The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.
It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.
A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.
The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.
AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.
For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.
Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.
It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.
2016 Formula One World Champion Nico Rosberg’s team have sealed a second event win in as many races to extend their lead at the top of the Extreme E Constructors Championship.
Semi Final 1:
Sunday’s action kicked off with the first of the two semi finals. With the top two finishers out of X44, RXR, and Abt Cupra progressing to the final, it was sure to be an entertaining watch.
RXR lined up on the inside, with X44 alongside. Abt Cupra took to the outside grid slot. As the lights went green, there was a lot of initial wheel-spin. Ekstrom in the Abt Cupra was the quickest off the line though, and took an early lead into the first breaking zone. Just behind him X44’s Loeb and RXR’s Kristoffersson were battling it out for second place. Loeb narrowed ahead but Kristoffersson attempted a huge switchback move and took the position. All three cars ran nose to tail all the way through the lap but nobody was able to get by. As they came into the switch zone, Abt Cupra lead RXR, who lead X44.
However, more issues for Jutta Kleinschmidt in the switch-over saw Abt fall to the back of the pack and RXR take the lead. Gutierrez pushed Taylor the whole way but just could not find a way through, and, despite Jutta’s best efforts, she was not able to reclaim a position. RXR crossed the line just two seconds ahead of X44, who were themselves just one second ahead of Abt Cupra. Some incredible misfortune meant Abt Cupra finished the weekend in 5th position, as RXR and X44 progressed to the final.
Semi Final 2:
The second of the two semi finals was just as exciting as the first, arguably more so as Veloce, JBXE, and Xite Energy battled it out for the remaining two places in the final.
This time round, Veloce started on the inside with Jamie Chawick taking their start. JBXE’s Kevin Hansen, and Xite Energy’s Oliver Bennett lined up alongside her. When the lights went out it was Hansen who took the lead, using his hyper drive to extend the gap to the cars behind. As all the cars reached the first turn, JBXE lead with Veloce some way back in second. From there, Hansen continued to extend his lead as Chadwick and Bennett fought over second place the entire lap. For the most part Chadwick was able to keep Bennett behind, but an issue with the pit limiter meant Xite Energy took second in the final few corners before the switch. As all the cars came into the switch zone, JBXE held a significant lead with Xite Energy just edging out Veloce.
Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky took over for JBXE and continued to extend the gap to finish a whopping thirty seconds ahead of her closest rival. Behind her, however, Christine GZ and Stephane Sarrazin continued an enthralling battle. They followed closely the entire lap but Sarrazin spotted a gap and went for it, causing a tight squeeze through a narrow gate. He pushed his way through and, despite a late wobble with the pit limiter, managed to take the final spot in the final. Xite Energy’s weekend ended there, with them finishing 6th overall.
The race for positions seven to nine was hotly contested between the teams who had issues in Saturday qualifying.
Andretti United lined up on the inside this time with Acciona Sainz sandwiching the two American outfits. As the lights went out, Timmy Hansen for Andretti United took an early lead, but the experienced Carlos Sainz dived down the inside into the first braking zone and took the position. From there he built out a bit of a gap as Hansen and Price went nose to tail. Several times it looked like the Chip Ganassi car might get past Hansen but she was unable to and the teams entered the switch zone with Sainz leading Andretti, who lead Chip Ganassi.
But then came the Kyle Leduc show as he battled to make up the lost positions. He showed much of his qualifying pace and quickly closed in on the two leaders. Waiting for the bumpy section he had been so fast in all weekend, Leduc followed close behind Munnings and then put his foot to the floor. He screamed past Munnings before taking Sanz for a lead he would not lose. Munnings too closed in on Sanz but was ultimately unable to pass her. Chip Ganassi crossed the line first, followed by Acciona Sainz and Andretti United respectively.
The last race of the weekend welcomed two new teams to the final. JBXE and Veloce were taking part in their first final, with RXR and X44 both returning following their success at the Desert X Prix.
RXR started on the inside with X44 alongside. JBXE took the outside grid slot with Veloce taking the space next to them. As the lights went out Veloce’s Sarrazin got squeezed by X44 and JBXE and the Frenchman was forced to lift to avoid a collision.
This wasn’t the only close call of the opening lap though, as X44’s Gutierrez made contact with RXR’s Taylor. It appeared that Rosberg and Hamilton were wanting to renew their old rivalry. It would be short lived, however, as X44 were forced to retire due to damage from the collision. JBXE also stopped as the suspension broke going over a bump on the beach. As the remaining two teams reached the switch zone, race director Scott Elkins brought out the red flag.
Drivers swapped and cars repositioned on the starting grid, the final lap was to be a straight shoot-out between RXR and Veloce. The lights went out and Kristofferson immediately dominated bringing the RXR car home winners of the Ocean X Prix. Chawick suffered no issues and finished the race in second place. JBXE rounded out the podium despite not finishing the race, as Mikaela got round slightly more of the lap than X44.
Another strong weekend for Rosberg X Racing saw them top the Ocean X Prix, while Andretti’s qualifying problems saw them languish at the foot of the table. The final weekend standings:
RXR’s win saw them extend their lead at the top of the championship to 14 points over X44. Meanwhile a crucial 5 points were awarded to Chip Ganassi, as Kyle Leduc set the fastest time of the weekend through the super sector. The current championship standings:
RXR 71 Points
X44 57 Points
JBXE 44 Points
Andretti 37 Points
Xite 37 Points
Sainz 36 Points
Abt Cupra 35 Points
Veloce 31 Points
Chip Ganassi 30 Points
An incredible weekend of racing saw the middle of the championship fight become closer than ever, whilst bringing issues relating to ocean health to the fore. All eyes now turn to August as Extreme E continues on the glaciers of Greenland. You’d be crazy to miss it.
Reigning Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton’s team, X44 ended an enthralling Qualifying Saturday on top of the time sheets, showing strong pace going into tomorrow’s semi final.
Following little running in the first round, Veloce’s Jamie Chadwick started off qualifying for the second round of the inaugural season of Extreme E. After steady laps from her and her teammate Stephane Sarrazin, the team set a benchmark time of 11:37.599.
Image courtesy of ExtremeE – Sam Bloxham
Acciona Sainz got off to a strong start in their run, but the car unfortunately ground to a halt part way round Laia Sanz’s lap and they were unable to finish. Andretti United’s car also came to a stop but, after a lengthy delay, they were able to get moving again, finishing with a time of 14:39.659.
Image courtesy of ExtremeE –Sam Bloxham
Next was the turn of championship leaders and Desert X Prix race winners Rosberg X Racing. Some of the pace from the last round appeared to be missing though as, despite being on provisional pole, they set a beatable time of 11:02.310.
Abt Cupra followed RXR and their drivers put in a strong performance. Jutta Kleinschmidt, who was standing in for the ill Claudia Hurtgen, was particularly impressive, as the 58 year old rounded off their run to put them top of the table with a 10:58.122. Unfortunately for them though, during the changeover, Jutta entered the switch zone before the car had been put into neutral, and the team promptly received a 15 second time penalty.
Then came Lewis Hamilton’s X44, whose drivers put in a superb perormance which saw them leap to provisional pole with a 10:47.289. American racing team Chip Ganassi also had a strong showing with Leduc putting in a phenomenal performance. They ended Q1 just 4 seconds down on X44, with a time of 10:51.528.
JBXE and Xite Energy then rounded off an intriguing first qualifying session with times of 11:13.405, and 11:52.806 respectively.
The standings after Q1:
Chip Ganassi +4.239
Abt Cupra +25.833
Xite Energy +1:05.517
Andretti United +3:52.376
Acciona Sainz DNF
Going into Q2 the teams switched around their starting driver, which meant Stephane Sarrazin kicked off the final qualifying session of the Ocean X Prix for Veloce. The team had a relatively uneventful run and saw them post a combined time of 23:05.370.
Andretti United went into this session attempting to claw back as much of their lost time as possible. Unfortunately for the american outfit, they were unable to do so and were left with a 25:57.068. Their only chance of progressing to the semi finals would come from other teams running into problems.
Rosberg X Racing’s Molly Taylor got some serious air time in her final lap but some excellent car control prevented her from spinning out. They achieved a combined time of 22:12.438, putting them in a temporary pole position. Abt Cupra almost dislodged them straight away but ended up just 8 seconds behind with a 22:20.813.
X44 were the early pace setters in Q1, and another flying run from both of their drivers saw them jump up to the top of the time sheets with a 21:44.856. Close competitors Chip Ganassi got off to a tremendous start in their final qualifying run and were even a few seconds up on X44’s time. But then disaster struck. Just as Leduc entered the tree section, his car ground to a halt. After some desperate button pressing the car got going again, but it would be impossible to claw back the several minutes of time he had lost. Teammate Sara Price brought the car home, finishing with a 25:41.815.
With three teams having issues, remaining teams JBXE and Xite Energy just needed to have uneventful runs and see the cars home. Both teams did exactly that and finished with total times of 22:25.426 and 23:36.461 respectively.
Acciona Sainz rounded off the session after just managing to fix the issues they had had in Q1. With them not setting a time in that session, all they could do in Q2 was attempt to set the fastest time through the super sector. Both drivers pushed hard but ultimately neither were able to claim it from Chip Ganassi’s Kyle Leduc.
The final qualifying positions:
Abt Cupra +35.950
Xite Energy +1:51.600
Chip Ganassi +3:56.960
Andretti United +4:12.210
Acciona Sainz +1 Lap
Following an exciting Saturday the gap at the top of the team standings has closed slightly with RXR just 4 points ahead of X44. The current standings:
RXR 46 Points
X44 42 Points
Andretti 33 Points
Sainz 30 Points
Xite 27 Points
JBXE 26 Points
Abt Cupra 23 Points
Chip Ganassi 17 Points
Veloce 12 Points
All eyes now turn to Sunday where we will see the teams face off to determine the final finishing positions. In Semi Final 1, the first two finishers of X44, RXR, and Abt Cupra will progress to the final, where they will be joined by the top two finishers of Semi Final 2 (which consists of JBXE, Veloce, and Xite Energy). The shoot-out will be contested by Chip Ganassi, Andretti United, and Acciona Sainz as they vie for positions seven to nine.
It’s certain to be an exciting final day as the nine teams battle it out to be crowned rulers of the Ocean X Prix.
Back we come then to the scene of Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd Grand Prix victory in Formula One, and the seven-time champion seeks to use the energy of what has become a historic venue in the sport after just one race.
The theme of 2021 though, variably from Mercedes’ almost-unanswered dominance last year, has been the emergence of Max Verstappen as a genuine title contender.
With one win a piece, Hamilton is locked in a battle with Red Bull’s enigmatic Dutchman. A tricky, technical yet powerful circuit will be a test of both their skill and, almost as intriguingly, a test of Honda’s ability to challenge Mercedes this year.
Verstappen will also know that he has a team mate this year that can back him up. Sergio Perez out-qualified Verstappen by a slender margin last time out in Imola, but huge slices of misfortune in both of the opening two rounds have hindered the Mexican’s season thus far. There is no doubting, however, that he can be a huge help to Verstappen this weekend when strategies play out. Though in saying that, his hugely impressive pace will make him believe there are victories and title challenges on the cards for him behind the wheel of a Red Bull.
Part of the reason that strategies will be important is that it is difficult to overtake at Portimao; there are so many high-speed corners and few heavy braking zones – just ask Lance Stroll and Lando Norris how difficult it is to go side-by-side in Algarve.
This difficulty means that Valtteri Bottas, if he is to prove himself a useful backup to Hamilton and mount any sort of championship bid of his own, needs a big performance. His one-lap pace will need to be strong, as well as his race pace to hold off what will be an uber-competitive leading pack.
Bottas’ incident with Williams’ George Russell two weeks ago heated up what was already an intense rivalry for the Mercedes seat next season, although it is worth noting that Hamilton still does not have a contract beyond 2021.
Largely disappointing so far have been Alpine and Aston Martin. Fernando Alonso crashed before the start in Imola, compounding the French team’s tricky beginning to 2021. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were both put on the back foot through brake trouble before the race start; they are hoping for a trouble-free weekend in Portugal to give them the platform to succeed here. They still maintain that the current regulations adversely affect low-rake teams.
Title credentials are still to be established, rivalries are intensifying, and this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix is set to be a huge one.
When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.
Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.
Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.
The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.
Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.
Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.
One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.
It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.
Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.
But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:
“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”
“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.
On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”
“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”
Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.
“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”
On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:
“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”
There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.
On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns: “I’m not too concerned. “
“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”
Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.
Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.
Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.
Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.
Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.
Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.
Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).
However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.
Mercedes has unveiled its new W12, the car with which it hopes to win an eighth consecutive pair of F1 titles in the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
The Mercedes AMG F1 W12 keeps the black base livery introduced last year as part of the team’s anti-racism commitments, fading to silver on the engine cover. It also features much more prominent AMG branding across the car as per Mercedes’ plans to foreground its high-performance division within its F1 marketing.
The most visible changes to the design that’s carried over from 2020 are towards the rear, which is more tightly packaged around the engine. The front of the car is largely the same, which bucks the trend of the front-end development seen in the launches so far, but that could still change before testing next week.
Mercedes technical director James Allison called the W12 “an old friend in many ways”. However, he admitted that the launch spec of the car was missing some aero developments to the floor, which the team wanted to keep hidden from its rivals before testing.
Allison also said that AMG High Performance Powertrains have added more power to the engine for 2021. Beneath the chassis, the W12 features further improvements to the suspension and cooling systems.
Although the W12 is the clear title favourite for 2021, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff greeted the new challenger with his trademark scepticism. “Every year we reset our focus,” he said. “The scoreboard goes to zero and there’s always more performance to be found.
“It’s very natural to get used to success, and therefore not fight as hard for it. But this team has not shown any of that. I see the same fire, hunger and passion now as I did the first time I walked through the doors in 2013.”
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
What a year. 2020 was tipped by many to be one of the most exciting in modern times and, well they were not wrong.
This has been by far the most astonishing year any of us have ever witnessed, both on and off the track, and even the most ardent of optimists cannot deny that it has been a struggle for everyone.
However, you also have to appreciate the fruits that have come out of a very tough situation. We have seen amazing race tracks like Mugello, Imola, Istanbul, Portimao and the Nurburgring introduced to a revised calendar, which has been a real delight for us all.
We went from 22 races to 17, and it all culminates this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a year that has been dim for many, the floodlights will shine a light of F1’s season finale.
The 5.5 kilometre track made its debut in F1 in 2009, closing out Jenson Buttonb’s title-winning year, and Brawn GP’s successor Mercedes arrive here having won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014.
And this will fill them with hope, because a horrible race in Bahrain last weekend leaves them desiring a strong result to close out what has been an otherwise phenomenal year.
It is yet unclear whether newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who contracted Coronavirus in the build-up to the Sakhir Grand Prix, will recover in time for this weekend. It therefore may be that George Russell returns to the car that he so nearly steered to victory in a stunning debut last race, only to be denied by not one, but two disasters.
Mercedes fitted team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tyres to race leader Russell’s car, forcing him to stop again and Bottas to stay out on dead tyres after a safety car. Having passed Bottas and made his way back up to second, Russell was baring down on Sergio Perez, only for a slow puncture to send him back to the pits. He would finish ninth, while Bottas ended up just one place better in eighth.
It was the aforementioned Perez that took his first ever F1 win, and the first ever for Racing point too. Following his devastating retirement last race that cost him a podium, he gave himself a great chance of securing fourth in the drivers’ standings this weekend, while Racing Point have now moved 10 points clear of McLaren in the battle for third in the Constructors’. Renault sit a further 12 points back.
It makes for an extremely intense finale in the context of the midfield battle, with all eyes firmly fixed on who will claim valuable positions in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.
The gains will be valuable both financially and in terms of personal pride, and McLaren would be fully grateful of third following their cash flow issues at the start of 2020. As the race for third reaches a head, we eagerly anticipate this enormous battle between Racing Point and McLaren under the lights of Abu Dhabi.
It has been a tough year for many, but hopefully F1 has helped make it that bit easier for you all, and we look forward to covering one last race for you before we gladly turn our backs on 2020.
What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.
The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.
In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.
At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.
But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.
At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.
Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.
Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.
Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.
However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.
The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.
This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.
Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.
But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.
Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.
But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.