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Emilia Romagna GP: Bernie Collins analyses strategy factors as Formula 1 returns to Imola

Formula 1 returns to Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after last year's race was cancelled due to flooding; there is major unpredictability after Lando Norris won for McLaren in Miami; watch the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend

AUTODROMO INTERNAZIONALE ENZO E DINO FERRARI, ITALY - APRIL 24: Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75 during the Emilia Romagna GP at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari on Sunday April 24, 2022 in imola, Italy. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)
Image: Imola is hosting the first European race of the 2024 F1 season

Ahead of this week's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Sky Sports F1's strategy expert Bernie Collins analyses some of the key considerations for teams and drivers at Imola.

There is huge anticipation as Formula 1 comes to Europe for the first time this season off the back of Lando Norris' stunning maiden victory in Miami.

Not only did the Briton's triumph spark special scenes in Florida, but also hopes of Max Verstappen facing a serious challenge as the Red Bull driver chases a fourth successive drivers' title.

While plenty of attention will be on McLaren to see whether or not they can repeat the speed that a huge upgrade package helped produce in Miami, the main attraction in Italy will of course be Ferrari.

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Lando Norris claimed his first victory in F1 at the Miami GP

The expectations of the passionate Tifosi will only be heightened by the fact that Ferrari are bringing their own upgrade to the race that takes place just an hour or so from their Maranello factory.

With Mercedes also bringing the second half of an upgrade package they began introducing in Miami, each of the event's three practice sessions promise to be crucial as teams get the chance to gain more data after two successive Sprint weekends.

Further mystery added by lack of Imola data

Along with having to bed in new parts, the teams are also arriving in Imola with limited data at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

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Last year's event was cancelled due to extreme flooding in the region, while in the two years before that, both races started on intermediate tyres due to rain.

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen took victory at the 2022 Emilia-Romagna GP

That means that the last time there was a dry start for teams to have useful grid launch data from was in 2020, which was of course before the new generation of cars were introduced in 2022.

Even more crucially, the fact that the previous races began on a wet track means the level of tyre degradation on those occasions will provide little help.

Who should the circuit suit?

Given the significant nature of the upgrades being brought at the moment, it is hard to make firm predictions.

A high number of medium-speed corners would have probably been seen as problematic for McLaren earlier in the season, but if their upgrade is as effective as Norris' Miami pace promised, the Briton may be able to challenge Verstappen once more.

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Speaking on the F1 Podcast, Harry Benjamin believes McLaren's victory in Miami could be a 'real turning point' and can be challenging Red Bull week in, week out

The circuit's chicanes require consistency in changes of direction, which is a trait Ferrari have excelled in throughout the ground-effect regulations.

It is fair to assume that if the upgrades to the SF-24 work, the red cars could be in the fight for victory or at the very least in the hunt for the podium.

Amid excitement at the prospect of more competitive action, it must be remembered that there were extenuating circumstances in each of the races Verstappen has failed to win this season, with a technical failure in Australia and an untimely Safety Car interruption in Miami.

That is to say, even when it is not at its best, the all-round excellence of the RB20 means that Verstappen is always in the hunt for victory.

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The F1 Podcast team discuss where McLaren's form leaves Mercedes and whether the Brackley team can make any headway in 2024?

What is the most likely strategy?

There are two key factors that mean, despite several unknowns about the tyres, we are likely to see one-stop strategies in a dry race.

The first is that overtaking at the circuit is very difficult, meaning a significant pace advantage is likely to be required to pull off a pass, as was the case in Miami.

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Ride on board with Michael Schumacher as he duelled with Fernando Alonso on the final laps of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix

Also putting drivers off attempting a two-stopper will be the lengthy loss of time resulting from a stop, with the circuit's long pit lane.

While a one-stopper seems certain to be the way to go, the fact that the tyre compounds are one step softer than at the last running of the race in 2022 could produce some jeopardy.

Drivers may need to eke out the life of their tyres, but the difficulty of overtaking should help enable them to do so.

It is also worth noting that the challenge of overtaking puts both the undercut and overcut in play, with a timely stop into fresh air providing the potential to make up several places.

More Safety Car drama?

While Norris finally got some much-deserved luck in Miami, there is every chance the Safety Car could be a factor for a second successive race.

There is deemed to be a very high likelihood of a Safety Car in Imola, with it having been required at each of the last three races at the circuit.

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Norris pulls away from Verstappen at the Safety Car restart during the Miami GP

As we saw in Miami, the timing of a Safety Car can change the entire complexion of a race, with a later interruption in Imola potentially giving drivers the chance to switch to a two-stop strategy.

The additional challenge provided by wet weather was undoubtedly a factor in the Safety Cars required at recent Imola races, but that could be the case once more on Sunday.

While conditions appear likely to be dry on Friday and Saturday, there is currently a significant possibility of rain on Sunday, which would only add to what is already shaping up to be an exciting weekend.

Sky Sports F1's live Emilia Romagna GP schedule

Thursday May 16
1.30pm: Drivers' Press Conference

Friday May 17
8:50am: F3 Practice
10am: F2 Practice
12pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice One (session starts at 12.30pm)
2pm: F3 Qualifying
2:55pm: F2 Qualifying
3:45pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)
5:30pm: The F1 Show

F1 visits Europe for the first time in 2024 with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola

Saturday May 18
9am: F3 Sprint
11:15am: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)
1.10pm: F2 Sprint
2.10pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying
5pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook
5.30pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Sunday May 19
7.30am: F3 Feature Race
9am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Emilia Romagna GP build-up
4pm: Chequered Flag: Emilia Romagna GP reaction
5pm: Ted's Notebook
8pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Formula 1 heads to Europe as Imola returns to the calendar following last year's cancelled race. Watch the Emilia Romagna GP on May 17-19. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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