Imola GP, the fourth chapter of this 23-race season, has a lot of intrigue surrounding it. With this race, F1 makes its first appearance in Europe, and more often than not, that has proven decisive to the championship in the past. Moreover, the new regulations have been a bit of a tough nut to crack for teams and experts alike.
It's fair to say there are a lot of unanswered questions as we head to Ferrari's home race this weekend. In this piece, we'll take a look at a few standout questions as the F1 circus reaches the Imola GP.
#1 Can Red Bull sort out its reliability issues?
The biggest question heading into the Imola GP has to be the plight of Red Bull. Max Verstappen has suffered two DNFs in three races already and faces a 46-point deficit to championship leader Charles Leclerc. Having said that, the issue for the team is two-pronged as the car not only suffers from reliability issues but is also not as quick as the Ferrari.
At the Imola GP, it will be interesting to see if the team has overcome the reliability issues it is facing. Should that not be the case, then Verstappen could rule himself out of championship contention for this season.
#2 How effective will the Sprint race format be at Imola GP?
It does appear that F1 teams are not huge supporters of the Sprint race format simply because it costs the teams more money in the cost cap era. Having said that, Imola might not be the perfect spot to trial a format that feeds off wheel-to-wheel racing.
The Imola GP as a whole might just be the first true test of the efficacy of the new regulations as well as the sprint race format.
#3 Will the upgrades cause a shake-up in the pecking order?
The Imola GP is the first European race this season and with that comes the first opportunity for teams to bring upgrades to their cars. While teams like Alpine, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, and Red Bull are bringing upgrades (although nothing major) this weekend, Mercedes and Ferrari have opted not to do so here citing the congested nature of the sprint format.
In the first season of these new regulations, the prospect of teams taking a huge leap in performance is not out of the question. It will be interesting to see if that materializes this weekend and we will see some teams rising in the pecking order as compared to others.
#4 Will Mercedes close the gap to the front?
Mercedes has opted not to bring new upgrades to the car as it focuses its energy on trying to understand the entirely different concept it has gone for. Throughout the first three races of the season, the gap to the front has remained around a second for the Silver Arrows.
Will the team be able to unlock more potential from the car this weekend after learning from the data gathered in the first three races? It will be especially interesting to watch, with a surging McLaren snapping at Mercedes' heels in Australia.
#5 Who will head the midfield?
The midfield has been a bit of a cluster in the first three races. While the first race in Bahrain had Haas and Alfa Romeo surging ahead, the second race in Saudi Arabia saw Alpine jump the queue and maintain that performance with Fernando Alonso in Australia as well.
What will be the expected performance pattern in the Imola GP? Will we see Haas make a comeback to the front? Will we see Alpine replicate its form from Australia? Or will we see AlphaTauri move to the front with its new upgrade?
It will be interesting to see how the cards stack over the weekend.