Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preview: Red Bull Looks to Rebound While the F1 Field Gives Chase

After getting beaten on track for the first time in 2024, Max Verstappen will seek to reignite his dominance. Plus, interest in the driver lineup at Williams grows.
Max Verstappen looks to get Red Bull back to the top of the podium this weekend in Italy.
Max Verstappen looks to get Red Bull back to the top of the podium this weekend in Italy. / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly two weeks since Lando Norris shocked Max Verstappen and the rest of the Formula One field by winning his first ever race at the Miami Grand Prix. The McLaren driver impressed throughout the weekend, providing a real threat to the dominant Red Bull, and will now look to keep up as the circuit returns to Imola, Italy, for the fourth annual Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The last time a race was held at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in 2022, both Verstappen and Norris ended up on the podium with the Red Bull driver claiming the win and Norris slotting in third. Now back for the seventh race of the 2024 season, here’s what to watch for as the drivers take to the grid this weekend.

Can McLaren, Ferrari Keep the Pressure on Red Bull?

It’s been some time since Red Bull had a consistent challenger to its throne atop the F1 grid. Since Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s duel in Abu Dhabi, it’s been relatively smooth sailing for the Milton Keynes outfit over the last three years. In the 49 races before Miami dating back to the start of the 2022 season, Red Bull has won 42 of them, 38 with Verstappen driving. 

That was until Norris not only won in Florida but thoroughly outpaced the Red Bulls after the safety car restart. Of course now the question is: Can McLaren keep it up?

Norris received the full load of upgrades in Miami while teammate Oscar Piastri only took on about half of the changes, meaning there’s room for growth in at least one of the team’s cars. It’s difficult to assess McLaren’s outlook for the remainder of the year on such a small sample, but there’s certainly room for optimism based on the showing two weeks ago.

Can McLaren driver Norris win his second straight race?
Can McLaren driver Norris win his second straight race? / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

As for Ferrari, a return to Italy comes with the team’s most significant upgrade of the 2024 season. Lining up an improvement with a home race was no coincidence and it’s clear that Fred Vasseur thinks his team is poised to make a real run at the top spot of the podium—and for good reason. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz showed plenty of pace by the time the weekend was out in Miami, with the former finishing second in the sprint and third in the Grand Prix.

All that being said, Red Bull is sure to have assessed the relative disappointment in Miami and prepared a response for Imola. At this point in the season, the team has lost as many races (two) in six outings as it did for the entirety of the 2023 campaign. That’s a reality that Christian Horner and Verstappen are surely aware of and won’t be eager to stand for.

Musical Chairs at Williams 

The big news on the driver’s market this week came Wednesday when Williams announced that Alex Albon agreed to a multiyear extension that will keep him with the outfit into the new regulations period. Having already signed a deal through 2025, the 28-year-old will now be under contract through the ’27 campaign as he continues to impress team principal James Vowles in a car that has yet to crack the top 10 in any race this season.

However, the plot only seems to be thickening for the team’s second seat. Pressure was already mounting on American driver Logan Sargeant going into the Miami Grand Prix, and then a wreck in Sunday’s main event gave him his fifth DNF in 26 starts across his less than two seasons with Williams. His future is now approaching a boiling point—especially as the presumptive frontrunner to be his successor will be back on the same track this weekend. 

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a phenom within the Mercedes development system, will be present at Imola this weekend as Formula 2 returns to the grid. The 17-year-old, who currently drives in F2 with Prema, already conducted an F1 test with Mercedes back in mid-April, and Williams requested that the FIA grant him a Super License before his 18th birthday. Rules currently dictate that drivers must be 18 years of age to compete in F1, meaning Antonelli wouldn’t be able to appear until the Italian Grand Prix in late August unless he was granted an exemption.

Williams finished seventh in the constructors standings last year, due in large part to Albon’s performance on the track. Without a point in six races in 2024, Vowles & Co. will want to get on the board as soon as possible—even if that means a midseason driver change. 

Powerful Plans for a Return to Imola

An F1 race hasn’t been held at Imola since 2022 after widespread flooding devastated the town last year and resulted in a cancellation of the ’23 grand prix. Teams rallied around the Emilia-Romagna region at the time, issuing various statements of support and making a collective €1m donation to assist the nearby communities in the recovery effort. Surely, the situation will be top of mind for the paddock as the group returns this weekend. 

Additionally, F1 has planned a series of special events to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the deaths of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Ratzenberger, a driver for Simtek racing team, died in a crash during qualifying while Senna died the following day in an accident during the race. Tributes are planned throughout the race weekend, one of which will feature four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel getting behind the wheel of Senna’s McLaren MP4/8—the same car Senna last won a race with in 1993.

“Ayrton Senna was not only a driver who I valued highly for being one of the best racing has ever seen, but also a man of great compassion,” Vettel said of the tribute. “It’s been 30 years since his accident and I would like to pay tribute to Ayrton.

Senna, who was just 34 at the time of his death, continues to have a lasting effect on the sport and the current lineup of drivers, making for what should be an emotional weekend.


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Zach Koons

ZACH KOONS

Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2022 graduate of Northwestern University and lives in New York City.