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Three excellent reasons to watch the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Has Lando Norris finally got a car to challenge Max Verstappen?

Published: 16 May 2024

Bit early to be jumping on the McLaren vs Red Bull bandwagon, isn’t it?

Way, way too early. But Lando Norris’s first F1 win in Miami was exactly the jolt the 2024 season needed, and after two years of Max Verstappen being virtually untouchable, can you blame anyone for wanting a bit of competition at the front of the pack?

So, three compelling reasons to watch the action this weekend: is the pace that McLaren unlocked with its upgrades… legit? Can Oscar Piastri (who was brilliant in Miami until luck went against him) force himself into the mix now that he’s got all of the new parts fitted to his car? And can Ferrari - which is bringing upgrades of its own to Imola - make it a three-way battle for the chequered flag?

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Set the scene for me.

Let’s not get carried away: barring a massive upheaval - like a comet landing on Red Bull’s factory or something - both championships look done already. We’re only really hoping that McLaren and co can compete for race wins, rather than ignite a championship fight. Better than nothing, right?

Still, even though Norris needed the help of the safety car to climb into the race lead last time out, his immense pace during the race was genuine, and that’s fuelling the belief that in the right conditions, McLaren can give Red Bull and Verstappen a run for their money more frequently.

Elsewhere Mercedes continues to do not very much at all, while RB has the upper hand in the battle between the bottom five teams after Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda both hauled in Miami. Imola is effectively RB’s home race too, don’t forget…

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Off track, drivers are starting to sign deals for 2024 and beyond: Hulkenberg announced his departure from Haas to Sauber/Audi last month, while Williams has just locked down Alex Albon on a multi-year deal. Wonder who’ll be confirmed next?

What time does the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix start?

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is set to start at 2pm UK time on Sunday 19 May, with qualifying taking place on Saturday 18 from 3pm onwards. No sprint shenanigans this weekend, so there’s the usual trio of practice sessions across the Friday and Saturday before the real action gets underway.

Is it going to rain?

Doesn’t look like it. Showers are forecast before and after the grand prix weekend, but the event itself looks like it’ll be mostly dry with warm weather and some cloud cover. Nothing that’ll have the teams running full wets, basically.

Gimme some history in 100 words or fewer.

Held on the fearsome Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari - otherwise known simply as ‘Imola’ - the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was known as the San Marino Grand Prix in a previous life… despite not being in San Marino. It was a staple of the F1 calendar from 1981 to 2006, and only returned in 2020 when Covid kept F1 mostly in Europe. It’s most famous for being where Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives in 1994: there’s a memorial to the latter near where he was killed. Last year’s edition of the race was cancelled due to flooding.

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The top three will be…

Verstappen, Norris, Piastri. In that order. Maybe. We’d tip Sergio Perez for the podium but his early season form looked like it had vanished in Miami. Uh oh.

Shock of the weekend?

Kevin Magnussen will set a Guinness World Record for penalties in a single grand prix event, triggering an automatic one-race ban and giving youngster Oliver Bearman another taste of F1 stardom.

Where can I watch the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix?

UK fans can watch the action at Imola on Sky Sports’ F1 channel, or subscribe to Now TV in order to stream Sky’s coverage online. Failing that you could always, er, go to Italy for the race.

Channel 4’s highlights show will start at 6.30pm on Sunday, with its qualifying round-up being broadcast from 7.30pm on Saturday. Remember to avoid any spoilers on the internet…

… and on the radio. BBC Radio 5 Live will transmit commentary of the race as it unfolds on Sunday. Ideal if you’ll be on the road when the lights go out.

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