Ferrari’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc drives during the first practice session at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari race track in Imola, Italy, April 22, 2022, ahead of the Formula One Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. — AFP pic
IMOLA, April 22 — Championship leader Charles Leclerc topped the times ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz in today’s rain-hit opening free practice for this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The Monegasque driver delighted throngs of Italian fans sheltering from incessant drizzle at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari as the Ferraris dominated, leaving defending world champion Max Verstappen gasping in pursuit.
Leclerc clocked a best lap time of 1 minute and 29.402 seconds to outpace Sainz by 0.877sec and Red Bull’s Verstappen by 1.465, a dramatic demonstration of his superiority in treacherous conditions.
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was fourth, three-tenths adrift of the leading pace, ahead of team-mate Mick Schumacher, Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Fernando Alonso of Alpine.
Sebastian Vettel was eighth for Aston Martin ahead of Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri and George Russell of Mercedes.
His team-mate, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who had earlier confirmed his interest in investing in English Premier League club Chelsea, struggled again and wound up 18th, complaining he had no grip at the end on his intermediate tyres.
After incessant rain throughout the morning, the session began in wet conditions with the “tifosi” crowded under umbrellas to greet their beloved Ferrari team on home soil.
After a delay, Valtteri Bottas was first out for Alfa Romeo ahead of Magnussen and Sainz, but it was Verstappen who was soon on top of the time-screens.
In the perilous conditions, it was no surprise that nearly everyone struggled to stay on track with Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc and Lando Norris among the drivers who took excursions across the grass or spun in the plumes of spray.
Leclerc replaced Verstappen on top spot after 18 minutes until Perez went quickest before the improving conditions allowed for a switch from full-wet tyres to intermediates.
Leclerc was soon leading the way again before Sainz, on inters, clocked 1:33.716 to set a new standard. He then trimmed that by a full second until Leclerc responded again in 1:32.512. — AFP