After an enthralling season-opener in Bahrain at the end of March, Formula One fans have been starved of action already and have had to wait a whole three weeks for the second race of the 2021 calendar.
The exciting Imola circuit plays host to the second race of 2021, and there is already one topic firmly on everyone’s minds ahead of the weekend’s action at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
But there are plenty of other intriguing sub-plots heading into the action-packed weekend in Italy. Here, Sportsmail gives the lowdown on why fans should be excited prior to the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix…
Lewis Hamilton will be looking to make it two wins from two at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
HAMILTON VS VERSTAPPEN – CHAPTER TWO
It’s the one everyone is talking about. The battle between Hamilton and Verstappen for world championship glory is set to be one of the most entertaining rivalries we’ve had for years.
With Hamilton going in search of an unprecedented eighth world title, Red Bull’s lightning quick Verstappen is looking to put an end to those dreams and he nearly made the perfect statement in Bahrain.
Verstappen was on the tail of Hamilton in the closing laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix but the experienced Brit somehow managed to hold firm, finishing less than a second ahead of his rival.
While it ultimately would have been a disappointing end to the weekend for Verstappen and Red Bull, they would have walked quietly away from Bahrain with their spirits high after having the quickest car.
Red Bull’s car is now firmly in a position to battle it out with Mercedes and Hamilton, but if Verstappen has any hopes of winning his first world title, it already seems vital that he wins in Imola on Sunday.
Two straight victories for Hamilton and it could perhaps set the tune for the whole season – yet another dominant campaign for Mercedes.
Hamilton just about saw off title rival Max Verstappen in the thrilling season-opener in Bahrain
WILL A CLEARER IMAGE OF THE PECKING ORDER EMERGE?
It’s always tough to predict how the season will pan out after just one race, but perhaps the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix will give us a clearer picture as the F1 travelling circus heads to Europe.
The top of the leaderboard is pretty obvious – Mercedes and Red Bull are set to battle it out to win the constructors championship.
But further back, and the picture is far from clear. McLaren and Ferrari were the best of the rest in Bahrain at the end of March but the likes of AlphaTauri will have something to say about that going forward.
However, the running order is expected to become more transparent now the calendar heads to Italy, at an old-school Imola track that is set to pose completely different challenges to the one in Bahrain.
There are set to be cooler temperatures in Italy at the first race in Europe this season compared to Bahrain and that could affect the performances of every team.
Furthermore, there is the slight chance of rain this weekend which could throw up even more obstacles for each team to overcome.
Fans will see perhaps see a clearer image of the pecking order this weekend at Imola
TWO GREATS BATTLING IT OUT
The early signs from Bahrain suggest there could be a fascinating battle in store between two of F1’s greatest constructors – McLaren and Ferrari.
As mentioned above, they were the best of the rest in Bahrain and there are hopes the two iconic teams will go toe-to-toe with each other once again in Italy.
There are suggestions that McLaren have closed the gap on both Mercedes and Red Bull, but going off the first race of the season, it looks like Ferrari have improved too after quite frankly a disastrous campaign in 2020 as they finished sixth.
Ferrari just about came out on top during qualifying in Bahrain with Charles Leclerc flying into fourth (Carlos Sainz – seventh) while Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris were fifth and sixth respectively.
But it was McLaren who seized the advantage on race day, with Norris moving up to fourth and his team-mate Ricciardo in seventh.
Leclerc placed back in sixth while Sainz, who raced with McLaren in both 2019 and 2020, was one place adrift of Ricciardo.
And the teams’ battle for supremacy this weekend could come down to Saturday’s qualifying – with Imola’s tight and twisty nature making it difficult to overtake on race day.
Ferrari and McLaren are competing to be the best of the rest behind Mercedes and Red Bull
CAN TSUNODA CONTINUE HIS IMPRESSIVE START?
Mick Schumacher unsurprisingly was grabbing the majority of the headlines as a rookie heading into the new season, but it was Yuki Tsunoda who walked away from Bahrain with the most attention.
Tsunoda, who has been tipped to one day take a seat at Red Bull, shone on his F1 debut for AlphaTauri as he became Japan’s first driver on the grid since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
Tsunoda, who has enjoyed an incredible ascent to F1, finished in the points after securing ninth place having started 13th on the grid.
After an early setback, the 20-year-old – the first F1 driver to be born in 2000 or later – showed no signs of nerves and displayed why he has got to where he has so quickly, thanks to his aggressive overtaking.
He will be desperate to follow his impressive start up at Imola this weekend, and you certainly wouldn’t put it past him adding more points to his tally.
It was a disappointing start for his team-mate Pierre Gasly but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic inside AlphaTauri’s camp as they look to kick on from their seventh-placed finish in last season’s constructors championship.
Yuki Tsunoda grabbed points on his debut in Bahrain and will be hoping for more of the same
AWAY FROM THE FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS OF BAHRAIN
The F1 paddock arrives in Italy having only tested their new cars in Bahrain so far, so there could be plenty of twists and turns ahead this weekend.
Compared to seasons gone by, unusually both testing and the opening race took place at the same venue.
So teams will have to quickly adapt to their new surroundings and can expect a completely different test to the one in the desert – so it will be of great interest to see how the cars react.
Imola is an old-school and narrow circuit with little in the way of run-off areas, while it will play party to a more flowing nature compared to the long straights and big stops of Bahrain.
You can expect an extremely congested midfield on the weekend, and hopefully this will add to the drama.
The old-school Imola circuit will be very different compared to the familiar venue of Bahrain
TEAMS HAVE BEEN MAKING THE MOST OF THE LONG BREAK
With three weeks off between the opening two races, teams have capitalised on their rare long break away from the track to make upgrades to their cars.
When first practice gets underway on Friday, many F1 fanatics will pay close attention to the respective garages as the teams get used to the track conditions.
For some of the teams, including Haas, they have introduced smaller parts to their cars that frustratingly weren’t available in time for the curtain-raiser in Bahrain.
But for others they have made bigger changes, with Alpine having introduced a new package of improvements onto their 2021 car following a point-less start to the season.
‘We have an aerodynamic upgrade package coming to the car for this Grand Prix,’ Alpine’s executive director Marcin Budkowski recently admitted.
‘In addition, we have some test items to assess during Friday practice, which will help define further upgrades planned over the next few races.’
So it will be interesting to see what changes each team have made exactly as they look to build on their season-opening performances.
Alpine have made big upgrades to their car ahead of the second race of the 2021 season