The McLaren and Ferrari data that shows Red Bull have work to do

Pablo Hidalgo
Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen endured a tricky day on the Imola circuit

Problems have returned to the Red Bull team after the Miami GP, while Ferrari and McLaren enjoy the ‘Dolce Vita’ and continue to show encouraging figures with their brand new upgrade packages.

After a rather unsettled FP1 session due to Alexander Albon’s red flag interruption and strong wind gusts, FP2 has left us with some interesting data to analyse with the teams running under traffic and similar run plans.

Track condition comparison Imola prac

Red Bull on the back foot ahead of qualifying

The upgrades brought by Red Bull – which in the end were more than expected- do not seem to be in line with the base of the RB20 at this stage. Max Verstappen has not been comfortable with the balance at any time, gone off track several times and has sent out some worrying radio messages that are evident of clear discomfort.

For the moment, Red Bull is not the favourite for the Emilia Romagna GP. They have only one free practice session left to make the final adjustments to a nervous car that has had two off-track incidents at the end of FP1. They are lucky that these problems didn’t happen in a Sprint format weekend as they have now had a whole night and will have another hour on track to fix all their issues.

Track domination Imola prac

It is difficult to assess whether these problems are only due to a bad set-up with the new upgrades or whether the upgrades themselves worsen the performance of the RB20.

Speed comparison Imola prac

One can speculate that the team has sandbagged because the difference in top speed is very evident at the end of the main straight. But this lack of speed has also been extrapolated to the rest of the circuit: in low-speed corners and even in high-speed corners. Not an ideal scenario to start off the weekend.

McLaren with a good chance of victory at Imola?

McLaren has continued to test the upgrades implemented to their MCL38 after the Miami GP win. Both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have them this weekend and both seem to be very happy with the work done back at the factory by the technical department.

And it’s not just a matter of feeling, but also the numbers confirm that McLaren can surprise again at Imola. Important disclaimer: we don’t really know the fuel level of each team, the setup or the engine map chosen at each moment.

McLaren have shown themselves to be fast and consistent, especially in the long runs. In fact, thanks to the data we can take a guess on the strategy they might choose for the race.

Of the top teams, McLaren is the only one to have tested two different sets of tyres with each of its drivers. The medium compound with Norris and the hard compound with Piastri, respectively.

Long run medium Imola prac

Long run medium Imola prac

In fact, the Australian’s pace on the hard tyre was better than Lando’s long run with the medium. This may well indicate that Piastri was running with a lower fuel level in his run. And consequently, this could mean that the Woking team will try to start with the medium set in the race and put the hard on in the second stint with a more unloaded car.

Long run hard Imola prac

Long run hard Imola prac

Ferrari promising upgrades confirmed at home soil

Ferrari has arrived at Imola with a high level of expectations. And so far, expectations have been met. The car in the hands of Charles Leclerc has been stable and with a balance that has required few adjustments. This is also thanks to having tested this spec B earlier in the week at Fiorano.

The Italians were the fastest in the long run with the mediums, not overall. That credit goes to Piastri with the hard tyre as we have seen in the graphs above. But in terms of qualifying pace, the Ferrari SF24 was the fastest on the soft tyre.

Ideal lap time Imola prac

However, Lando Norris aborted his qualifying attempt after painting in purple sectors 1 and 2 after running wide at the exit of Rivazza. Lewis Hamilton was quickest in sector 3. Surely, as we can see in the tables of the best sectors, McLaren has a lot more time up its sleeve in that last part.

Best sector 1 Imola prac

Best sector 2 Imola prac

Best sector 3 Imola prac

The ‘tifosi’ can rest assured. This weekend is an exciting one for the Italians on home soil. Not only because they are contenders for the win, but also because taking a step forward here could mark a turning point in the Scuderia’s development this season…

The question now is: how can Red Bull respond…

Read next: Emilia Romagna GP: Charles Leclerc tops FP2 as Red Bull face multi-team challenge at Imola