Formula One: Verstappen seeks to restore order at Imola as F1 remembers Senna

AFP , Thursday 16 May 2024

Max Verstappen will aim to recover and put his friend Lando Norris back in his place among the chasing pack this weekend as Formula One returns to Europe for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen (R) with Lando Norris after the British driver won the Miami Grand Prix. Photo: AFP


The three-time world champion, who leads this year's title race for Red Bull, knows however that after suffering two defeats in six season-opening races he may be vulnerable and McLaren's Norris will be armed with upgrades as he seeks to add to his popular maiden triumph in Miami.

Most if not all teams will bring revised cars for the seventh race of the season with Ferrari and Mercedes both hoping to reduce Verstappen's advantage at the cramped and atmospheric circuit set in the rolling vineyards of Ferrari's Italian heartland.

Three decades after the blackest F1 weekend in modern times, when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were killed on successive days at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the sport will also pay tributes and remember that bleak May weekend.

Alpine's Pierre Gasly will wear a race helmet repainted in yellow to remember Senna while retired four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is set to drive the Brazilian's 1993 McLaren MP4/8 car at the track on Sunday morning.

Verstappen, however, will keep it all simple as he seeks to repeat Red Bull's success at Imola in 2022 when he led team-mate Sergio Perez home in a convincing one-two triumph.

The race was called off last year due to flooding, but in kinder weather it is expected to launch a run of six races in eight weeks as the 24-race championship enters a key period.

"Imola is an iconic track to race at and we are excited to be back after last year's race was cancelled," said Verstappen, who leads the title race with 136 points ahead of Perez on 103.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has 98 points with Norris on 83 level with Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.

"We have had some great team results here and it's always interesting to race at a really old-school track like this – very technical, with complex combinations and breaking zones.

"The team has been working hard and I've been at the factory to work in the simulator. Were looking forward to this."

'Man of compassion'

Red Bull may be wary of the threat from several rival teams after a difficult opening period of the year beset by controversies including the recent confirmation that technical chief Adrian Newey is to leave.

Mercedes' boss Toto Wolff however stressed that despite a major upgrade package his team, who are without a podium finish this season, are not yet ready to threaten the leaders.

"We're a quarter of the way through the season," he said.

"The first six races have not been straightforward for us, but we do have a clear understanding of where we need to improve.

"It will be several races before we see this bear fruit, but everyone is working hard to bring the improvements as soon as is possible."

For Mercedes' seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, this weekend will mark his first racing appearance in Italy since Ferrari announced they had signed him for 2025.

As an adopted Brazilian and a fan of Senna -– and Ferrari -- since childhood, Hamilton is one of the few drivers old enough to remember watching Senna and is sure to experience an emotional weekend.

Vettel, another of the older generation prompted to make a brief comeback, said: "Ayrton Senna was not only a driver who I valued highly for being one of the best racing has ever seen, but also a man of great compassion.

"It's been 30 years since his accident and I want to pay tribute to Ayrton."

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