With the new changes promising the same entertainment from last year, the newly christened F1 Sprint makes its first appearance of the season this weekend pushing the qualifying on to Friday night. So what to look out for in this weekend’s races? Read on to find out.
The teams and drivers
Italians share a special bond with Ferrari to say the least, and to the tifosi, Ferrari is more like a religion than a super car brand and a racing team. Through its highs and lows, the Ferrari team faces immense support and criticism alike. Following last 2 seasons’ miseries, Ferrari have really stepped up its game showing up with what is the fastest car at the start of season in F1-75, and the whole team will surely be looking forward to delight the tifosi with a first Ferrari win in Italy since the 2019 Italian GP. Charles Leclerc seems to be at the top of his game, having scored 71 points in the opening 3 race weekends – second highest tally in the opening 3 rounds ever, behind Nico Rosberg’s 75-point record in 2016 – and the Monegasque driver will be hoping to add to his win tally and perhaps even grab the top spot in the F1 Sprint race. He also scored a ‘grand slam’ last weekend, getting pole position, race win, fastest lap, and having lead every lap of the Australian GP.
The Spaniard in the other side of the garage, Carlos Sains Jr., had a terrible weekend at the Australian GP, but is still in a decent place to fight his way back into the championship. Sainz also signed a contract extension with the Italian team, and will be charged up to prove his worth to the team. The only other car that can get close to Ferrari’s pace as of now is Red Bull’s RB18, which is plagued with reliability issues. After holding onto P2 despite struggling with the car for a long duration of the race, reigning champion Max Verstappen retired from Australian GP in a similar fashion to the Bahrain GP, as his car has now crossed the finish line only once in 3 races, that one time being 1st. George Russel is currently sitting in P2 in the championship in his Mercedes, which perhaps is incapable to hold the spot at the moment, and he only finds himself up there owing to the reliability issues faced by the Red Bulls, and Carlos Sainz’s DNF.
After having a lackluster weekend by 2022 standards at Australia, Haas seems to be back to its initial form, as its drivers Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher finished 4th and 5th in the rain inflicted FP1 session at Imola. Mercdes’ struggles continued as George Russel was only 10th fastest, with Hamilton far behind in 18th. Alpine Renault team also seems to be keeping its pace advantage over the midfield, but is struggling with reliability issues as well.
The weather has certainly thrown a spanner in the works of the F1 teams, as it adds to the additional work an F1 Sprint weekend promises anyway. With only 1 practice session ahead of qualifying, teams have little time to find an optimal setup, and are now conflicted as the Friday qualifying is set to have mixed conditions, Sprint could very well be dry, and the main race could again see some rain. FP1 also saw wet weather, with a lot of cars spinning and sliding out of control while the team worked their way to set up the cars. What setup choices the teams make could prove to be the key deciding factor in this weekend’s results, along side outright pace and reliability.
Formula 2 and Formula 3
F2 and F3 are also making a return this weekend, with round 3 and round 2 of the 2 feeder series’. Both the championships have Indian drivers racing in them, showing strong pace in the initial rounds without the ideal materialization. Racing for Prema in F2, Jehan Daruvala has already bagged 2 podium finishes in the opening 2 rounds of the season, and will hope to mount up a title challenge in this critical year for his chances to enter F1. Kush Maini has also made his return to single seater racing, having sat the 2021 season out, and is racing for team Trident in F3. He managed to qualify in P3 in the opening weekend of the championship, but was later disqualified for failing to stop at the weigh bridge when indicated to do so. He made a great recovery in the races, but failed to score any points.