2021 US GP: A premature Mexican standoff, with a predictable winner

Max Verstappen took a closely fought win at Austin, but his Red Bull was good enough for him to get the 25 points, with the strategy being the tip of the iceberg.

The US Grand Prix proved to be less of a write-off for Red Bull and Verstappen than they thought. Coming in to this week’s race, team principal Christian Horner, team advisor Helmut Marko, and even Verstappen himself didn’t believe that their car had any chance beating the Mercedes at COTA – and for good reason.

Before last Sunday’s race, Mercedes had only lost twice at that track: in 2013, to Sebastian Vettel, and in 2018, to Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis Hamilton had won four times, with Valtteri Bottas getting the win in 2019.

Kimi Raikkonen took what is likely his last ever win in Formula One at the US Grand Prix in 2018 – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

All the odds were in favor of a Mercedes win once again, but it did not pan out that way.

The reason for this ‘upset’ – if you can call anything an upset during this up and down season – lies primarily in the temperature of the track.

Red Bull are known to be able to hold their tires in a better shape even in hot conditions. Austin proved to be one of those occasions where the sun blasted on the track for the whole three days of the event, and especially on Sunday, when the forecasted rain never came by – not even a cloud!

As a result, Verstappen was in an advantageous position, since he was able to maximise the potential of his tires, without worrying to much about their longevity. He, of course, managed his pace in order to preserve the tires’ life, but he didn’t hold back when he didn’t have to.

Verstappen drove a superbly consistent race to hold off Hamilton for the victory on Sunday – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes had to play it safely for the better part of the race. They knew that they had to get Verstappen at the start, and they succeeded, since that was the only way that they could win the race given the circumstances. But they saw that Verstappen had the pace to keep up with Hamilton, staying below the one second-mark during the first 10 laps of the race, and that he pitted earlier than predicted. They then understood the necessity of going longer on their stints to try to combat the Austrians’ undercut attempts.

“I had a great start. The goal was to get in the lead and I finally got a good start – I’ve not had as good a start as that for a long time so I was really happy with it,” said Hamilton.

“Then it was just about staying clean and coming out ahead and holding onto it. It felt good at the time, to get into the lead, I thought ‘okay, this is step one’ but, as I said, they were just too quick.”

Hamilton took the lead on the first lap, before being pegged back by the rapid Verstappen – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Indeed they were.

It was the confidence of Verstappen to keep a competitive pace with a semi-worn set of tires, especially on his last stint with the hard compound, that won him the race.

Based on the teams’ calculations, a car that wanted to overtake another car in front of it had to be at least 1.2 seconds faster than it. Hamilton was at the very best 0.6 seconds faster than Verstappen in the latter stages of the race, and when he got close to DRS range, he lost some of the downforce due to the Dutchman’s wave of dirty air, and the tires not gripping for Hamilton as much as they did before.

Red Bull played it out beautifully, but they did have the odds with them – even though they didn’t think they did until Saturday afternoon.

US GP: Verstappen drives to the limit to win in Texas

Max Verstappen pushed his Red Bull to the limits after being chased by Lewis Hamilton all the way to chequered flag in the scorching heat of Austin.  The Dutchman, cheered on by his fans in Austin, just about managed to keep the fast chasing Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton behind and managed to get himself a crucial win in the bid for the Drivers’ Championship.

The race was largely played out on the strategic thinking of the Red Bull and Mercedes teams ever since the first round of pitstops. Hamilton, who was starting from 2nd on the inside line, had a great getaway in comparison to Verstappen and assumed the lead of the race going into turn 1.  Verstappen managed to keep up with the Englishman for about 10 laps before Red Bull triggered the undercut and got Verstappen into the lead of the race.

The battle of the strategies continued onto the second phase at around lap 30, when Red Bull called Verstappen in early again – perhaps a bit too early in comparison with Hamilton who them went on for 8 more laps, providing himself with a tyre advantage towards the end of the race. Mercedes’ strategy was proving to be the right one as Hamilton kept chipping away Verstappen’s lead but it all came to nothing in the end as the English driver simply could not get past the Red Bull. Verstappen now has a 12-point lead heading into the last five races of the championship and this win might prove to be crucial come the end of the season.

For Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, it was a decent afternoon as he finished on the last place of the podium but the Mexican driver had to put in quite a physical effort as his drink system wasn’t working. Perez however kept his head and finished 3rd, which is a very welcome result for Red Bull in the context of the constructors’ championship.

Sergio Perez overcame adversity to finish a very respectable third for Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

It was Ferrari vs McLaren that was the other talking point of the race apart from the championship battle. It was intense racing from lights out between both the teams as they had a lot to fight for in the Constructors’ Championship. Charles Leclerc got the Italian team the best result he could after finishing P4 in what was a lonely drive for him; the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was involved quite heavily from lap 1 with the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. The trio of drivers raced hard throughout the Grand Prix but Ricciardo got the better of Sainz by finishing P5, after the Spaniard was also hunted down by the faster Mercedes of Bottas towards the closing stages and only managed a P7, while Bottas ended P6.

Ferrari beat McLaren by four points in what has become an enthralling battle for third in the Constructors’ standings – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

Lando Norris in the other McLaren had to settle for P8 in the race but will take joy from the fact that McLaren still hold a very slender 3.5-point lead over Ferrari in the standings. Yuki Tsunoda drove a decent race for AlphaTauri and managed to finish P9, picking up two points for himself in the process. His teammate Pierre Gasly however had no luck as a suspension issue forced the Frenchman to retire his car early in the race on lap 15.

There were other retirements in the race as well and unfortunately for Alpine Racing, it was a double disaster with Ocon retiring on lap 42 due to an unexplained issue while his teammate Alonso retired close to the end of the race on lap 51 with a broken rear wing on his car. The Spaniard did provide a lot of entertainment in the laps that he raced after close battles with Alfa Romeo that saw him going off track multiple times. He came out on top in these battles but it was all undone towards the end because of his retirement.

Sebastian Vettel got the last remaining points place after finishing P10 in his Aston Martin despite starting on the penultimate row of the grid. The German driver made up places early on in the race and drove consistently in a Grand Prix which involved a few scraps with George Russell in the Williams, but the four-time champion did well to make his way through the pack to grab the final point on offer. His teammate Lance Stroll managed a P12 finish after he tangled with the Williams of Nicholas Latifi on the very first lap of the race. The Canadian driver recovered from that over the course of the race and managed a decent finish.

Alfa Romeo, who had endured the wrath of Alonso during the race, did manage to see the chequered flag with Antonio Giovinazzi finishing in P11 just outside the points while Kimi Raikkonen managed a P13 finish. The Finnish driver could not keep his car on the track towards the end of the race and wandered off on to the grass. This cost him a higher place and even a possible points finish with his Alfa Romeo.

Williams finished with George Russell in P14 and Latifi P15 respectively, an afternoon with not much for the British team to cheer. Russell, starting in P20, made up as many as five places on the opening lap but could not make more inroads apart from that. Latifi had to come very early into the pits for a front wing change after he got into a first lap incident with fellow Canadian driver Lance Stroll. Both the Haas cars finished last of the remaining runners with Mick Schumacher in P16 and his team mate in P17.

The main talking point of the race was the battle for the win as Verstappen extended his lead at the top to 12 points going into the next leg of American races in Mexico and Brazil. This lead could come in very handy for the Dutchman as these tracks have favoured Red Bull in the recent years. Hamilton will have his work cut out in the coming races if he is to have that alluring 8th world championship crown to his name.

US GP: Verstappen takes pole in a front row lockout with Hamilton

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Red Bull and Verstappen reigned supreme at the circuit of the Americas on Saturday as the Dutch driver beat Hamilton to pole by two tenths of a second, setting up a front row lock out with his championship rival. Verstappen’s teammate Perez will start the race at P3 after a strong qualifying, which could come in handy for Verstappen in his fight for the title.

Mercedes struggled to match the Redbulls for pace in qualifying until Hamilton pulled out a decent lap in the last run of Q3. Unfortunately it was only emough to get the better of one Redbull and it was not his rival Verstappen. The Englishman has it all to do in the race on Sunday to try and beat Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes will be starting P9 on the grid after yet another engine change which means a grid penalty. This could be a blow for Mercedes in a scenario where they would require Bottas to play the team game in order to try and push for the driver’s title.

Ferrari looked fast over the course of the weekend in free practice sessions but even with that, their pace was no match to that of Redbull and Mercedes. They will be starting P4 and P5 on the grid with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz respectively and crucially ahead of both the McLarens who are their closest rival in the constructors championship.

A nice battle is now shaping up for third place in the constructors championship between McLaren and Ferrari with only 7.5 points between them and both the McLaren drivers will be starting at P6 with Daniel Ricciardo and Norris at P7 respectively. With both the Ferraris ahead of them, they will have their work cut out from lights out if they want to maintain 3rd in the constructors championship.

Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauris completed the last remaining spots in the top 10 after qualifying P9 and P10 respectively. The 5th row on the grid will however change tomorrow as Bottas’ penalty relegates him to P9 while Gasly moves a place ahead to P8. Both the drivers for the Italian team managed to put in clean laps which was not the case for many other drivers on Saturday.

Esteban Ocon in the Alpine qualified at P11 after a little help from his teammate Fernando Alonso . The Spaniard who has taken a new engine this weekend will be starting from the back of the grid but showed that he was a true team player by providing Ocon a tow on the back straight in Q2. It was however not good enough for the Frenchman to make it all the way to Q3.

Sebastian Vettel and George Russell will be joining Alonso at the back of the grid after taking new engine components and incurring grid penalties. This however did not stop them from making it to Q2 and setting times. With Vettel’s time being faster than Alonso’s and Russell’s he will be starting P18, while Alonso will be starting P19 followed by Russell at P20.

Giovinazzi made it to yet another Q2 continuing his decent qualifying form and will be starting the race from P12 which gives him a good chance to grab some world championship points. Unfortunately for his teammate Kimi Raikkonen, it was an unstable Q1 after having lap times deleted and the Finnish driver will be starting from P15 on the grid.

Russell’s teammate Latifi in the Williams will be starting from P14 on the grid after qualifying P17 and both the Haas cars will be starting at P16 and P17 respectively, a bit higher than the usual. Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin will be starting P13 despite getting knocked out in Q1, where he looked quite off the pace compared to his teammate.

The battle for the driver’s championship is waiting for yet another chapter to be written in its tale as Verstappen and Hamilton go into the race with a front row start. With the way that the battle has shaped up so far this season, it is set to be yet another exhilarating start to the United States Grandprix, which will makes its return after two years and is on the verge of delivering a classic race.

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

 

Dominant Bottas wins ahead of the Bulls!

A dominant performance from Bottas to win ahead of both the RedBulls. But a Mercedes strategy call meant that Hamilton lost track position of P3 to finish P5 after holding off Gasly in P6. Carlos Sainz was awarded driver of the day after an outstanding performance to finish P8 from starting at the back of the grid.

The weather appeared to be playing a major role all weekend and rained before the race leaving a damp track to start and the intermediates on. Colder conditions often favour Mercedes with Hamilton having to take a penalty for a new combustion engine, this is something he was looking to take advantage of. Verstappen however was hoping to take the opportunity to take the lead and pull a gap in the championship.

After a poor result for Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying yesterday, McLaren decided to take a new engine themselves and therefore he started at the back of the grid with Sainz.

Lights out and Bottas got a great start leading Verstappen into turn 1. Alonso tried to go around the outside of Gasly but was tapped and spun, coming back into P15. Once back on the track in an attempt to move forward he tapped Schumacher. Gasly later gained a 5 second penalty for his incident with Alonso and the Alonso got one for the collision with Schumacher. Perez gained on the pair up the inside of turn 1, lap 1 moving up to P3. Hamilton gained a place on lap 1 and then moving into P9 by lap 3.

Yuki Tsunoda, leads Sebastian Vettel  and Lewis Hamilton  at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Carlso Sainz was on a charge from lap 1. By lap 7 he gained another place and was up in P12, making the moves looking simple, and gaining positions every lap. The other driver on a charge was Hamilton. Finally making past Tsunoda after 7 laps with an excellent move around the outside of turn 3 and then dispatching of Stoll and Norris in the following 2 laps all while getting fastest lap.

The track was drying slowly due to the 94% humidity so talk of slicks seemed a little way off on lap 15, but Hamilton using all the warm intermediates to gain on Gasly by 1.5 seconds a lap and overtook with ease. He was now in P5 and hunting down Perez at a rapid pace. Sainz also gaining was in P10 after a slightly risky move making contact with Vettel into the final chicane.

Just 2 laps later and Hamilton complained of bald inters, bringing back the interslicks on a still damp track. RedBull seeing this then looked to release Verstappen from tyre perseveration as he started to gain by nearly half a second and achieve fastest lap. Bottas responded producing a fastest lap himself.

Lap 26 and everyone was trying to decide if it’s worth changing to new intermediates. Ricciardo had taken that decision a couple laps earlier and was now matching the leader’s pace. Just to add to the mix it had begun to rain slightly, stopping the track from drying but not heavily wetting the track. However, 4 laps later and Ricciardo’s speed neutralised, he was lapping the same as the people around him down in P18.

Hamilton meanwhile was still gaining on Perez passing through the backmarkers of Haas cars. There was nearly drama as Mazepin was shown the blue flags but closed the door on Hamilton almost clashing just to let him through on the back straight. Whilst this delayed Hamilton he was still gaining quickly on Perez and was within a second by lap 33.

Lap 34, Hamilton was with Perez and turn 12 the Mercedes picked up the slip stream and tried t go around the outside of turn 12 with the inside line for turn 13. Side by side Perez ended up to the left of the pit bollard but continued down the main straight to come out ahead of Hamilton by turn 1.

Sergio Perez  leads Lewis Hamilton during the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Between lap 36 and 38 many of the drivers were pitting for new inters, however Vettel and Aston Martin decided to go for the medium slick tyres. He didn’t even complete a lap before coming back in for inters after spending most of the time sliding off the track.

Leclerc had been quietly going about his race and as the leaders pitted he then became P1. Happy with his tyres though, he decided to stay on his interslicks and keep track position. Hamilton agreed as on lap 41 Mercedes asked him to box and he refused.

Lap 46 and Leclerc was trying to hang on but Bottas was just that much faster and overtook him on the main straight. At this point Leclerc gave in to the team and pitted for new inters which looked to be a good decision because his teammate was setting fastest laps on tyres only a few laps older.

After resisting the team Hamilton pitted on lap 51 because Mercedes were insistent. He lost track position to both Perez and Leclerc. Now frustrated he lost P3 he was on a charge to get back to the podium gaining over 3 seconds on Leclerc on lap 53. However, graining on the tyres meant that he lost time to Leclerc and Gasly was just 1 second behind him. The strategy call from the team did not worked for them.

Valtteri Bottas won the race after a solid performance. Verstappen finished P2 not really battling Bottas all race knowing that he would gain points on Hamilton in the championship. Perez did an excellent job to put both the RedBulls on the podium. Leclerc finished P4 with a very frustrated Hamilton in P5, holding off Gasly who finished P6.

Verstappen now takes the lead of the championship heading into the next round by 6 points. No one has led the championship this year by more than 8 points and it looks like its going down to the wire, much to every F1’s delight.

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) 🇦🇪