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What time, what channel and the big talking points ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc to pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint race

Charles Leclerc celebrates his Australian Grand Prix with Sergio Perez finishing runner-up. Photo: PA/Reuters

Billy Dobson

The Formula 1 roadshow gets back underway this weekend with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola and there are so many talking points ahead of the fourth race of the season.

Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc to pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint race in an incident-packed qualifying session at Imola on Friday, with Lewis Hamilton only qualifying in 13th before the rain came down in Italy.

Here, Billy Dobson looks at the big issues in Formula 1 right now and assesses what comes next in one of the most unpredictable F1 scripts in many years.

What time, what channel?

Sky Sports Formula 1 will be on air at 12.30pm on Sunday with the big-race build-up, with the race getting underway at 2pm.

Leclerc’s dominance

Since his debut season in 2018, Charles Leclerc has proven why he is tipped as a future world champion. An excellent breakout year at Sauber saw the Monegasque driver earn a move to Ferrari, and he seems to be leading the Tifosi back where they belong.

Leclerc has already doubled his tally of career wins with victories in Bahrain and Australia, picking up his first ‘Grand Slam’ in Melbourne. An utterly dominant performance, along with the misfortune of his rivals, meant Leclerc could lead every lap with ease and finish 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Sergio Perez.

A total of 71 points gives Leclerc a 34-point lead in the drivers’ standings, a lead which already seems tough for anyone to reduce. Mercedes’ George Russell sits in second place, although it looks unlikely that the Brit will be able to match the pace of the Ferrari any time soon.

Red Bull’s reliability issues

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco, left, speaks to Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands after the Formula One Grand Prix it in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Credit: AP

2021 saw Red Bull pick up their first driver’s championship in seven years when Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to the title.

The Dutchman has set out to defend his crown, providing some thrilling battles with Leclerc for the race lead. Despite Verstappen’s fight, he doesn’t have the haul of points you may expect.

DNF’s in both Bahrain and Australia have cost the world champion significantly, sitting second in both races when the issue occurred. If he managed to hold position in both races, that would’ve seen him earn an extra 36 points in his title defence. Instead, Verstappen sits in sixth place, behind both Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ drivers, as well as teammate Sergio Perez.

Perez has also had his own issues. The Mexican suffered a similar issue to Verstappen in Bahrain, seeing his hopes of a podium slip away from him. Bad luck in Saudi Arabia saw Checo miss out on his first win of the season, before he managed to bring home a podium in Australia.

The fall of Mercedes

Off the pace: Lewis Hamilton. Photo: PA

Fans of Formula 1 are used to seeing two things: Mercedes’ winning the constructors title and Lewis Hamilton competing for the drivers’ title. But in 2022, both seem unlikely.

Mercedes’ scored a podium in Bahrain when Hamilton capitalised on Red Bull’s misfortune, coming home in third place. Russell also picked up his first podium of the season in Australia, benefitting from a safety car. Results do not tell the whole story, with both podiums being fortunate. After the Australian Grand Prix, Russell labelled Mercedes’ as the “fifth fastest team”, slower than Alpine and McLaren.

It's clear that the silver arrows lack pace to fight for race wins purely on merit, but picking up points when their rivals falter can only be a good thing. Reports suggest that upgrades will come in time for the European leg of the season, although this is yet to be confirmed by team boss Toto Wolff.

McLaren’s inconsistency

McLaren’s era of mediocrity seemed to be behind them after 2021, with the Woking outfit a consistent top 10 team, earning five podiums throughout the season.

Hopes were high coming into the 2022 campaign, with some fans even tipping them to fight for both titles. It is fair to say that expectation has certainly been lowered.

Bahrain was a disaster for McLaren, with neither car making the final session of qualifying. The race failed to improve the mood within the team when both cars finished well outside the points. Saudi Arabia was a mixed bag for the team in papaya. Lando Norris finished in seventh to claim the teams first points of the season, while Daniel Ricciardo’s engine failure saw him stranded at the pit entry, forcing him into retirement. A thrilling home coming was in store for Ricciardo in Melbourne, when he managed a sixth-place finish, just behind Norris in fifth.

The 18-point haul sent McLaren flying up the championship into fourth place, a miracle considering their disastrous start. It is still unclear as to where McLaren’s true pace lies, with different tracks providing different fortunes for the British team.

The future of Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri and France during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 06, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Pierre Gasly is one of Formula 1’s hottest prospects right now, with a dominant two-and-a-half-year spell at Alpha Tauri under his belt.

The young Frenchman saw his move to parent team Red Bull go horribly wrong in 2019, being demoted after just 12 races. It is clear that Gasly won’t remain at the learning ground of Alpha Tauri much longer, but it is unclear as to where his next move may be.

His future may depend upon the form of Sergio Perez. Perez endured an inconsistent 2021 campaign, showing glimpses of brilliance along with underwhelming performances. If Checo cannot challenge Max Verstappen this season, it may be time to give Gasly another shot at the top.

Hopes of an all-French line up at Alpine seem to have been extinguished with the arrival of the impressive Aussie, Oscar Piastri. The F2 champion is Alpine’s reserve driver and is first in line to replace the ageing Fernando Alonso, when the time comes.

Gasly’s storming performances certainly warrant a place on the Formula 1 grid, but he may have to settle for midfield cars for a little bit longer.

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