The favorites for the Emilia Romagna GP

Three races to go and it’s time for the first European round of the season, with the added twist that it will be the first Sprint weekend of 2022.

It was a dream start to 2022 at least on Charles Leclerc’s side of the Ferrari garage as he took two wins, two pole positions, a second place and all three fastest lap points. A comeback of 71 points out of a possible 78 that already leaves him with a significant lead in the drivers’ championship.

Leclerc can afford not to score this weekend and is still guaranteed to lead the standings leaving Imola, but he will be looking to put on a show in front of the local Ferrari fans. The Monegasque driver won the second race of his career, at Monza in 2019, on what was a special day for him, but on that occasion he was not in a title fight.

This year’s visit to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari comes with Leclerc now the clear favorite for the title, and Ferrari marking themselves out as the team to beat with a commanding win in Melbourne. In front of a packed crowd at Imola, there will be some atmosphere as he seeks his third win from four.

The first Sprint of the year
The first three rounds of the season have been packed with exciting racing, but there will be an added challenge for the teams this weekend when the Sprint makes its first appearance in 2022. After a successful three-event trial last year, there will be another three race weekends to host the Sprint over the next season, Imola will be the first, followed by Austria and Brazil.

Most aspects around the format are the same, with teams having just one free practice session on Friday before qualifying, although the fastest driver in Friday’s qualifying session will now be deemed to have secured the pole position for the race weekend by being the fastest. That alone rewards them with first place on the grid for the Sprint on Saturday, with the shorter race then setting the grid for the main Grand Prix on Sunday. However, Saturday’s Sprint comes with added incentives, with the top eight drivers now scoring points, compared to the top three last year, starting with eight points for the winner down to a single point for eighth place.

reliability issues

While Bahrain and Jeddah saw Ferrari and Red Bull closely matched, Melbourne did not follow the same pattern as Leclerc dominated proceedings from the front. But Max Verstappen was still poised for a solid 18 points for second place until a fuel system problem forced him to retire for the second time in three races.

Both Red Bulls retired from the season opener when they were in the podium positions, that means their two cars have combined for only three finishes from six starts, and all three retirements were related to the fuel system.

Team principal Christian Horner says it was a different issue that stopped Verstappen in Australia compared to the failures in Bahrain, but they are proving costly either way.

Verstappen is already on 46 points, almost two race wins behind Leclerc in the standings, and that will be a huge gap to close without any misfortune befalling the championship leader. Red Bull is also third in the constructors’ category after its early problems.

Teams may face teething problems at the start of a new set of regulations, but Red Bull will be keen to find some reliability as quickly as possible before initial frustrations become even more of an issue.



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