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Can Ferrari deliver a home win? Could Alpine be the team to watch in the first sprint race of the season? And can Russell make up for past Imola performances? Nicky Haldenby looks at who to look out for at the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Can Ferrari deliver at home?

Expectations are high as Ferrari head to the first of their two home races in 2022. For the first time since 2004, there’s a Ferrari driver at the top of the standings as the F1 circus descends on the small
town of Imola.

This weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix marks the first time fans will be in attendance for an F1 race at Imola since Michael Schumacher claimed victory with the Scuderia at the 2006 San Marino Grand Prix.

While Monza has become Ferrari’s de facto home circuit in recent years, Imola is the team’s spiritual homeland. The Maranello factory is located just an hour east of the track – and the expectant Tifosi will be out in force at the Imola circuit this weekend.

Charles Leclerc currently leads the way in the standings by 34 points, which is the largest lead held by a driver after three rounds since 2016. Although Ferrari have not been in their best form since Imola returned to the calendar in 2020, Leclerc has secured two top-five results with the team here in the last two seasons.

At the Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc secured a rare ‘Grand Slam’ by taking pole, winning the race, leading every lap, and setting the fastest lap. He’d achieve a rare feat if he did the same again this weekend. Consecutive Grand Slams have been achieved only three times in the past: by Alberto Ascari in 1952, Jim Clark in 1965, and Sebastian Vettel in 2013.

Leclerc secured Ferrari’s most recent home win at the 2019 Italian Grand Prix. Will he be the one to beat in front of a home crowd once again this weekend?

Charles Leclerc to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix – 13/8

The return of F1 Sprint

There’s an extra hurdle to pass en route to victory at Imola: a sprint race. After a successful trial at three races last year, the F1 Sprint makes its first outing of 2022 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The 30-minute sprint event on Saturday afternoon will decide the final grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix. This year, the top eight finishers in the sprint will all be awarded points, with a significant 8 points on offer for the winner.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the Alpine drivers in the sprint race. Fernando Alonso was the driver who gained the most places over F1’s three sprint races last season, while Esteban Ocon was one of only two drivers to gain places in all three sprint events in 2021.

Russell’s bad luck at Imola

Despite Mercedes’ tricky start to the season, George Russell is currently in second place in the Drivers’ Championship. With three top-five finishes in the first three races – including his first podium finish with Mercedes last time out in Melbourne – Russell sits nine points ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Imola is not a track at which Russell has enjoyed much luck, having endured two embarrassing incidents here in the past two seasons. In 2020, he crashed out behind the Safety Car while running in a points-paying position. In 2021, he collided with Valtteri Bottas – the man who he’d go on to replace at Mercedes. Can Russell turn his Imola fortunes around in 2022?

Make or break for Red Bull?

Two races in, three retirements for Red Bull. Reigning champion Max Verstappen has suffered two of those DNFs, each coming when the Dutchman was in contention for victory. The team’s frustrating start to the season sees them third in the championship standings, trailing Ferrari by almost 50 points. If Red Bull are to challenge for the title this year, they need to get on top of their reliability issues as soon as possible.

Sergio Perez impressed in qualifying at last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, out-qualifying his team-mate and lining up on the front row. It was the only time he out-qualified Verstappen on pace through the entire 2021 season. Meanwhile, Verstappen won the race, taking Red Bull’s first win at the circuit. They have the machinery to challenge for the win again this year, but with an extra handful of racing laps to get through on Saturday, Red Bull will just be hoping that their cars make the chequered flag in both the sprint race and the Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen to have the fastest lap – 7/4

Sergio Perez to finish on the podium – 5/6

A home success for AlphaTauri?

AlphaTauri have flown under the radar this year, but the team are one of only four who have picked up points at all three races so far. Imola – a home circuit for the team – is a track at which they have run well in recent years.

Pierre Gasly is yet to qualify outside of the top five at Imola, with a best Saturday result of fourth in 2020. That year, his race came to a premature end due to mechanical gremlins – but he managed to finish seventh last season. Daniil Kvyat also proved the AlphaTauri car’s impressive form at Imola with a fourth-place finish in 2020.

On the other side of the garage, Yuki Tsunoda will be hoping for a better result here than last year. He crashed out in Q1, failing to set a lap time. He recovered to a 12th place finish in the Grand Prix but his confidence was clearly dented by his Saturday incident. If Tsunoda can avoid that kind of mistake this weekend, AlphaTauri could be on for another good result at the Italian circuit.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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