despite the fervor of the tifosi, Charles Leclerc and Ferrari miss out on their Imola lands

“It’s nice to see completely red bleachers again. » For a year, the circuits were rather invaded by the orange color, that of the faithful of the Dutchman Max Verstappen. As Jacques Villeneuve, ex-Formula 1 world champion, pointed out at Imola, the Ferrari tifosi communed at home throughout the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday April 24. Their fervor, however, went unrewarded. Their favorite team went completely through the Italian meeting.

Defending champion, Verstappen did double duty with his Red Bull by winning the sprint race on Saturday and the Grand Prix on Sunday. He is back in the drivers’ standings (second with 59 points). His teammate Sergio Perez finished second while Briton Lando Norris (McLaren) took third place. Thanks to its double, the Red Bull team also made a spectacular rise in the constructors’ standings: 113 points against 124 for Ferrari.

The local idol, Charles Leclerc, retains the lead in the drivers’ classification (27 points ahead) but he made his first big mistake of the season. While he was heading for a third place, which was rather satisfactory given the circumstances, the Monegasque was too greedy. About ten laps from the finish, he attacked Sergio Perez’s Red Bull too hard and spun. Starting ninth, he only managed to climb back to a very disappointing sixth place, giving up seven points in the championship in the maneuver. The young 24-year-old driver also apologized on the radio to his team, once the line was crossed.

“We are really fanatics”

The first corner of the first lap was a bad omen for Ferrari, which immediately lost one of its two drivers, the Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr., pushed helplessly into the gravel by Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren). Leclerc also had a complicated start, dropping from second to fourth place. Very quickly, the clamor of the public greeted his overtaking on Lando Norris (McLaren) which allowed him to get back on a podium which he was not able to content himself with. In front, the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez led too frantically a pace.

On the banks of the Santerno river, in the heart of the Motor Valley of Emilia Romagna – famous for its gastronomy and its cutting-edge automotive industry – the red color of Ferrari, firmly established in these lands, is present everywhere. For three days, this red swarmed around the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit, like the hill which dominates the track, purple with all this popular passion.

The walls of some buildings in Imola are decorated with photos of past Grands Prix.

Privileged guest in the middle of the cars on the grid before the start, Marco Verratti, very recent French football champion with PSG, summed up this passion: “In Italy, when you’re little, you’re really fanatical about this sport. » A vibrant Fratelli d’Italia, the Italian anthem, was taken up by the crowd to encourage Ferrari. Insufficient.

As soon as you leave Imola station, as you travel the two kilometers in a straight line to this cathedral of motorsport, the roar of the engines becomes more and more distinct, in this city whose heart only beats to the rhythm of the prancing horse mark. Some claim they can tell by noise from downtown what kind of engines are roaring on the circuit.

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On Sunday, crowded trains had dumped a multitude of spectators from Bologna, 40 kilometers further west. Back in 2020, the race had already appeared on the F1 calendar between 1981 and 2006 under the name San Marino Grand Prix, before disappearing for fourteen years. In 1994, it was here, 80 kilometers from the Ferrari factory in Maranello, that Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger died during the same tragic race weekend.

On the way to the circuit, trattoria, pasticceria Where coffee display Ferrari red flags. On the walls of the municipal buildings, photos of the past adorn the walls. Like a preserved relic, a storefront presents the suit of an ex-Ferrari driver, the one used by Eddie Irvine during his first tests with the manufacturer (1996-1999). The police even exhibit their car, a Lamborghini, in the central square, whose production plant is very close. “And why not a Ferrari? »remarked Luigi, taxi driver who confirmed that one can cross this machine on the roads of the surroundings all the year.

An Italian police Lamborghini is displayed in the central square of Imola.

“This is our year”

Friday, on the rainy morning of the first free practice, Mattia, a gardener from Imola, had a big smile when we talked about the rebirth of his favorite team, which has been chasing a world championship title since 2008 [celui de constructeurs] and since 2007 [celui des pilotes]. “This is our yearhe blurts out. Whenever Grand Prix weekend rolls around, it’s beautiful when the city turns red. » As an omen, an English fan displayed a t-shirt of Kimi Raïkkönen, the Finnish driver who last triumphed in the drivers’ classification at the wheel of a Ferrari in 2007.

This season, the hopes of the faithful of the famous red brand are very real. Before the start, a victory for Charles Leclerc was not a miracle despite his second place on the starting line. The day before, the Monegasque had finished second in the sprint race behind his rival Max Verstappen, reigning world champion. Today he was never able to fight for victory.

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For his fourth season at the wheel of a Ferrari, this is the first time that Charles Leclerc can finally join the fight for the supreme title. “We will learn from what has just happened and we will come back stronger”, consoled his engineer on the radio after the race. There is no doubt that he will be able to learn from this from the next Grand Prix, in Miami, on Sunday 8 May.

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