Emilia Romagna GP: Ferrari upgrades fire Charles Leclerc to P1 as Max Verstappen struggles in FP1

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc puts in the laps at Imola

Charles Leclerc puts in the laps at Imola in the upgraded SF-24

Charles Leclerc delighted Ferrari’s Tifosi as he topped the timesheets in FP1 for the Imola Grand Prix, a tenth up on Mercedes’ George Russell.

On a day when every team except RB introduced a host of upgrades, FP1 was paused when Alex Albon’s FW46 shut down on him as he approached Acqua Minerali resulting in a five-minute red-flag stoppage.

The battle of the upgrades at Imola

On a day of upgrades, Ferrari bringing seven to the track and Aston Martin nine, aero rakes were the standard fare for most of the teams as they took to the track for the start of FP1.

Ferrari, confident in their upgrades having already trailed them at Fiorano last Friday, didn’t bother with either the aero rakes or comparison testing with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz’s SF-24s sporting the full array.

While George Russell hit the front with a 1:19.7 before lowering that to a 1:19.0, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton had a moment with Carlos Sainz, the driver he’ll replace at Ferrari next season.

There were early issues for Pierre Gasly who complained about the handling of his A524 with the Frenchman back into the pits for what turned out to be a lengthy wait. Yuki Tsunoda was the first to eat dirt at the new Imola gravel traps, Hamilton followed suit.

Back on track, Russell lowered the benchmark to a 1:17.9, Max Verstappen slotted into second ahead of Oscar Piastri and Charles Leclerc. Nine laps into his programme, Verstappen reported that his tyres were “getting hot, front tyres especially” and he headed into the pits.

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The red flags were waved 20 minutes into the session when Alex Albon, with the ink barely dry on his new Williams contract, pulled over Acqua Minerali. The Thai-British racer’s FW46 seemingly suffered an electrical issue and shut down.

Back on track after a five-minute stoppage, Gasly reported a bumpy ride in his Alpine, so much so he was struggling to see. Swapping from the mediums to the soft Pirellis, Leclerc went quickest with a 1:17.4, Russell retook P1 and Leclerc came back with a 1:16.9.

As the drivers pushed hard, Sainz cut the grass, Hamilton went spinning and Verstappen complained about a lack of grip that meant he couldn’t brake where he wanted. He was told he’s purple sector 1 and 3, but was losing time in Turn 7, as much as four-tenths. And then he went off at Variante Alta.

The session ended with Leclerc quickest of all on a 1:16.900, 0.104s up on Russell with Sainz third. The Spaniard was a further 0.026s down.

As for Oliver Bearman, the Formula 2 driver was back in a Formula 1 car for the second time this season as he replaced Kevin Magnussen for one of Haas’s young driver sessions. The Briton, who will have six outings with the team this season with an eye to a 2025 race-seat, was 15 fastest having not run the soft tyres.

Times

1 Charles LECLERC 1:16.990
2 George RUSSELL +0.104
3 Carlos SAINZ +0.130
4 Sergio PEREZ +0.243
5 Max VERSTAPPEN +0.250
6 Yuki TSUNODA +0.398
7 Lewis HAMILTON +0.418
8 Lando NORRIS +0.612
9 Oscar PIASTRI +0.817
10 Fernando ALONSO +0.877
11 Pierre GASLY +0.915
12 Lance STROLL +1.082
13 Daniel RICCIARDO +1.152
14 Esteban OCON +1.622
15 Oliver BEARMAN +1.677
16 Valtteri BOTTAS +1.837
17 Guany ZHOU +2.139
18 Logan SARGEANT +2.911
19 Alexander ALBON +3.060
20 Nico HULKENBERG +4.069

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