Verstappen takes pole in Suzuka

Max Verstappen took his first Japanese Grand Prix pole position on Saturday after a tremendously close battle between Red Bull and Ferrari.

We started the day off with the news that Pierre Gasly will be joining Esteban Ocon at Alpine next season, while Yuki Tsunoda is set to be partnered by Nyck de Vries, who was so impressive in his appearance at the Italian Grand Prix with Williams.

Despite brake issues, Yuki Tsunoda made it into the second phase of qualifying 12th time this season at his home race, while Kevin Magnussen, who shone during Friday practice, was disappointingly eliminated in Q1.

Alex Albon almost squeezed out of the bottom five, but he was denied by a good lap from Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

The Thai-Briton was joined in the drop zone by Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi, whose five-place grid penalty picked up in Singapore is now immaterial.

Max Verstappen had set the early pace for Red Bull, and he led Charles Leclerc at the end of Q2, as Lando Norris faced a battle to make it into the top 10.

The Briton climbed up to fifth as team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, failed to make the final session having been pushed out by George Russell’s late heroics.

Sebastian Vettel’s exceptional effort saw him make it through, maintaining his record of starting in the top 10 every time he has raced at Suzuka.

Home hero Tsunoda was eliminated too, along with Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu and Mick Schumacher.

Sergio Perez snatched the fastest lap time, while a fine run by Fernando Alonso lifted him to second, setting up an intriguing top 10 shootout.

Verstappen set the early pace in Q3, with three tenths separating him and Carlos Sainz in third, either side of Leclerc.

The reigning champion got caught up in a slight incident with Norris on the out-lap ahead of the first run. The McLaren driver sent it through 130R while Verstappen was crawling, and Norris had to take to the grass to avoid him following a kick of oversteer.

The Dutchman found Norris on his way back to the pits, and appeared to offer a hand of apology. The stewards are now investigating the precarious moment.

Try as they might, neither Leclerc nor Sainz could improve, so Verstappen kept pole despite setting a slower second run, before Esteban Ocon climbed to a brilliant fifth.

Hamilton split the two Alpines as Fernando Alonso took seventh, ahead of George Russell, Vettel and Norris.

With half a tenth separating the top three, we are set for an incredible race on Sunday.

Verstappen’s pole is still pending the stewards’ investigation.

Ricciardo to leave McLaren

McLaren have confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo will leave the team at the end of the season by mutual consent.

The Australian joined from Renault in 2021 to replace Carlos Sainz, who headed to Ferrari while Sebastian Vettel joined Aston Martin.

The Australian struggled to find form last season though, scoring points on 13 occasions while team-mate Lando Norris finished in the top ten 20 times.

The 22-year-old also achieved four podium finishes, although Ricciardo did get the team’s first win since 2012 at the Italian Grand Prix in September.

All in all however, it was a disappointing opening campaign for the eight-time race winner, who was in search better fortunes in 2022.

Ricciardo has managed a best finish of sixth this year – Courtesy of LAT Images

But this has not really materialised, and solid performances in Baku and Canada have been outweighed by nightmares in Imola, Miami, Silverstone and Budapest.

Norris leads the qualifying battle 11-2 this year, so there has been little reprieve for Ricciardo, who has often not quite been at one with a very tricky McLaren car.

He has added four more points finishes to his tally this year, and his frustrating afternoon in Hungary before the summer break summed up what has been, sadly, a tough time of it for Ricciardo at McLaren.

The results from the Aussie have led to public criticism from CEO Zak Brown, who is now reported to have signed Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri, with the Formula 2 champion having turned down the French side for next year.

There is a possibility that the former Red Bull and Renault driver could return to Enstone to replace the departing Fernando Alonso, but this would partly depend on Renault CEO Luca de Meo, who was not pleased by Ricciardo’s decision to leave after just two seasons together in 2020.

Ricciardo scored two podiums in 2020 before leaving Renault – Courtesy of Renault Sport

Ricciardo’s time at McLaren has been unfortunate, and it can largely be put down to a lack of suitability with the car.

However, Formula 1, like many sports, is a results business, and the results were not good enough for the two parties to continue together.

Team principal Andreas Seidl thanked Ricciardo for his commitment, and praised him for keeping his head high when things were tough.

“I would like to thank Daniel for his dedication and contribution over the last two seasons so far,” said team principal Andreas Seidl.

“Despite the shared challenges, he has always turned up with a fighting spirit and positivity and helped the entire team to always keep pushing forward.

“We will never forget that memorable race win in Monza which was a great boost for the whole team.

“We still have an important battle in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of us for the remainder of the season and we look forward to battle this out with Daniel and Lando.”

Brown acknowledged that his driver’s time with the team was not as big a success as anyone wanted, but he is proud of last year’s victory.

“Daniel has been a great addition to McLaren, and it’s been a pleasure working with him,” said the American.

“I’d like to thank him for all of his efforts over the last two seasons both trackside and back at base.

“It’s no secret that we hoped we could achieve more together but seeing him stand on the top step of the podium as a McLaren driver was a highlight.

“We wish him well for the future and let’s go enjoy the rest of the season together.”

As for Ricciardo’s future, it might not be long until he has news on that front.

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of the McLaren Racing family for the last two seasons but following several months of discussions with Zak & Andreas we have decided to terminate my contract with the team early and agree to mutually part ways at the end of this season,” he explained.

“I’ll be announcing my own future plans in due course but regardless of what this next chapter brings, I have no regrets and am proud of the effort and work I gave McLaren, especially the win in Monza, last season.

“I’ve enjoyed working with everyone at McLaren both trackside and back in Woking and will be giving my all on and off track as we enjoy the remainder of the season together.

“I’ve never been more motivated to compete and be a part of a sport that I love so much and look forward to what comes next.”

Ricciardo had previously affirmed that he would be seeing out the rest of his contract with McLaren, but the mutual termination now all but confirms the arrival of Piastri next year.

Dominant Verstappen beats Leclerc to Miami GP victory

Max Verstappen took victory with a commanding performance at the Miami Grand Prix after passing polesitter Charles Leclerc early on.

A crash and a hydraulic issue had limited Verstappen’s running in practice before he qualified third behind Ferrari, who qualified first and second for the first time since the Japanese Grand Prix of 2019, 48 races prior after they both capitalised on a mistake by the reigning champion in qualifying.

Due to an issue heating the fuel up, Aston Martin’s promising looking qualifying was undone as both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were forced to start from the pit lane.

Verstappen with a great start. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Off the start, Leclerc kept the lead through the first corner as Max Verstappen got round Carlos Sainz at Turn Two, splitting the Ferraris and giving Red Bull a near perfect start.

The Monegasque opened out a second advantage to the reigning champion after the first two tours of the circuit, setting the fastest lap as both of the leaders began to drop Sainz.

Having made a poor start from sixth, Sir Lewis Hamilton was passed by both Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso, with the Briton claiming that Alonso had hit him, but he streamed back ahead of the double world champion shortly after.

The seven-time champion then got back ahead of Gasly, regaining sixth and putting him just over two seconds behind former Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Mick Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda then engaged in an entertaining battle for 11th as the German got past, while Verstappen was beginning to close on Leclerc as Zhou Guanyu brought his Alfa Romeo back into the garage to retire.

Yuki Tsunoda fighting Mick Schumacher. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

He was told of significant graining on the Ferrari driver’s front left tyre, and he duly took full advantage by getting to within a second and passing his fellow 24-year-old into Turn One, and Leclerc then began to fall away while Sainz began to fall into the clutches of Sergio Perez.

The first stops of the race arrived on lap 13 as Tsunoda and then Kevin Magnussen came in for Hard tyres, followed by Schumacher, with the lack of longevity of the Pirelli rubber this weekend being confirmed.

Alonso’s stop was intended to gain the undercut on Gasly, but an issue on the front right delayed his getaway, and cost him time to the Frenchman.

Vettel would then engage in an entertaining battle with Williams’ Nicholas Latifi after Stroll had cleared the Canadian, with the German and then Magnussen making their way past, as Gasly’s came back out of the pits comfortably clear of Alonso as Alpine’s misfortune this season continued.

Vettel then narrowly cleared Norris as the Briton exited the pits, before Magnussen followed him through past the McLaren after a slow stop, and Perez began to lose power in his Red Bull, causing him to fall back towards Bottas, but his lap times began to improve as he returned to the pace.

Magnussen had a go at clearing Vettel at Turn 11, but he ran out of table on the outside as the 34-year-old defended well.

A great stop for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Hamilton came in on Lap 23 and was given a splendid stop by the Mercedes crew, and he re-joined behind George Russell after the 24-year-old’s P12 in qualifying left him out of position.

Leclerc then began using the rest of his residual grip on the Mediums as he set the fastest lap, indicative of an imminent stop, but the gap to Verstappen had risen to 4.5 seconds.

Despite his pace, he told his team that the car was “so difficult to drive,” and he was shortly thereafter brought into the pits for a set of Mediums.

Red Bull waited a couple of laps to bring Verstappen in as he got a super stop from his mechanics, and came back out ahead of Perez, who had yet to make a stop, with Sainz in the lead for the same reason.

Sainz pitted on lap 27, but had a slow stop as the crew struggled with the front left, but owing to Perez’s earlier issues, was able to re-join in front of the Mexican, before Hamilton reported to his team that he was beginning to suffer from overheating tyres.

Lance Stroll battles Magnussen. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

Magnussen, having finally cleared Vettel, now had a face full of Stroll’s Aston Martin, and Norris was behind the train involving Schumacher as his slow stop continued to cost him time.

As Vettel’s attempt to get back past Magnussen failed, Schumacher gladly took the opportunity to get ahead of the Aston Martin.

That left the Banbury-made cars to battle between themselves as the 29-year-old endeavoured to defend from his younger team-mate.

Schumacher was eventually allowed to get past the Dane, before a Vettel mistake at Turn Seven opened the door for Norris to gain the position.

Russell, meanwhile, had been completing a remarkably good stint, and he told his team he was more than happy to stay out in anticipation of a Safety Car or some rain as Christian Horner began to look nervously at the sky.

Gasly and Alonso made contacted as they continued their squabble as the Spaniard went for an ambitious move down the inside, and the subsequent time loss cost the 25-year-old a place to Stroll, who had yet to pit in another miserable day for Aston Martin.

Contact then ensued between Norris and Gasly, causing a puncture and a spin out of the race for the McLaren and extracting the Virtual Safety Car – an ideal opportunity for Russell to make his stop.

Gasly had been slowing after going off at Turn Eight and, as he re-joined, he turned into the back of the Briton, and the departure of his tyre followed by his stricken car lying out on track brought eventually brought out a full Safety Car.

The subsequent stops put Russell into seventh, while Aston Martin were brought back into the picture, and Esteban Ocon, having started last after being unable to contest qualifying due to an FP3 crash, was placed onto Softs.

Alonso was also given a five-second penalty for the collision with Gasly, who then came in for Softs of his own.

Most importantly though, Perez had put on fresh Mediums, leaving the Ferraris vulnerable to him for when the race restarted, and a neglect on Hamilton’s side of the garage to pit him also looked set to leave him at the mercy of Russell.

Sergio Perez in for his vital stop. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Sainz was immediately forced to fend off Perez on the restart, but Verstappen negotiated it perfectly, remaining ahead of Leclerc as everyone kept it clean on lap 47.

Schumacher managed to clear Ocon for ninth place as he chased his first points finish, and Perez continued to attack the second Ferrari.

Russell tried to make a move stick on Hamilton, but the 37-year-old defended well before a mistake from Bottas allowed both of them to clear the Alfa Romeo, which had made contact with the barrier.

Russell did then manage to clear his Mercedes team-mate after a boisterous battle of the Britons, and Leclerc was sticking within a second of Verstappen as he chased the win.

A highly audacious attempt from Perez into Turn One, and the subsequent lock-up allowed Sainz to get back in front.

Schumacher would then dive down the inside of his friend and mentor Vettel, hitting hi and spinning him at Turn One, allowing Ocon to climb into the points, as well as Alex Albon.

Verstappen opened out the gap to a comfortable margin, and as he crossed the line on the final lap, claimed the 23rd win of his career.

It leaves him 19 points behind Leclerc in the Drivers’ Championship, while Ferrari’s lead over Red Bull has been cut to six points.

A finale for the ages – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

After 21 races, 20 countries visited, and 1,242 laps of racing, the 2021 Formula One world championship is about to be decided. As if the excitement were not already enough, this weekend will be the first time in 47 years that the title contenders have entered the final round dead level on points.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have been battling it out for the world championship hammer and tong since day one in Bahrain. Ultimately, the surprise has not necessarily been that they have gone into the final round so tight – it is not even that shocking that they have entered this week with absolutely no disparity between them. The surprise has arrived in how they got there.

Hamilton and Verstappen have come to blows several times in 2021 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The two have been involved in several extremely tense and contentious moments over the course of the year, prompting an incrementally personal rivalry between their respective team bosses – Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.

This title race already looked as though it was going to be spicy over the course of the opening few rounds, with the Briton and the Dutchman running a fine line at Imola, Portimao and Spain. Eventually, it would all come to a head at the British Grand Prix in July. The now-infamous collision at Copse prompted a furious Verstappen to criticise Mercedes’ celebrations after Hamilton had won the race while the 24-year-old lay in a hospital bed.

Mercedes’ celebrations riled Verstappen after his 51G crash with Hamilton on Lap one in Silverstone – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

It never really died down from there, with a nasty-looking crash at Monza, followed by their off-track excursion at Sao Paulo following. And of course, the recent Saudi Arabian Grand Prix gave us the most bizarre collision yet, with Hamilton running into the back of the Red Bull as Verstappen slowed to let him through having pushed him off the circuit moments earlier.

This has led to whispers of Verstappen possibly utilising the Ayrton Senna technique from 1990, in which the Brazilian wiped out Alain Prost at the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix to seal the title. By virtue of Verstappen having won more races, he would clinch the title were the two protagonists to fail to finish.

We are of course hoping that they do manage to keep it clean and, as Nico Rosberg affirmed in 2014, it is of course also partly down to Hamilton as well as Verstappen to ensure this happens.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton became embroiled in an intense rivalry during their four years as team mates – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

The finale then takes us to the 5.5 kilometre Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, where the title has been decided twice before, and will be again this weekend. Hamilton has a record-six wins at the track, but Verstappen won this race last year and, of course, whomever finishes ahead of the other takes the title, meaning a win guarantees glory for both of them.

But that is not the only battle that needs settling this weekend. Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz are covered by just 8.5 points in the battle for fifth, which means it is also all to play for between them. Linking in with this, Ferrari need only score six points to seal third in the Constructors’ title from McLaren – the Scuderia are set to take a significant step forward from last year’s finishing position.

Ferrari are six points away from sealing third in the Constructors’ standings – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

Interestingly, every qualifying battle has already been settled prior to the final round, with Pierre Gasly beating Alpha Tauri team mate and rookie Yuki Tsunoda a clean-sweep 21-0.

This is it then. All square, all to play for. It is winner takes all at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Iceman’s F1 History

Kimi Raikkonen will contest his 349th and final race in this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and we take a look through a sparkling career for the Iceman.

Raikkonen began his career in 2001 with Sauber; he was identified by the team as he dominated through the Formula Renault UK as rookie winning seven out 10 races in 2000.

He had the experienced Nick Heidfeld alongside him who took a fantastic podium in Brazil, whilst Kimi took 6th on his debut then retired consecutively following on from that result. At Austria and Canada in the mid-Season he finished 4th – the highlight of the 2001 Sauber career. Others then began to take notice; another Finn Mika Hakkinen having a torrid having won two championships on the bounce. Mclaren talks were ongoing and it was agreed Hakkinen was walking away, and Raikkonen would replace him at the then-known Silver Arrows Mclaren Mercedes for 2002. Hakkinen, after this announcement in September, did manage to win once more with the pressure off.

The 2002 Season started off well for Kimi, earning his first ever podium with third at the opener Melbourne with the fastest lap. However, the car did have reliability issues which held up, the BMW-Williams also a strong contender for this Season. Mclaren finished third that year due to the reliability issues of the  MP4-17, and Kimi retired from 10 out of 17 races. The highlight of the Season for Kimi was P2 at Magny-Cours – his highest finish to date and double podium. Himself and David Coulthard finished P5 & P6 respectively in the Championship.

2003 was the year Kimi came into his own at Mclaren; Coulthard took his final win of his career at Melbourne but the ever-present Ferrari of Schumacher wasn’t on the rostrom for the first-time since 2001. Mclaren then took victory again at Kuala Lumpur and Raikkonen finally took the first victory of his career, 39.286 clear of Rubens Barrichello in a dominant display. It took Ferrari until the fourth round before they won but Kimi was on the podium in second. He didn’t win again in the year but was on the podium six times, unfortunately missing out on the title by 2 points to Schumacher, scoring 91 points.

In 2004, Mclaren unfortunately went back to MP4-17 levels of reliability. It was so poor that in the Summer we saw the reveal of the MP4-19B. Raikkonen’s best finish was fifth in Canada, and upon returning to Europe Kimi got back on the podium at Silverstone with second. The highlight of 2004 came when he won the Belgian GP at Spa, and a strong end to the Season with a podium with F1’s first venture to Shanghai and at Brazil.

In 2005, Kimi was the bridesmaid once again, but this much different in terms of how it came to fruition. Kimi had his most successful year with seven wins,  winning at Monaco and once again at Belgium. His most fought out win also came in this Season – a fantastic P17 to P1 – overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella on the outside of turn one on the final lap. Alonso won the title, but with new points system he ended up 21 points ahead of the Iceman.

In 2006, as per the previous Championship campaigns, development was slow, but better than 2004. He managed to score podiums in the first two races, and a further three in the first half of the season. Paddock rumours began to float round he was looking elsewhere to find that elusive Championship after those results. Those rumours came true; he was heading to Ferrari to replace Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, and it was announced at the Italian Grand Prix of all places. Kimi got his best result of P2 of the year matching Melbourne – a sign of things to come?

In 2007, Kimi headed into the scarlet red Ferrari, and it couldn’t have gotten off to a more emphatic start, winning the Season opener in Australia. Two more podiums  followed at the so-called flyaways that start the traditional Season. After three rounds we had Kimi, and both Mclaren drivers of Alonso and upcoming rookie Lewis Hamilton all on 22 points. The Season headed to Europe and went to the Americas before heading to France and Britain where Kimi’s challenge began; he was behind but won both races at Magny-Cours and Silverstone. Hungary onwards Kimi was not off the podium; he won again in Belgium, which has become a true favourite of the iceman as it was his third victory at the circuit. He was 17 points behind title leader Hamilton with two races remaining; he surely couldn’t be the bridesmaid or lower again as Alonso was only 12 points behind. He won the final two races of the calendar whilst others faltered. Hamilton had his moment entering the pits at Shanghai, resulting in a no-score and a puncture at Brazil which allowed the 17-point swing, giving Kimi his first World title.

In 2008 the defence began woth a collision, with Kimi fortunate to score due to a race of attrition with P8 and Barrichello later disqualified. However, a spell on the podium thereafter included two wins in the flyaway run, before F1 headed back to Europe. The 2008 Season had its moment in the Canadian pit lane when Hamilton wasn’t looking under safety car conditions, hitting Raikonnen which resulted in Kubica winning, leapfrogging both in the Standings. 

Kimi Raikkonen was less than impressed after being wiped out by Lewis Hamilton at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

In France and Hungary Kimi took a further podium but a poor string of results at the normally favoured track Belgium and the new Singapore circuit mathematically ended the iceman’s chance of retaining the title. His team-mate Felipe Massa and Hamilton fought that out, with Hamilton claiming his first championship. A further three podiums saw him finish third in the standings in 2008.

The 2009 Season brought in new regulations, and Ferrari seemed to be in the midpack and not at their traditional standards of the noughties era. Kimi scored four points in the first four flyaways before Europe began; the car development was rife this Season and we saw it with this car specifically. Prior to the Summer break at Hungary he took a fantastic P2, starting a podium streak and on returning to his trusted Belgium he took Ferrari’s sole win of his season. However, he was still 5th in Standings, with half the points of Jenson Button, and rumours were appearing that Kimi was looking away from Ferrari. He took another podium in front of the Tifosi at Monza and a further two points scores, before it was then revealed the team he was speaking to was to actually Mclaren, but the talks broke down so nothing came to fruition. Ferrari then agreed deals with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa for 2010.

Kimi took  a two-year sabbatical and ended up agreeing to compete in WRC with Citroen with P5 Rally of Turkey 2010 best result. Agreements were made for Kimi to join Lotus F1, the former Renault program for 2012.

On his return to the Series with Lotus in 2012, Kimi finished a distant third behind the title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso but on review had a successful campaign with seven podium finishes across the year, only failing to finish in the points in China. He claimed the team’s first victory since Ayrton Senna in Detroit in 1987.

Kimi and Lotus looked like they built upon this as they won the Season opening race in 2013, and then took a further three second places, being ever consistent as he was in the black and gold machinery and was second in the standings after Spain. Upgrades begun to occur and Lotus weren’t as quick to match, and a further four races passed until Kimi was back on the podium; he still scored points but not to the high level needed. Germany and Hungary saw him take two second places, and Ferrari once again came looking for a driver as rumours were floating that Massa was looking at alternate drives. The Italian GP was on the 8 September and on the 11 September it was confirmed that Raikkonen, ahead of the new era of F1, would again race for the Scuderia. He took a further two podiums at Singapore and Korea but his Season ended early as he required some surgery on his back, still finishing fifth in the standings.

Kimi spent two years at Lotus before re-joining Ferrari – Courtesy of Pirelli Media

At the start of the hybrid era in 2014, Ferrari’s machinery wasn’t at the races, capped to a best of P7 in the early rounds of the year, getting lapped at Barcelona. While not being in the twilight years of his career just yet, albeit his 12th Season, Ferrari needed to improve. Results begun to pick up but no podium was yielded, with his best result coming at Belgium with a fourth-placed finish, scoring at 13 out of 19 races, ending just towards the bottom of the top 10.

in 2015 the Ferrari power unit was reviewed and had much more power but was still not on par with Mercedes. He had to retire from opener but matched his best result in the second race and saw the rostrum in the fourth round at Bahrain, generally being best of the rest in this Season as the two Mercedes battled it out. Second at Bahrain was the highlight of the Season but two further podiums at the night races of Singapore and Abu Dhabi also came, and he would finish fourth in the Standings – near enough trebling the points from the year before.

Further podiums for Kimi in 2016 saw the win get closer, finishing second twice in the year, behind Verstappen in that record breaking win at Barcelona. He had four podiums in the Season all very early on, with Austria being the latest.

2017 nearly matched Kimi’s points record of 207 points as he was on the podium seven times this . A nice spell of three consecutive podiums in the Americas late in the Season gave him the push to finish 4th. Hungary and Monaco were the highlight of the Season with second place finishes.

In 2018 Kimi took his final victory, setting a new record of 113 races between his previous win, as he made a one stop strategy work in Texas, COTA. The win was his first since Lotus in 2013 but also his first for Ferrari since 2009. He also took 12 podiums in his final Season for the team as it was agreed he would move back to his routes and Alfa Romeo which were born from Sauber where it all began from him in 2001. He finished third with 251 points, best ever points haul.

Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen at Abu Dhabi 2018. Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

The twilight years started for Kimi and Alfa’s car was well prepared, a midfield contender, finishing in the points nine times in the Season of 2019, beginning with four consecutive finishes. In Brazil towards the latter end he managed to get a P4 with team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi P5, taking advantage of penalties and incidents to reel in the team’s biggest points haul to date since their return.

Kimi has spent the last three seasons with Alfa Romeo – Image courtesy of Sauber F1

Developments for cars came in 2020 at a different pace and levels. Alfa Romeo dropped to a certain extent, and while Raikkonen might not have been able to be a consistent scorer he was enjoying himself. In the shortened Season he scored two points finishes through the year at Mugello and Imola.

The swansong Season which we didn’t know until halfway through the Season began and was very much the nearly man in this Season until Baku, finishing P11-P13. He finished P10 at that race, along with Hungary. Kimi unfortunately did miss two races mid-Season due to COVID-19 and returned with an instant best result of P8 in Russia with the same result in Mexico. Points finishes might look likely in Abu Dhabi which would be a good way to end his career.

Kimi throughout his career in F1 had 19 Seasons, claimed 21 wins and 103 podiums with 18 pole positions. He has been involved in 349 Grands Prix which is the official record. The man of few words will be remembered for his wit, his nonchalant communication but, most of all, as a Formula One World Champion. 

Saudi celebration for Verstappen? Saudi Arabia Grand prix Preview

With just two rounds left of the 2021 Formula One season, Max Verstappen is presented with his first potential opportunity to claim the championship. Can he do so, or will Sir Lewis Hamilton take the title to the last race in Abu Dhabi?

Verstappen leads the current and seven-time champion by eight points following Hamilton’s stunningly dominant display in Qatar two weeks ago, giving him crucial momentum heading into the penultimate race of the season. In a year that has seen so many exhilarating and tense moments, there really is no telling who will be able to take the edge this weekend.

Sir Lewis Hamilton’s dominant display in Qatar put him eight points behind Max Verstappen – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

What they could of course both do without is further grid penalties, which have had their respective effects on both of our title protagonists. Barring any incidents or indeed regulatory controversy this weekend, this will be purely about pace and who can get the most out of their machines. The pressure will be on.

So too is there pressure in the Constructors’ battle; Mercedes lead Red Bull by 15 points in spite of having won two races less than their counterparts, meaning that they must top the Austrian team by 30 points in order to take the teams’ title. As a result, it looks very much as though Toto Wolff and Christian Horner’s incrementally grudgeful battle will be decided in Abu Dhabi as well.

The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz continue to streak away from McLaren, who only managed four points from the recent triple-header, and their push for third in the Constructors’ standings has thus begun to fade away. They trail the Scuderia by 39.5 points, meaning they must avoid being beaten this weekend by five points in order to remain in the fight. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo will be very aware that they need a result and a strong performance.

Ferrari are very close to beating McLaren to third in the Constructors’ standings – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

So where will battle take place this week? For the first time ever, Formula One will visit the City of Jeddah for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, around the 6.1 kilometre Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Complete with 27 corners, it makes up one of the longer tracks F1 will visit this season, but the length is compromised by the sheer speed of the corners, with few heavy braking zones and plenty of concentration required from the drivers. Furthermore, with the close proximity of the barriers, crashes will be dangerous and potentially perennial throughout the weekend. We do hope, of course, that everyone is able to keep it clean.

With construction beginning just last year, fears quickly mounted as to whether it would be ready in time to host the race this year, but in a 12-month turnaround, the track has been completed and Jeddah is just about ready to welcome Formula One for the first time. In terms of the weather, temperatures are expected to be at around 30 degrees Celsius throughout the three days, and with the circuit overlooking the Red Sea, this will be a beautiful but savagely challenging setting for the drivers and cars.

If Verstappen is to claim the championship this weekend, he needs to outscore Hamilton by 18 points. This means the Dutchman either has to win with Hamilton finishing seventh – or sixth if Verstappen obtains the fastest lap – while a P2 for Verstappen will necessitate a complete failure to score points from Hamilton.

It looks very much, then, as though this title race is going to the final round in Abu Dhabi, but who will have the edge this weekend? Let’s find out during the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Formula One debuts in Qatar: Qatar Grand Prix Preview

For the first time in its 71-year history, Formula One will head to Qatar this weekend for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, but will it be the start of Max Verstappen’s three-race run-in towards his first title?

A spectacular drive from Sir Lewis Hamilton saw him reduce Verstappen’s advantage at the top of the tree to 15 points in Brazil, meaning that the championship is still anyone’s game, and this will the latest in a long line of tense races between Mercedes and Red Bull.

Hamilton’s remarkable win was his sixth of 2021 – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Unmistakably, this has become a bitter and strenuous rivalry between two of the best teams the sport has ever seen, among an historic title race for the ages. Friday and Saturday in Brazil were met by no shortage of controversy as Hamilton was pushed to twentieth for Saturday’s sprint due to a technical rear-wing infringement, and tenth on Sunday after an ICE change.

Things on track will be no less extravagant either. Verstappen and Hamilton were involved in another contentious moment in Sao Paulo, as their wheel-to-wheel action featured the title rivals both going off at Turn Four, with Hamilton eventually passing and beating the Dutchman to victory. The same passion that went into the battling, and indeed Mercedes’ eccentric celebrations of Hamilton’s overtake, will surely be poured into the racing this weekend, in what could be another nail-biter.

So, where are we racing? Formula One will be using the Losail Circuit in Doha, which is also home to the now traditionally season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar in MotoGP. The 5.3 kilometre circuit has hosted 17 races in MotoGP, with the polesitter winning seven of those races. How does that translate to Formula One? Well, it does not really, but it is a reasonably tricky circuit where the drivers will likely have to be a little daring to overtake.

Qatar has hosted 17 races in MotoGP – Courtesy of Ducati

In terms of the favourite for the race, we do not really know that either. Over the course of the 16 corners, there is only really one long straight, with several technical corners making up the rest of a track that will require technical prowess from both car and driver, meaning that while Red Bull should have the advantage, this should be another exceptional fight between Verstappen and Hamilton, and qualifying will be an entertaining watch on Saturday.

There will also be much focus on the Constructors’ standings. Just 11 points separate Mercedes and Red Bull, while Ferrari lead McLaren by 21.5 following their impressive weekend in Brazil. This will make for another fascinating watch, with a focal point being placed on the battles for first and third in the teams’ standings. With just three rounds to go including this one, this is an enormously vital Grand Prix.

In what has been a simply remarkable and unique season of racing in Formula One, 2021 takes us to pastures new as the Losail circuit plays host to round number 21 of this most unpredictable of seasons.

Stunning drive sees Hamilton take thrilling Sao Paulo Victory

Sir Lewis Hamilton closed the gap to Max Verstappen to 15 points after an incredible recovery from tenth saw him win the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The victory was Hamilton’s third in Brazil, and perhaps one of his most important yet.

Polesitter Valtteri Bottas was soundly beaten off the start by Verstappen, while contact with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz gave McLaren’s Lando Norris a puncture, severely hampering his race before it had even begun.

An intense battle between Sainz and his team mate Charles Leclerc resulted in both Prancing Horses going off at Turn Four, with Bottas doing exactly the same thing in front of them. This opened the door for Sergio Perez to take second place and give Red Bull a temporary 1-2.

Among all the chaos, Hamilton had made his way from tenth, a position he was forced down to after his five-place penalty, up to fifth on the opening lap. He then passed Sainz into fourth, before he was allowed through into the podium places by Bottas.

A clumsy move from Yuki Tsunoda would then play massively into Mercedes’ favour, as the Japanese barrelled into the side of Lance Stroll through Turn One. The Alpha Tauri’s front wing was therefore shattered all across the track, bringing out the Safety Car. That brought Hamilton onto the back of the Red Bulls, and the race was on.

It took nine laps after the end of the Safety Car period for Hamilton to be able to challenge Perez, passing the Mexican into Turn One, before Perez re-passed him immediately into Turn Four. One lap later however, Hamilton got ahead once more and this time kept the position.

On lap 27, Hamilton stopped onto the Hard tyres, one lap before Verstappen. The undercut gained Hamilton 2.5 seconds, increasing the pressure on Verstappen. Sainz and Norris then went side-by-side into Turn Four, with Sainz staying ahead and there was this time an absence of contact between the two former team-mates.

Some more debris would then fly off the floor of Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, triggering a Virtual Safety Car. This was bad news for Red Bull as Perez had already pitted but Valtteri Bottas had not. He then got a free stop as a result of the full course yellow, getting him ahead of the Mexican.

Verstappen came in again for more Hard tyres, three laps before Hamilton – the undercut increasing the gap to the seven-time champion. Following his stop onto Hard tyres, Hamilton insisted that he should have been on Mediums, while team mate Valtteri Bottas believed that the one-stop strategy was the better option, and that Mercedes had “thrown away an easy one-two.”

Hamilton, however, persistently closed on Verstappen, and on lap 48, it all kicked off. Hamilton attempted to move round the outside of Verstappen at Turn Four, with the Dutchman forcing the reigning champion off and even running wide himself.

After noting the incident, Michael Masi declared that it was not worth an investigation, cue fury from the Mercedes pit wall aimed at the Safety Delegate.

But Hamilton would not be denied. 10 laps later, he got a super run through Turn Three, and flew past Verstappen going into Turn Four, prompting a celebration born out of rage and frustration from Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff.

Sergio Perez then pitted late on and stole the fastest lap away from Valtteri Bottas, as Hamilton took victory from Verstappen. Bottas took the final podium spot in third.

An excellent Sunday for Ferrari saw them soundly beat championship rivals McLaren – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari press

Ferrari capped a fine weekend, extending their advantage over McLaren in the battle for third with a 5-6 for Charles Leclerc and Sainz. Pierre Gasly muscled his way past Esteban Ocon to finish seventh, with the second Alpine of Fernando Alonso behind them in ninth. Lando Norris took McLaren’s only point in tenth after a power loss forced team mate Daniel Ricciardo into retirement, while the contact with Tsunoda proved the end of Lance Stroll’s race too.

Hamilton showed his remarkable pace, tenacity and skill on Sunday in Brazil, and he and Mercedes have let Verstappen and Red Bull know that they are still very much in this title fight.

The Title Classic heads to beautiful Brazil

Max Verstappen extended his title advantage to 19 points last weekend in Mexico City, and with four rounds to go, Formula One now heads to the scene of many championship classics – the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Instant thrillers such as 2008, 2012 and 2016 spring to mind, and the championship has been decided six times at the 4.3 kilometre track, but that will not be happening this weekend. 107 points remain up for grabs, so there is still plenty of time for Lewis Hamilton to turn the tide and claim a record-breaking eighth championship.

But Brazil is traditionally a reasonable rack for Red Bull, and they have won here five times, with the first coming in 2009 via Mark Webber during Jenson Button’s crowning moment. High altitude coupled with tight corners make for a technically demanding lap, while also necessitating an enormous amount of fitness and concentration on race day. Mercedes, however, have largely dominated since 2014, and have taken the chequered flag four times in Sao Paulo. Since the beginning of the Hybrid era, Ferrari have won just one race, and their increasingly impressive strength this season makes for a promising weekend in their fight with McLaren for third in the Constructors’ standings.

And this is the reason for the fanfare at Brazil. McLaren’s last win in the V8 era arrived at Interlagos, and there will be an opportunity for themselves, Ferrari, and possibly even Alpine to fight it out for the podium come Sunday. This is a notoriously unpredictable weekend, making the title race ever the more gripping in Brazil.

The Woking-based team are another in need of a good race this weekend. Daniel Ricciardo T-boned Valtteri Bottas at the start in Mexico, and would eventually finish outside the points, while Lando Norris claimed just one point in tenth, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz taking fifth and sixth respectively. McLaren now trail the Scuderia by 13.5 points, and their dual will be another fascinating watch until Abu Dhabi in December.

An impressive points haul from Ferrari saw them re-take third from McLaren – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

These fights are not all; Sergio Perez’s momentous home podium in Mexico, coupled with Valtteri Bottas’ horrible day from pole has resulted in Red Bull sitting just one point behind Mercedes. The Constructors’ title will surely also go down to the wire, and with just four rounds left, the tension between Christian Horner and Toto Wolff will likely be immeasurable.

Furthermore, it is not as if there is no history between the two teams here. Michael Schumacher moved over to aid Sebastian Vettel during his title-winning recovery in 2012, and Verstappen has competed with Mercedes for victories here over the years, winning in 2019, and claiming a sensational podium in 2016 following his infamous save.

We will see the last of the three sprint events take place in Brazil, with the sprint race on Saturday potentially playing a key role in the outcome of the race on Sunday. And of course, we all know what happened in each of the first two sprint weekends of the season.

This will be an incredibly pivotal weekend for the championship, and two-time winner here Lewis Hamilton will be fully aware of the importance of a strong result to keep himself in check with Verstappen. But can the Flying Dutchman take the win and put himself further out of reach? The Brazilian Grand Prix promises to be another classic.

The Fiesta returns: Mexican Grand Prix Preview

With 12 points in the title race and five races to go, the excitement is palpable and there is no telling whether it will be Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen claiming the Formula One championship trophy at the FIA gala in Paris next month.

Five and a half thousand miles to the west of the French capital however sits Mexico City and the 4.3 kilometre Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. This wonderful Mexican festival of racing was absent from the 2020 calendar by virtue of the Coronavirus pandemic, but thankfully one of the best racing weekends of the season is back.

Verstappen has claimed victory in two of the five races that have been held in Mexico since the return of the iconic circuit in 2015, and on both those occasions, his current title rival Hamilton was crowned champion in the culmination of his tense battles with Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and 2018.

Both of those Grands Prix had plenty in the entertainment department, as did Hamilton’s two wins in 2016 and last time out in 2019 – he displayed his wholesale brilliance with a mega stint two years ago to hold off Vettel en route to his sixth world title in the United States a week later.

Hamilton took victory with a remarkable tyre-saving performance in 2019 – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Speaking of which, the US Grand Prix two weeks back gave us one of our most tense duels yet between Verstappen and Hamilton this year, with the Dutchman producing a super stint of his own, holding off the current champion and taking the chequered flag only just ahead.

This extended his title advantage, which was crucial coming into the final few rounds, but will there be a resurgence from Mercedes this weekend?

This is a tough one, because Mercedes and Red Bull have traditionally been incredibly evenly-matched since 2017, and in a season that has been immensely unpredictable up to now, it is near enough impossible to foresee who will be on top come Sunday evening.

On the balance of it, it is a track that would tend to suit Red Bull better, with its short nature, the twisty middle sector, and the fact that Honda’s power seems to have been a match for Mercedes this season, but the Silver Arrows will still fancy themselves on the first two straights of the lap.

Ferrari have also been relatively strong here over the years, which gave us the enticing prospect of at least four potential winners in 2019, two years after Sebastian Vettel took a stunning pole position in 2017 before the race went upside down for the German. This will give them hope coming into this weekend, but McLaren lead them by a slender 3.5 points in what has been a splendid fight between them in 2021, so expect more side-by-side action similar to what we witnessed in Texas last time out.

Sebastian Vettel took a superb pole position in 2017, before contact with Hamilton on the first lap cost them both in the race – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

That was likely one of the most fascinating battles we have seen on track so far this year, and Mexico has given us a lot of those moments over the last few years, and this will be a mouth-watering race.

That fact will also potentially bring the likes of Williams and Alfa Romeo into play for points-paying positions, so there is plenty of reason for excitement for a race that almost always delivers. And with Halloween having just passed, this will be one of the last times we get to see Alfa’s Kimi Raikkonen race in Formula One, so make the most of it!

Lewis Hamilton will be fully aware that he needs a strong result to keep within distance of Max Verstappen, whose Red Bull team are eager to start landing the final blows in the title fight. Let the festival begin.

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