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!

F1 Returns from its summer break: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that never ceases to feel like an eternity, Formula One finally returns this weekend, as we head a 12-hour flight west of our last destination of Budapest to the beautiful town of Francorchamps for the 53rd championship Belgian Grand Prix.

The formerly eclectic list of winning constructors of this race has recently been taken over by Ferrari and Mercedes, who have between them taken all of the last six victories at Spa, but will there be a new conqueror here on Sunday?

Charles Leclerc took his first Formula One win in Spa two years ago – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

Red Bull have continuously proven a thorn in champions Mercedes’ side throughout the first half of 2021, and Max Verstappen would desperately like to win in Spa for the first time.

Though the young Dutchman will finally be able to enjoy a home Grand Prix next week, he always gets a massive following when the F1 circus heads to Belgium, and he will be grateful for that support this weekend.

Red Bull suffered catastrophic races in Silverstone and Budapest, scoring just two points over both races, following contact with Mercedes cars on both occasions. The Silver Arrows and Lewis Hamilton have thus taken advantage to lead both championships entering round 12 of the season.

A chain reaction crash started by Valtteri Bottas ended the race for both Red Bull cars, along with Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

And so it seems that a win has rarely been so predominant on the Austrian team’s list of priorities, so get set for a superbly competitive weekend of action.

This is amplified by what is quite simply one of the most remarkable and stunning racetracks in the history of the F1 championship, with a powerful first and third sector, sandwiching a tight, twisty middle sector that has always extracted immense skill and bravery from our drivers.

It thus gives us an exciting prospect in what has become in incrementally more competitive midfield as the year has progressed, with McLaren and Ferrari dead even on points following Carlos Sainz’s post-race podium in Hungary; a further 85 points separates them from fifth-placed Alpine.

Sebastian Vettel was stripped of said podium following a disqualification for a fuel infringement four weeks ago, as the three-time winner in Belgium seeks to claim his second podium with his new team.

Sebastian Vettel had his Budapest podium cruelly  snatched from him after a fuel infringement – Courtesy of Aston Martin Media

As the second triple-header of the year begins, F1 is finally back, as we get ready for one of the great tracks on the Formula One calendar.

Le Mans 24 Hours: A chat with Alex Brundle

At Le Mans this weekend, Inter Europol Competition are making their first LMP2 entry into the event, and we sat down with one of the experienced drivers spearheading the team’s effort: Alex Brundle. Alex has contested seven Le Mans events before this year, and he gave us some wonderful insight into his career, his Le Mans journey over the years, and his nickname “The Cookie Monster”.

Q: Alex, thanks for your time, you’re entering your eighth 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, talk us through just how special a Le Mans race week is and how much hard work goes into it.

 AB: I mean it’s different to any other race, in that some teams will prepare in days of old for a whole year for one race weekend, and it’s a very drawn out affair, less so in COVID times when things are a little more compressed, but it’s still a longer race weekend than any other. Of course in the race distance and also in terms of the full experience, and the whole thing is just a race, but double the size. The track’s double the size; the speed’s higher; the race is incredibly long, and it blows your mind honestly the first time you come here. On the eighth time, you start to feel a little bit like you know what you’re doing, but this place still always surprises you.

Q: It must be a really unique race!

 AB: It’s completely its own thing, like the Nurburgring 24 hours or the Isle Of Man TT I imagine. It’s its own event where really you have to just orientate yourself to the fact that you’re out on public roads in a proper sports car, racing an F1 top speed racing car, and that is something that takes a lot of getting used to, along with the sheer number of cars on the race track, and the speed differential between those cars. It’s something you can’t just jump into and do well, without a significant car advantage or a team that are really set up around you, so it’s hard and you need to grow experience here to be reliably successful I think.

Q: Your father won Le Mans in 1990 not too long before you were born. He had relative success in the motorsport world, but where does your passion for racing spring from?

 AB: Really that [my dad], over the few years dad spent at Le Mans, I spent a bit of time around the programmes, particularly the Toyota GT1 programme, when I was a little guy. I went to lots of the testing when they were testing at airfields and race tracks with dad. They were really the first race cars I saw in the flesh, out on track and the first time I was involved in the programme. And I actually came to Le Mans with the Toyota GT1 as well, so it’s been a huge part of my love for racing, but I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be involved. All the way through my junior life, it’s been the direction I wanted to take, and I’ve had a singularity of purpose ever since then to try to get as far as I can in racing.

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

Q: You raced with him in 2021 as well in Le Mans, talk us through how special and emotional that was to race at Le Mans with your dad.

 AB: It’s really cool. We’ve done a couple of races together but that was probably the biggest event we’ve done together, and it was a really special experience. It was my first Le Mans as well, and it was a tough weekend actually, because you’re going to Le Mans for the very first time; there was no hiding from media attention or hiding from scrutiny for me because we had a full Nissan media machine behind us, so not only was that a brilliant thing and amazing to share that experience with him – it was something that I will never forget – but it was also quite challenging because I was coming into Le Mans for the first time as a rookie, and I really had to learn a lot from him. I think Le Mans over the last few years has become more approachable, but back then you really had to lean on your team mates if you were coming to Le Mans for the first time. And he was great, in terms of teaching me the ropes round here and then of course I came back the next year and I was able to be on the podium, so he must have done a pretty decent job of it!

Q: Let’s talk about 2016 shall we? You got three wins on your way to championship success in the European Le Mans series, how did it feel for all those years of hard work to yield a championship success?

 AB: Yeah, finally! It was a beautiful moment for me actually, because I had had a couple of years out with a muscular issue around the top of my pelvis, and that was not a quick fix, it was a long fix. After 2014 I spent most of 2015 unable to drive and there was a lot of work to do to get myself back in racing shape. And then to jump back in after putting all that work in, I was so determined to try to reboot my career, and I did so with United Autosports. It was actually their second year in that championship, but the first really strong year of LMP3 competition. If you look at where they are now and where I am now, it launched us both into a trajectory which was great. It was a case of coming back to racing in the most successful way, which was really great.

Q: You finished second in Le Mans last year; you’re now contesting this race with your sixth team: Inter Europol Competition. A polish team, entering in an Oreca for the first time. Does this feel special in terms of joining a team at the start of their journey and does it different to the rest of the races you’ve competed in at Le Mans?

 AB: For me, that’s the next stage in my journey. There’s only so much you can prove about yourself I believe as a sports car driver by jumping in one of the better cars and going and converting that into a race win, which is something I’ve done with G-Drive; something I’ve done with United Autosports, and Jota through the past. Then, you get to the point in your career where you’re a service provider to a team. You have to bring all of the experience you learned  through years of hard competition, and try to move forward and using their expertise and knowledge as well and find a way to be successful from base principles. That’s something which is really exciting about our journey right now, and something I believe we’re doing race by race.

Q: The car stands out pretty well too, right?

 AB: (Laughing) Yeah, it really glows doesn’t it? That helps actually; I mean nobody’s claiming that they can’t see us out on track that’s for sure! It’s cool and I really like the colour scheme of the car. It’s kind of Mantis-esque, isn’t it? And when we start winning stuff, which I’m sure we will, these things become iconic.

Q: I just wanted to ask you about the future of WEC (World Endurance Championship) . You mentioned LMP3 becoming more competitive, LMP2 as well. The number of entries in LMP1 had decreased before the Hypercar era. What do you predict about the format of WEC in the next few seasons?

 AB: It’s a very interesting time for WEC actually. It really depends on the success of the Hypercar Formula, which looks to be moderately successful at this point, but I think it will quickly trend towards being very successful, and then the question I believe will be: where is the space going to come from for all the other classes? Because there will be so many more manufacturers wanting to run these prototype cars, and where will the private teams stand in terms of getting an entry if they don’t want to buy and run a hypercar? It’s going to be difficult, so I think that we’re going to see a rich era of sports car racing, with some amazing cars and drivers. It’s definitely going to shift the tides in terms of what kind of teams you’re seeing running these cars in the world championship and what teams can and cannot get an entry for Le Mans.

Q: I was looking over your career, and I don’t know how interested you’ll be, but this is your 220th professional race start in your career since 2006. Does it feel like that many or has it just been so fun that you haven’t really noticed?

Photo credit: Inter Europol Competition

 AB: You caught me my surprise, that’s an interesting one! 220… yeah, seems about right. I’ve been around a few years and started some races, and it’s all about the journey and it’s been really fun, but it takes that. So many different things can happen on a racetrack when you press the button and the green light goes. I think it was Gil de Ferran that I asked for advice as a younger man, and he looked me square in the eye and said: “you’ve got to try to come to the race track and know what the hell you’re doing.” And although that maybe seemed like a platitude at the time, it was a great piece of advice – you really do. There’s just no substitute for experience, and it’s been great fun; it’s been a great ride. I’m 31 and I’ve got a lot of racing still to do, and I need to win this race overall, and to win this championship overall. That’s the aim; that’s what I’m going for, so I have to keep on pushing.

Q: On that point of experience, do you sometimes feel like you’ve gone full circle? Having more experience now, do you find yourself giving that advice to some of the younger drivers?

AB: Definitely, that’s a big part of our function as well in sports car racing. When you look through to making the jump towards being a pro driver here, especially in a 2021 grid where the cars are big downforce, paddle shift, a lot like a junior single-seater – plus a bit of weight and a bit of power. Am I going to go out and just put two seconds on somebody coming out of Formula 3? No, I’m not. They’re all very competent; they get more competent all the time. What I can do is do the job – my job – without giving myself a little extra time, and also to assist everyone around me and give that bit of extra time to everyone around me and become almost 10% team manager, in many ways. You give all of your experience; you help your team mates out, and you bring the right mentality and attitude to the race team, and I think that’s something you only really appreciate after a decent amount of time in the car. And I think it’s something that the teams really appreciate from you and that’s how you can stand out in 2021 by taking that approach.

Q: And just lastly from me, a nice little fun one to finish. I heard that you’ve earned the nickname “The Cookie Monster.” I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that!

 AB: Yeah, it comes from John and Eve at Radio Le Mans. It must have been the second time I did Le Mans. I mean Eve’s cooking is notoriously fantastic. They had a jar full of cookies in the kitchen, and they tried to offer me one. I believe I got a piece of paper out and started to explain to them exactly how much time over a lap that cookie corresponded to in terms of weight. (Laughing) And so they’ve called me the Cookie Monster ever since – not because I eat them but because I refuse to! I’ve since apologised to Eve, because I’ve heard her cooking is legendary, but that’s where that story comes from.

RK: I did not regret asking that question! Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it, and best of luck in the Le Mans 24 hour.

 AB: Thanks a lot!

Hungary for more heavyweight battles: Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

It had to happen eventually. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have been battling hammer and tong all season long so far and, while we are all enjoying the psychological and physical challenges that come with a great title fight, we all feared that it might come to blows at some point.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone proved to be a resplendent one for action and drama over the course of two races that weekend, and it also saw the moment that our two front-runners for the world championship become intense adversaries.

Hamilton’s win following the lap one collision now places him eight points behind the Dutchman coming into Budapest, where all eyes will be on who can take the incentive going into the summer break.

The 4.3 kilometre Hungaroring has held 35 races in the Formula One Championship in its tenure thus far, and the 36th is as highly anticipated as ever, with two drivers not displaced to give an inch going head-to-head in the 11th round of the championship.

If 2019 is anything to go by, they may well end up being pitted directly against one another again, after the seven-time-champion caught the Red Bull driver following an extra pit stop, passing him to win a thrilling Grand Prix.

We may well see more side-by-side action between Hamilton and Verstappen this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

This was a time, however, when Red Bull were not in a position to contend for the title, and at a circuit in which Red Bull should thrive, Verstappen will be seeking instant redemption for Silverstone.

The 23-year-old comfortably took victory in Monaco earlier in the campaign, making him the favourite on a similar racetrack. But who else might it favour?

McLaren are bringing updates to the upcoming weekend, as they try to solidify their place in third in the Constructors’ standings. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz affirms that the McLaren is already the most difficult car to overtake. With Lando Norris’ three podiums and Daniel Ricciardo seemingly improving his pace, it is going to take a lot of work from the likes of Ferrari and Alpine to leapfrog McLaren. Charles Leclerc’s impressive performance over all three days at Silverstone, however, puts Ferrari in a positive position this weekend.

Charles Leclerc’s impressive performance at Silverstone saw him gain his first podium of the season – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Silverstone has made Budapest a spicy encounter before it has even begun, and we cannot wait. Be sure to follow our live coverage on Twitter and our website as F1 heads into its last race before the summer break.

F1 is coming home: British Grand Prix Preview

Football may not have come to England on Sunday, but as a new race week begins, Silverstone prepares to welcome Formula One for the 56th championship Grand Prix at the 5.8 kilometre track.

And this is a weekend of new beginnings, fresh ideas and uniqueness. The British Grand Prix will play host to the first of three sprint qualifying races in 2021, and though it may have divided opinion, there is a general anticipation of what the event will now look like.

The weekend will begin with a 60-minute practice session on Friday, before the usual qualifying format is contested for the shortened race on the Saturday.

The usual qualifying day will see a further practice session followed by a 100 kilometre race, where the top three drivers will receive points. This race sets the grid for the Grand Prix itself. Sunday will be a return to normality, as the 52-lap Grand Prix is tackled by the drivers.

Whether this is a genius initiative or just an ostentatious gimmick is up for debate – and it certainly has been debated – but there is no doubting that this is a ground-breaking moment for Formula One.

And it is certain that none of it will cast a shadow over the undeniable magic of a Grand Prix at Silverstone. For the first time since 2019, the Buckinghamshire racetrack will welcome a capacity crowd throughout the weekend in the midst of a heatwave, which will add to what is always a remarkable atmosphere at the former airbase.

The fans have encapsulated what the British Grand Prix is all about over the years – Image Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

And we hope to be in for a cracking weekend. 2020 saw two consecutive race weekends at this track, which saw Lewis Hamilton defy a last-lap puncture to win, before Max Verstappen took his first win of the season the following week.

It also proves a special one for the majority of the teams too. Seven of our 10 teams have bases in the United Kingdom, and many find themselves building some of the finest machines on earth just a small drive away from the circuit.

The Aston Martin team are based in Silverstone – Courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Team

But for whom will the weekend prove most rewarding? This has been a prominent question throughout the nine races of 2021 thus far, with an ambiguous distinction between Mercedes and Red Bull so far leading us to simply have to wait and see who will be faster.

Adding to this equation will be Mercedes’ much-anticipated update package, and there will be fascination over the effectiveness off it compared to Red Bull.

Incremental attention, meanwhile, is still being given to Valtteri Bottas’ future, as George Russell continues to be linked to the Brackley-based team for the 2022 season. The Brit has reaffirmed that there will be no update on these rumours this weekend.

Russell and Bottas were team mates last year the Sakhir Grand Prix following Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 test – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

It is a big weekend for many of the teams, as McLaren and Ferrari continue to battle it out for the third-best team after the enticing battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. There are 29 points up for grabs this weekend, and we cannot wait to get started!

Istanbul returns to Formula One calendar

In the latest Formula One 2021 calendar news, the Turkish Grand Prix has been confirmed as the 16th round of the season.

It will replace the Singapore Grand Prix, which was cancelled earlier on this year.

The 5.3 kilometre Istanbul Park held the 14th race of 2020, in a race which saw Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton pick up his record-equaling seventh world championship.

Lewis Hamilton won his seventh championship in Istanbul last year – Courtesy of Wolfgang Wilhelm

Originally drafted in to replace the Canadian Grand Prix, Turkey was shortly-thereafter removed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was replaced by a double-header in Austria, the first of which is being completed this weekend.

It is yet to be confirmed whether spectators will be permitted to attend the race.

Eight Formula One Grands Prix have been contested at Istanbul in F1, with the first seven held between 2005 and 2011. Following Sebastian Vettel’s win in the early part of the last decade, Istanbul was dropped from the Formula One calendar. Felipe Massa remains the most successful driver in Turkey, winning three in a row between 2006 and 2008.

Felipe Massa’s three wins make him the most successful driver in the history of the Turkish Grand Prix – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

The race will be held at the start of October, as part of a triple-header sandwiched between the Russian and the Japanese Grands Prix.

Charging Bulls Return Home: Austrian Grand Prix Preview

This is a familiar sight. Formula One embarks on a double-header in Austria starting this weekend, as Red Bull return to their home Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen’s victory in France last time out gives him a 12-point advantage as we approach the 4.3 kilometre circuit that also happens to provide some happy memories for F1 as a whole. Spielberg ended the drought of races during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, allowing fans around the world to enjoy cars going quickly in circles again. It hosted the first two races of 2020, and now returns to host the eighth and ninth races of a thus far remarkable 2021 season.

Red Bull have now won three consecutive races for the first time since 2013, and expectations that Mercedes were about to return to form in France were bulldozed by the Austrian team’s victory and double-podium.

Max Verstappen’s victory in France gives him a 12-point lead coming into Austria – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For what is really the first time since the arrival of the hybrid era, Mercedes find themselves in desperate need of a result. Red Bull are pushing them perhaps harder than anyone has been able to since 2014, and a short, technical track with little margin for error will likely suit Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, meaning that we are set for a stunning couple of races.

And the Red Bull Ring is not devoid of overtaking spots, so the battle behind the front two teams should be an intense one. There remains ambiguity over Ferrari’s sheer lack of pace in the French Grand Prix, with the Hard tyres refusing to switch on for either Carlos Sainz or Charles Leclerc, so keeping the rubber in check may just be another head-scratcher for the likes of McLaren, Alpine, Aston Martin and anyone else who plans to obtain third in the Constructors’ standings come the end of the year.

A terrible Sunday for Ferrari in France yielded no points – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

But that may not even have to be a factor. Thunderstorms, along with an orange weather warning, are anticipated this weekend in the Styrian mountains, so expect there to be some strategic and handling difficulty for the teams and drivers.

Mercedes need another bounce back, but they are going to have to achieve it in Red Bull’s back yard. The next two weeks will be massive in the context of this year’s world championship.

Splendid Verstappen takes French Grand Prix pole

A sterling performance from Max Verstappen saw him dominantly beat the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as he took his fifth career pole for this weekend’s French Grand prix.

We did not need to wait long for the third disrupted qualifying session in as many Grand Prix weekends, as Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda found the barriers after spinning on the exit of turn one. Mercedes looked as though they were returning to their irresistible form as Hamilton and Bottas briefly topped the timesheets, before the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez pegged them back again. The end of the session saw an immensely frustrating moment for Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen, as Mick Schumacher wrecked his Haas on the exit of Turn 13. He ironically secured his passage to Q2 as a result, costing the aforementioned duo their final Q1 laps. The Haas driver would however take no further part in qualifying; this was Schumacher’s second qualifying crash in the last three races.

An otherwise impressive qualifying ended with Mick Schumacher in the wall for Haas – Courtesy of Haas Media

A calmer second qualifying session saw Charles Leclerc narrowly scrape into the top ten, as Esteban Ocon, fresh off a new Alpine contract, was knocked out on the medium tyres. Fernando Alonso, who has not enjoyed the perfect return to the sport, will be glad of out-qualifying his home hero team mate this weekend. George Russell, who did ever so well to once again reach Q2, ended up fourteenth for Williams.

Fernando Alonso out-qualified Esteban Ocon at his team mate’s home race – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

Max Verstappen’s first run in the final session was an immense four tenths quicker than second best Lewis Hamilton, as Mercedes contrived to return to the front, but not to the top of the timesheets. Verstappen’s final run was an improvement of another four tenths, as Sergio Perez’s front row seat was short-lived, as Bottas and Hamilton displaced the Mexican, but still failed to get anywhere near the flying Dutchman, who looked simply unstoppable.

Verstappen’s pole position never looked in doubt in an exceptional performance – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

10 of the 16 races at the Circuit Paul Ricard have been won from pole, but the threat of rain tomorrow gives us a chance of a wide-open race, as Max Verstappen seeks to further press home his championship advantage.

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