History beckons for Leclerc but Hamilton king of the sprint

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Charles Leclerc will always receive huge support in Italy as long as he turns out in the red of Ferrari, but this week at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix might just be extra special.

Leclerc leads the Formula One drivers' championship after a stunning start to the new season, winning in Bahrain and Australia either side of a second-placed finish in Saudi Arabia.

The Monegasque is a massive 34 points clear of nearest challenger George Russell, but there are added points on offer this weekend with the return of the sprint race.

Leclerc should not be daunted, though, for this is a potentially record-breaking start to the year.

Having recorded the fastest lap at each of the first three grands prix, Leclerc could become the first ever driver to achieve four in a row from the start of an F1 season.

Kimi Raikkonen in 2008, then of Ferrari, was the last driver to set four fastest laps in four races at any stage of the year.

On this form, perhaps Leclerc will simply see the sprint race as something else he can conquer. Australia saw his first career Grand Slam, following up pole position with the fastest lap and a victory while leading from start to finish. Each of his four wins to date have come from pole.

Ferrari will be looking to move ahead of Williams for wins at Imola, with their joint-record eight so far contributing to a team-high 27 in Italy.

If Leclerc does not take the top step of the podium, the Scuderia will hope Carlos Sainz can get back on track, having retired in Melbourne following a team-record 24 consecutive finishes to start his Ferrari career.

Hamilton's time to shine?

At odds with Leclerc's joy, this has been a year to forget so far for perennial contender Lewis Hamilton, back in fifth with a single podium and no wins to his name.

But the sprint race is where he comes to life, having last year made up six places across the three Saturday events – level with Esteban Ocon for the most of any driver.

And even with Mercedes badly lacking the pace that put them on pole in the past two races at Imola, Hamilton has continued to show his class behind the wheel this year.

Only Yuki Tsunoda (six) has made up more places over the first laps of races this season than Hamilton's four.

Should he somehow manage to get a fastest lap out of his ailing Silver Arrow, Hamilton would become the first driver to have three in a row at Imola since Michael Schumacher between 2003 and 2005.

Frustration for Max

Defending champion Max Verstappen won at Imola in 2021 but could be forgiven for arriving in Italy in a downbeat mood having failed to finish two of three races so far this year, retiring in Australia.

With Sergio Perez also failing to finish once, Red Bull have had three such disappointing performances through three grands prix, having only had six cars fail to see the checkered flag in 22 races last season.

Should they finally get their act together, Red Bull could also make history with a fastest lap. They remain tied with Lotus on 76 for the most ever in F1.



1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 71
2. George Russell (Mercedes) 37
3. Carlo Sainz (Ferrari) 33
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 30
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 28


1. Ferrari 104
2. Mercedes 65
3. Red Bull 55
4. McLaren 24
5. Alpine 22

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