W Series Spa preview: Summer is over and the fight is on!

The summer break is over, and W Series is back for Round 5 at the famous Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The longest circuit on the calendar, the 18 drivers are ready to compete at a track well known for its blind, high speed corners and changeable weather conditions. This will test the talent on display in the all-female series.

Eight drivers on the grid have previously raced at the circuit including Jamie Chadwick, Alice Powell, Abbie Eaton, Sarah Moore, Vicky Piria, Beitske Visser, Fabienne Wohlwend and Caitlin Wood. Caitlin will be stepping up for a second time as reserve driver this season with the PUMA W Series team after a solid performance in Hungry.

Who’s going to be on top?

Coming into the second half of the season there is a really close battle for the championship with only one point separating Chadwick and Powell, and Nerea Marti 35 points back in third.

Chadwick and Powell have been exchanging wins all season, and with 2 wins each the difference is due to Chadwick’s third-place finish at Silverstone. Consistency in a championship like this is always key to success, but that seems to be common practice for these two so a fight to the end looks on the cards to see who will come out victorious. Just one mistake or no points finish could be pivotal in the championship battle.

The fight for third

Just three points cover the drivers in third to seventh, and with good performances from each driver in these positions, the fight to third is looking very interesting.

Marti put in a great performance as a rookie to stick to the top two of Chadwick and Powell last time out in Hungry, finishing in third and putting herself ahead of Sarah Moore by one point.

Moore herself has had a strong start to the season with a podium in the first two rounds, but only managed P7 at Silverstone and didn’t score points in Hungry. She will be looking for a fight back and to hang on to her one-point lead over Emma Kimilainen.

Kimilainen has had a solid start with a podium and points finishes in three of the four rounds so far and therefore is currently fifth in the standings, only one point ahead of Fabienne Wohlwend and Irina Sidorkova who are tied on points.

Wohlwend has had a very up and down first half of the season, getting two podium finishes but then finishing P10 in Round 2 and suffering a DNF in Round 4. In comparison Sidorkova has only been on the podium once but has had higher points finishes with P8 in Round 1 and P4 in Round 4, missing out on points in Round 3.

This battle for third in the championship looks to go right to the end of the season and could be anyone of the five already in contention. However, Beitske Visser and Belen Garcia, in eighth and ninth respectively, are not too far behind and could really come into play if they can put in some great performances over the last four races.

Ocon on top in a dramatic race at Hungary

Esteban Ocon took his first Formula 1 victory and the first for the Alpine team in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring, after multiple drivers were taken out at the first corner.

15 minutes before the race start, rain started to fall on the track. Adding to the anticipation, it started light but was due to continue for the first 30 minutes of the race and get heavier before mostly drying out by the end of the race. Intermediate tyres on to start, Lewis Hamilton indicating on the radio he was ready for the fight in the rain. Hamilton and Max Verstappen are both known for performing well in the wet, possibly a leveller but definitely exciting!

Lights out and all eyes turned to Verstappen and Hamilton. Both got a great launch, but Valtteri Bottas had an absolutely dreadful start with wheel spin from third. Lando Norris got in front of him off the line but was tapped by Bottas from behind who had missed his breaking point. Norris then crashed into Verstappen and Bottas hit Sergio Perez. Norris and Verstappen managed to carry on with significant damage, but Bottas and Perez were out.

Further back in turn 1, Lance Stroll tried to avoid some cars by heading towards the apex, but ended up on the grass and collected Charles Leclerc who hit and spun around Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately, that was the race over for Leclerc.

Ricciardo kept going and Stroll was able to keep driving after damage to the front of his car. A red flag was called to gather the debris left around turn 1. This allowed the Red Bull team to fix Verstappen’s car, potentially saving him from retirement. Norris and Stroll then had to retire due to the damage from the incident.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Hamilton was still in P1, but others had benefited from a high attrition first corner. Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were the biggest winners, starting P2 and P3 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda was in P5, Carlos Sainz P4 and the Williams’ were P6 and P8 whilst Verstappen had really lost out and started in P13. A fight from the back was on after quick recovery work by Red Bull. There was a standing re-start as the sun came out to a now quickly drying track, but the question then was slicks or inters?

Hamilton was the only one starting on the grid, so the race was in the pits with everyone coming in for slicks. George Russell came out on top, and with Hamilton pitting after it looked like Russell would lead the race, but Russell was told by the FIA to give back the places he’d taken in the pitlane. Mercedes didn’t come out well with Hamilton boxing after the restart and ending up last and importantly behind Verstappen. So, on lap 5 Ocon was leading the race, with Vettel P2 and Nicholas Latifi P3. Hamilton was catching Verstappen who still had damage, so the race was on!

Verstappen managed to get past Pierre Gasly but then became stuck behind Mick Schumacher for five laps before passing him with a daring move through Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4. They did touch but both were able to carry on. Meanwhile Hamilton was struggling behind Gasly, locking up a few times but both Gasly and Hamilton managed to pass Schumacher in the next two laps.

Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on lap 20 in an attempt to change the strategy and go longer. Red Bull and Verstappen responded so made the stop just one lap later. Ricciardo pitted at the same time as Verstappen, and he came out in front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was coming down the straight as the pair came out of the pits. Hamilton took advantage and got past not only Verstappen but also Ricciardo, putting a vital car between the Championship rivals.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

On lap 32, Hamilton was the fastest car in the race passing Tsunoda into P5 with a fantastic move while Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo in P12. This move caused Ferrari and Sainz to react, and with enough gap Sainz pitted and came back out in P4 with fresh tyres ready to defend against Hamilton.

Meanwhile Schumacher was doing a great job in the Haas to keep 4 drivers behind him. However, after many laps of battling, Russell finally made it past Schumacher on lap 33 with a brave move on the outside of Turn 2. Schumacher then begun to lose places rapidly to Ricciardo and Verstappen on the next lap, very important for Verstappen in terms of the championship.

From the front, Vettel pitted with a slow stop but came out in P3, ahead of Sainz and Hamilton. Ocon told to push but Alpine appeared to have the advantage with both cars in the podium places fight. A good stop meant Ocon came out ahead of Vettel, but Vettel tried to fight it into Turn 4. Sadly for him nothing came of it and with only Fernando Alonso in front of Ocon it looked to be an Alpine win from lap 39.

It wasn’t over at the front though. Sainz and Hamilton in P3 and P4 were catching the leaders at a rapid pace. However, Hamilton pitted on lap 48 for the mediums. He came out behind Alonso, but this would mean he could push to the end of the race, with flashbacks to Hungary 2019 and Spain 2021. Vettel got closer to Ocon through the back markers in an attempt to pass him for the lead. On lap 50 the fight was not over with Vettel having DRS and the pressure piling on Ocon.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin (Courtesy of Aston Martin media)

Verstappen finally made a move on Ricciardo for P10 on Lap 61 and the final points position. This could be an important point for the championship and impressive driving considering the significant damage still on his car from lap 1.

On lap 57 a brilliant battle between Hamilton and Alonso began, Alonso defending and making the Alpine the widest thing on the track. This epic battle continued for over 10 laps, but Hamilton was eventually close enough when Alonso made a rare mistake and locked up into Turn 1. This did create problems for Hamilton though, who was on a mission to get to the front. However, catching Sainz on older tyres in P3 meant that just two laps later, Hamilton was in the podium places, but the gap was too big for Hamilton to catch Vettel in P2.

Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix! The first win for him and a great turn around since a relatively poor run of form. Vettel was in P2 after a great drive from the restart. Sainz was P4 ahead of Alonso, Gasly sneaked in a fastest lap right at the end in P6, and Tsunoda was P7. Both Williams finished in the points with Latifi P8 and Russell P9, which is vital for the constructors and their first double points finish since 2018. Russell finally managed to get those illusive points in a Williams!

For the championship Hamilton gained points on Verstappen, who finished P10, and leads going into the summer break. This has been a real swing in momentum after the British Grand Prix in the favour of Mercedes and Hamilton. It is all to play for as the teams regroup and look to improve for Spa at the end of August.

W Series Hungary Preview: Powell in the lead in tight battle at the top

Round 4 at Budapest signifying we are nearly halfway through this exciting season. In an 8 race season every race counts, so it’s important to optimise the more tighter style at the Hungaroring compared to the fast track of Silverstone.

The Hungaroring is a 4.38km circuit which held its first Formula 1 race in 1986, with this year’s race being its 36th event. The first females to race at the track were Annette Meuvissen and Mercedes Stermitz in 1988 during a one-off DTM race. Since then, there have been relatively few females’ appearances. However, on the 2021 W Series grid 3 drivers have had experience here.

Beitske Visser has the most experience at the Hungaroring, competing in 2014, 2015 and 2016 in the Renault 3.5 World Series and in the GT4 Euro South competition. When GP3 supported F1 in 2012 both Alice Powell and Vicky Piria competed around the track, however neither made the points.

Can Alice Powell hold on to the lead?

During a dramatic Silverstone race where, after qualifying on pole with a stunning lap, Alice Powell lost first position in the first few corners, then had a race-long battle with Fabienne Wohlwend to eventually come out on top. This adds to her win in round 1, and with Jamie Chadwick finishing in 3rd at Silverstone this means Powell is currently on top of the standings, 6 points ahead of Chadwick.

Alice Powell is having a good season so far, getting her first pole position in the series and beating her number of wins from the whole of the 2019 season. Widely considered a very strong contender for the championship, Powell is taking advantage of her run of form.

Jamie Chadwick, however, is looking to fight back. After a 3rd place finish at Silverstone where she was on her own all race, she is hoping for a strong race weekend in Hungary to take back the lead of the championship and add to her win from round 2 at the Red Bull Ring.

Sarah Moore and Wohlwend are not far behind Chadwick in the standings, and a strong race for both means they come into this weekend with confidence. Wohlwend in particular had an impressive performance in her fight with Powell, which she will be hoping to repeat in Budapest.

Caitlin Wood’s comeback

Caitlin Wood (Drew Gibson / W Series)

The 24-year-old Australian competed in the inaugural 2019 W Series season, but narrowly missed out on automatic qualifying for the next season at the Brands Hatch and was therefore listed as a reserve driver. She finished 13th overall with 11 points scored and a highest finish of 5th.

Caitlin will be racing for PUMA this weekend; she is the first Australian woman to compete successfully in the European scene. She has also taken part in GT4 European Series and Formula Ford along among others.

Many drivers looking to improve their own performances for this weekend and it will be exciting to watch who can tackle this track which is known to test fitness and skill. Qualifying starts at 3:30pm GMT on Friday, lights out at 3:30pm GMT on Saturday.

W Series Silverstone preview: Six Brits on the grid for home race

After a great start to the season with the double header at the Red Bull Ring, W Series is back competing alongside Formula 1 at the British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone – the Home of British motor racing.

The 18 drivers will be racing the full Grand Prix circuit, hoping to one day follow in the footsteps of the Italian driver Lella Lombardi, who was the first female to compete in a Formula 1 World Championship race at Silverstone in 1975. There are 11 different countries represented on the grid, with six British drivers competing at a home race in front of almost sell out crowds.

The current standings after the first two rounds show a very dominant display from the Brits with Jamie Chadwick leading Sarah Moore by three points and Alice Powell in third just one point behind. Abbie Eaton is in 11th, but Jessica Hawkins is looking to score her first points of the season after not having a good start.

Abbi Pulling Debut

Alice Powell and Abbi Eaton (Courtesy of W Series Racing)

The sixth British driver is 18-year-old Abbi Pulling, who will be making her competitive debut in the W Series this weekend. Abbi was listed as a reserve driver after she did the pre-season testing in Anglesey, Wales. She will be racing for PUMA alongside Marta Garcia, and sharing the grid with her career mentor Alice Powell.

Abbi is a currently part of the British Formula 4 championship and is a two-time British Karting champion. Abbi is considered a young rising talent within motorsport, and it will be great to see what she can do in front of her home crowd.

Can Chadwick extend her lead?

Jamie Chadwick will be looking to extend her lead on the series after her dominant performance at the Austrian Grand Prix. With only eight races on the calendar for W Series each race weekend is vital for the championship.

However, she is not the only driver with race experience at Silverstone. Both of Chadwick’s nearest championship rivals have plenty of experience competing at the circuit.

This will be a great challenge for the 2019 champion as this circuit suits the racing style of Moore and Powell better than the Red Bull Ring, so she will need to bring everything in order to stay on top after the weekend is over. Chadwick has shown her ability in the past to perform well under pressure which will be an advantage to her when racing with the largest crowd expected this season.

The W Series race will be Saturday afternoon at 13:25 local time. This is going to be a weekend where all the drivers need to keep a cool head to create some really great racing.

Verstappen wins but Norris is The Driver of the Day

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Round two in Austria set up to be the sequel that was better than the original. After a great qualifying session yesterday, the start seemed unpredictable and could spice up the championship fight. Drama is never far though as before the race Russell begun to report problems with the rear of the Williams, fans hoping that it wouldn’t be a repeat of last week.

As they lined up after the formation lap, Norris and Verstappen were pointed at each other, ready for battle. The lights went out and both got a good start, but Verstappen had a better second phase, moving in front of the McLaren before turn 1. Everyone got away cleanly, with Hamilton pressuring Perez for the entire lap but Perez coping well. The safety car deployed at the end of the first lap hampered anyone looking for a move. Esteban Ocon had been squeezed by Giovinazzi and Schumacher into turn 1, causing damage to his front suspension and eventually stopping on track.

At the safety car restart Verstappen backed everyone up until he got onto the main straight. Norris was caught out and Perez put him under pressure, with the Mercedes closely following behind. At turn 4 Perez tried to pass on the outside of Norris but ended up on the gravel at the exit. Sparking the beginning of what appeared to be a busy day at the office for the stewards, Norris was eventually handed a 5 second penalty for the incident.

By lap 15 Verstappen had pulled out a 6 second gap and had all but checked out at the front. Events continued for Norris though because he was managing to hold off advances from the 7 time world champion. Doing a great job of handling the pressure, Norris made it difficult for Hamilton who was beginning to suffer from being behind him. However, on lap 20 Hamilton managed to make a move that stuck, Norris knowing that strategically it wasn’t worth a huge battle over. Hamilton came over the radio to say that “Norris is such a great driver” recognising the job he is doing and making every Norris fan a bit emotional.

Further down the order on lap 18, action was happening all over the track. Perez, who had now dropped due to his turn 4 incident, was battling Leclerc who had DRS into turn 4, but Perez managed to out break him, keeping his place. Only for Leclerc to do a switch back on the exit and with better traction made the move stick. Ricciardo was also looked more comfortable with the McLaren and made a great move into turn 3 on Vettel.

Norris and Bottas were the first to pit of the front runners. Bottas managing to jump Norris because he had to serve his 5 second penalty. Once Hamilton and Verstappen pitted that looked it for the first 2 podium positions, Verstappen had a 13 second gap which Hamilton knew he wouldn’t be able to make up.

Meanwhile, after the stops the battle for P6 got interesting, Gasly, Ricciardo, Perez and Leclerc were fight but the main battle in the group between Perez and Leclerc was reaching boiling point. At turn 4 Leclerc tried a move down the outside of Perez, produce an almost exact same result as the Norris, Perez incident on lap 1. It took a total of 46 seconds for the stewards to go from investigating to giving Perez a 5 second penalty. Just 2 laps later however, neither driver had learned but this time the battle continued to turn 6, where it looked as if Perez had forced Leclerc onto the gravel again. Another p5 second penalty was awarded to Perez, added 10 seconds onto his time at the end of the race. Credit to the stewards because they were at least consistent with the penalties today.

Not featured much in the race, Hamilton began to struggle on the hard tyres just 15 laps after the pit stops and picked up some damage around lap 36 coming out of turn 10. This meant Bottas was allowed to close the gap. There was radio silence from Mercedes as they decided if they would let them race but eventually the call was made to let them race, then a team order for the drivers to switch came through and the deal was done in turn 1 of lap 55. Norris, who had been chasing down the pair of them, capitalised on the struggling Hamilton and overtook him just 1 lap later to see himself into the podium positions.

With just 10 laps to go Russell was still in P10 but Alonso had closed him down and the battle in continued for the last points positions. Fans most likely willing Alonso to stay behind with Russell doing an excellent job at defending under the pressure so that he could finally get a point for the Williams. However, today was not that day because with just 3 laps to go Russell was passed by Alonso.

The final 2 laps were full of drama. Sainz made a late move on Ricciardo to finish P5 for Ferrari once Perez’s penalties were added, important for the McLaren – Ferrari constructor’s battle. Raikkonen on lap 71 looked at a move on Russell but had to back out at turn 4, meaning Vettel saw an opportunity to gain a position, however in a bizarre mistake for Raikkonen, he appeared to turn in on Vettel causing both to crash into the gravel.

Whilst the incident between Raikkonen and Vettel was happening, Verstappen crossed the line for his 15th win. A dominant performance from lights out meant the win was never in doubt for him. Bottas finished P2 and Norris finished in P3 with driver of the day after putting in a fantastic performance, further showing his great from in 2021. Mercedes didn’t really appear to affect the race much and couldn’t answer the performance of Verstappen in Austria. However, with upgrades reported to be coming to Silverstone and a home crowd for Hamilton, could this see a change in fortune for Mercedes?

Info graphics courtesy of Pirelli motorsports

 

Red Bull display dominance at the Red Bull Ring

Max Verstappen took a dominant victory at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Mercedes went four races without a win for the first time in the hybrid era.

After an excellent qualifying session yesterday, the stage was set for the latest edition in the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen. The midfield fights also looked to spice up the race, with Norris benefiting from Valtteri Bottas’ penalty and Gasly qualifying really well. Points were possible for George Russell in his Williams starting in P10; the fans can hope. Overtaking is definitely possible at this track with 3 DRS zones and a powerful slipstream meant the battle was on!

The lights went out and Verstappen immediately cut across Hamilton before turn one, having trust that Hamilton would not lock up and go into the back of him. Looking further down there were 4 cars across the track in a battle up to turn 3. Leclerc clipped the rear left of Gasly with his front right wing and tyre, giving himself damage and causing a puncture in Gasly’s tyre. In an attempt to steer the car around turn 3, Gasly collected Latifi and Giovinazzi but luckily didn’t end any of their races. Unfortunately for Gasly that was the end of his race, coming into the pits with suspension damage – Leclerc was able to pit for a new set of tyres and continue.

An early incident with Pierre Gasly meant a busy afternoon for Charles Leclerc – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

As Verstappen was pulling out a gap of two seconds and almost checking out in the lead by lap 6, his team mate Sergio Perez began to struggle behind the McLaren of Lando Norris saying over the radio that he did not have the speed on the straights to keep up. There were questions as to whether they would fight the Red Bull and Mercedes cars behind them, or race to their own plan and focus on staying ahead of Ferrari. On lap eight, these questions were answered. Perez made what looked like an easy move on Norris using DRS, and Bottas passing just a lap later. McLaren said on lap 12 that they were happy with the situation with Norris who was not experiencing some of the early car issues that team mate Daniel Ricciardo had.

After a very positive start for Russell, he made up three places from P10. The issues began when his engineer said, “plan B for reliability”, and pitting on lap 26 for tyres it appeared he had a slow stop to add more pneumatic pressure to the car. Having had to change his rear brake by wire overnight, it was hoped that this would be the last of his problems. However, just one lap later Russell pitted a second time for more pressure. At this point the hearts of Russell fans sunk knowing that points were no longer a possibility. 10 laps later Russell retired with the issue not able to be resolved. Heartbreak for him and Williams.

Perez was the first of the front runners to stop, but he had a slow left rear which meant that when Mercedes pitted Bottas they could punish Red Bull for the mistake with the undercut being powerful here, although not as much as Paul Ricard last week. Bottas was able to come out in front of Perez, which was vital for both the team fight and the race strategy. The large gap now formed by the dominant performance by Verstappen means that when Hamilton pitted just a lap after Bottas, he could not close it when Verstappen pitted.

Whilst not a classic or shocking race, this did have its entertainer in Leclerc. He began his recovery drive on lap two, making places very quickly and seemingly on a charge by lap 25, making a fantastic late move on Ocon. This was then a theme throughout the race; Leclerc continued to make his was through the pack, making brilliant moves and almost colliding with Raikkonen but managing to keep it clean. He made a great switch back move on Tsunoda out of turn four which was so exciting to watch. He ended up being voted driver of the day for a very entertaining recovery drive to finish seventh.

By lap 35 there was over a 30 second gap to Norris in P5, so Red Bull pitted Perez for tyres hoping to take the fastest lap off of Hamilton at the time. Gaining on Bottas at nearly two seconds a lap, he achieved provisional fastest whilst closing the 20-second gap. With just 2 laps to go, having settled for 2nd place, Hamilton pitted for fresh tyres to re-take the fastest lap from Perez.

A late stop from Lewis Hamilton saw him claim the fastest lap of the race – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

As the race ended, Verstappen won with a 35 second lead, showing his impressive and dominant form over the weekend and the race. Hamilton achieved fastest lap to finish P2 and crucially get that world championship point. Perez was still gaining on Bottas, and was poised to overtake for the podium place, but the chequered flag came just in time for the Finn. One or two more laps and Perez could have ended up on the podium.

Max fights back in a great win for RedBull

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Since returning to France and Paul Ricard in 2018, the two races weren’t ‘thrillers’, Lewis Hamilton leading 105 of the 106 laps raced in 2018 and 2019 combined. Expectation for this race was therefore low, the main talking point being the raising of tyre pressures and temperatures to prevent the incidents that happened in Baku from happening in France.

With rain washing the track this morning and the Formula 3 cars clearing some of the rubber laid down over the weekend, anticipation began to build as the weather conditions changed. Unfortunately for fans hoping the weather could affect the outcome, this turned out to be a dry race.

As the lights went out and they all got a clean get away, it looked like Verstappen had the better start, staying ahead of the two Mercedes. However, he locked up going into turn one, manging to make the corner he then had to correct some huge understeer, making him cut turn two, narrowly missing the yellow bollards on the inside. This gave the lead to Hamilton, who opened up a one second gap by the end of the first lap. The stewards decided no investigation was needed to Verstappen’s trip off track because he had manged to make it around turn one without any issues, therefore he did not need to use the escape road to re-join the track.

There was movement all the way down the field in the opening few laps. Perez didn’t have a great start but was quickly back up into fourth place by the end of lap one. Sainz, Gasly and Leclerc began a tight battle, with only two seconds between the three of them by lap six, it appeared this was going to last all race.

The McLaren boys also started there afternoon of entertaining Formula 1 fans all over the world, by battling each other into turn one, Norris having to concede and use the escape road. Just a few laps later, they came across Alonso who had issues with grip from his tyres on lap 11. Ricciardo first made a great move using DRS into the chicane, Norris then taking advantage of a struggling Alonso in the slip stream and making a move down the inside just three corners later. Both the McLaren’s looked very competitive today, which was great to watch. They then brought the constructors championship battle on track and had some great racing with both the Ferrari’s and Gasly before the pitstops, where the undercut proved powerful and Ricciardo came out ahead of Sainz and Gasly.

Back to the leaders, and Verstappen pitted first, hoping that the undercut would work against Mercedes. Pitting just a lap later, Hamilton came out and it looked tight as Verstappen came down the main straight. The undercut had worked for RedBull, with Verstappen beating Hamilton into the first corner on warmer tyres. RedBull decided to leave Perez out, on the radio saying, “Plan A, plus 3”, seemingly suggesting the one stop plus three laps. This allowed them to pull Perez back into the team race after a not so great start. Perez is well known for his management of tyres, so was able to keep up a good pace whilst out for the extra nine laps.

Appearing to be on a longer strategy than his rivals around him, Norris began to question if it was the right choice before coming into pit much later than everyone else. However, this worked to his advantage, having younger, fresher tyres he made his way through the field with some fantastic moves. He nearly collided with Gasly on lap 29 but managed to pass him just one lap later. He then followed that up by making moves on Leclerc and Sainz for P5. It seems he didn’t get the memo that its hard to pass at Paul Ricard!

By lap 33 Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas were experiencing issues with graining, especially on the front tyres. All three were talking about switching to a two stop strategy, but Mercedes seemed to hold firm, telling Bottas to stay as they were. RedBull felt different and pulled the trigger by pitting Verstappen just a few laps later. With his teammate the only car between him and the Mercedes, it was a straightforward team move, with compliments all round. The question now was if Bottas could hold up Verstappen long enough for Hamilton to get the win. On lap 45 we got our answer. Already saying over the radio he had no tyres, Bottas managed to defend against a DRS move into the chicane, but went too deep, leaving the door open for Verstappen to show the true straight line speed advantage RedBull had over Mercedes this weekend and making the move. A feisty Bottas came over the radio to explain that this was why he wanted to switch to a two stop.

The battle was now on, and Verstappen was hunting down Hamilton. However, Hamilton had begun to respond to the threat he knew was coming by increasing his speed and matching Verstappen’s lap times, hoping this would be enough to stay ahead. Sadly for him, it wasn’t. Verstappen caught him with two laps to go and inevitable made the move for the lead into the chicane for the lead. A role reversal from Spain a few weeks ago.

Whilst this was happening Perez had caught Bottas and made a great move into turn one for the final step on the podium having kept up with the top three all race and now benefiting from the poor strategy choice at Mercedes.

Verstappen took a great victory, Hamilton finishing P2 and Perez P3. This is the first time RedBull have won three consecutive races since 2013, with Verstappen and Perez being on the podium together for the first time ever. This Win for Verstappen means he stays in the lead of the driver’s championship for the rest of the triple header and definitely makes this interesting in the title battle for both the constructors and drivers championships.

Is Experience the Best Teacher?

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was definitely a race that was missed during 2020. A street circuit which often produces some exciting racing, testing overall straight line speed but allows for overtaking whilst testing the driver’s abilities to be calculated and precise enough to thread the car through the high walls of the circuit.

image courtesy of Getty images/ Red Bull content pool

Experience in an Formula 1 car is often key at tricky circuits like this, which shone through during this race, which did not disappoint. This week it seemed to be all about the older drivers putting in some epic performances which we know they are very capable of. They did give the young guns a run for their money, but it didn’t work out for all of them. Most drivers had solid races at Baku, but the skill of some of the experienced drivers was evident during the race, meaning they were able to maximise on what was a crazy race.

Perez is well known for his experience in an F1 car. Racing since 2011 in F1, he has learned a few things to keep in the mix when it counts, and this race was a clear example of that. In the early stages of the race he was able to keep up with Verstappen whilst keeping the 7 time world champion behind him under constant pressure. He managed his tyres well, showing pace in them during the pitstops, and had it not been for a slow pitstop he may have come out in front of his teammate. During the red flag restart, it would have been easy to get caught up with Hamilton going straight on down into turn 1 if he hadn’t backed out of the move. Even though in his F1 career he has very rarely been at the front, he handled the pressure absolutely perfectly to come out on top with a very deserved win.

Clearly full of confidence after a fantastic performance in Monaco, Sebastian Vettel had an incredible race and a solid weekend all round. Had it not been for the red flag at the end of Q2, he was looking at an almost certain top 10 qualifying, adding to the excellent qualifying from the previous race. After qualifying P11, finishing in P2 was absolutely deserved, and he showed his pace in the Aston Martin early on. During the first round of pitstops he gained the lead by default as the front runners changed their tyres earlier than expected. Vettel was able to manage the soft tyres whilst still pulling a gap on his rivals to then come out P7 after his pitstop. On the safety car restart he showed his experience again, navigating his way past Leclerc without contact despite getting very close. Vettel has gotten used to the new car very quickly, showing he has enough trust to make moves during both the restarts. A resurgence from him is definitely what the fans wanted after a not so great year with Ferrari in 2020.

Alonso had a highly anticipated return to F1 at the beginning of the season, however so far he hasn’t been so successful, being out qualified and finishing behind his teammate Ocon on Sunday. This could be down to getting used to F1 again after his time away from the series, along with getting used to a new car with a relatively new team under new management. Watching his on board camera from the restart after the red flag, he clearly showed why he is a double world champion. Starting on the grid in P10, he made up for places to finish P6 by the end of the 2 lap sprint. What is striking about his on board though, is the skill involved. He had the inside line into turn 1 but was being squeezed by Sainz, who also had Ricciardo on the outside. Alonso did not make contact with the wall or the other cars during any of this. He then demonstrated his race craft by waiting for the right moment on the same lap to overtake Tsunoda. This created an epic finish for him, the likes of which we were used to seeing before.

The oldest man on the grid did not want to miss out on the action, as is normal for Kimi Raikkonen. For him the highlight of the day was a skillful move on Bottas into turn 7, the slowest on the track, during the safety car restart. Raikkonen has shown throughout his time at Alfa Romeo that he still has plenty of talent to keep him in F1 and finishing in the points with moves like this are often the reason for this.

When talking about the experienced drivers on the grid, Lewis Hamilton is part of this conversation being extremely consistent and changing his style over time. However, the incident after the red flag restart was a rare mistake from him, the team revealing afterwards that he had flicked on the magic brake button whilst changing gears. This changed the brake bypass to mostly front end, meaning the car couldn’t stop before the turn. This admittedly makes the error an odd one because this has never happened before, despite the buttons position never really moving. They say it’s best to learn from your mistakes and Hamilton says they will grow as a team.

Overall, Mercedes had a terrible weekend. This is where the team experience came in, allowing them to try different set ups, strategy’s, and tactics to get the most out of a seemingly lacklustre performance from the car all weekend. By the end of Q3, the changes made to Hamilton’s car were successful with him managing to secure P2. Bottas on the other hand was arguably hampered by the red flag at the end of the session but suffered massively during the race. The Mercedes is not known for its great ability to pass other cars in the midfield, but with what appeared to be the quickest straight line speed and the power of the slipstream, a few DRS based moves into turn 1 were expected. Instead Bottas made his way backwards at the restarts and didn’t perform well. However, he did have a different rear wing to Hamilton, which the team confirmed as driver preference, this may have ultimately hampered him when trying to overtake.

Looking forward to the next couple of weeks, Mercedes will need to win in France to make up the points in the constructor’s championship after having lost more to the RedBulls this week. The outcome of the race could also have a huge impact on the Driver championship, with the front runners not gaining any points this week, it is massively important they maximise each race, as cancellations become more frequent and look to threaten the 23 race calendar. France is not known for amazing action over the last few years, but with the 2021 season we are having it could be unpredictable.

Perez picks up the pieces as Baku strikes again!

Sergio Perez won a bonkers Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday as Lewis Hamilton finished fifteenth, failing to close the ground in the championship.

This race came with high anticipation because of all the incidents in qualifying which led to an unpredictable starting grid. Charles Leclerc managed to start on pole this week with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen behind with arguably faster cars on race pace. Positioning for Leclerc was key as the long run into turn 1 provides a great overtaking opportunity at the start of the race. Hamilton pointed at Verstappen, showing that he would be covering the Dutchman off.

The start of race was a clean one, everyone making it through turn one without any issues. Hamilton pushed Leclerc but decided to back out this time, while Sergio Perez made a great overtake on Pierre Gasly, meaning he gained two places. Antonio Giovinazzi gained five places with an epic first lap, to then come in and change for Hard tyres along with George Russell in a strategic move.

At the end of lap one, the power of the slipstream around Baku showed, as Hamilton was able to make a move on Leclerc to take the lead without the use of DRS. One lap later, Verstappen had the chance to overtake the Ferrari man; this time they both had DRS and Verstappen would not make the crucial move until lap seven. Perez was able to follow his teammate on the next lap, bringing in both Red Bulls against just one Mercedes from a strategic point of view.

As the pit stops began, Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso came in at the same time, continuing the battle from on track. Norris was able to overtake the Alpine with a great move on lap 11. Leclerc pitted on lap 10, considerably earlier than predicted and Tsunoda was told to push with a fantastic response by telling his engineers: “I am, Shut up!” At this point, Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton for the hard tyres; he was held for two seconds too many to allow a passing car. A very quick 1.9 second pit stop for Verstappen meant that the extra 2 seconds were costly for Hamilton. Perez had been quietly making up the gap and pushing while the front two were pitting. Once Perez came into his pit stop, he had a slow left rear tyre change, but Hamilton’s delay proved even more costly when Perez came out behind Verstappen but, importantly, ahead of the champion.

Vettel was then leading the race because he hadn’t stopped. He opened up a gap, allowing himself to create a gap to his rivals for when he pitted, gaining positions on them when he came out in P7. Valtteri Bottas was being given the hurry up from his team whilst Vettel pitted, while the Finn was locked in an intense battle with Norris, the team requiring him to pass for a top six finish. This was squashed when he took a small trip through the runoff area at turn 16, opening up the gap.

As we were settling into the race, on lap 31 Lance Stroll had a massive, high speed crash on the straight. Stroll was understandably shaken, but okay and got out of the car with no issues. It appeared to be a potential left rear tyre failure, but this yet to be confirmed. The safety car was brought out, the cars were bunched up, and the tyres could not be changed due to Stroll’s crash happening in the pit lane entry. This was the extra bit of excitement the race needed at that point.

At the restart, Vettel had an epic getaway, taking Leclerc and nearly making a move on Gasly to gain some places. The four-time champion then completed the move on Gasly and charged for Hamilton. Bottas, conversely, had a terrible restart, losing 3 places by the end of the lap. Unfortunately, his race went from bad to worse at that point, not able to make any overtakes at this circuit.

Azerbaijan was the first time sine Austria 2018 that neither Mercedes has scored points – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Once we had calmed down from that restart, there was a second major incident. This time Verstappen crashed near the start finish line on lap 48! Similarly, to Stroll’s crash it was the left rear tyre which appeared to have failed – again, this is yet to be confirmed. The race was then red-flagged after a very interesting FIA team radio with Red Bull was revealed, where it was suggested a red flag was necessary to allow everyone to change tyres after they had no warning that there was a problem.

It was then confirmed that the race would be restarted with a standing start; a 2 lap sprint race had everyone nervous and excited. After the 20-minute stop, they lined up on the grid, Hamilton’s brakes smoking very heavily. The lights went out, Hamilton had a better start on Perez and looked like he would take Perez in turn 1 with the inside line, but he went straight on! This was down to the brakes, revealing in a radio after the race that he “left the magic on”. The magic believed to be a is a tyre warming set up used for safety car tyre warm up (yet to be confirmed).

In an intense battle to the finish, Leclerc and Gasly fought for the final podium place. Mercifully for both Gasly and Perez the chequered flag came out. Perez won, with Vettel P2 and Gasly P3. The didn’t end there because Perez had to stop on the cool down lap with an apparent hydraulics issue which meant they nearly had to retire the car.

It was a huge result for all three podium-finishers – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

This is possibly one of the happiest podiums. Perez got his second win ever, and his first with is new team. Vettel looks to be back to his old form with a first podium for Aston Martin, and Gasly had a great race finishing third, definitely deserved for the whole Alpha Tauri team. With Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen out of the points, it was important that Perez picked up the extra points for Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship.

Monaco Grand Prix: Dominant Verstappen and heartbreak for Leclerc

Before the race began, Leclerc had issues on his lap to the grid. Finally making it back to his garage, it was a race to discover and fix the problem before the pitlane closed. This, however, was not possible.

After several messages between the FIA and Ferrari, the car was not able to start the race due to a failure of the left drive shaft. This was more heartbreak for the Monégasque, who has never finished a race in Monaco after getting DNFs in both 2018 and 2019 and in 2017 with Formula 2.

Because of this there was some question over whether the grid would be shuffled up. The FIA quickly decided, though, to keep everyone in the grid positions they qualified in. This meant that, for the first time since David Coulthard in 2001, nobody would start in pole position at Monaco.

Bottas then had a clean track on the inside to start with only Verstappen on the dirty side, leaving a potential for carnage at the start of the race.

Lights out and Bottas had a better start, but this was shut down by Verstappen before Turn 1. The rest of the pack got away cleanly, which is unusual for Monaco.

(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

From there it was a relatively straight forward race before the pitstops. On lap 24, Hamilton was the first to pit in an attempt to undercut Gasly. However, it didn’t work on this occasion.

Bottas pitted on the next lap and drama unfolded as the wheel nut on the front right was machined off and the wheel became stuck on the car. Initially it looked as if they may be able to get it off, but this was to be the end of his race.

This created a huge opportunity for Red Bull and Verstappen. Some excellent team play by Red Bull meant that Perez had opened up a gap on Hamilton, Gasly and Vettel to be able to pit without losing too many positions. Bono had to break the news to an already very annoyed Hamilton that he had lost a further position to Perez as a result.

With 20 laps to go, Lando Norris started to complain about his tyres as Perez began to catch him at nearly one second per lap. However, as is normal around Monaco, it is very difficult to overtake and Norris managed to hold off Perez for the final podium position.

McLaren Media Centre

Having accepted his position on the track, Hamilton pitted for soft tyres to fight for the fastest lap point. This was not as simple as it seemed, as he had to let Verstappen lap him before charging for fastest lap. He did eventually get the extra point, a consolation prize after a not-so-successful weekend. This point, whilst not important now, could become crucial in the last stages of the season.

Finally, after a very dominant performance, Max Verstappen won the Monaco Grand Prox. He broke his Monaco ‘curse’ by making it onto the podium for the first time. Sainz followed in P2 with Norris in P3. This was one of the happiest podiums in Formula 1, with all drivers excited to be there. It also gave the fans a great Sainz and Norris reunion which everyone has been wanting since Sainz moved to Ferrari.

Vettel got a well deserved driver of the day vote after a great performance, gaining two places in the race and making a great move on Gasly when he came out of the pits to secure him P5.

Due to his win Verstappen now leads the driver championship, which is the first time since Australia 2013 that it has been led by someone other than a Mercedes driver or Vettel. This is also the first time Red Bull have led the constructor’s championship since 2013.

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