History awaits Leclerc, but Hamilton reigns supreme in the sprint.

Charles Leclerc will always be a major fan in Italy as long as he is driving a Ferrari, but this week’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix might be extra special.

Leclerc has taken the lead in the Formula One drivers’ championship after a remarkable start to the season, winning in Bahrain and Australia before finishing second in Saudi Arabia.

The Monegasque leads the nearest rival, George Russell, by a staggering 34 points, but there are extra points on offer this weekend with the return of the sprint race.

Leclerc, on the other hand, should not be discouraged, since this may be a record-breaking start to the year.

After setting the quickest lap in each of the first three races, Leclerc could become the first driver in F1 history to do so four times in a row.

Kimi Raikkonen, then of Ferrari, was the last driver to post four fastest laps in four races at any point during the year in 2008.

On current form, Leclerc may simply consider the sprint race as another challenge to overcome. His first career Grand Slam came in Australia, when he followed up pole position with the fastest lap and a triumph while leading from start to finish. To date, he has won from the pole position four times.

Ferrari will be trying to overtake Williams in terms of wins at Imola, where they have a joint-record eight, contributing to a team-high 27 in Italy.

If Leclerc does not reach the top step of the podium, the Scuderia will be hoping that Carlos Sainz, who retired in Melbourne after a team-record 24 consecutive finishes to begin his Ferrari tenure, can get back on track.

Is it Hamilton’s turn to shine?

In contrast to Leclerc’s excitement, perennial contender Lewis Hamilton has had a year to forget, finishing sixth with a solitary podium and no wins.

But it’s in the sprint races that he shines, having finished sixth in all three Saturday races last year, tied with Esteban Ocon for the most of any driver.

Despite Mercedes’ lack of performance in the last two races at Imola, Hamilton has continued to prove his class behind the wheel this year.

Only Yuki Tsunoda (six) has gained more positions in the early laps of races this season than Hamilton.

If Hamilton is able to coax the quickest lap out of his ailing Silver Arrow, he will become the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 2003 and 2005 to have three in a row at Imola.

Max is irritated.

Defending champion Max Verstappen triumphed at Imola in 2021, but he might be excused for arriving in Italy dejected after failing to finish two of three races this year, retiring in Australia.

With Sergio Perez also failing to finish once, Red Bull has had three such poor results in three Grands Prix, compared to only six vehicles failing to finish in 22 races last season.

Red Bull might possibly make history with the fastest lap if they finally get their act together. They are still tied with Lotus for the most ever in F1 with 76.

STANDINGS OF THE CHAMPIONS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) (71 points)
37. George Russell (Mercedes)
3. Carlo Sainz (Ferrari) 33 points
Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 30th.
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 5th (28th)

Constructors

1. The Ferrari 104
2. Mercedes-Benz 65. Red Bull 55.
4th. McLaren 24th. Alpine 22nd.

 

 

Leclerc is unsure about his tyre choice because he believes Verstappen has’something more’ in the sprint.

After Red Bull’s reigning world champion won the sprint at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Ferrari’s tyre strategy could be crucial in preventing Max Verstappen from cutting into Charles Leclerc’s championship lead.

After being passed by Leclerc at the start, pole-sitter Verstappen secured he would start first on the grid for Sunday’s 63-lap race by overtaking Leclerc on the last lap of the 21-lap sprint.

Leclerc and his rowdy family Verstappen took advantage of Ferrari supporters’ disappointment by surging around the outside into Tamburello as his right front tyre cracked in the final circuits.

Verstappen earned eight points, while Leclerc earned seven, extending his championship lead to 40 points. Verstappen’s closest opponent was Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz, who finished fourth behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in third.

Ferrari, like the rest of the field, was on soft tyres for the sprint, but Leclerc is unsure what compound they will use on Sunday after his quick start caused that vital degradation.

“I pushed hard at the start to try not to be too susceptible with Max having the DRS behind, and I felt like I paid the price for that at the end of the race,” he told Sky Sports.

“It also felt like they had something more today, and he held it until the conclusion of the race, overtaking me when it mattered.”

“We’ll concentrate on ourselves for tomorrow, trying to maximize our package and maybe have the similar start as today without the degradation at the finish.”

“I believe today’s data will help us make the proper decision for tomorrow, although I’m not sure whether we’ll go with the hard compound or not.”

Only three drivers used the medium compound for the sprint, including the Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen (eighth) and Mick Schumacher (10th), both of whom had remarkable final-lap performance.

Verstappen admitted that he might not have the same luck on Sunday, with the harsher compounds expected to play a larger impact.

“It got off to a poor start. “I’m not sure what occurred or why it was so awful, just too much wheelspin,” he remarked after the race.

“We had to remain cool after that.” Charles appeared to have a bit more pace at first, but I believe he ran out of tyres, allowing us to cut the distance and go for the move into turn 2.

“I know tomorrow may be different, but today it worked out for us to be on this compound, so I’m extremely delighted to have a clean sprint race in the end.”

“I’m pleased with today, but I know it might change tomorrow with those other tyre compounds coming into play.”

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