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It was another race to forget for Lewis Hamilton while Charles Leclerc also struggled to compete with the Red Bulls at Imola and FIA race director Niels Wittich was partly to blame. With a wet track to start on, there was plenty of anticipation of exciting action at Imola.
All drivers started on the intermediate tyres with DRS unavailable due to the wet conditions. But the track soon began to dry with some drivers soon questioning whether to move onto drys.
Daniel Ricciardo was first to bite the bullet in putting on the soft compound and it was quickly apparent that they were the faster tyre to be on. A frenzy ensued in the pits as all drivers came in for slicks with plenty of moves up and down the grid.
However, there was still no news of DRS being activated after the first round of pits and the lack of the extra pace was starting to ruin Hamilton’s chances of finishing inside the points. A slow pit-stop, as well as an unsafe release from Esteban Ocon, pushed Hamilton back down to 14th on the track.
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And he was stuck behind Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri for several laps, getting frustrated at not having a chance to overtake. Imola is notoriously tough to overtake on anyway with limited opportunities to make a move.
DRS gives drivers an extra 19kmh when active and is usually enough for drivers to overtake heading down the pit straight into Tamburello. But still, the race director refused to activate DRS and new rules introduced this year meant teams were unable to question race control.
It wasn’t until lap 35 when DRS was eventually enabled, at which point the tyres had already started to wear off. Hamilton had seemingly missed his opportunity to not only get past Gasly, but also those in front with Yuki Tsunoda, running ninth, creating a DRS train behind him.
The same situation arose for Leclerc further up the grid in his battle with Sergio Perez for second. The Ferrari driver had been struggling to keep up with Perez until the Mexican made a mistake at the final corner, allowing Leclerc to push within DRS range.
But that moment came when DRS was inactive, leaving Leclerc with little option but to back off into the first corner. That proved to be his best chance and then his race was practically over after a mistake at Rivazza, damaging his front wing and forced to pit which dropped him down to ninth.
Both Leclerc and Hamilton had other issues which clearly hampered their race, but the delay in activating DRS certainly played a part. And it’s not been made immediately clear by the FIA why exactly they waited so long to open the DRS window.
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