Leclerc Leads Ferrari Charge with Dominant Imola Practice Sessions

Charles Leclerc set the pace for Ferrari in both practice sessions at Imola on Friday, showcasing the potential of their new upgrades.

In the opening session, Leclerc topped the timesheets with a 1:16.990, with George Russell surprisingly second-fastest for Mercedes, just a tenth behind, splitting the two Ferraris.

In the afternoon, Leclerc bolted on a set of soft tyres for a qualifying simulation, slicing a second off his lap time to 1:15.906 and doubling his advantage over his nearest challenger, Oscar Piastri.

Carlos Sainz, however, struggled to extract the full potential of the SF-24 in FP2, finishing over half a second behind in sixth.

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He left the track multiple times, indicating he has yet to find the right balance.

Ferrari’s updates have been the talk of the paddock at Imola.

After McLaren won the Miami Grand Prix with an impressive set of developments, Ferrari is attempting to strike back.

McLaren’s team principal, Andrea Stella, was seen closely examining the new Ferrari in the pitlane on Friday.

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He likely noted the ‘shark mouth’ sidepod entrance, a feature Ferrari copied from championship leaders Red Bull.

Damon Hill rewatched Leclerc’s 1:15.9 lap live on Sky Sports F1 after FP2, having missed it earlier while trackside.

He was shocked by the number of times Leclerc had to overtake slower cars while driving flat-out, expressing discomfort with the closing speeds in the fastest parts of the track.

It was a session full of impeding, leaving multiple drivers frustrated.

Notably, Max Verstappen expressed his frustration with former title rival Lewis Hamilton at the end of the first sector.

“This is the other thing that I found shocking actually,” Hill said. “The cars have to pull over and they have to pass in the middle of their fast lap.”

This marks Hamilton’s first visit to Italy since announcing he’d be joining Ferrari for the 2025 season.

Next year, he’ll swap Mercedes’ colors for scarlet red, and the F1 world eagerly awaits his battle with Leclerc. It’s expected to be a showdown between the seasoned master and the rapid apprentice.

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Valtteri Bottas told Leclerc that he’d immediately realize why the 39-year-old Hamilton has been so successful but backed the Monegasque to hold his own.

Sebastian Vettel thinks it will be ‘difficult’ for Fred Vasseur to manage the dynamic between the two drivers.

Mika Hakkinen is confident that the 26-year-old Leclerc can cause Hamilton ‘problems,’ noting the competitive battle between Hamilton and Russell since 2022.