Leclerc fastest in wet opening practice at Imola

Rain greeted the drivers and teams as they headed out on track for the first European race of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship at Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and it was Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who would end the session fastest, despite his struggles with the wet track.

This weekend features a sprint race on the Saturday, so despite the wet weather, all teams were keen to get out on to the circuit and make the most of the track time ahead of qualifying later in the day.

The green light flickered on, signaling the start of the session and drivers headed out on to the track on the full wet-weather Pirelli tires, despite the additional grip from the tires the conditions were tricky, with championship leader Charles Leclerc claiming the first spin of the day as he pirouetted at turn 14.

The track conditions would claim the Williams Racing duo next, first Nicholas Latifi, who headed through the gravel trap before telling the team over the radio “the car keeps going into anti-stall, very strange.” Alex Albon also had a brief moment as he skimmed over the grass before getting back on track in a separate incident.

McLaren F1 Racing Team were hard at work trying to secure Daniel Ricciardo’s headrest that wasn’t seating correctly into his car.

Max Verstappen set a time of 1:37.247 as his rivals fell off of the track, first Carlos Sainz Jr., who suffered a similar fate as Albon, and then Lewis Hamilton as they struggled with grip.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Twenty minutes in and the track conditions were still claiming drivers, next up was Lando Norris, who took a trip through the gravel trap before returning to the pitlane to get his car checked over. Leclerc continued to struggle, getting on the kerb at Turn 11 before spinning in to the middle of the circuit again, while Esteben Ocon went off track at Rivazza.

As the first half hour of the session rounded out, it was Sergio Perez at the top of the timing screens, ahead of Leclerc and Sainz, with just three-tenths of a second separating the three drivers as the rain came down heavier.

While it seemed that the track conditions were not improving, Sebastian Vettel would be the first driver to venture out on track on the intermediate tires, carefully lapping the circuit at first before jumping up the timing screens to fifth place. Team-mate Lance Stroll would soon be following the gamble and switching away from the full-wet tires, unfortunately for the Canadian, despite being one of the better drivers in the wet, he would skate off of the circuit at Turn 13.

Other teams would soon follow and make the switch to Intermediate tires, from this point the times would start to tumble, Norris was soon up to second place and within touching distance of Perez’s time.

It wasn’t only the rain that was causing trouble for the teams, for the 2022 season the tire blanket temperatures are set lower that previous years, that combined with lower track temperatures meant that the drivers would struggle to bring the tires up to temperature initially .

Leclerc continued to push, maybe a little too hard as he suffered a third spin of the session, this time at Turn 3, Tamburello, team-mate Sainz was on pace instantly, going 1.7 seconds faster than Perez, taking the top time of the session so far.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

The time wouldn’t stand long as Leclerc gathered his thoughts and pushed for a flying lap, finishing 0.094 seconds faster. Within minutes the times would continue to tumble, Sainz would pick up a tow from Leclerc, ending the lap 1.709 seconds faster than anyone else.

Pierre Gasly, Vettel, and Verstappen would all suffer small incidents. The reigning champion pushed on, but could only manage a time 1.253 seconds behind Sainz on his second flying lap on the Intermediates.

Heading in to the last ten minutes of the session Leclerc returned to the top of the times whilst George Russell wrestled with his car, battling the porpoising which was causing plenty of sparks around the damp circuit.

Red flags would fly, but only briefly; For a moment it would seem that Lando Norris was beached in a gravel trap, but just as the race director called for the session to stop, the Brit managed to move his car and returned to the pitlane.

A short stoppage with only minutes to go led to a flurry of drivers returning to the track for the closing, looking to gain an advantage as they head in to qualifying later in the afternoon. As the session came to a close no one could better Leclerc’s time, finishing nine tenths of a second faster than his team-mate Sainz.

There would be drama in the final moments for Valterri Bottas who manages to run over the slippery paint, causing him to take a trip through the Acque Minerali gravel trap before coming to a rest against the barriers.

1 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 1:29.402 24
2 55 Carlos Sainz FERRARI 1:30.279 +0.877s 25
3 1 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING RBPT 1:30.867 +1.465s 21
4 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:32.439 +3.037s 23
5 47 Mick Schumacher HAAS FERRARI 1:32.988 +3.586s 23
6 11 Sergio Perez RED BULL RACING RBPT 1:33.012 +3.610s 17
7 14 Fernando Alonso ALPINE RENAULT 1:33.160 +3.758s 13
8 5 Sebastian Vettel ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:33.365 +3.963s 22
9 22 Yuki Tsunoda ALPHATAURI RBPT 1:33.611 +4.209s 18
10 63 George Russell MERCEDES 1:34.262 +4.860s 21
11 77 Valtteri Bottas ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:34.615 +5.213s 19
12 10 Pierre Gasly ALPHATAURI RBPT 1:35.104 +5.702s 19
13 31 Esteban Ocon ALPINE RENAULT 1:35.420 +6.018s 14
14 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:35.502 +6.100s 12
15th 3 Daniel Ricciardo MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:35.625 +6.223s 15th
16 18 Lance Stroll ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:36.033 +6.631s 23
17 23 Alexander Albon Williams MERCEDES 1:36,461 +7.059s 17
18 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:36.464 +7.062s 17
19 24 Zhou Guanyu ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:37.450 +8.048s 22
20 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams MERCEDES 1:39.698 +10.296s 15th

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