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

Henry Valantine
Charles Leclerc at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc topped both free practice sessions on Friday at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc went quickest in FP2 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to back up his pace from first practice, with a congested multi-team fight at the top.

Oscar Piastri, Yuki Tsunoda, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell rounded out the top five on Friday, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez only seventh and eighth fastest for Red Bull.

Charles Leclerc fastest in FP2 as Emilia Romagna GP preparations ramp up

Imola proved a tough track to tame for the drivers in FP1 earlier in the day, with offs at the downhill braking zone at Rivazza and the increased gravel and grass presence at three different corners making precision the key.

There was also a driver change at Haas, as Kevin Magnussen returned to his usual cockpit after Oliver Bearman took his place in FP1 – and the vast majority of the field went straight out on track to take in more laps of Imola on Friday.

Verstappen and Lando Norris were top of the standings after the opening runs, the Red Bull driver just 0.050s ahead of the McLaren and FP1 session-topper Charles Leclerc within a tenth early on, but the true test of pace was yet to come.

The first spinner of the session was Pierre Gasly, catching too much of the kerb at the chicane of Variante Alta, and sending his Alpine onto the grass as he explored the limits of his car within the first 10 minutes.

A 1:16.895 from Yuki Tsunoda put him quicker than anyone else briefly on the medium tyres before Leclerc usurped him on a 1:16.677, Carlos Sainz slipping in just 0.003s behind his team-mate soon afterwards, but qualifying simulations were still to come on soft tyres to give an early indication of one-lap pace.

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George Russell was the first to do so for Mercedes but, while he gained over four tenths on his previous best time, he was still a tenth slower than Leclerc’s quickest time on the medium tyres for Ferrari.

Norris was more than half a second up on Leclerc through the first two sectors but ran wide at the second Rivazza to end his lap prematurely, catching the gravel on exit and darting into the pits.

Leclerc lit up the timing screens to become the first driver to dip into the 1:15s on soft tyres, though, on a 1:15.969 – seven tenths quicker than his previous best and offering hope to the Tifosi that Ferrari could be in contention come qualifying.

A slower second sector for Verstappen could not put him in contention at the top, but Oscar Piastri put his McLaren second fastest and just a tenth shy of Leclerc, with Russell improving for Mercedes on his second soft tyre run to go a provisional third quickest, before Hamilton pipped him by going 0.014s faster.

But Tsunoda would take the P3 spot from the Mercedes duo with an excellent lap from the RB driver, clocking a 1:16.286 as he showed strong form at the Faenza-based team’s home race.

With the attention as ever switching to long-run pace in the final part of the session, the mid-table placing for Norris does not look representative for the McLaren driver come Saturday.

Verstappen complained once again about how he felt about his car, before raising his hand out of his cockpit at the exit of the Villeneuve Chicane at Hamilton, believing the Mercedes driver to have not moved out of the way quickly enough, with a trip to the gravel in his long run at Rivazza topping off what appeared a difficult session for the three-time World Champion.

But with Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and even Tsunoda in the RB looking like a challenge for Red Bull, the World Championship leaders look like they have a challenge on their hands this weekend.

Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2024: FP2 classification

1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:15.906
2 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.192
3 Yuki TSUNODA RB +0.380
4 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.391
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.405
6 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.517
7 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull +0.541
8 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.646
9 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.920
10 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.932
11 Daniel RICCIARDO RB +1.061
12 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.074 [medium tyres]
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.085
14 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.102
15 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.158
16 Valtteri BOTTAS Kick Sauber +1.182
17 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.223
18 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.229
19 Guanyu ZHOU Kick Sauber +1.700
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.942

Read next: FIA reveal extensive list of big Red Bull and Ferrari upgrades at Imola