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.

Formula One returns to Texas: US Grand Prix Preview

The COVID pandemic took the US Grand Prix away from us last year, meaning the circus did not roll into either North of South America, as Canada, Brazil and Mexico also missed out on a place on the 2020 calendar.

The latter two of those races are still set to take place, but first Formula One will venture over six thousand miles from its last destination of Turkey to Travis County Texas, and the 42nd Formula One Championship Grand Prix in the United States.

Max Verstappen enters round 17 in the lead of the 2021 standings by six points from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, whose last win here came in 2017, while the Dutchman is yet to register a win at the 5.4 kilometre Circuit of the Americas, but Red Bull have won here before.

Verstappen’s seven wins and 12 podiums have put him top of the tree in 2021 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

That came back in 2013 with Sebastian Vettel, en route to culminating that season with a record nine wins in a row, and Red Bull, as has been the tale of the season, are breaking the Mercedes hybrid tradition this season. So we should anticipate another strong Red Bull performance here.

Mercedes will be buoyed by the fact that Hamilton came through the tough test of Istanbul two weeks ago in the wet conditions having started 11th following a grid penalty, and he managed to limit the damage done to his championship challenge by finishing fifth. His team mate Valtteri Bottas also took victory one year on from his horror show at the same race, making for a decent afternoon for the silver arrows. Red Bull, meanwhile, managed a double-podium, with Sergio Perez having a brilliant afternoon, coming home third behind team mate Verstappen.

A splendid drive from Bottas saw him take a well-earned victory in Turkey – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

At a track this weekend though that is notoriously difficult through the first sector, but awash with power-necessitating sections, it will be tight battle between two teams that have been exemplary out front all season long.

McLaren and Ferrari have meanwhile dropped Alpine behind in the battle for third, which Mclaren lead currently by 7.5 points from the Scuderia. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc are separated by just half a point, and their remarkably consistent form will be a source of positivity particularly heading into the new regulations of 2022. Across at McLaren while Daniel Ricciardo is still trying to make things work at McLaren – his win in Monza covering over what has been a very difficult season for the Australian, often soundly beaten on pace by team mate Lando Norris. However, the pair are currently sitting ahead of Ferrari, which would ultimately make for a good first season at the Woking outfit for Ricciardo if they can stay there.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have been evenly matched in the former’s first season with the Italian outfit – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

Williams suffered their first non-points scoring race last time out since the Netherlands, as they seek to remain in front of Alfa Romeo for what be an immensely respectable eighth in the Constructors’ standings.

The last two races here have been won by Finns, while exactly half of the races contested at COTA have been won from pole, in races that have seen titles decided, dominant victors emerge, a sight to savour in Kimi Raikkonen’s final win, and splendid Verstappen drives.

Kimi Raikkonen’s win here in 2018 was his last with Ferrari – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

We are not about to crown a new champion this weekend – rest assured this title race is going to the wire – but this could be a race to see who can draw fastest and take a real advantage in Texas.

Back to the scene of number seven: Turkish Grand Prix Preview

In 2020, Formula One returned to Istanbul Park in Turkey for the first time in nine years, and it turned out to be a thriller of a weekend.

Rain in qualifying saw Lance Stroll take his first pole in F1, as Racing Point took their first ever front-row lock out, and their second in the sport following Giancarlo Fisichella’s pole under their previous Force India guise in Belgium in 2009. An equally soggy Grand Prix was a humdinger, with chaos ensuing from start to finish. At the end of it all, Lewis Hamilton took a stunning victory, and his seventh world title in the process.

Hamilton took his seventh world title in Turkey last year – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Unlike Stroll and Racing Point, this was not a first. This was a driver who had been consistently incredible for many years, and had achieved something only one driver had previously in the history of Formula One – that being Michael Schumacher.

This year though, the picture is all a little different. Hamilton may lead the championship, but unlike the 85-point lead going into the final four races of last year, Hamilton heads into the final seven rounds of 2021 just two-point ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

And this is almost the perfect crescendo for the two drivers following a race in Russia two weeks ago in which both of our protagonists were able to showcase some of their greatest on-track qualities. Hamilton’s guile, experience and prowess in dramatically changing conditions allowed him to take victory from a heartbroken Lando Norris. Verstappen, meanwhile, displayed courageous overtaking, invariable pace in the wet, and a never-say-die attitude to recover from twentieth on the grid.

A highly impressive performance from Max Verstappen took him to a podium finish in Russia – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

This weekend sees us arrive at a technical circuit where pace is down to skill and bravery, and mistakes are quickly punished on the 5.3 kilometre tour.

The weather, at least at the beginning of the week, does not look as though it is going to play a massive factor, but the same can be said on many F1 weekends; and you never know when the rain might hit, as evidenced last time out in Sochi.

We also saw last time how closely matched Ferrari and McLaren are pace-wise, and with 17.5 points between them, the run-in is going to be hugely contested in the final few races. A podium for Carlos Sainz a fortnight back emphasised what has been a remarkably impressive first season in red for the Spaniard. And that bodes well ahead of a race in which the Scuderia finished third and fourth last year after a dramatic late battle between Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, and Sergio Perez.

Carlos Sainz’s podium was not enough to close the gap to McLaren, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

Perez is a driver who has had a tough run-in recently, and although he has a contract for next year, Helmut Marko will be breathing down his neck for results in light of a rejuvenated Pierre Gasly since his return – an impressive one at that – to Alpha Tauri in 2019. George Russell’s performance in Russia meanwhile, reinforced Mercedes’ recruitment of him over Valtteri Bottas, who had to endure another difficult day in Russia.

The title fight is going down to the wire, and at a venue that will have many happy connotations for Lewis Hamilton, from GP2 all the way to the seventh title, he seeks to extend his championship lead, while a hungry Max Verstappen has no intention of easing off his charge just yet.

2021 Russian Grand Prix Preview

It has perhaps been massively overblown, but the fact of the matter is that in each of the last two races that Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have gone side-by-side, they have not only made contact – but produced two frightful crashes.

Thankfully, both Hamilton and Verstappen were okay after their clumsy crash in Monza – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

It has, unfortunately, begged the question as to whether these two elite racing drivers are actually able to go side-by-side cleanly, and it has frankly been a frustrating plot to an otherwise sublime title story. The events of Monza two weeks ago gave us a first McLaren one-two finish in over 11 years, with Daniel Ricciardo leading Lando Norris to the finish and putting a tremendously positive spin on a difficult opening campaign with the Woking-based team for the Australian.

It is no less than McLaren deserve following years of development having fallen behind since their switch to Honda engines in 2015. Even before that in 2013, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez experienced an almost insufferable car, but nobody imagined it would take this long to climb back into a winning position.

What it certainly has done is display that, when the chips are down for the front-runners, they are the midfield team that will step up and take advantage. Ferrari and Charles Leclerc had a similar opportunity in Silverstone, albeit Lewis Hamilton was still in the race following his crash with Verstappen. Hamilton of course went on to win on that occasion.

Almost mercifully, this weekend veers back away from the sprint format, which has seen the two collisions between our protagonists, but the format is not so important as the technical prowess of the cars and drivers.

The 5.8 kilometre Sochi Autodrom is a notoriously tough track to race at, so qualifying will be vital, and strategy will be crucial. This does not mean to say there can be no racing in Krasnodar – Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon can testify to that.

Alex Albon, George Russell and Lando Norris gave us a wonderful battle last year – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Further to their entertaining wheel-to-wheel racing last season, is the story emerging through Mercedes’ Finnish departure Valtteri Bottas. He made an excellent recovery to third in Monza after his grid penalty, and there is still the odd chuckle at his defiance of team orders – setting the fastest lap again Mercedes’ wishes. This is a track that Bottas has always done ever so well at, and the seemingly new-found shackles off attitude to the nine-time race winner would lead one believe we will not be seeing the same passivity as 2018 if he ends up in a similar position this weekend. he did of course win this race last year.

Bottas took victory here last year – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

His compatriot Kimi Raikkonen will also return, having missed the last two races by virtue of contracting COVID-19.

But the focus will sadly be on Verstappen and Hamilton, whose close shaves have now come to a head twice, and let’s hope they can keep it clean if they end up side by side in Russia this weekend. Either way, this is now set to be a thrilling final run-in to what has been an enticing 2021 for Formula One so far.

From Orange to Red: Italian Grand Prix Preview

After the raucous atmosphere of the Orange Army in Zandvoort, the Tifosi will have their turn to roar on their Italian heroes Ferrari during this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

The 5.7 kilometre temple of speed is one of the most historic tracks in Formula One, now hosting its 71st race in the world championship since 1950, and it could hardly have come at a better time for Mercedes.

The current champions have won five times at Monza since the beginning of the hybrid era, but have not won there in any of the last three – or indeed any of the last three races this season since Silverstone.

Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are seeking their first victory since before the summer break – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

This therefore presents them with the opportunity to turn the tide on a season which has slightly begun to swing the way of Red Bull in the last couple of weeks, at a track where they would anticipate a strong performance. The 11 corners coupled with long straights would ordinarily be conducive to a slam dunk Mercedes win, but even here they will find the Austrian Bulls pushing them hard.

The Honda Power Unit has proved a perennial threat to the German team’s dominance in the last couple of years, and it has competed exceptionally so far in 2021, leaving Max Verstappen top of the Drivers’ Championship, while Mercedes lead them by a narrow 12 points.

Sir Lewis Hamilton said after Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix that Red Bull were on “another level” over the weekend, but at a circuit where overtaking is a lot more accessible and a track where Mercedes are quicker on paper, the competition will be immense.

Max Verstappen’s victory at Zandvoort delighted his home fans – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Behind the battle out front, things are incredibly interesting. Ferrari carry positive momentum after the Netherlands, but they suffered a torrid time in here last year; a brake failure put pay to Sebastian Vettel’s race, while Charles Leclerc violently collided with the barrier at the final corner.

Alpine managed a satisfactory points haul too, scoring 10 points between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, while McLaren, who have generally been one of the better midfield campers this year, only managed a P10 courtesy of Lando Norris.

Fernando Alonso claimed a sixth-placed finish in the Netherlands last week – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

This leaves the mid-pack in a poised position going from a track at which overtaking is at a premium, to a circuit here at which wheel-to-wheel racing is a regularity.

To mix in with all of that, this weekend sees the second sprint race weekend of the season. A single practise session will precede qualifying, before a short race determines the grid for the Grand Prix. Three points are awarded to the winner of the sprint, with two for second, and one for third. There will be no point for the fastest lap, and the winner of the sprint will be awarded pole position, and not a race win. It may therefore provide a chance for some who are usually further back to climb up towards the podium places; Pierre Gasly’s inspired performance saw him win for the home Alpha Tauti team last year, with Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll joining him on the podium.

Pierre Gasly took a sensational win for Alpha Tauri at Monza in 2020 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

In a slight change to the track, the former Parabolica Turn 11 has been renamed after legend Michele Alboreto.

The championship now enters the final 10 rounds of the season, as Red Bull and Mercedes continue to battle toe-to-toe, and we resume that fight at the temple of speed.

Formula One makes long-awaited Netherlands return: Dutch Grand Prix Preview

Well that was strange, wasn’t it? The teams arrive in the Netherlands this week after completing what is now officially the shortest race in history at the longest circuit on the calendar in Spa Francorchamps. Zandvoort happens to be one of the shortest tracks on the calendar by contrast; it has been a rather odd year this.

Nonetheless, it is a welcome return for the sport to an iconic circuit, and a track steeped in undulation, tantalising risk and edifying rewards. It is also the second race running where we will see the famous orange wall – for McLaren of course.

Ingratiating yourself with the fans though does not win races, and that is not what Formula One did last weekend either, presenting a Grand Prix described as “farcical” by World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, but impeccable weather at the seaside Dutch town, so a repeat of Sunday’s fiasco is not on the cards.

Lewis Hamilton suggested the fans should get their money back following a “farcical” Belgian Grand Prix

The 4.2 kilometre track played host to 28 Formula One Grands Prix before it exited the calendar in 1985, and it remains the only Dutch circuit to host a Formula One race – championship or otherwise – in spite of strong appeals for Assen to make its F1 debut. The irresistible Zandvoort, however, was selected as the holy grail of Formula One’s return to the Netherlands.

The amenity of the sand dunes surrounding the track results in a superb, flowing, tight and inherently difficult circuit, along with the infamous banked final corner.

The events of Spa leave us in the unusual position of three drivers – Sir Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz – sitting on decimal points in the standings, with Hamilton leading Verstappen heading into the Dutchman’s home race this weekend.

The nature of the track would tend to suit the Red Bulls, and the technical aspect of the track means that battles up and down the grid could be decided by which drivers are able to extract those extra few thousandths through the tough corners. This will be a tough race.

That detail may also bring Williams, who looked down and out at the end of 2019, back up into the points. George Russell’s podium in Spa was an inspiring moment for a team that has battled immensely to get back up the grid in recent times, and Nicholas Latifi’s  qualifying saw them score their second consecutive double-points finish in almost five years. Can they make it three in a row for the first time since 2016 too?

Lots to be excited about then, as Formula one finally returns to Zandvoort for the first time in 26 years. And hopefully we will get more than two laps this time!

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