Heartbreak for Norris but it’s 100 for Hamilton!

Hamilton finally gets his 100th win in a race with changing conditions. Heartbreak for Norris who was leading for most of the race, but a call to stick to slicks as the rain got heavier with just 3 laps left meant that he finished P7. Verstappen gained the most though finishing P2 after starting at the back of the grid.

Qualifying yesterday created a dream top 3 for some fans, and with Verstappen starting from the back it was set to be a good race. Bottas took a shock engine penalty this morning meaning he start P17, interesting tactics by Mercedes? The weather, which had played a part all weekend, looked like it may play a part with rain out at sea closing in.

Lights out and Norris got a great start, Sainz was battling Russell through to turn 2 but wins out. Sainz picked up an incredible slip stream and takes the lead around the outside of turn 3. Hamilton had a terrible start, bogged down and lost out to Ricciardo and Stroll who picked up a slipstream from Hamilton as he was boxed in.

Now in P6, Hamilton was on a charge as part of the train behind Russell who was still in P3 on lap 5. Verstappen was making up places, up to P15 but was stuck behind Bottas. The Mercedes team game looking at the bigger championship picture. However, Verstappen made a move after just 3 laps, Bottas leaving the door open and Verstappen going through.

10 laps in and Norris was now within DRS of Sainz and closing every lap. Russell holding up the rest of the pack meant that the top 2 were now 7 seconds clear to battle each other. Just 1 lap later and Verstappen was making up more places. Leclerc made a move on Vettel on the inside of turn 4 but went too deep. Verstappen just behind wanted to take advantage, but nearly pinched into the wall he had to back out and wait for Leclerc to go wide again, which happened just 2 corners later.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Max Verstappen driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Lap 13 and Norris makes it past Sainz in a great move down the back straight using DRS. He managed to pull out a gap before Sainz went in to pit just a few laps later with an unfortunate slow stop. Stroll was the first to pit and took full advantage of the powerful undercut. Once Russell pitted, who was ahead of Stroll before pitting, he came out behind Stroll.

Ricciardo came into the pits 23 laps in. Both McLaren and Mercedes were ready but Hamilton was told to do the opposite. Ricciardo had a very slow stop trying to get to grips with the new, slower, pitstop system. The light didn’t change and therefore Ricciardo was held in his pit box. This played into Hamilton’s hands, who had a whole pitstop over Ricciardo. However, Hamilton, in clear air, decided to stay out longer and was putting in fastest laps. Lap 27 and having pulled a gap to Ricciardo, Hamilton had a clean stop but still came out behind Stroll. Verstappen pitted for mediums at the same time, coming out only 2 places behind Hamilton.

Norris finally pits for a set of hard tyres with a much cleaner stop. He came out in clean air with the 3 drivers ahead of him yet to stop. Hamilton on fresh hard tyres made use of the action packed back straight to dispatch of Stroll, Sainz and Gasly to begin gaining on Norris just over halfway through the race.

By lap 37 Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo, which was hurting his medium tyres. Perez pitted but had a very slow stop with problems on the rear right, meaning he came out just ahead of Verstappen. This is where team orders were expected but there was no change over and Verstappen lost out to Alonso who had fresh tyres, having pitted at the same time as Perez.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Sergio Perez F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Lap 46, the rain finally came around turn 5. Umbrellas were up and every team now deciding what to do because it came in initially as light rain. Norris thinking about the race win and Hamilton thinking about the championship. Sainz the first to make a call about getting ready for intermediates. Norris went wide on the wet corners, but Hamilton also had to go slowly around the corner and stayed behind Norris.

Trying to decide when to come in the entire grid were changing positions. Importantly Norris decided to stick with the slicks with a 25 second gap to Hamilton who did pit for intermediates. Hamilton had over a 40 second to Perez so knew he had a free pit stop.

As the rain got heavier chaos ensued. Norris couldn’t keep control and slides off down the back straight giving the place to Hamilton who was able to make up the gap with Norris  around. Verstappen, who did also pit for inters, took advantage of those falling off the track and made it up to P2 after starting from the back of the grid. Heartbreakingly for Norris, he couldn’t control the car into the pits, crossed the line twice and will likely get a penalty to add to his eventual P7 finish. Carlos Sainz rounded out the podium with a solid performance along with the right call at the right time for the intermediate tyres.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Race winner Lewis Hamilton, second placed Max Verstappen and third placed Carlos Sainz celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Yuri Kochetkov – Pool/Getty Images)

Sire Lewis Hamilton finally gets his 100th win. The first driver in Formula 1 history to achieve this especially in changing weather conditions. He also now leads the championship by only 2 points to Verstappen going into the next round.

Monza Sprint: Bottas wins but Verstappen on Pole

The highly anticipated second ‘Sprint’ of the season and it was Bottas who started at the front. He will take an engine penalty for tomorrows race but not for today because this was still part of qualifying. The strategic play from Mercedes was the talk of the paddock before the race with RedBull seemingly off the pace all weekend in comparison to the last few weeks.

Lights out and Hamilton had a terrible start losing 4 places before turn 1 putting him in P5. Gasly got caught up in the first corner pack and clipped the back wheel of Ricciardo, damaging the front wing and crashing into the barriers at turn 3 but was ok. In the other Alpha Tauri Tsunoda had an incident with Kubica at the second chicane, spinning Kubica. Tsunoda had to pit for a new wing, pushing him down to last. The safety car was brought neutralising the race.

Just 2 laps later and the safety car was in, Bottas had a great restart catching Verstappen out and pulling a gap to the RedBull. Alonso charging through the field on the restart and gaining places on Vettel and Ocon. Tsunoda made up 2 places on the restart and began his charge back up the grid.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 11: Yuki Tsunoda driving the (22) Scuderia AlphaTauri AT02 Honda during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 11, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

The chase was then on for Hamilton to get back to the front of the grid for tomorrow. He was hunting down Norris, consistently in the DRS zone but not able to put a move on him. Norris was on the saft tyres, so Mercedes were hoping his tyres would drop off and Hamilton, on the mediums, could take advantage. Unfortunately for them, Norris was solid in his performance on those tyres.

Lap 9 and Stroll was battling for P10 with Perez. Into turn 1 Stroll had the inside line forcing Perez off the track. The fight continued into the next chicane, but Perez told to give the place back for gaining an advantage and overtaking the Aston Martin by going off the track. With DRS the following lap, Perez made it around the outside going into turn 1 and this time stayed on the track to make it stick.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 11: Sergio Perez driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda and Lance Stroll driving the (18) Aston Martin AMR21 Mercedes during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 11, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Back out in front Bottas had pulled out a nearly 2 second gap to Verstappen. With the knowledge of Bottas’ penalty tomorrow, RedBull were happy to sit behind him and gain 2 more points on Hamilton who would not be gaining any points.

With 3 laps to go Perez was in P9, having dropped down at the start he was back up to his qualifying position. He struggled to get past Giovinazzi who was having a fantastic drive in P8 after a great qualifying session. They finished in P8 and P9, a great result for the Alfa Romeo driver.

Valtteri Bottas lead from start to finish and took the 3 points for todays Sprint. Verstappen finished P2 and Ricciardo P3 taking 2 and 1 points respectively. With Bottas’ penalty applied Verstappen will take pole position and a front row start for Daniel Riccardo and McLaren in P2. Norris will start in P3 and Hamilton has work to do starting in P4. McLaren look strong for the race tomorrow so RedBull and Mercedes will need to be strong to come out on top after 53 laps.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 11: Max Verstappen driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 11, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Dutch GP: Verstappen pole position at home race ahead of Hamilton as Giovinazzi and Gasly shine

image courtesy of Red Bull content pool/ Boris streubel Getty images

Max Verstappen stormed to pole position in his home Grand Prix at Zandvoort after beating championship rival Lewis Hamilton by 0.038 seconds.

In a qualifying session where Verstappen looked unbeatable, it seemed quite straightforward until the last run of Q3, where an incredible final sector from Hamilton looked set to be enough for pole but would just fall short.  Verstappen has now become the 35th driver to qualify in pole position at a home Grand Prix in what was a 70th pole position for Red Bull.

Mercedes will be happy with their qualifying result as Valtteri Bottas seemed quite comfortable with the track and there is a chance that both Mercedes can set about to chase Verstappen. This might become even easier following Sergio Perez’s early Q1 exit as he could not make the chequered flag to finish a lap and will be lining up 16th on the grid.

Pierre Gasly was terrific throughout the weekend and set a blistering lap in the second run of Q3 which will now see him starting from fourth, giving him and Alpha Tauri a real shot at a good points haul. Conversely, his teammate Tsunoda could not get out of Q2 after consecutive red flags towards the end of the session meant that he could not get a lap in. The Japanese rookie driver will be starting 15th and will be looking at a tough race come Sunday at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.

Ferrari delivered on their promising Friday pace as both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will start fifth and sixth. Sainz’s participation in qualifying was in doubt at one stage following the Spaniard’s heavy crash in the morning, but a swift job from the Ferrari mechanics meant that he was able to take part in the session.

Antonio Giovinazzi did a stellar job as the Italian driver put in a lap good enough to start in seventh place tomorrow, matching his best qualifying effort from Austria 2019. The driver will be happy with his performance after reports were that he was given an ultimatum by Alfa Romeo to prove himself in the races following the summer break. In a tough weekend off-track for Alfa Romeo with Kimi Raikkonen contracting coronavirus, reserve driver Robert Kubica stepped in and did a decent job of qualifying 18th in what was his first time driving an F1 car since Abu Dhabi 2019.

Alpine managed to get both their cars into Q3 with Esteban Ocon eighth and Fernando Alonso at ninth respectively. The team looks set for a double points finish after a good run in the last few races. However, it was a tough day for McLaren with Daniel Ricciardo being the only car in Q3 and will start from 10th position. Lando Norris looked off the pace and could only manage 13th.

It was a mixed afternoon for Williams as both cars managed to get into Q2 with George Russell set to start from 11th and Nicolas Latifi from 14th but both cars crashed in Q2 which eventually brought out consecutive red flags. Williams mechanics will have their work cut out overnight as there is damage on both the cars.

Aston Martin also had a tough outing as they were unable to make it into Q3  as Lance Stroll could only manage a lap good enough for 12th while Sebastian Vettel was left floundering in Q1 after being blocked by the Haas of Nikita Mazepin while aiming to set a competitive lap time. Mazepin is set to start 20th even before any possible grid penalties that might be awarded while his teammate Mick Schumacher is set to start 19th.

With the championship battle is shaping up nicely and there is virtually nothing between the leaders, the Dutch town of Zandvoort is set to produce a perfect F1 race following its 36-year hiatus. Home hero Max Verstappen starts on pole and with Hamilton next to him in second, it is set to be a cracker of a contest on Sunday.

 

Ocon on top in a dramatic race at Hungary

Esteban Ocon took his first Formula 1 victory and the first for the Alpine team in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring, after multiple drivers were taken out at the first corner.

15 minutes before the race start, rain started to fall on the track. Adding to the anticipation, it started light but was due to continue for the first 30 minutes of the race and get heavier before mostly drying out by the end of the race. Intermediate tyres on to start, Lewis Hamilton indicating on the radio he was ready for the fight in the rain. Hamilton and Max Verstappen are both known for performing well in the wet, possibly a leveller but definitely exciting!

Lights out and all eyes turned to Verstappen and Hamilton. Both got a great launch, but Valtteri Bottas had an absolutely dreadful start with wheel spin from third. Lando Norris got in front of him off the line but was tapped by Bottas from behind who had missed his breaking point. Norris then crashed into Verstappen and Bottas hit Sergio Perez. Norris and Verstappen managed to carry on with significant damage, but Bottas and Perez were out.

Further back in turn 1, Lance Stroll tried to avoid some cars by heading towards the apex, but ended up on the grass and collected Charles Leclerc who hit and spun around Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately, that was the race over for Leclerc.

Ricciardo kept going and Stroll was able to keep driving after damage to the front of his car. A red flag was called to gather the debris left around turn 1. This allowed the Red Bull team to fix Verstappen’s car, potentially saving him from retirement. Norris and Stroll then had to retire due to the damage from the incident.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Hamilton was still in P1, but others had benefited from a high attrition first corner. Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were the biggest winners, starting P2 and P3 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda was in P5, Carlos Sainz P4 and the Williams’ were P6 and P8 whilst Verstappen had really lost out and started in P13. A fight from the back was on after quick recovery work by Red Bull. There was a standing re-start as the sun came out to a now quickly drying track, but the question then was slicks or inters?

Hamilton was the only one starting on the grid, so the race was in the pits with everyone coming in for slicks. George Russell came out on top, and with Hamilton pitting after it looked like Russell would lead the race, but Russell was told by the FIA to give back the places he’d taken in the pitlane. Mercedes didn’t come out well with Hamilton boxing after the restart and ending up last and importantly behind Verstappen. So, on lap 5 Ocon was leading the race, with Vettel P2 and Nicholas Latifi P3. Hamilton was catching Verstappen who still had damage, so the race was on!

Verstappen managed to get past Pierre Gasly but then became stuck behind Mick Schumacher for five laps before passing him with a daring move through Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4. They did touch but both were able to carry on. Meanwhile Hamilton was struggling behind Gasly, locking up a few times but both Gasly and Hamilton managed to pass Schumacher in the next two laps.

Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on lap 20 in an attempt to change the strategy and go longer. Red Bull and Verstappen responded so made the stop just one lap later. Ricciardo pitted at the same time as Verstappen, and he came out in front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was coming down the straight as the pair came out of the pits. Hamilton took advantage and got past not only Verstappen but also Ricciardo, putting a vital car between the Championship rivals.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

On lap 32, Hamilton was the fastest car in the race passing Tsunoda into P5 with a fantastic move while Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo in P12. This move caused Ferrari and Sainz to react, and with enough gap Sainz pitted and came back out in P4 with fresh tyres ready to defend against Hamilton.

Meanwhile Schumacher was doing a great job in the Haas to keep 4 drivers behind him. However, after many laps of battling, Russell finally made it past Schumacher on lap 33 with a brave move on the outside of Turn 2. Schumacher then begun to lose places rapidly to Ricciardo and Verstappen on the next lap, very important for Verstappen in terms of the championship.

From the front, Vettel pitted with a slow stop but came out in P3, ahead of Sainz and Hamilton. Ocon told to push but Alpine appeared to have the advantage with both cars in the podium places fight. A good stop meant Ocon came out ahead of Vettel, but Vettel tried to fight it into Turn 4. Sadly for him nothing came of it and with only Fernando Alonso in front of Ocon it looked to be an Alpine win from lap 39.

It wasn’t over at the front though. Sainz and Hamilton in P3 and P4 were catching the leaders at a rapid pace. However, Hamilton pitted on lap 48 for the mediums. He came out behind Alonso, but this would mean he could push to the end of the race, with flashbacks to Hungary 2019 and Spain 2021. Vettel got closer to Ocon through the back markers in an attempt to pass him for the lead. On lap 50 the fight was not over with Vettel having DRS and the pressure piling on Ocon.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin (Courtesy of Aston Martin media)

Verstappen finally made a move on Ricciardo for P10 on Lap 61 and the final points position. This could be an important point for the championship and impressive driving considering the significant damage still on his car from lap 1.

On lap 57 a brilliant battle between Hamilton and Alonso began, Alonso defending and making the Alpine the widest thing on the track. This epic battle continued for over 10 laps, but Hamilton was eventually close enough when Alonso made a rare mistake and locked up into Turn 1. This did create problems for Hamilton though, who was on a mission to get to the front. However, catching Sainz on older tyres in P3 meant that just two laps later, Hamilton was in the podium places, but the gap was too big for Hamilton to catch Vettel in P2.

Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix! The first win for him and a great turn around since a relatively poor run of form. Vettel was in P2 after a great drive from the restart. Sainz was P4 ahead of Alonso, Gasly sneaked in a fastest lap right at the end in P6, and Tsunoda was P7. Both Williams finished in the points with Latifi P8 and Russell P9, which is vital for the constructors and their first double points finish since 2018. Russell finally managed to get those illusive points in a Williams!

For the championship Hamilton gained points on Verstappen, who finished P10, and leads going into the summer break. This has been a real swing in momentum after the British Grand Prix in the favour of Mercedes and Hamilton. It is all to play for as the teams regroup and look to improve for Spa at the end of August.

Home is where the heart is for Red Bull – Austrian GP preview

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.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (LAT Images / Mercedes AMG F1)

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.

 

Is Experience the Best Teacher?

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was definitely a race that was missed during 2020. A street circuit which often produces some exciting racing, testing overall straight line speed but allows for overtaking whilst testing the driver’s abilities to be calculated and precise enough to thread the car through the high walls of the circuit.

image courtesy of Getty images/ Red Bull content pool

Experience in an Formula 1 car is often key at tricky circuits like this, which shone through during this race, which did not disappoint. This week it seemed to be all about the older drivers putting in some epic performances which we know they are very capable of. They did give the young guns a run for their money, but it didn’t work out for all of them. Most drivers had solid races at Baku, but the skill of some of the experienced drivers was evident during the race, meaning they were able to maximise on what was a crazy race.

Perez is well known for his experience in an F1 car. Racing since 2011 in F1, he has learned a few things to keep in the mix when it counts, and this race was a clear example of that. In the early stages of the race he was able to keep up with Verstappen whilst keeping the 7 time world champion behind him under constant pressure. He managed his tyres well, showing pace in them during the pitstops, and had it not been for a slow pitstop he may have come out in front of his teammate. During the red flag restart, it would have been easy to get caught up with Hamilton going straight on down into turn 1 if he hadn’t backed out of the move. Even though in his F1 career he has very rarely been at the front, he handled the pressure absolutely perfectly to come out on top with a very deserved win.

Clearly full of confidence after a fantastic performance in Monaco, Sebastian Vettel had an incredible race and a solid weekend all round. Had it not been for the red flag at the end of Q2, he was looking at an almost certain top 10 qualifying, adding to the excellent qualifying from the previous race. After qualifying P11, finishing in P2 was absolutely deserved, and he showed his pace in the Aston Martin early on. During the first round of pitstops he gained the lead by default as the front runners changed their tyres earlier than expected. Vettel was able to manage the soft tyres whilst still pulling a gap on his rivals to then come out P7 after his pitstop. On the safety car restart he showed his experience again, navigating his way past Leclerc without contact despite getting very close. Vettel has gotten used to the new car very quickly, showing he has enough trust to make moves during both the restarts. A resurgence from him is definitely what the fans wanted after a not so great year with Ferrari in 2020.

Alonso had a highly anticipated return to F1 at the beginning of the season, however so far he hasn’t been so successful, being out qualified and finishing behind his teammate Ocon on Sunday. This could be down to getting used to F1 again after his time away from the series, along with getting used to a new car with a relatively new team under new management. Watching his on board camera from the restart after the red flag, he clearly showed why he is a double world champion. Starting on the grid in P10, he made up for places to finish P6 by the end of the 2 lap sprint. What is striking about his on board though, is the skill involved. He had the inside line into turn 1 but was being squeezed by Sainz, who also had Ricciardo on the outside. Alonso did not make contact with the wall or the other cars during any of this. He then demonstrated his race craft by waiting for the right moment on the same lap to overtake Tsunoda. This created an epic finish for him, the likes of which we were used to seeing before.

The oldest man on the grid did not want to miss out on the action, as is normal for Kimi Raikkonen. For him the highlight of the day was a skillful move on Bottas into turn 7, the slowest on the track, during the safety car restart. Raikkonen has shown throughout his time at Alfa Romeo that he still has plenty of talent to keep him in F1 and finishing in the points with moves like this are often the reason for this.

When talking about the experienced drivers on the grid, Lewis Hamilton is part of this conversation being extremely consistent and changing his style over time. However, the incident after the red flag restart was a rare mistake from him, the team revealing afterwards that he had flicked on the magic brake button whilst changing gears. This changed the brake bypass to mostly front end, meaning the car couldn’t stop before the turn. This admittedly makes the error an odd one because this has never happened before, despite the buttons position never really moving. They say it’s best to learn from your mistakes and Hamilton says they will grow as a team.

Overall, Mercedes had a terrible weekend. This is where the team experience came in, allowing them to try different set ups, strategy’s, and tactics to get the most out of a seemingly lacklustre performance from the car all weekend. By the end of Q3, the changes made to Hamilton’s car were successful with him managing to secure P2. Bottas on the other hand was arguably hampered by the red flag at the end of the session but suffered massively during the race. The Mercedes is not known for its great ability to pass other cars in the midfield, but with what appeared to be the quickest straight line speed and the power of the slipstream, a few DRS based moves into turn 1 were expected. Instead Bottas made his way backwards at the restarts and didn’t perform well. However, he did have a different rear wing to Hamilton, which the team confirmed as driver preference, this may have ultimately hampered him when trying to overtake.

Looking forward to the next couple of weeks, Mercedes will need to win in France to make up the points in the constructor’s championship after having lost more to the RedBulls this week. The outcome of the race could also have a huge impact on the Driver championship, with the front runners not gaining any points this week, it is massively important they maximise each race, as cancellations become more frequent and look to threaten the 23 race calendar. France is not known for amazing action over the last few years, but with the 2021 season we are having it could be unpredictable.

Class of 92: Portuguese Grand Prix Preview

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.

Sergio Perez has thus far proven himself an extremely able performer for Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Bottas comes into this weekend needing a statement performance – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

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.

‘It’s the same, but different’: Red Bull Launch the RB16B ahead of the 2021 F1 season

After much speculation, the day finally came for Red Bull to unveil the RB16B, ahead of the 2021 season. The announcement was delivered with as much fanfare a virtual launch can muster, hammering home what we all expected; it’s the same, but different. 

Red Bull have made themselves the talk of the off-season, after signing Sergio Perez to replace Alex Albon, who is now a reserve and test driver in the team, and the more recent announcement to take over their contract with Honda, and begin developing their own power units from 2022 onwards. 

Some fans were a little disappointed to see the standard livery that has remained largely unchanged for a number of years, and Red Bull have made no secret of the fact that there has been a lot of carryover from the 2020 car, due to the deferral of the change in regulations. 

Image courtesy of Red Bull

In spite of that, the team are keen to emphasise that the real changes have taken place beneath the surface. ‘For it’s final season in F1, Honda is introducing a new power unit’ amongst other changes. 

Though it’s difficult to determine the extent of these changes from a carefully positioned press photo, it looks like there may be some change to the side-pods on the car, which in turn would mean greater downforce on the car.    

Image courtesy of Red Bull

The RB16B ‘aims to carry the momentum of 2020 into the new season in a bid to fight for this years title’. The team feel confident this will help them take the fight to the as-yet unchallenged Mercedes, who have remained the dominant team in F1 for the past 7 seasons. 

It will be all eyes on Silverstone tomorrow, when Max and Checo take to the track in the RB16B for the first time for a day of filming.

Will we see a shakedown livery? Do we have a new contender for the championship title, or will it just turn out to be the same, but different for another year running? 

We don’t have too long to wait!

The fall of Michael Schumacher’s record? F1 2021 season preview

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.

Mercedes seek to win their eighth consecutive Constructors’ title this year – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

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.

After leaving Racing Point following seven years with the team, Sergio Perez arrives at Red Bull to replace the departing Alex Albon – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Depending on his 2021 performance, George Russell could well be in line for a 2022 drive with Mercedes – Courtesy of Williams Media

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.

Fernando Alonso returns to F1 this year after two years away from the sport – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

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.

Ferrari Academy Driver Mick Schumacher makes his F1 debut with Haas this year – Courtesy of Ferrari F1 Media

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.

Red Bull announces feeder placements for Vips, Lawson, Daruvala

The Red Bull Junior Team announced a raft of feeder series’ placements for its drivers today, including seats in Formula 2 for Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala.

Vips will return to the series full-time after making a stand-in appearance for Sean Gelael at DAMS last year, and will partner New Zealander Lawson at Hitech Grand Prix. Lawson graduates to F2 from Formula 3, where he also drove for Hitech and took three wins in his 2020 sophomore season to finish fifth in the standings.

Daruvala will remain with Carlin for his second F2 campaign. The Indian driver improved on a difficult start to his rookie year with a run of strong results in the last five rounds, which were capped off with his first podium and sprint race win in the Bahrain double header.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull also announced that three of its juniors will make their F3 debuts this year. Jonny Edgar and Jak Crawford, who finished first and second in the 2020 ADAC F4 championship, will race for Carlin and Hitech respectively. Honda-backed 2020 French F4 champion Ayumu Iwasa will also join Crawford at Hitech as a new member of the Red Bull Junior Team.

This follows Red Bull-supported Dennis Hauger being announced as one of Prema’s drivers at the end of last year.

Red Bull also added 13-year-old Swedish-British karter Arvid Lindblad to its junior team, following his championship victory in the 2020 OK Junior WSK Super Master Series.

Jonny Edgar, Red Bull Junior Team (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)