Most of the time, a modern Formula One team arrives at a Grand Prix venue armed with a wealth of historic but relevant data at a circuit that’s well-worn after hundreds of kilometres of running.
But Imola is different. Having returned in 2020 at late notice following a long hiatus, Imola remained a step into the relative unknown.
Combined with Formula One’s reduced practice running in 2021, Imola tested not only speed but efficiency and quick-thinking, too.
It’s an intense challenge set across a picturesque backdrop, making the track walk one of the best of the year. While COVID restrictions robbed the Grand Prix of a truly electric atmosphere, the beautiful near-trackside homes still offered vocal support as Lance stopped by to chat to fans from a social distance.
As Sebastian and Lance took in the quirks of the track and faced the media on Thursday, Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One™ Team conducted pitstop practice under the fading light.
#IAMSTORIES: Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
Go behind the scenes of Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One™ Team's Imola weekend and uncover the story of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The AMR21 featured a black band across the nosecone, matching team member’s arms, in tribute to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, after his recent passing. All of Formula One would mark the occasion with a period of silence on Sunday.
On Friday, the AMR21 took on splashes of high-vis paint as Sebastian and Lance evaluated upgrades to the 2021 car and the feedback proved encouraging.
Racking up almost 100 laps on the Friday in cool and dry conditions, both drivers took on the task of working through a run programme designed to establish the baseline of the AMR21 before taking in a mix of shorter and longer runs on the Hard and Soft tyre compound.
But it was no straightforward task as tech-related issues affected the field in the first practice session, with the lack of GPS tracking and pitwall-to-car communication playing a part in rival team slip-ups.
The challenging nature of the session continued into the second practice session and a late red flag would deny Sebastian the chance at a performance run at the end of the hour.
The third practice session would provide an opportunity to make up for lost time as the duo mixed performance runs with longer stints on the Medium tyre before attention turned to qualifying.
In Formula One, every millisecond matters. Imola only proved the old adage once again. In Q1, the top thirteen were split by under a second, and both drivers sailed into Q2. But the gaps only narrowed further in Q2 as Formula One’s intense midfield battle roared into life again.
Due to AlphaTauri’s crash in Q1, Sebastian was forced into using a slightly used set of Softs, comprising the ideal run strategy.
As was seen up and down the grid, the confidence and comfort Imola demands of a driver in his car impacted the drivers who had recently switched teams and the combination of all of these factors contributed to Sebastian missing out on Q3 by just two-tenths of a second as Lance made it through.
For Lance, those fine margins would deny him ninth of the grid, but the platform for a charge forward was set.
A new challenge for Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One™ Team was set too: a renewed push to refine every possible avenue to help push qualifying performance forward to match a stronger race pace.
The covers were pulled off the AMR21 on Sunday as the sound of mechanics readying the machines filled the pitlane, but there was another twist to come. As the anticipation rose, the heavens opened and the long-awaited rain covered the Imola circuit.
The formation laps set the tone for what was to come with drama across the field as rivals skated off the circuit and Lance and Sebastian’s brakes glowed red.
Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One™ Team was called into action on the formation lap to rectify the late problem, with swift work ensuring Lance started in P10 as Sebastian just missed out and started from the pitlane.
As the engines roared up on the grid, silence fell in the garage as the Grand Prix loomed. The familiar sights of flying spray and the flashing red lights of energy harvesting filled the main straight as both drivers made up early positions.
An early safety car soon set the tone as drivers balanced finding the limit with calculated wheel-to-wheel racing.
Lance would rise above the trouble to claim an eighth-placed finish, while Sebastian was cruelly forced to retire late on.
With more points secured for the Constructors’ Championship, the team is pushing forward with its upgrade plan and working hard to continue understanding the AMR21. Progress was made in Imola, but all focus is now on Portimão.
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