After McLaren’s big upgrade package helped Lando Norris claim his maiden Formula 1 victory in Miami, Ferrari and Mercedes will attempt to hit back in Imola with significant new parts of their own.

The tighter 2024 battle that many predicted before the season began is finally threatening to materialise with Norris’ stunning pace in Florida suggesting that McLaren will be able to go toe to toe with Red Bull at circuits that suit the MCL38.

While Max Verstappen has won four of the opening six races in a strong start to his quest for a fourth successive drivers’ title, Ferrari have also at times produced enough pace to challenge Red Bull, most notably when Carlos Sainz led the Italian squad to a one-two in Australia.

During successive Sprint weekends Ferrari haven’t quite been able to maintain their early-season form, although Charles Leclerc did manage to seal the final spot on the podium behind Norris and Verstappen in Miami.

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Lando Norris claims his first ever victory in F1 at the Miami GP.

Amid the frenzied atmosphere that will be created by the tifosi at the first of two home races this season for Ferrari, expectations will undoubtedly be heightened by the arrival of the upgrades.

While it’s too soon for Formula 1 fans to get carried away, the prospect of Ferrari making the sort of progress that could see three teams battling for victory in Imola and beyond, sets up a hugely exciting weekend.

Vasseur: It’s never a mega-upgrade

While McLaren shocked the paddock by unveiling what chief executive Zak Brown admitted was basically a B-spec car in Miami, we are unlikely to see a repeat of that in Imola.

McLaren had said at the launch of the MCL38 in February that they were behind where they had intended to be with the car, which goes some way to explaining why the team brought such an extensive upgrade package so early in the season.

Speaking after the race in Miami, Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur insisted that he wasn’t expecting a “game-changing upgrade” in terms of the season as a whole, but admitted the new parts have the potential to boost results in the short term.

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Ted Kravitz looks on as the McLaren team celebrate Lando Norris’ first Grand Prix win with Ferrari’s Fred Vasseur getting involved in the celebrations.

“I think we have put kind of some thought into the development of this current car, and when we are bringing something, it’s never a mega-upgrade,” Vasseur said.

“It’s true also that when in qualifying, you have four or five cars within one-tenth, if you bring one-tenth, it’s a game-changer for the weekend.”

As has been the case for most of the grid with the current generation of design regulations, putting the cars in a strong operating window has proved both a challenging and crucial element, and Vasseur believes acing set-up is just as important as bringing upgrades.

He added: “But a large part of the result is coming also from what we are doing with the drivers, the set-up of the car during the weekend, the management of the tyres.

“We don’t have to think only about upgrades and development. It’s also the job that we are doing on track.”

‘Timing of upgrades nothing to do with Italy’

Some in the paddock had speculated that Ferrari had planned a first significant upgrade package to arrive in Italy, where the team is always under increased scrutiny from fans and national media alike.

However, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, being the first European race of the season on the current calendar, acts as a natural introduction point for upgrades.

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says he was surprised he was still in the race after a near miss with Sergio Perez on the first corner of the Miami Grand Prix.

The two full months that have passed since the season began have given teams time to develop parts, while the European location is far more convenient to get parts to than the opening five rounds, particularly for Ferrari.

Vasseur said: “When you are doing the development, it’s not that we want to bring something in Imola because it’s in Italy, we are pushing for the development. And as soon as we are ready, we are producing parts.

“The fact that Imola is close to the factory, it’s also helping to bring something because we can release the parts a bit later.

“But it was nothing to do with Italy. And then again on this, we don’t have to expect that it will be a game changer, but it’s so tight that this can bring performance.”

Mercedes set for ‘second half’ of upgrade package

Mercedes did introduce some new parts in Miami, but their changes were overshadowed when McLaren revealed an almost brand-new car.

A hugely disappointing Friday and Saturday appeared to suggest the upgrades had had little impact, but Lewis Hamilton did finally show some strong pace in Sunday’s race to provide some hope.

Despite Hamilton’s encouraging sixth-place finish, the Silver Arrows are still desperately searching for consistency and will hope the rest of their package can at least provide an improvement in that area.

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Join Ted Kravitz in the pit lane to assess the changes made by McLaren and Mercedes ahead of the Miami Grand Prix.

The main change in Miami was an updated floor, while there was also a “small tweak” to the front suspension.

Speaking in Mercedes’ official race review, trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “We managed to pull forward about half of our update kit to Miami and then the other half is going to arrive in Imola, and we are working hard on the future races to try and bring developments to them as well.

“Did it work as expected? Yes, it all looks like it is delivering the performance that we were hoping for from the floor.

“The issue at the moment is everyone else is developing their cars, so you saw McLaren with a big package and they look to have moved forward and also the handling issues that the drivers are having to battle with are making it hard to really see all that performance as a straight sort of step forward.”

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Mercedes’ George Russell says his race pace caught him off guard while Lewis Hamilton was a lot more encouraged with his new setup during the Miami GP.

While Shovlin described what will arrive in Imola as the “other half” of Mercedes’ upgrade package, he also confirmed that more updates are set to follow soon after.

“What we tend to find is that the car from session to session can behave quite differently and until we get on top of that, we are always going to blunt the benefit that we can get from these type of updates,” Shovlin added.

“But after the last few races, we have got now a very clear idea of what we need to do to the car to get it handling a bit more easily for the drivers, making sure it goes where they want it to go when they are on those important qualifying laps.

“And we have also got quite a good sort of thread of updates that will be coming over the next three or four races. A lot of hard work is going on, but hopefully we will start to see the fruits of that soon.”

Sky Sports F1’s live Emilia Romagna GP schedule

Thursday May 16
1.30pm: Drivers’ Press Conference

Friday May 17
8:50am: F3 Practice
10am: F2 Practice
12pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice One (session starts at 12.30pm)
2pm: F3 Qualifying
2:55pm: F2 Qualifying
3:45pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)
5:30pm: The F1 Show

F1 visits Europe for the first time in 2024 with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola

Saturday May 18
9am: F3 Sprint
11:15am: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)
1.10pm: F2 Sprint
2.10pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying
5pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
5.30pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Sunday May 19
7.30am: F3 Feature Race
9am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Emilia Romagna GP build-up
2pm: The EMILIA ROMAGNA GRAND PRIX
4pm: Chequered Flag: Emilia Romagna GP reaction
5pm: Ted’s Notebook
8pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Formula 1 heads to Europe as Imola returns to the calendar following last year’s cancelled race. Watch the Emilia Romagna GP on May 17-19. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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