Following a lengthy three-week break, Formula 1 is back at an iconic circuit amid great excitement over the prospect of a thrilling season to come. 

Here are five storylines to look out for at this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and just some of the reasons we are excited for the action to resume.

1. Hamilton versus Verstappen, round two

Bahrain served up a superb season-opener as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen dueled it out for victory, with the seven-time world champion narrowly coming out on top to get the campaign off to a winning start for Mercedes. 

Despite Hamilton’s win, Mercedes insists Red Bull has the car to beat at the start of 2021 and is under no illusions that it has a real fight on its hands this year to maintain its unbeaten run of success and clinch an unprecedented eighth world championship double on the bounce. 

Verstappen took a dominant pole by a margin of almost 0.4s and while Red Bull left Bahrain disappointed it failed to convert that into the win, it arrives at Imola confident it will once again be able to fight outright for the top spot on both Saturday and Sunday. 

Unlike in previous years, Mercedes genuinely believes it has no strengths over Red Bull in 2021 heading to a venue it claimed a rather fortuitous 1-2 at last season only after Verstappen dropped out of second place with a puncture. 

After a brilliant start to what will hopefully be a season-long title battle, there’s reason to believe we could witness another epic between Verstappen and Hamilton at Imola. 

2. Will a clearer picture of the pecking order emerge? 

A concrete competitive order was somewhat unclear at last month’s opener in Bahrain but this weekend’s race might help paint a slightly better picture of which team stands where. 

Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit is regarded as something of an outlier with its location and conditions varying to those that will be seen at the tracks F1 will visit in the coming months.

While we were handed a first glimpse of the running order in Bahrain, things could start to become a bit clearer from this weekend with the completely different challenge posed by the old-school Imola circuit. 

Cooler temperatures brought by springtime in Europe are expected and that could affect the performance of each team, as well as a different, flowing layout at Imola. There’s even a small chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday and that would only mix things up further…

3. A renewed rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari

The midfield scrap was almost impossible to call in Bahrain, with just hundredths of a second covering five or six teams. However, the early signs have hinted at a renewal of a classic F1 rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari this year in the battle to be ‘best of the rest'.  

McLaren may have made the best start but it is not getting ahead of itself by thinking it is clear of the rest of the pack. Along with the suggestions that McLaren has made gains to Mercedes and Red Bull over the winter, Ferrari has also improved. 

Indeed, it was Ferrari who held the upper hand in qualifying thanks to a stunning lap by Charles Leclerc to take fourth, before he slipped back to sixth in the race with Lando Norris bagging P4 at the flag for McLaren. 

Following a cautious first start for his new team, Carlos Sainz ended the race catching Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, leaving the Maranello outfit hugely encouraged by the early potential coming from its SF21 challenger. 

With McLaren appearing to be stronger in the race and seeking more speed in qualifying, Imola’s tight and twisty nature - which makes overtaking difficult - could present Ferrari with an opportunity to stay ahead if it can boast a one-lap pace advantage in qualifying.  

4. AlphaTauri could be dark horses 

AlphaTauri’s performance in winter testing and the opening race suggested that it could be the surprise package of 2021. 

After ending pre-season testing with the second-fastest time, AlphaTauri further underlined early indications that it has produced a very strong car for this year in Bahrain. Pierre Gasly’s qualifying performance caught the attention of rival teams, while rookie Yuki Tsunoda impressed on his march to ninth to score points on his F1 debut.

The team is full of confidence and appears to be right in the midfield fight this year. It is targeting to be closer to the front of the pack after finishing seventh last season. 

AlphaTauri will be full of hope and optimism heading to Imola, a circuit that is just a short drive away from its Faenza base and the venue where it carried out extensive testing over the winter as part of a bid to help get Tsunoda up to speed. 

With AlphaTauri very familiar with Imola, it should be able to hit the ground running and be competitive from the off. It will be especially confident after Gasly qualified an excellent fourth on the grid there five months ago.

AlphaTauri has good form on Italian soil, racking up both its wins to date at Monza in 2008 and 2020. Can it spring another surprise at Imola? 

5. Can Alpine and Aston Martin bounce back? 

While the likes of McLaren, AlfaTauri, and Ferrari enjoyed positive starts to the season in Bahrain, the same could not be said for fellow midfield runners Alpine and Aston Martin. 

Alpine struggled for pace and came away from the weekend point-less after Fernando Alonso’s promising comeback was ended prematurely due to overheating brakes. In the other car, Esteban Ocon’s race was ruined when Sebastian Vettel - who endured a disaster debut for Aston Martin - ploughed into him at Turn 1. 

The rebranded French squad is bringing what it has described as a “pretty decent upgrade package” to Imola in the hope of finding some much-needed performance at a venue it claimed a podium at last year to rebound after its disappointing start. 

Aston Martin headed into 2021 with high hopes after claiming its first grand prix victory and finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship last year, but it suffered a “rude awakening” in Bahrain. 

The decision to mirror Mercedes’ philosophy in running its car with a low-rake appears to have backfired and hampered its performance following the aero changes made to the rear floor of the cars for this season. 

With full-scale development changes locked in for 2021, Aston Martin will need to unlock some pace from elsewhere after an underwhelming start to the campaign. 

Imola will provide Aston Martin with a better idea of how much trouble it is in, and how much work it subsequently needs to do in order to recoup performance.