls in front of him. At first it appeared Ferrari were stopping as a precaution after Leclerc struggled with front tire problems in the sprint race, but team boss Mattia Binotto said it was just an attempt to mix up the race and put pressure on Red Bull.

“No, we didn’t run out of front tires,” he clarified. “I think that in that part of the race Sergio Perez’s pace was similar or a bit better than Charles’s, so we felt that with these tires we didn’t have an opportunity to attack and overtake anymore.

“So we did the pit stop to try and hope them [Red Bull] would also stop so we were both on new tires to reset the race with 15 laps to go. It worked pretty well because Charles Sergio was pretty close when he tried to attack and before he made the mistake.”

“The mistake” meant that Leclerc took too many curbs in the Alta variant and threw his Ferrari into the crash barriers. The accident damaged all four tires, which were scraping the road surface, as well as the front wing, which made contact with the outer wall. Leclerc had to pit for a new set of tires and repairs, dropping to ninth place before returning to sixth at the finish.

“It’s a big shame,” Leclerc said after the race. “Whatever happened before the spin, it is what it is, it’s part of racing, but I believe the spin shouldn’t have happened today.

“I mean P3 was the best I could do, we didn’t have the pace for much more. I was too greedy and paid the price, losing seven potential points compared to my third place finish that I had previously.

“It’s a shame, seven points are definitely valuable at the end of the championship. That mustn’t happen again.”

After the race there was an argument that Ferrari was trying too hard to pursue a result that was not in sight, but Binotto made no apologies for the aggressive approach. Leclerc was within 0.5s of Perez when he made the mistake and had he gotten a good run out of the Alta variation by attacking the curbs he might have been able to get through the two Rivazza- Staying close enough to Perez around corners to attempt an overtake in the pit lane.

“I think there will never be any regrets asking a driver to push,” said Binotto. “I think that’s part of our job, it’s part of our job to drive to the limit, but of course things like that can happen. I think these cars are a lot stiffer and if you make a small mistake you pay quite a bit. But no regrets. I think we made the right choice and that’s it.” Binotto insisted that the pressure of the occasion in front of Ferrari’s home crowd was not a factor in Leclerc’s error.

“While they were driving I don’t think pressure was a factor for the drivers because while they’re driving they’re trying to do their best. Of course we’re fighting for the best positions and we know we’re leading the championship, but. ” When I heard Charles on the radio at the races, he was very calm.

“He was very calm and I think the way he handled that was certainly not feeling the pressure himself, so I think it was a real mistake that can always happen – a small mistake that cost him a few positions and I’m pretty sure he’s aware of that and that’s good enough.”

Leclerc is still in control of the title race

One of the most impressive things about Leclerc is his openness to talk about the mistakes he makes. While Ferrari has struggled to perform over the past two years, he has made a number of small – sometimes costly – mistakes and they were a major factor in team-mate Sainz beating him in the championship standings last year. Already on Sunday evening he analyzed how he would change his approach to avoid a similar incident at an upcoming race.

“It was one of those mistakes that was more about the mental approach you had at that particular moment of the race,” said Leclerc. “I’ve always been strong in knowing what particular feeling I had at that moment of the race and knowing how to correct it.

“It’s a mistake again, but I’ll learn from it and not do it again.

“And I got a bit lucky with the mistake because I only lost seven points on what I could have scored. But it’s seven points that could be valuable at the end of the season and every point counts when you’re driving for the title. So yeah, it won’t happen again.

Despite the error, Leclerc still holds a 27-point lead in the standings and there’s no guarantee Red Bull’s lead at Imola will still hold up when F1 racing takes place in Miami for the first time.

“It’s always difficult to say who has the fastest car,” said Leclerc’s World Championship rival Verstappen after scoring maximum points at Imola. “Every track is different. If you look at Melbourne, we were definitely not the fastest.

“In the end it’s details, you know, you always have to make sure you have a good balance in the car. You can have the fastest car, but if you have a bad balance it doesn’t work or you have to take care of it. ” Your tires and things like that are very important with these new cars.

“And Miami will be a big question mark again. It’s probably going to be a bit of hit or miss for some people. Of course, hopefully we’ll do well, but you don’t know at the moment.” However, Verstappen would have taken the lead in the championship this weekend if reliability problems hadn’t robbed him of two second places in the first three races. It’s a reminder of how costly team or driver mistakes will be throughout the season.

“I honestly think at Red Bull it’s either one week where they’re stronger or another where we’re stronger and it’s been like that from the start of the season,” said Leclerc. “We were stronger in Bahrain, we were stronger in Australia and the other two were stronger.

“I still feel like we’re more or less there and it’s track dependent which of the two comes out on top. So I guess there aren’t any significant differences yet, but yeah, they were a bit stronger than we were this weekend

“All points count and today I lost seven points to the 15 we would have had we finished third. Every point is important, I will learn from that for the future. So it is now, I analyzed the data, I know what I did. I will continue. How Ferrari’s dream of winning Imola became a nightmare

Joel McCord

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