How Ferrari’s Imola upgrades could change context of 2024 F1 season

Ferrari and McLaren could seriously challenge Red Bull at Imola this weekend

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There’s always a sense of tradition and prestige when Formula 1 heads to Italy as the Ferrari fans come out in force to support the famous red F1 team. This weekend’s 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola is no different and Ferrari have plenty of reasons for optimism.

For once, we are talking about the on-track action going into a race weekend as any tension at Red Bull has cooled down, at least for now, and the paddock is still riding on the crest of a wave created by Lando Norris and McLaren.

Not since 2012 have McLaren won consecutive races and they will fancy their challenges to go well again, on a track Norris has taken two podiums at.

Ferrari should be right there too as they have big upgrades on their car, so maybe Charles Leclerc can claim his first win in nearly two years.

All eyes on Ferrari

We are into the key part of the season where upgrades dictate what you will play for. Ferrari are 52 points behind Red Bull in the F1 constructors’ championship and Leclerc is 38 points adrift of Max Verstappen in the driver standings. Those gaps are definitely catchable.

But, it all depends on whether Ferrari can claw their way ahead of Red Bull in the development race. We say ahead, because the force of Max Verstappen means it’s incredibly difficult to beat the three-time world champion when you have a car which is on par with the Red Bull.

Leclerc truly returned to form in Miami after playing second fiddle to Carlos Sainz, who thinks Imola should also suit Ferrari’s car, even without the upgrades.

Charles Leclerc during 2024 Miami Grand Prix | Ferrari
Charles Leclerc during 2024 Miami Grand Prix | Ferrari

“I still think it’s going to be track dependent,” said Sainz. “I think in Miami, it was a better suited track for our car, and we had really good pace, even though McLaren and Red Bull, maybe they were half a step in front.

“Our car felt back to normal, while in China, particularly, it felt really not good. So I think we’re going to be very track dependent and hopefully Imola is one of those good track for us and we can put on a good show in front of the crowd.

“This would be ideal scenario. For the rest, we’re going to need to keep developing for tracks like China because there’s certain types of corner where our car really struggles right now and we need to keep moving forward in that sense.”

That certain type of corner which Sainz is talking about might be long-radius turns which the Shanghai International Circuit has plenty of.

In contrast, Imola has short-radius turns which are full of medium and slow-speed turns, where a good change of direction is needed too.

Ferrari have already tested their upgrades, which include new sidepods, a new floor and rear wing, at Fiorano ahead of the Emilia Romagna GP.

They have three practice sessions to finetune everything ahead of what should be a fascinating qualifying, where Verstappen’s 100 percent pole position streak in 2024 might come to an end.

Carlos Sainz looks on at the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP in Imola | Ferrari
Carlos Sainz looks on at the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP in Imola | Ferrari

Can Norris go back-to-back?

Momentum is firmly with McLaren after their own upgrades paid off in Miami and helped Norris storm to a superb first F1 win. The Safety Car helped the British driver but he also showed genuine performance.

Oscar Piastri will have the full upgrade package in Imola too and there is also rain on the cards for Sunday’s race. McLaren have shone in the wet in recent years and this weekend will tell us if they are really back competing for regular wins in F1.

“I think we are just better suited to Imola, potentially the upgrade a little bit as well,” said Norris. “Imola has generally been one of our most successful tracks as a team and for me as a driver, so I would like to say so.

“I think we’ve definitely taken a step forward. From what I know, other teams have upgrades too, so I don’t think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I know I’ve put good confidence forward to the team. I’ve said that we’re confident we can take steps forward.

“But I think I made it clear that we’re not going to be there every weekend. I was still sixth at the time, and I’m always honest. I’m happily going to say that I was lucky last weekend with the Safety Car, and the strategy worked out perfectly. But that’s how races go sometimes.

“I wasn’t just first because I was the quickest at the time, but I was quickest on track. And I think that was the first good sign we had and then it turned into something more.

“We were quickest at the time on track and I think the whole weekend was turning into something good and we were showing that the car made some good steps forward. But we need more. if we’re going to challenge Ferrari more consistently, we’re going to challenge Red Bull more consistently, but the team are doing a great job.

“They made some good steps and we have more things hopefully coming in the future and those are what we need to be there more often.”

Gravel traps return to Imola

Track limits has been an issue since F1 returned to Imola in 2020 but the track organisers have made changes for this year’s race, with gravel at the exits of Turn 9, 11, 12 and the Turn 14/15 chicane.

Make a mistake, like Leclerc did in the 2022 race, and you may not be able to get going again. This is how a racetrack should be and it’s nice to have that old-school feel at a venue.

“I think it’s great,” said Alpine’s Pierre Gasly. “It just sets the limit and I think it works fine. If you go over the limits, you get penalised and you can’t get away with it. So I think get rid of all the track limits topic, which is great.

“If you make a mistake, you pay the price for it. And I do believe that’s how it should be because with all this run-off and tarmacs, then you tend to sometimes get away with limits, with lock-ups, trying more stuff, go off the track, come back without really much disadvantage and kind of lost a bit the way it was in the past.

“I think most drivers have been pushing to go in that direction. It’s just great to see F1 has reacted to it positively and decided to make these changes here.”

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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