Leclerc leads Imola FP1 with upgraded Ferrari

Charles Leclerc took his upgraded Ferrari to the top of the time sheet for first practice at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The home Italian team, based just 44 miles northwest of the Imola circuit, unveiled sweeping Red Bull Racing-inspired updates ahead of the opening session of the European leg of the season that the team hopes will draw it closer to the series leader.

Leclerc gave those hopes a boost with his FP1 benchmark time of 1m16.990s, the Monegasque being the only driver to dip beneath 77 seconds.

George Russell was second for Mercedes, the German marque looking rapid through the medium-speed corners to get within 0.104s of the leader, while Carlos Sainz made it two Ferrari cars in the top three, the Spaniard just 0.026s further back.


While Ferrari and even Mercedes looked good in the opening hour, Red Bull Racing and particularly Max Verstappen struggled.

Verstappen struggled for grip — first at the rear, then with overheating fronts, with the track temperature soaring — and twice ended up off the circuit.

A big snap sent the Dutchman off the road at Variante Alta, but it was the Acqua Minerali that caused him the most trouble, including by spoiling his final flying lap with a trip through the stones after he’d set a purple first sector. He ended the session fifth and 0.25s off the pace, 0.007s behind fourth-placed teammate Sergio Perez.

Yuki Tsunoda impressed for RB in sixth despite an early scare running wide through Rivazza.

Lewis Hamilton was seventh in the sister Mercedes after spinning over the curbs at Acque Minerali, coming to a stop facing backwards on the circuit.

McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were eighth and ninth ahead of Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll.

Daniel Ricciardo went very deep through the gravel trap at Rivazza on an early flying lap but rejoined to end the session 13th ahead of Esteban Ocon.

Ferrari reserve driver Oliver Bearman was 15th in Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in his first of six scheduled FP1 appearances with the American team that he’s heavily tipped to race for next season, bouncing back from a heavy crash at Tamburello in practice for Formula 2 earlier in the day.

Sauber teammates Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu were 16th and 17th ahead of Williams teammates Logan Sargeant and Alex Albon, the latter completing only eight laps before his power unit shut down running over some curbs, leaving him stopped on track and forcing a six-minute red flag to collect his car.

Nico Hulkenberg completed the session last for Haas.

Story originally appeared on Racer