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.

Let’s talk about Carlos Sainz’s season

Carlos Sainz has been the best, most consistent Ferrari driver and he does not get the credit he deserves.

When they say that a driver is underrated, I tend to believe that he is not – simply because we talk about him, we mention his achievements and, by definition, he is not underrated.

Carlos Sainz claimed his first Ferrari podium in Monaco – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari press Office

In Carlos Sainz’s case, things are different.

He is truly underrated, and without a doubt the most consistent driver in the midfield during this season.

Firstly, it must be noted that this is not the first year in which Sainz is consistent or his performance is going under the radar. His tenure in McLaren was full of races where he did everything correctly and got to the points or even the podium. He was a focal point of McLaren’s ascent to the top of the midfield, with their 3rd position in the contructors’ standings last year being the ultimate proof of Sainz’s contribution to the team.

And all this starts with his brave decision to leave the Red Bull ‘family’ and go to Renault at first, and then to McLaren. He chose to leave the Austrians, because he felt he could achieve more outside their Verstappen-focused system.

This was a decision that paid off. He found himself as a person and a driver in McLaren, and he’s more mature than ever coming to Ferrari.

Driving for the Maranello squad is -without saying- the most challenging experience for any driver – even the very best of them have crumbled under the pressure this position puts to you.

The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz brought the cars home in fifth and seventh respectively – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

It must be said though, that every modern driver’s first year at Ferrari is a good one, generally speaking. Kimi Raikkonen won his one and only title in 2007, Fernando Alonso was the favourite for the championship in 2010, Sebastian Vettel returned to his winning ways in 2015 and Charles Leclerc took 2 wins and 7 pole positions in 2019.

It’s the second year, and what comes after it, that gets into the nerves of most drivers in that team.

Nevertheless, even with that ‘caveat’ (if you can call it like that), Sainz is impressive in terms of his speed and consistency.

This is a rundown of the Spaniard’s results this year, both in qualifying and in the race. Bear in mind that he has received a penalty only once in terms of qualifying position, in last week’s Turkish GP:

Race Q position R position
Bahrain 8 8
Emilia-Romagna 11 5
Portugal 5 11
Spain 6 7
Monaco 4 2
Azerbaijan 5 8
France 5 11
Styria 12 6
Austria 10 5
Britain 10 6
Hungary 15 3
Belgium 11 10
Netherlands 6 7
Italy 6 6
Russia 2 3
Turkey 19 8

You will notice that his qualifying performance is not his strongest point. That’s not a bad thing at all, because he is extremely good in race pace.

He has that kind of race craft that allows him to gain places in the race, even when the car is not the most competitive in the midfield.

What I find the most impressive result of them all (up until this point) is the one in Istanbul. He started P19 due to the new engine Ferrari fitted to his car, and he absolutely drove the wheels out of it. In a damp track, with intermediates and no DRS use, he seemed to be able to pass drivers left and right.

Sainz has shown some early positive signs of promise do far for Ferrari – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

On top of that, Sainz has managed to out qualify Charles Leclerc 3 times and finish ahead of him in the race on 5 occasions – and this comes from a driver who came to the team to serve an unofficial no. 2 role.

This goes to show that he entered this year’s campaign with a lot of confidence, which derives from his meticulous preparation before the season, his deep understanding of a car he didn’t help develop and set up, and his tendency to maximise what the car’s limit is, even in difficult situations.

An example of this latter argument is his ability to preserve his tires and do the opposite strategy from other drivers in the midfield. This is a trait that is handy when your team is in a tight battle with McLaren, and you have to get every point you can to help them win.

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

Carlos Sainz is an asset for Ferrari at this point, and this makes their partnership ahead of the big regulation changes of 2022 even more interesting.

Main image courtesy of Ferrari Media

 

Turkish Grand Prix: Hamilton fastest in qualifying as 10 place grid penalty awaits

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton breezed past competition in Istanbul Park on Saturday afternoon to set the fastest lap in qualifying. Unfortunately he will be starting P11 thanks to an ICE change on his Mercedes, which resulted in a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton’s teammate Bottas is set to start from pole position after he finished P2 in qualifying and crucially for Mercedes, he will be starting ahead of Max Verstappen in the Redbull, who is set to start P2 on the grid after his P3 finish in qualifying. This could be an interesting line up in the grand scheme of things leading up to the WDC title fight between Verstappen and Hamilton. While Bottas is up there with Max Verstappen on the front row, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in the other Redbull will only be starting P6 tomorrow for the race.

The Ferrari of Charles Leclerc will line up at P3 on the grid tomorrow after the Italian team showed signs of pace in the free practice sessions on Friday. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz is set to start from the back of the grid thanks to a complete power unit change. The 2nd row will see a back in form Pierre Gasly line up at P3 after the French driver looked really fast throughout the weekend .Gasly’s teammate Tsunoda managed to make it to Q3 but could not make any major inroads and he will be starting P9 for the race tomorrow.

McLaren will have their work cut out for the race come Sunday, as Lando Norris could only manage a lap fast enough for P8 in qualifying, which means P7 for the race. The English driver would be looking forward to quickly put the disappointment in Sochi behind him by delivering a strong finish for McLaren tomorrow. Daniel Ricciardo had a qualifying session to forget, especially after coming to Turkey with very strong results in the last two races, a P4 in Sochi and a race win in Monza. The Australian driver will start P15 on the grid, thanks to grid penalties for Carlos Sainz.

Fernando Alonso has proven yet again this season that class is permanent, after he finished P6 in qualifying and making it look easy while other drivers were struggling for tyre temperatures and grip on a relatively damp track. The Spaniard will start P5 on the grid for the race tomorrow and his teammate Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine will only be starting P12 alongisde Lewis Hamilton at P11.

It was a relatively good day at the office for Aston Martin on Saturday, as Lance Stroll finished P9 in qualifying, which means a P8 start on the grid for the race tomorrow. The Canadian driver has had his moments in Q2 where he ran wide and was at the mercy of other drivers’ lap times. Fortunately he lived to fight another day and will be looking for some good points in the race tomorrow. His teammate Sebastian Vettel missed out on Q3 but will start P10, which is not all bad for the German driver as he will have free tyre choice for the race on Sunday, despite starting in P10.

George Russell in the Williams was so close to making it to yet another Q3 in the season but the English driver ran wide in the very last corner in the final run of Q2, undoing all the good work he has put in during the lap. which will serve as a A gentle reminder of how cruel F1 can be as a sport. He is set to start the race from P13 on the grid while his teammate Latifi will start from P16.

Haas finally had a moment that they could savour this season as Mick Schumacher made it to Q2 for the second time this season but unlike the previous time, participated in it and put in a lap that was good enough for P14. His teammate Mazepin had yet another qualifying session to forget where he would be just happy to have kept the car in one piece, after spinning multiple times during the course of Q1 and he is set to start P19 on the grid. Both the Alfa Romeo cars failed to get out of Q1 in changing track conditions and they are set to start with Giovinazzi in P18 and Raikkonen in P19.

Valtteri Bottas might not yet be done playing his part in the title race but unfortunately for the Finn, it will not be for his own sake. With his teammate Hamilton starting from P11, it is his job to battle Verstappen and prevent the Dutchman from taking a win, which would minimize the damage for Lewis Hamilton. It is set to be an exciting 9th world championship Turkish Grandprix as the championship fight for both constructors and drivers enters the final phase with 7 races remaining on the calendar.

 

Is Liam Lawson the next Denny Hulme?

Liam Lawson, the New Zealander from Hastings – no the 1066 location – this year has been racing on two fronts. He has been racing in the F2 Championship this year which has been split with huge gaps throughout the year to accomodate a new style and the DTM Championship driving a Red Bull sponsored AF Corse Ferrari in between these gaps. In 2019, he became part of their Red Bull junior programme which has allowed him to do this.

Denny Hulme on the other hand was the F1 World Champion in 1967 – often forgotten when you see the name 71 Champions, but he himself beat many Champions in that Season from Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Graham Hill to Jackie Stewart prior to his Championship wins. He competed until the 1974 season and remains the only New Zealander in the history of the sport to win the F1 World Championship amongst the nine that have competed from the Country, with Bruce McLaren and himself coming third in the years following closest to match it.

Lawson began like most karting before working up the lower formulas; he took the Championship over fellow countryman Marcus Armstrong who is a Ferrari Junior in the Toyota Racing Series and who sits second in the current F2 season. He moved directly through each series until F3, of which spending two seasons in 2019 and 2020 before moving to F2 this year. He currently drives for the Hitech team as he did in the second year of his F3 career with fellow Red Bull junior Juri Vips winning the Season opener in Bahrain sitting eighth in the Standings, whilst in DTM he once again won the Season opener and with a double victory at Red Bull Ring. He looks to be possibly on to winning that Series at his first attempt.

Lawson has impressed in his opening DTM season – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

In terms of machinery needed to win as well as the skill required he has Red Bull junior sponsorship, so could get a seat at one of the most powerful seats in modern F1, but of course there is competition for it. Looking ahead a few seasons you have current Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda, and Lawson’s current team-mate Yuri Vips. Tsunoda hasn’t set F1 alight yet; Pierre Gasly has outqualified him at every event this year, and the Japanese has scored little compared to his team-mate. With patience not one of Helmut Marko’s strong skills, if it doesn’t improve Lawson’s gap to F1 could open sooner rather than later in that aspect. Yuri Vips is currently 6th compared to Lawson’s 8th in F2, and he was the test driver last year for Red Bull. He has had half a season more due to his age of 21 to Lawson’s 19 in that Formula. In respect to Sergio Perez, at 31 on a rolling one year contract presently at the senior team, could Lawson be the one to take the helm of the second seat and control it on a consistent level? Red Bull haven’t had a 1-2 on the podium since Malaysia in 2016 and Helmut’s desire for domination is insatiable. 

In my eyes it is possible Liam Lawson could indeed be the Denny Hulme of the current era beating some Champions to the title, with the right machinery. The difference in circumstance in 1967 was that there were so few races. It maybe the case we will have 23/24 races when Lawson gets the chance; he has the skill and indeed the machinery available. It looks as though with Liam he has a plan to fall back on – his first Season in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM), he is currently 18 points clear of Kelvin van der Linde going into the final round at the Norisring, so if open wheeled Formula doesn’t work in the short term, he could return to DTM. He has got the control of these V8 monsters, and if even fancies a return to home, there are the V8 Supercars back in Australasia. He may even try Le Mans like Denny Hulme.

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.

Qatar completes 2021 F1 calendar

The F1 paddock this season have been known for keeping the worst secrets, like George Russell’s move to Mercedes that took a while to be confirmed. It’s been touted for a while now that the Losail International Circuit in Qatar will host an event this year, as F1 has been reviewing options to replace the Australian Grand Prix since mid-August.

The FIA has officially confirmed the 20th round of the 2021 season will be held at this track on the weekend of 19-21 November, a part of the Middle East finale as F1 then travels to the new Jeddah street track in Saudi Arabia, before concluding at the updated Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi. The other interesting news is that Qatar will join the F1 calendar for 10 years from 2023 onwards as it has the FIFA World Cup to focus on in 2022, which suggests either F1 will either lose a race or is aiming for a 24-race calendar.

The Losail Circuit is 22 miles north of Doha, the capital of Qatar, and has a single stand of around 8,000 capacity, which they could expand for the F1 event. It holds an FIA grade 1 license and is 5.38km in length with a 1.06km start/finish straight which would be perfect for a DRS zone very similar to Bahrain. Since 2008 it has been known for night racing. The fastest time set at Losail by any motorsport is 1:35:741 set by Nico Hulkenburg in GP2 Asia qualifying in 2009.

Francesco Bagnaia at Qatar 2021 MotoGP. Image Courtesy of Ducati

Losail has been on the MotoGP calendar since 2004 and has been its season opener since 2007. World Superbikes have also raced throughout the years as the track favours two wheels compared to four, especially if you look at the twisty nature of sector two. The last four wheel action on the track was the World Touring Car Championship action in 2017.

The closest Losail has come to Formula 1 was the GP2 Asia series in the 2008-09 calendar, when it was a part of the six track championship. A worthy note is that Sergio Perez competed in that season of racing, finishing second in race one and winning race two, thus being the only driver on the current F1 grid to ever to compete there.

Will Lewis Hamilton make this his 30th different track to win on? Hamilton has done well at first time attempts in 2020 as he won at Mugello, Portimao and Imola, but 2021 is very much a different season for him and Mercedes.

The 2021 calendar is now complete, still with a record-breaking 22 events if not the 23 they wished. But sure that number will more than likely come next year with the Miami International Autodrome in May.

2021 Season Conclusion

10 Oct – Turkey (Istanbul Park) 🇹🇷

24 Oct – USA (COTA) 🇺🇸

7 Nov – Mexico (Mexico City) 🇲🇽

14 Nov – Brazil (Interlagos) 🇧🇷

21 Nov – Qatar (Losail) 🇶🇦

5 Dec – Saudi Arabia (Jeddah) 🇸🇦

12 Dec – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) 🇦🇪

Hamilton the history maker shows his class

Before the Russian Grand Prix weekend, many Formula One fans would have sighed at the prospect of a Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen 1-2 in Sochi. In the end though, we had by far the best Russian race since it’s debut in 2014, and one which was a microcosm of the season so far.

As soon as Max Verstappen opted for new power unit components after FP1 on Friday, his weekend was always going to be about damage limitation, whereas Lewis Hamilton knew he wouldn’t have a better chance to retake the championship lead with his main rival out of the picture. This looked like a straightforward task right up until the final moment s of qualifying, when old intermediates on a drying pitlane led to the smallest of mistakes from the seven-time champion. Fixing the front wing meant Hamilton (and Valtteri Bottas, who was held behind the Brit) only got one lap on slick tyres, leaving Lewis starting fourth behind Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, and his future teammate George Russell.

The rain caused a difficult day for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton on Saturday – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Still, many would have expected the Mercedes man to take an easy victory on Sunday, but this looked a lot less likely by the time the field reached the braking zone for turn two. Just like in the Monza sprint race, Hamilton was slow away, and he dropped to seventh before re-passing Fernando Alonso.

As his rivals pitted, this is where Hamilton’s mastery came to the fore. ‘Bono my tyres are gone’ has become the most feared message in Formula One, as it’s normally followed by purple sectors across the board for Car #44. For a man who was initially known as being hard on his tyres, Lewis seems to be able to eek out performance when the rubber is far from fresh, and this – combined with a less than ideal stop for McLaren’s Ricciardo – helped him jump up the order.

Once on fresh hards, Hamilton looked unstoppable. Sainz was dispatched with consummate ease, and the gap to Norris started rapidly reducing. Dirty air started having an effect though, and Lewis couldn’t quite get within that all important one second window.

Up until Spa, the prospect of wet-weather led to excitement rather than trepidation from Formula One fans. And Sochi proved that you don’t need monsoon-like conditions to cause drama; just a small shower can create panic and problems. As the heavens opened over the Black Sea coast, Norris initially extended his lead, and it looked like we were going to get a second debut winner of the season. Both drivers stayed out when the majority were pitting, before a decisive move from the McLaren driver proved to be costly. Whereas the Woking team were more advisory about Lando pitting, Mercedes were insistent: The slicks would soon be skidding, and intermediates were the only option. Straight away Hamilton gained time, and within one and a half laps he was well on the way to his hundredth victory – a simply staggering achievement.

Of course, the irony in this is that the rain hindered Hamilton’s chances of taking a record-breaking eighth title. Max Verstappen was in seventh, struggling to make up ground before the downpour, and he came in at just the right time to shoot up the order, finishing in second, and an astonishing eighteen places higher than he started. A twelve point swing had been reduced to seven, and he is now just two points behind with seven races still remaining.

Max Verstappen’s sublime recovery saw him limit the ground lost to Hamilton in the standings – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For Lando, his time will come. And with an extra engine in the bag, Max may well be slight favourite for the championship despite trailing in the standings, thanks to a drive which again showed why many expect him to be the man to pick up the baton from Hamilton. But yesterday was Lewis’ day. Even the young karter from Stevenage could have barely imagined getting one hundred race victories, and there’s no reason why more won’t be added to the tally. The greatest of all time? That’s a bold statement. The greatest of his time? Unquestionably. The future is bright for Formula One, with Max, Lando, George and Charles Leclerc all looking like world championship material. But you’d be a brave individual to bet on any of them to surpass the achievements of Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton.

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.

‘Schumacher’ review – An incredible, bittersweet look at the man behind the legend

image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

I want to preface this review by simply stating that I am a big Michael Schumacher fan. My childhood coincided with the glory days of Michael and Ferrari, and so I had a lot of vested interest in this documentary. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

‘Schumacher’ is a celebration of Michael’s career and an intimate look into his psyche, his will to win and his personal life from those who know him best. We get stories from his family, commentary on vital parts of his career from those in and around him at the time, and candid archive interviews from the man himself on topics such as life, death, and Formula One.

For those who watched during Michael’s heyday will know he was a ruthless competitor whose hard work, determination and desire to be the best made him come across as somewhat robotic at times. But this documentary humanizes him in a way that those not close to the superstar maybe wouldn’t have noticed.

There’s a section devoted to how he would stay late working on the car and really making an effort to talk to each and every mechanic, as well as ensuring everyone in the team was appreciated, even the cook.

Though perhaps one of the most pertinent parts of the two-hour doc is following the tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, in which F1 legend Ayrton Senna passed away following a high speed accident. Michael spoke on how his analysis of a race circuit changed. He was driving around Silverstone thinking about how he could die at every corner. Michael rarely expressed fear during his career, and this shows he is in fact human.

Schumacher was no stranger to controversy though, and this movie doesn’t shy away from that. It shows the infamous incidents at Adelaide in 1994 and Jerez in 1997. Two title finales which involved collisions with Williams drivers. One working in Michael’s favour, and one not. While the footage was shown, you are given insight from Ferrari’s head honchos at the time; Jean Todt and Ross Brawn. Brawn even admitted that Michael could overstep the line sometimes in the pursuit of victory, and to have that insight from someone so vital in Michael’s success is truly fascinating.

The highlight of the documentary is without doubt the bittersweet ending, the ending focuses on his family, who are the real stars of the piece, his wife Corinna, daughter Gina, and son Mick. It shows beautiful footage of family holidays , having fun together as a family. Days which have sadly long gone since Michael’s tragic skiing accident in 2013. Since which Michael hasn’t been seen and news of his condition has been minute.

A line which as stuck with me is from Michael himself about how he started to regret his Formula One comeback in 2010, and how he should now be spending time with his family. Time which sadly, he didn’t really get to enjoy for obvious reasons.

But it’s his son’s words which cut the deepest with so many. He speaks of his regret that they can’t ‘speak the language of motorsport’ together, and that he would ‘give anything to be able to do that.’ Mick is now forging his own path in Formula One competing for the Haas team this season, and you just have to believe Michael is watching somewhere and is immensely proud of his son.

His family and management have come under scrutiny for the lack of information given about Michael’s current state. Unfortunately, this documentary won’t give you much more of an idea, but it’s clear to see why things have been sparse in the way of updates. Throughout his career he was shy, reserved, and liked to keep his family matters out of the limelight. He was reluctant to talk to press and this film illustrates that at various points.

It’s clear to see and understand why the family haven’t given us any information. Corinna says it best herself: ‘Michael protected us, and now we must protect Michael.’

Naturally this film is going to be compared to the also-excellent documentary on Ayrton Senna, someone Michael idolised. There are some parallels between the two, both giants of the sport, both incredibly quick drivers, but sadly, both of their legacies are shrouded in tragedy. Neither are present to tell their own stories.

The best sports documentary I’ve seen is The Last Dance, a look at basketball behemoth Michael Jordan and his dominance with the Chicago Bulls. In this Jordan is there to give hindsight into his actions and look back on his own career. Sadly, Senna nor Schumacher have been able to do that. While that doesn’t detract from ‘Schumacher’, it makes you upset and leaves you feeling empty that the great man isn’t who he once was.

I’m proud to admit I wept at the ending; this man resonated with me as a kid sat in front of the TV watching this amazing sport, his posters on my wall. He was a big part of my childhood and listening to glowing tributes from those who knew him best and even those who fought him hardest (Mika Hakkinen & Damon Hill for example), really leaves a catch in your throat and a tear in your eye.

Is this film better than Senna? In my opinion, yes. Even for people who do not enjoy Formula One, it is a must watch. For those who do, it’s a tear-jerking, bittersweet, rollercoaster of emotions and a celebration to Der regenmeister.

Keep Fighting Michael – wir sind alle bei dir.

Italian GP: Bottas takes top spot for sprint race as Verstappen comes 3rd

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas pipped Lewis Hamilton to take the top spot for the sprint race on Saturday. Mercedes looked fastest in free practice 1 which also translated into the qualifying form for the German team as they beat Redbull by quite a margin. Hamilton will however be slightly disappointed not to have had the top spot as he will have to start much closer to championship rival Verstappen.

In a qualifying session where drivers were playing all sorts of tricks to have the all important tow in Monza, McLaren shined well. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo managed to put in a shift and placed their McLarens at P4 and P5 for the sprint race tomorrow. Verstappen could find no answer to the sheer pace of Mercedes and has to settle with 3rd spot for tomorrow while his teammate Perez in the other Redbull will be starting P9.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 10: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing and Sergio Perez of Mexico and Red Bull Racing talk in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 10, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Pierre Gasly continued his stellar run this season as he has put in yet another great performance in qualifying and put his Alpha Tauri at P6 for the sprint race tomorrow. His teammate Tsunoda however has his work cut out after a deleted lap time in Q1 means that he will be starting the sprint race from P17 tomorrow.

Both the Ferraris will be starting the sprint race from P7 and P8 with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc respectively, a result which the 50% capacity Monza crowd would probably not be too happy with.  Leclerc’s Ferrari experienced some engine braking issues during Q1 but Ferrari were able to fix it during the session and the Monegasque driver managed to make it to Q3.

Antonio GIovinazzi of Alfa Romeo continued his impressive run after the summer break as he qualified P10 for tomorrow’s sprint race after some really good laps in Q1 and Q2. The Italian might just be in serious contention to retain his seat alongside the newly announced driver Valtteri Bottas with a run like this. His teammate Robert Kubica who is still the stand-in driver for Kimi Raikkonen in the other Alfa Romeo could not manage get out of Q1 and will be starting at P19.

Aston Martin had both their cars knocked out in Q2 with Sebastian Vettel set to start P11 and Lance Stroll set to start at P12. They will be followed by both the Alpine cars in Fernando ALonso at P13 and Esteban Ocon at P14. This could be an interesting little midfield battle brewing in the bottom half of the grid and could make the sprint race all the more interesting.

Williams’ Geroge Russell made it out of Q1 thanks to Tsunoda’s deleted lap time but could not make a mark in Q2 after he is set to start at P15. His teammate Latifi in the other Williams will be starting from P16. The back of the field is yet again the familiar cars of Haas with Mick Schumacher at P18 and Nikita Mazepin at P20.

With points on offer for the top 3 finishers of the sprint race, Valtteri Bottas is set to start at P1 alongside Lewis Hamilton at P2, followed by Max Verstappen at P3. Bottas who has taken new engine components which exceeded his quota of allocated parts, will be starting the Italian GP from the back of the grid. However, a tactical move by Mercedes now means he will still start the sprint race from the top spot. This could mean that Mercedes could deny Verstappen a chance of getting any points from the sprint race.

2021 Italian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

A new F1 qualifying format is set to be put to its 2nd test followed by SIlverstone from last time around. Monza being quite the track known for its sheer speed and overtaking, the sprint race which decides the grid for Sunday’s race is set to be a thriller.