Following on from damage limitation in China comes the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, hosted at the infamous Imola.
Last time around this venue I had a difficult race and a few errors cost me dearly. I had wound up ninth, so there was plenty of room for improvement. Whether or not I would see any improvement would depend largely on whether or not I could quickly master this challenging circuit. As before, hard tyres and a near-full fuel tank would grant me the necessary experience to learn the track, and the practice sessions were marked with rain, which added another dimension to my efforts. The most formidable corner remained turn 12, which is approached at very high speed, and this corner would prove difficult for me on virtually every single lap. It is very easy to spin coming out of the corner, and I never truly mastered it.
That being said, the pace of the car once unleashed for qualifying proved excellent. In fact it was brilliant. With rain meant to interfere with qualifying I got out early in Q1 and Q2 and topped the times. In Q3 I could not get out of the blocks fast enough to avoid the drizzle, and as a result my lap time on the softs was compromised. P6 would be my starting position, though it became P5 following a penalty (I think for Leclerc, but I’m not sure).
My start wasn’t great but after the first corner I’d bullied my way into ensuring I was back in fifth. Soon I was catching Sainz’s Ferrari, who had started on pole but had a terrible start. It wasn’t long before I was ahead of him, and up front I had the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas, who were warring with not only themselves but the McLaren of Ricciardo. As a result of their intense squabbling I had to be careful, for I did not want or need damage due to someone else’s scrap. After a few laps I grew impatient and muscled past Hamilton, who nicked his front-wing on the rear of my car. He was forced into a front-wing change and fell back through the pack, whilst I battled with Bottas and Ricciardo for the lead. I succeeded in getting through after a bit of effort, and then pitted first, abandoning my worn softs for more softs.
It took me a lap to get accustomed to the extra grip, but once I did I set some good lap times, whilst first Ricciardo then Bottas pitted a few laps later. They lost time due to their weakened rubber, and my gap to Bottas went from around a couple of seconds to 5.5 seconds. I had a cushion, I was leading, and I felt reasonably optimistic. However I had one final stop to make for medium tyres, and for both me and Bottas the mediums would have to last for 27 laps.
I ended up with a slightly better lead after the second stop, but from there Bottas chipped away at it, and things weren’t helped by a gaggle of backmarkers causing a bit of mayhem with a yellow flag for an incident. A few slightly errant corners (turn 6 and turn 12 in particular) saw the gap drop further. I held Bottas to around 2.5 seconds for a while, and then, as the laps ran out, he began to close in a little bit more. Somehow I kept him from DRS range, but on the final lap he pushed, and so I pushed, and we crossed the line separated by 0.9 seconds.
I had won my second race of the 2022 season and the eighth of my fledging career. Another lap and I might have lost it. Talk about hard-fought!