Leclerc fastest as Ferrari, McLaren leave struggling Verstappen trailing

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Leclerc fastest as Ferrari, McLaren leave struggling Verstappen trailing

Ferrari capped an impressive first day on track for their heavily upgraded car at their home Emilia Romagna GP as Charles Leclerc again set the pace in Practice Two, leaving Red Bull and Max Verstappen trailing on day one at Imola.

With McLaren also showing strong pace to take second through Oscar Piastri two weeks on from Lando Norris’ breakthrough win in Miami, world champions Red Bull finished half a second adrift in the unusually-lowly positions of seventh and eighth on the headline timesheet despite their own car upgrades and near-uninterrupted Friday running at a sun-kissed Imola circuit.

Red Bull also finished behind Yuki Tsunoda from sister team RB, as he took an impressive third place, and both Mercedes drivers, with Lewis Hamilton fourth – despite on-track run-ins with Verstappen and Fernando Alonso – and George Russell fifth.

“The competition is coming,” said Sky Sports F1’s Damon Hill.

During a run on the soft tyres with which he set his distant seventh-quickest effort, Verstappen said over team radio: “My God. I don’t know, man. It’s so difficult everything, man. This time suddenly the front grips up a lot, I almost spin.”

Having twice run through the gravel around the narrow Imola circuit in Practice One as he fought the RB20’s handling, Verstappen made it an unwanted hat-trick with a late off-course moment in the closing minutes of the second session.

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There were a few unhappy faces in the Red Bull garage after the team struggled during Practice at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

One solace from a difficult day for Red Bull was that the RB20 looked more familiarly competitive on the heavier-fuel long runs.

But, at least on the headline single-lap pace, the world champions appear to have a lot of work to do overnight to get back on terms with Ferrari and McLaren ahead of Practice Three at 11.30am and Qualifying at 3pm on Saturday, live on Sky Sports F1. Red Bull’s key figures were already seen in discussion in the garage at the end of Friday’s running.

Leclerc, who had already set the pace in the weekend’s first practice session, topped Friday’s second hour of running by almost two tenths of a second from Piastri with a best lap of 1:15.906.

“Everything went quite smoothly,” said Leclerc, who last won a race in July 2022. “The feeling with the car is good, the upgrades on the car work as expected which is also a good step.”

Carlos Sainz was only sixth in the second Ferrari, with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez eighth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in ninth for Haas and Aston Martin’s Alonso in 10th.

Alonso had earlier been irked by Hamilton’s driving when he suggested the Mercedes driver “thinks that he’s alone on the track” when the Briton was going slowly ahead of him on track.

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Fernando Alonso was unhappy with Lewis Hamilton’s speed during second practice at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Norris finished outside the top 10 in 12th having abandoned what would have been his quickest lap after running wide at the final corner, having been on course to set what would have been the quickest time at that point of the session.

Are Red Bull finally under serious pressure from rivals?

The Imola weekend – which is staging the seventh round of the season, but the first in Europe – had already been billed in the lead-up to Friday as a significant moment in the season given the number of teams introducing major upgrades to their cars.

With McLaren’s Miami package having helped them to a rare defeat of Red Bull last time out, Ferrari have brought a big package of their own to the team’s first home race of the year in the hope of a similar step forward, while Mercedes have also added to the changes they introduced in the USA.

Red Bull too have a number of aerodynamic upgrades of their own.

However, it was the revised Ferrari which hit the ground running on Friday with Leclerc in particular looking comfortable around the sweeping, but narrow, 19-turn Imola layout.

Verstappen unusually looked anything but comfortable, as his rare sequence of trips through the gravel traps underlined.

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Sergio Perez felt the team had some work to do, while Max Verstappen says he wasn’t comfortable in the car after Red Bull faced a ‘tricky’ practice session.

“A difficult day,” said the Dutchman. “Just difficult to get a good balance and just not really feeling comfortable in the car.

“Moving around a lot, it’s very easy to lose the car. So yeah, a few things that we have to look at because today definitely was just bad, just not comfortable. Also the long run was really bad, so definitely a few things that we have to improve if we want to be competitive tomorrow.”

Team-mate Perez at least appeared happier with his long run and, asked if the team could get back in shape for qualifying when he will chase a record-equalling eighth pole position in a row, Verstappen said: “I guess it can’t be worse than what we had today, right? We’ll look at a few things that we can do better for tomorrow but it looks a bit like the others took a bit of a step forward, and from our side just a bad day.”

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Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok and Harry Benjamin were at the SkyPad to take a closer look at what went down in practice on day one of the Emilia-Romagna.

For once at the end of a Friday, there were more encouraging noises coming from rival camps.

“I have to look at the data and compare ourselves to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, who seem pretty quick. We need to understand where we stand relative to them,” said Norris, who has finished on the podium on F1’s last two visits to Imola.

“We seem relatively quick. I didn’t get my lap in but I think we are in a good position. I don’t think we need to change too much, just small little tweaks and putting it altogether.”

And Hamilton, whose fourth-quickest time was 0.391s off Leclerc’s pace, added: “It’s been a good start to the weekend.

“We’re a lot closer than we have been, it seems. But we’ll see how tomorrow goes. Really grateful to everyone back at the factory for pushing so hard to bring these upgrades because we are seeing improvements in the car and our performance on track.”

Emilia Romagna GP Practice Two Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:15.906
2) Oscar Piastri McLaren +0.192
3) Yuki Tsunoda RB +0.380
4) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.391
5) George Russell Mercedes +0.405
6) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.517
7) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.541
8) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.646
9) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +0.920
10) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.932
11) Daniel Ricciardo RB +1.061
12) Lando Norris McLaren +1.074
13) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.085
14) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.102
15) Pierre Gasly Alpine +1.158
16) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +1.182
17) Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.223
18) Alex Albon Williams +1.229
19) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +1.700
20) Logan Sargeant Williams +1.942

Sky Sports F1’s live Emilia Romagna GP schedule

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

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

Sunday May 19
7.30am: F3 Feature Race
9am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Emilia Romagna GP build-up
2pm: The EMILIA ROMAGNA GRAND PRIX
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 this weekend, with Sunday’s race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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