Imola FP2: Leclerc stays top as Red Bull remain off the pace

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-24. 17.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images
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Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc continued to set the pace at Imola, completing a sweep of Friday's practice sessions for this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

Leclerc's time of 1:15.906s in FP2 was just under two tenths quicker than Oscar Piastri, whose McLaren team mate Lando Norris made a mistake on his flying lap that cost him a chance of a top ten spot.

Instead it was a surprise appearance for Yuki Tsunoda in the top three ahead of the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, while Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez were only P7 and P8 respectively for Red Bull.

After back-to-back Sprint weekends, it was nice to have a sense of normality restored on Friday afternoon as the drivers went out for the second free practice at Imola. Ferrari had put the first session to good use with Charles Leclerc topping the times ahead of Mercedes' George Russell and Carlos Sainz third fastest, while Red Bull looked unusually ill at ease.

All eyes were therefore on Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez as the lights went green at the end of pit lane. Despite heavy rain and flooding in parts of northern Italy, the weather in Imola was warm and sunny day (24C air temperature, 38C on the track) although the wind was causing issues for some drivers.

Circuit atmosphere - fans trackside. 17.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

There was a long queue of cars waiting to head out onto the track on a mixture of mediums and hards. Williams initially decided to hang back after Alex Albon's FP1 electronics cut-out problem, McLaren's Oscar Piastri also taking his time to get out and about. In the meantime Leclerc was quick to retake the top spot with a time of :17.019, half a second clear of Sainz.

Leclerc didn't have P1 to himself for long before Verstappen went quickest with 1:16.930s, half a tenth ahead of Miami winner Lando Norris. Unsurprisingly the top six were all on mediums, with Lewis Hamilton the quickest of those on the hard compound. There was an early spin for Pierre Gasly but without damage to the Alpine while Nico Hulkenberg was ordered back to pit lane after detecting "something not right" on the Haas.

Yuki Tsunoda took a turn at the top for RB, and then it was Leclerc and Verstappen back in front despite the Monegasque reporting concerns with the power steering on the Ferrari in turn 11 in particular. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso was complaining about Hamilton dawdling on the racing line: "Hamilton thinks he is the only car on the track!" grumbled the Spaniard.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW46. 17.05.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

After a brief hiatus with no cars on track, Albon finally made a bow on mediums, with others quick to tag along for their second runs having switched to softs. Leclerc moved the goalposts with a time of 1:15.969s but Norris made a mistake on his run and got airborne, forcing him to abort what looked like an equally rapid lap to take to pit lane instead. Instead it was left to Piastri to spring into second just 0.129s back from Leclerc with Russell third fastest from Sainz at the halfway point, and Verstappen and Perez still only fifth and sixth after the Mexican thwacked the kerbs quite hard and both cars fell foul of traffic.

Leclerc shaved a little more time off his lap to go nearly two tenths quicker than Piastri, while Tsunoda was still looking swift as he moved back up to third just ahead of the latest offering from Hamilton - although the Japanese driver was noted for failing to follow the correct procedure for a practice start. That signalled the end of the qualifying laps as Norris was the first to return to mediums for race distance runs while Piastri took up a set of the hard tyres to cover all the bases.

Verstappen and Sainz both ran wide on their later laps but without harm being done. Norris returned to a set of softs only to get stuck behind Sauber's Zhou Guanyu. With no further improvements or significant incidents before the chequered flag, Leclerc completed his sweep of Friday's sessions and put himself in a strong position for qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

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