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2021 Emilia Romagna GP Race Recap : Dutch Perfection in Inclement Weather

The 2021 season kicked off in Bahrain, and Red Bull and Verstappen looked firm favourites for victory on Sunday. However, Mercedes and Hamilton, thanks to a bold strategy, denied them the win. Three weeks have passed since, and the teams returned to Europe to regroup and rejoin the battle with reinforcements and upgrades on their cars. 



There were some developments over the break, off-track. Nico Hulkenberg got awarded the Reserve Driver Role at Cognizant Aston Martin Racing while Mercedes announced Mike Elliott as Technical Director, replacing James Allison, who became the Chief Technical Officer. The rising number of COVID cases led organisers to cancel the Canadian GP. The FOM is yet to announce a replacement.



Round 2 of the 2021 Formula One season got held at the "Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari Circuit" in Imola, Italy. The circuit, which made an unlikely return in the pandemic-hit 2020 F1 season, saw Lewis Hamilton take victory from Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo last year.



While Mercedes and Hamilton hoped to emulate the success of 2020, Red Bull looked to bounce back from the disappointments of Bahrain. Ferrari and McLaren were confident of an improved showing, while Alpine brought in a few upgrades in their quest to return to the sharp end of the grid.



The narrow nature of the circuit meant overtaking was a task. However, the extension of the DRS zone at the start-finish straight promised to add some respite.



So who came out on top at the end of Race day?

Time for a recap of the Emilia Romagna GP weekend!



Practice :


There were technical difficulties at the start of FP1 with teams getting access to a limited amount of data from their cars. The lack of communication resulted in a coming together between Ocon and Perez, with the latter's rear left tyre clipping the right front tyre of Ocon's car. The contact ended FP1 for both drivers due to suspension damage. Mazepin's struggles in F1 continued with the Russian suffering from an off-track excursion and then a crash just before the pit lane entry. 


Drivers were exploring the limits of the track, with Verstappen, Tsunoda, Latifi and Hamilton going off in FP1. It was Bottas who topped the timesheets, less than a tenth clear of Hamilton and Verstappen. Gasly was 5th, splitting the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Alonso, Stroll, Latifi and Ricciardo completed the top 10. It was a productive session for Williams, with Russell setting the 11th quickest time, followed by Raikkonen, Norris and Vettel in the other Aston Martin. Giovinazzi was 16th in the other Alfa Romeo, ahead of Perez and Ocon. Mazepin, Schumacher and Tsunoda rounded off the table.



FP2 got underway, with Verstappen suffering from a driveshaft failure, having taken too much kerb on one of his flying laps. Nikita Mazepin had two more off-track excursions and hit the wall in the second incident. Russell, Norris and Alonso were some of the other drivers who got undone by the kerbs and gravel traps around the circuit. Leclerc crashed into the barriers, the stewards having to red flag the session. The Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton topped the timesheets again, with Bottas being one-hundredth of a second clear. He set his quickest time on the medium tyres. The surprise of FP2 was Gasly, who got his Alpha Tauri up into 3rd, only seven-hundredths slower than Bottas' time. Sainz, Leclerc and Perez completed the top 6. Tsunoda was 7th in the other Alpha Tauri, followed by Norris, Giovinazzi and Stroll. 


The Alpine cars were in the thick of the midfield battle, with Latifi splitting them. The mechanical failure restricted Verstappen's running, and 14th was the best he could achieve on Friday afternoon. Vettel was 15th in the other Aston Martin, followed by Russell. Frequent incidents and the subsequent red flag denied Raikkonen the chance of setting a proper lap time on the soft tyres. The 2007 World Champion set the 17th fastest time, followed by Ricciardo, who struggled to find the right balance throughout. The Haas cars were 19th and 20th.



The running from Friday suggested that Mercedes had found a sweet spot in terms of balance, be it for Qualifying or the Race. Valtteri Bottas, the pole-sitter from last year, had a productive Friday while the Red Bull drivers had compromised sessions. The midfield battle was close as ever, with Ferrari discovering newfound pace. Williams looked to have better balance than its rivals Haas and Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen.



It was a chilly Saturday morning, and the teams waited for track temperatures to improve before venturing out for some laps. Latifi lost control of the rear of his Williams, hitting the barriers and damaging his front wing in the process. The session got red-flagged, albeit for a short period. The drivers were pushing on their Qualifying simulation runs, and several drivers went off-track or went over the kerbs. While Tsunoda complained about traffic while jostling for track position, Raikkonen had a trip through the gravel, and Giovinazzi got spun around after exiting the pits, cold tyres to blame. 


Verstappen was the quickest at the end of FP3 from Norris and Hamilton. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by Leclerc and Gasly. Sainz and Bottas were 7th and 8th, within a second of Verstappen's lap time, and the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon completed the top 10. 


The Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda was in P11, with Ricciardo splitting the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel in 13th. Russell was 15th in the Williams, followed by Schumacher and Latifi. Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Mazepin completed the rear of the field. 



Track limits at turns 9, 14 and 15 were the bone of contention for several drivers, with FP3 seeing 18 lap time deletions. The FIA was unforgiving, and the slightest infringement could tip the battle for pole position come Qualifying. Qualifying promised to be a tight affair, with many drivers being within a second of the fastest time as seen in all three practice sessions.




Qualifying :


Haas was the first team out of the pits at the start of Q1. While Verstappen, Latifi and Perez chose to stay put, the rest of the field headed out with 12 minutes left on the clock. Several drivers had just begun their first runs when Tsunoda lost control of his Alpha Tauri and went into the barriers at Variante Alta ( turn 15 ). There was considerable damage to the rear of the car, and the session got red-flagged. The Japanese driver's Qualifying was over.

A brief lull followed before the session restarted, and everyone was out on track with 10 minutes remaining of Q1. 


Lap time deletions returned with Giovinazzi and Perez suffering from exceeding track limits at turn 9, while Gasly and Latifi committed infringements at Variante Alta


Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Verstappen, Perez and Leclerc were the top 6, with Schumacher, Latifi, Mazepin, Russell and Tsunoda facing the threat of elimination at the end of the first runs. The Red Bull drivers, Norris, Leclerc and Gasly, chose to not run again in Q1.


Mazepin had yet another off-track excursion while Schumacher had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. Russell improved to 14th, which pushed the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi into the drop zone. Traffic and "a lack of racing etiquette" from Mazepin, as Giovinazzi put it, cost him the chance of a final run. 


Ocon got into the top 6 at the end of Q1 while his team-mate Alonso scraped through to Q2 in 15th. Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Schumacher, Mazepin and Tsunoda got eliminated at the end of Q1.



Tyre choice has always been critical for the front runners in Q2, and Red Bull decided to split the strategies with Perez opting for the soft tyres and Verstappen the mediums. Mercedes and Williams were the other teams to opt for the mediums at the start of Q2. 


Vettel and Gasly had their lap times deleted after they exceeded track limits. Norris was the quickest from Hamilton and Verstappen at the end of the first runs. Leclerc, Bottas and Perez completed the top 6 with Ricciardo, Alonso, Ocon, Latifi and Vettel facing potential elimination. The Aston Martin drivers decided to complete their final runs of Q2 early, with Vettel ending up out of sync due to the lap time deletion suffered earlier in the session. Stroll and Vettel improved to 7th and 8th, respectively.


Bottas and Norris chose to stay in the pits while the rest of the field came out on the soft tyres. Perez ended Q2 with the quickest time, beating Norris' attempt by two-thousandths of a second. Leclerc, Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Gasly, Ricciardo, Ocon and Stroll were the others who got into Q3, while Sainz, Russell, Vettel, Latifi and Alonso got eliminated.




The final part of Qualifying ( Q3 ) got underway, with all drivers opting for the soft tyres for their first runs. Less than a second covered the top 7, with Hamilton setting the fastest time at the end of the banker laps, nine-hundredths clear of Verstappen with Perez two-tenths further away. Norris, Leclerc, Bottas and Gasly were also in the mix. Stroll opted to run only once in the session and stayed in the pits.


It was now time for the final shootout! The drivers put on a fresh set of soft tyres and emerged from the pits for the battle for pole position. Bottas was the first to start his lap, but a mistake in sector one put him out of the reckoning for pole. The Finn improved to 5th ( provisionally ). 



Further back, Hamilton also wasn't able to improve on the time from his first run. He was on provisional pole, however. Norris was the driver on fire, going the fastest in sectors 1 and 2, and crossing the line to take P2, four-hundredths shy of Hamilton's time. However, his joy was short-lived as the FIA surmised that the Briton had exceeded track limits turn 9. The lap-time deletion dropped him down to 6th. The Red Bull drivers were the only challengers left for pole. Perez set personal best times in sectors 1 and 2 but made an error at the final turn. Verstappen, meanwhile, went the quickest of everyone in sector 2, but neither was able to pip Hamilton to pole! 


Perez, however, out-qualified Verstappen, falling short of pole position by three-hundredths of a second. Verstappen was eight-hundredths shy of Hamilton's time in 3rd. Leclerc put in a stellar lap to put his Ferrari on row 2 of the grid. Gasly and Ricciardo were 5th and 6th, followed by Norris and Bottas on the 4th row. Ocon was 9th in his Alpine with Stroll in 10th, having failed to set a representative lap time in Q3.



Only eight-tenths of a second separated the top 9, a feat never repeated since 2012. Hamilton and Mercedes managed to hold onto pole position despite Red Bull's best efforts. It was the 99th Pole Position for Hamilton. The Briton would have the best place on the grid come Sunday. However, Mercedes were in a spot of bother with Bottas having a lacklustre showing in Qualifying. The Finn had been exceptional on Friday but came up short on Saturday, starting the race down in 8th. Red Bull had both its cars in the top 3, with Perez starting on the softer tyres. It was an opportunity for the team to put pressure on the reigning champions. 


Norris was gutted with his mistake but hoped to make amends on Raceday. McLaren seemed to be the best of the rest and held the advantage going into race day by having both its cars in the top 10. It was a bitter-sweet day for Ferrari, with Leclerc qualifying 4th, but Sainz becoming a casualty in Q2 and starting only 11th. Alpha Tauri was another team that had a mixed day, with Gasly making it to the 3rd row but Tsunoda crashing out of Qualifying and starting at the back of the grid. Sunday was the day that mattered, though. 


Alpine and Aston Martin were further back in the midfield battle, the upgrades not bringing the desired effect in Qualifying. The Williams drivers had been performing well in the Practice sessions and translated that form into Qualifying. The Alfa Romeo drivers struggled from balance issues but hoped to make up some positions on race day.  Haas seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack but were relieved to see Mazepin have a trouble-free session. Schumacher, the other rookie, was also finding his feet and getting quicker with each weekend. 



Race :


Alpha Tauri replaced the Power Unit, Exhaust System and Gearbox on Tsunoda's car for the race. 


The heavens opened, and there was rain an hour before the race start. The drivers on their sighting laps discovered that some parts of the circuit were bone dry and some wet. The sighting laps had a bit of drama, with Alonso running wide and damaging his front wing after hitting the barriers. The Spaniard was able to continue and limped to the grid. Mercedes suspected a puncture on the rear-left tyre of Bottas' car. Aston Martin discovered that the brakes were on fire on Stroll's car. He drove through the pits, with smoke billowing from his rear brakes. The Canadian made it to the grid, and it was a race against time for the mechanics to get the car ready for the start.


There was more trouble for Aston Martin when Vettel discovered a brake-by-wire failure on his car and had to be wheeled back into the garage for repairs. The German had to start the race from the pit lane. 



C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, but citing track conditions, drivers faced a tough choice between "intermediates" and "full wet" tyres. There was still a lot of standing water along with a drizzle across the track.


Gasly, Ocon, Schumacher and Mazepin opted for the wet tyres while the rest chose the intermediates for the race start. 



The cars set out for the formation lap, which saw more drama with Leclerc getting spun around. Luckily, the Monegasque was able to continue and regained his position for the race start.



The five red lights went out, and the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix got underway! Hamilton had a good start off the line but got swamped by both the Red BullsVerstappen had the best start of the top 3 and pressured Hamilton into turn 1. Hamilton defended tooth and nail, but Verstappen barged through into the lead. The battle led to contact between their cars, and Hamilton went over the yellow kerbs, getting a damaged endplate on his front wing in the process. 


Perez then tried to get past Hamilton, but the Briton recovered and held onto P2. Leclerc, who was P4 in his Ferrari, took 3rd from Perez thanks to a mistake made by him. His teammate Sainz went off track but didn't lose places. 


Norris made contact with Stroll and lost three positions while Bottas dropped down to 10th. Latifi also suffered a spin at the same place as Sainz ( turn Acque Minerali ). The Canadian tried to defend himself from losing more positions. He made contact with Mazepin and hit the barriers at Variante Alta, bringing out the Safety Car. 


The Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were up into 12th and 13th, and Tsunoda had made up six positions on the opening lap. 


It had been an eventful opening lap, and the Safety Car got sent to the track to ensure the safe extrication of Latifi's car.


Ocon decided to switch to intermediates immediately and pitted at the end of the opening lap. The Frenchman rejoined in P19. Alpha Tauri informed Gasly that there was more rain in the pit lane while Vettel too decided to switch to the intermediates on lap 4.  


Schumacher was warming the tyres on the start-finish straight and lost control of his car. The German careered into the wall and lost the front wing in the process. The stewards had to close the pit lane entry to allow the marshalls to clear the debris, and this forced Schumacher to complete another lap of the circuit bar the front wing. 


Perez had a big snap of oversteer at Piratella, ran wide, but managed to regain 4th from Gasly and Ricciardo, behind the Safety Car. This move got flagged for investigation, and the Mexican got a 10 seconds stop-go penalty. Schumacher finally got the chance to pit for a new front wing besides switching to intermediate tyres on lap 6.



The Safety Car peeled into the pits, and the race got underway on lap 7. Verstappen had a clean getaway, but Hamilton got into his slipstream and tried to challenge him into turn one. Verstappen held onto the lead. Further down the field, Mazepin lost two positions to Ocon and Vettel while Sainz got past Stroll and Gasly for 6th. 


Verstappen wasted no time and built a lead of 3 seconds at the front. He also set the fastest lap on lap 8. The midfield battle intensified with Gasly, Norris and Sainz going wheel-to-wheel for 6th. Gasly regained 6th, Norris got up into P7 while Sainz dropped back to 8th. The order changed again, a lap later, with Gasly losing two positions to Norris and Sainz. Verstappen continued to be the fastest man on track while Perez reported issues with his steering wheel on lap 10. Gasly, who was still on the wet tyres, fought off a challenge by Stroll for 8th while Ocon got past Alonso for P15 ( lap 10 ). It was job done for Stroll a lap later, however. 


The track was still treacherous in places, and Sainz ran wide in 7th, losing time to Norris ahead. Further up the field, Norris had settled into a groove and started to challenge Ricciardo in the other McLaren for 5th. Track conditions worsened for those still on the wet tyres, and there was a train of cars stuck behind Gasly. The drivers were losing 8 seconds worth of lap time behind him. Finally, Bottas kicked off a series of overtakes, with Gasly dropping from 9th to 14th in the space of 3 laps. Vettel was the next driver in the queue and overtook Ocon and Gasly for P14. Sainz had another off-track excursion through the gravel at Tosa, while Gasly finally pitted for a set of intermediate tyres, rejoining in 18th ( lap 16 ).


Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Stroll, Bottas and Russell were the top 10 at the end of lap 16.



Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 17, while Norris requested the team for clear air and believed that he could go much quicker. The team obliged his request, and Ricciardo got instructed to give his place up. Norris wasted no time in building a gap and was 5 seconds clear after three laps. Leclerc reported that his tyres were losing performance, while Perez became the fastest man on track.


The teams were monitoring track conditions and asking their drivers if the track was ready for dry tyres. Vettel was the first driver to take the risk on lap 22 and switched to the medium tyres. The German rejoined in 16th and struggled for traction out of some corners. He got relegated to 17th by Gasly on his out-lap. To add insult to injury, the stewards issued a 10 seconds stop-go penalty for not having his tyres fitted at the "5 minutes" signal before the race start. Vettel served it on lap 24. Schumacher was another driver to switch to dry tyres ( softs ) on lap 24. 


Meanwhile, on track, Hamilton informed Mercedes that the grip was improving on his tyres, and the Briton was able to reduce the gap at the front to 2 seconds. Ricciardo, who had relented P5 to Norris, kept falling backwards and into the clutches of Sainz. The Australian then lost 6th on lap 26.


The teams surmised that the "crossover" point had reached, and it was time to switch to the slick tyres. A slew of pit stops followed with Tsunoda, Verstappen, Russell, Raikkonen, Gasly, Sainz and Ricciardo pitting for the mediums ( laps 27 and 28 ). 



Verstappen relinquished the lead when he pitted for dry tyres on lap 28, but Hamilton and Mercedes decided to use the clear air, going a lap longer on the intermediate tyres. Hamilton came into the pits on lap 29 for medium tyres, but a slow stop on the right front tyre negated the advantage he had gained. Leclerc, Stroll, Ocon, Bottas and Giovinazzi followed suit on the same lap. Perez served the penalty incurred on lap 29, switched to the mediums and had a steering wheel swap. 



Norris got ahead of Perez for 4th, while Tsunoda jumped Giovinazzi for P12 after their pitstops. Verstappen and Hamilton came upon a train of cars, and Bottas was one of the drivers to get lapped. Stroll, citing an opportunity, followed the leaders and relegated Bottas to P9. 



Lap 31 saw more drama unfold. Hamilton, while lapping Russell, ran wide at Tosa and hit the barriers. He got stuck and was unable to make a turn. As a last resort to escape retirement, he reversed his way out of the gravel trap and was able to rejoin in 7th, having lapped everyone up to P8 before his crash. The Briton had damaged his front wing and limped back to the pits. There was more chaos on track, with Russell and Bottas colliding at high speed in the DRS zone, which wrecked both cars and left debris strewn all over. Alonso also ran wide but was able to continue at the same place. The Safety Car got deployed by the Race Director. Hamilton pitted for a new front wing and rejoined in 9th. There was too much debris on track for the marshalls, and the stewards decided to Red Flag the race ( lap 34 ).



The stewards decided to have a rolling start behind the Safety Car, and the lapped cars got instructed to complete a lap and rejoin in the order they were on lap 34 for the restart. Kimi Raikkonen, in 8th, suffered a spin but was able to rejoin and made it back to the pits. The Safety Car led the field out for the de facto formation lap, and Alfa Romeo instructed Raikkonen to give up two places. The Finn had dropped down to 10th after his spin but regained 8th on entry into the pit lane. The team wasn't sure about the new regulations and hence asked him to drop back two places as a precaution to escape infringement. The stewards, however, flagged this for investigation after the race. 



Norris, Ricciardo, Perez, Tsunoda and Vettel opted for the soft tyres while the rest persisted with the mediums for the remaining laps.



The Safety Car returned into the pits, and as Verstappen led the field for the restart, he suffered a slide at Rivazza but managed to hold onto P1. The race restarted, and Verstappen pulled away from the chasing pack. Norris overtook Leclerc for 2nd while Tsunoda suffered a spin and fell to the back of the field. 



Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 37.



Verstappen went to set blistering lap times, pulling away from the rest comfortably. His teammate Perez lost control and got spun around at Villeneuve chicane. The Mexican fell to 14th, promoting Alonso to 10th and into the points. Meanwhile, Hamilton began his recovery and got past Stroll for P6 on lap 39. He then went on to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 40. The Aston Martin drivers, Stroll and Vettel, reported shifting issues, and the team acknowledged that they were having problems with the gear sync. Alfa Romeo had both its cars in the points when Giovinazzi got instructed to come into the pits to remove a visor tear-off which had gotten lodged into his car's brake ducts. The resulting stop dropped him out of the points into 15th. 



Hamilton relegated Ricciardo to 6th and set another fastest lap of the race ( lap 43 ). Alpha Tauri informed Tsunoda that he had received a track-limits warning for abusing the restrictions set at turn 9 ( lap 45 ). He then got served a Black and White Flag. Gasly got past Raikkonen for P8 while Verstappen retook the fastest lap from Hamilton on lap 46. Perez and Vettel went wheel-to-wheel in the battle for 12th. Perez completed the overtake but overcooked turn one allowing Vettel to regain the position. It was job done for Perez a lap later ( lap 48 ). 



Hamilton had caught up to Sainz in the battle for P4, and despite Sainz's best efforts, the Briton took 4th on lap 50. He set the fastest lap of the race again on lap 51 and started to close the gap to Leclerc in 3rd. Tsunoda got past Vettel for P13 while Verstappen had built a lead of 15 seconds at the front. Hamilton overtook Leclerc on lap 55, gaining P3 in the process. The team encouraged him to keep pushing and notified him that P2 was possible. 



Tsunoda didn't heed the warnings by the stewards and copped a five-second time penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits at turn 9. Gasly, in his quest for P7, ran wide at Rivazza, easing the pressure on Stroll for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, in the battle for P2, Hamilton had closed upon Norris and was within the DRS Range ( lap 58 ). Norris had restarted the race on soft tyres and had preserved some life on them to defend from a charging Hamilton. The defence lasted for three laps as Hamilton made use of DRS to get past him at Tamburello. Norris had fought valiantly but couldn't match the pace of the Mercedes. 



Hamilton, now in clear air, put in the fastest lap of the race and bagged the point that comes with it ( lap 61 ). Mazepin added another spin to his total tally on the penultimate lap while Aston Martin asked Vettel to return to the pits and retire the car. The German had to limit gear shifting to prevent further damage to the gearbox. 



Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and victory from Hamilton and Norris. Leclerc and Sainz were 4th and 5th for Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo in the other McLaren. Stroll was 7th, from Gasly, Raikkonen and Ocon, who completed the top 10.



Alonso finished just outside the points in 11th, while Perez had an eventful but forgettable race in 12th. 13th was the best Tsunoda could manage at Alpha Tauri's home Grand Prix, followed by Giovinazzi and Vettel, who was classified 15th despite retiring from the race. The Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin were the final classified finishers.



The results didn't stand for long, as Stroll and Gasly got called to the stewards for an incident at turn two on lap 11. Stroll passed Gasly but cut across the chicane, gaining an advantage and not handing the place back. The stewards added five seconds to Stroll's time for the infringement, dropping him down to 8th and promoting Gasly to 7th. Raikkonen also got called to the stewards for the incident during the rolling start. After publishing a long explanation, the stewards gave him a 10 seconds stop-go penalty, applied retrospectively, which equated to an additional 30 seconds on his race time. The addition put him out of the points, promoting Ocon to 9th and Alonso to 10th.



The talking point from the race was the incident between Bottas and Russell. The high-speed crash ended their race, and Bottas was a bit winded after the incident. Although the stewards deemed the accident as "a Racing Incident" after their investigation, tension brewed between the drivers as perceived from the post-race interviews. Hopefully, Toto Wolff and Mercedes were able to play peacemaker after.



Verstappen drove a flawless race ( bar the hiccup at the restart ), making amends for the disappointment in Bahrain. Red Bull had both its cars in the top 3 at the race start, but Perez made a host of errors, something he needs to iron out at the earliest. He was apologetic to the team and would hope to make things right in Portimao in two weeks. Hamilton made a rare error but produced a stellar drive to extract the maximum out of a compromised weekend. Bottas had another poor showing up until his crash with Russell. The Finn's title challenge is off to a stuttering start. 



McLaren made the right call to swap positions, and Norris bagged the 2nd podium of his career. Ricciardo is still finding his feet in the new team, but it was a memorable weekend for the third-fastest team on the grid. Leclerc and Sainz drove a stellar race to give Ferrari a double-points finish, that also in the top 6. The only way is upwards for the Italian marquee. 



It was a weekend of "what could have been" for Alpha Tauri, with Tsunoda crashing early on in Qualifying and Gasly having an extended stint on the wet tyres at the start of the race. Nevertheless, they take away 6 points from the weekend. Aston Martin's travails with the new regulations continue. Stroll and Vettel suffered from gear sync issues, but the team is nowhere close to the level of performance they enjoyed in 2020. The rule changes in 2021 have cost them dearly, and the team has been exploring options to have their concerns addressed. Alpine scored their first points of the season, with both their drivers getting into the top 10 thanks to Raikkonen's penalty. They have had a slow start to the season and would hope to fare better in Portimao. 



Alfa Romeo had a strong showing and seemed destined for a double-points finish before Giovinazzi had to pit due to an issue with the tear-off visor. Raikkonen, who initially finished 9th, got bumped down to 13th after getting a time penalty post-race. Alfa Romeo isn't far from the midfield battle, and if they can have a good run in the next few races, they shall be back in the reckoning. Haas has two rookies in its lineup, and there were rookie errors by both its drivers. Mazepin's spins continued, but thankfully he has a race finish under his belt. Schumacher, on the other hand, kept it clean after his mistake under the Safety Car. 



Williams was set for a good weekend with a possible points finish, but Latifi's crash on the opening lap followed by Russell's highspeed collision with Bottas denied them the opportunity. The team has the pace that can easily match that of the Alfa Romeos; it needs an incident-free weekend from both its drivers. 



Hamilton is currently one point clear of Verstappen in the title battle. Round 3 is just a fortnight away, and it seems that this year won't be a walk in the park for Hamilton and Mercedes.



We can't wait for Portimao!!

2021 Bahrain GP Race Recap : The Race is Not Always to the Swift!

The 2021 F1 Season began in full earnest with the opening round at the Bahrain International Circuit. The season, with 23 races, would become the longest ever in the history of F1. Bahrain was the first night race of the year, and the teams had gathered a good amount of data from the three days of testing the previous week. The pre-season tests suggested a change in the pecking order, but would the results at the end of the race authenticate the claim?


Was Red Bull able to start their season on a high? Was Mercedes able to iron out their travails from the pre-season tests? How did the rechristened teams like Aston Martin and Alpine fare? Did Ferrari begin their 2021 campaign on a more positive note? How did the rookies like Tsunoda, Mazepin and a certain Schumacher perform at their maiden F1 GP?


Time for a recap of the Bahrain GP weekend!



Practice :


The FIA reduced the practice sessions in 2021 from 90 minutes to 60 to accommodate the shifting of media interviews held earlier on Thursdays. 


FP1 got underway with Mercedes and Red Bull trading the quickest lap times. Alpine Racing carried out aerodynamic tests with its drivers while the rookies continued to add more mileage and gain experience in F1. A lot of teams ran the soft compound tyres, something that is uncharacteristic during FP1. Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 ahead of Bottas and Norris, with Hamilton, Leclerc and Perez completing the top 6. Gasly was the quickest Alpha Tauri in 7th, followed by Sainz, who had a productive FP1 with his new team, Ferrari. Ricciardo was 9th in the other McLaren, with Giovinazzi completing the top 10 in his Alfa Romeo. His team-mate Raikkonen was 11th, followed by the Aston Martin cars of Vettel and Stroll. The rookie Tsunoda finished FP1 14th, followed by the Alpine cars. Russell, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin were more than 2.5 seconds slower than Verstappen's time.



Kimi Raikkonen was the first victim of the weekend when his car hit the barriers at turn two, ripping off his front wing in FP2. The Finn limped back to the pits, his session compromised with limited running. The FIA introduced track limits at turn 4, and the Mercedes duo had their lap times deleted. Sainz, Norris, Bottas and Ocon had off-track moments, and Mazepin suffered a spin in sector 3. The teams shifted their focus to race-simulation runs in the second half of the session, and data suggested close battles would unfold come Sunday.

It was Verstappen who set the quickest time of the session, followed by Norris and Hamilton. Sainz was 4th in the other McLaren, followed by Bottas, Ricciardo and Tsunoda. Only six-tenths of a second separated the top 10, with Stroll, Gasly and Perez completing the first half of the field. 

Ocon was 11th in the Alpine from Leclerc and Giovinazzi. The veterans Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen were only a second slower than Verstappen's best effort. Schumacher split the two Williams, followed by Mazepin, who was the slowest.



There was a lot of data gathering completed by the teams on Friday. The midfield battle now featured more players, and with FP3 being the final session before parc ferme conditions got imposed, Saturday was to be yet another busy day for the teams and drivers.



The teams and drivers faced a hot afternoon during FP3Mazepin and Leclerc suffered from spins at turn six and two, respectively. Vettel got forced to return to the pits after a piece of bodywork from his car got dislodged. Thankfully, there was no damage done. Eight different teams featured in the top ten at the end of FP3, which underlined how close the contest could be. 

Verstappen again bagged the quickest time at the end of FP3, seven-tenths clear of Hamilton and Gasly. Bottas and Perez were 4th and 5th in the other Mercedes and Red Bull cars, followed by Sainz, who posted his best lap on the medium tyres. Raikkonen, Ocon, Stroll and Ricciardo completed the top 10. 

Leclerc, in the other Ferrari, also set his quickest time on the medium tyres in 11th. Giovinazzi was 12th in his Alfa Romeo while Tsunoda and Vettel ended FP3 more than two seconds slower than Verstappen in 13th and 14th. The struggle to find the right balance continued for Alonso, who was 15th, followed by Norris, who ended the session a disappointing 16th. Schumacher and Mazepin split the Williams of Russell and Latifi at the back of the field.



Verstappen and Red Bull had dominated the practice sessions, but would they grab pole in Qualifying? The battleground was ready for a great tussle!



Qualifying :


Alpha Tauri detected an anomaly and replaced Gasly's Energy Store and Control Electronics before Qualifying. No penalty received since it was within the allocation of units for the season.



The first Qualifying session of 2021 ( Q1 ) got underway, with Williams and Haas being the first teams to send their cars out on track. Mazepin suffered from a spin at turn 13 and had to abort his first attempt. The rest of the field emerged from the pits for their first runs, with 11 minutes left, everyone opting for the soft tyres. Verstappen, Tsunoda, Hamilton, Gasly, Perez and Bottas were the top 6 at the end of the first runs, with Ocon, Latifi, Russell, Mazepin and Schumacher in the drop zone. The Honda-powered cars ( bar Perez ) chose not to run again in Q1. It was frantic at the end of Q1, with drivers jostling for track position. As drivers began their final runs, Mazepin spun again, this time at turn 1, bringing out the double-yellow flags.

The incident compromised the final runs of several drivers. The stewards flagged Ocon, Stroll, Vettel and Russell for an investigation to ascertain whether they slowed enough under yellow flag conditions. Verstappen, Tsunoda, Hamilton, Leclerc, Riccardo and Gasly were the top 6 at the end of Q1. Sainz escaped elimination in 15th, the Spaniard's Ferrari going into a stall after it clipped the kerbs. The drivers eliminated were - Ocon, Latifi, Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin. 

Ocon and Vettel were the surprise casualties, the latter not having the best qualifying debut with his new team. To add insult to injury, the stewards decided to penalize Vettel ( in the Mazepin incident ) with a five-place grid drop, relegating him to the back of the field, besides adding three penalty-points to his licence for not "slowing down enough".  



Red Bull, Alpha Tauri, Mercedes and McLaren chose the medium tyres at the start of Q2 while the rest persisted with the softs. Russell stayed in the pits, opting to go out of sync. Perez and Ricciardo had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4. Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Sainz, Alonso were the top 6 with Stroll under threat in 10th. The drivers in the drop zone were Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez and Russell. Russell emerged from the pits on soft tyres for his only run in Q2, improving to 13th.

Red Bull debated about the tyre choice for Perez but persisted with the medium tyres again. His team-mate Verstappen, Mercedes and Alpha Tauri were confident and remained on medium tyres for their final runs of Q2. The end of Q2 sprung a few surprises as the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc went the quickest ( albeit on the soft tyres ), followed by Hamilton, Norris and Bottas. Riccardo was 6th in the McLaren, Verstappen in 7th, with Gasly, Alonso and Stroll completing the 10 for Q3. 

Perez didn't make it into Q3, another upset amongst the top-running teams, with Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Raikkonen and Russell being the others.



"The battle" for pole position began with Leclerc and Alonso staying put and the remaining drivers exiting the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. It was Verstappen on provisional pole, two-hundredths of a second clear of Hamilton. Meanwhile, Stroll went out of sync with the rest and posted the 5th quickest time. Bottas and Sainz were 3rd and 4th, while Ricciardo and Norris completed the top 6. 

It was time to put a fresh set of soft tyres and get ready for the final dash to pole! Hamilton and Bottas were setting purple sectors, and it looked like Hamilton had taken pole position. Verstappen, further back, had other plans. The Dutchman smashed the sector times to take pole position, four-tenths clear of Hamilton and Bottas!

Leclerc qualified 4th for Ferrari, with Gasly and Ricciardo taking up the third row on the grid. Norris and Sainz were 7th and 8th, followed by Alonso and Stroll, who occupied row five. 



Verstappen and Red Bull had been the quickest at pre-season testing and carried the momentum into Qualifying. There was some floor damage on Verstappen's car after taking too much kerb during Q1, but that didn't deter the Dutchman from taking pole position at the opening race. Mercedes pushed hard, but they were in a stronger position considering they had both cars in the sharp end of the grid. Perez needed an optimum strategy if he was to take the fight to the Mercedes on Sunday. Ferrari had worked hard over the winter to set things right, and it seemed Leclerc's effort was the fruit of their labour. McLaren, Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin and Alpine weren't far behind, and with Alfa Romeo ready to pounce at any slip-ups by the rest, the midfield battle promised to be a blockbuster come Sunday. It was intriguing to see what Ocon and Vettel could accomplish from further down the grid. As for Williams, they seemed closer to the rest, while Haas remained well off the pace in its all-rookie lineup.



So who won the Season-opener at the Bahrain International Circuit?



Race :


Perez, like Gasly, got a new Energy Store and Control Electronics unit before the race as a precautionary measure. Since it was within the allocation, Perez didn't incur a grid penalty.


C2, C3 and C4 were the tyre compounds available for the Bahrain GP. Russell, Ocon and Latifi were the only drivers outside the top 10 to choose the soft tyres, while the rest opted for the mediums. Pirelli predicted a two-stop race, making tyre management important. 


The drivers began the first formation lap of 2021, and there was drama at turn 12. Perez suffered from a complete shutdown on his car, the steering wheel display going blank, and his RB16B coming to a stop. The Mexican seemed to have had a horrid start to his career at Red Bull. The rest of the field made it back to the grid, but the stewards needed time to clear the stricken car. As a result, the drivers got sent on a second formation lap. While Perez contemplated climbing out of his car, his engineer, over the radio, passed on some instructions for a reset, and thankfully, his car roared back to life! Perez, however, would now start from the pitlane instead of 11th, his qualifying position. 



There was no further drama on the 2nd formation lap, and the five red lights went out to signal the start of the Bahrain GP! 



Verstappen had a clean getaway, fending off a challenge by Hamilton into turn one. Leclerc was pressuring Bottas and got past him to move up to 3rd. Further down the field, Raikkonen moved up three positions while Vettel made up five, the duo up to 11th and 14th. Mazepin, the rookie, was too enthusiastic on the throttle out of turn three, sending him into a spin and the barriers. The stewards deployed the Safety Car to ensure the safe removal of the stricken Haas.



Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Bottas, Gasly, Norris, Ricciardo, Alonso, Stroll and Sainz were the top 10 at the end of the opening lap.


Perez, who had started on the medium tyres, had a white patch on his right front tyre after his drama on the formation lap. The team decided to switch him to another set of used medium tyres behind the Safety Car, pitting him on lap 3. 


The race got underway again on lap 4, and Verstappen had a clean getaway, weaving to avoid giving a tow to Hamilton behind. Norris got past Gasly for 5th while Gasly ran wide, having lost his front wing after tangling with Norris. The Frenchman got relegated rapidly to 12th. Schumacher suffered a spin at turn four at the back of the field. Giovinazzi got past Raikkonen for P10 while Perez overtook Tsunoda for 16th. Sainz and Stroll also had a coming together, but neither got any damage.


The stewards enforced a Virtual Safety Car period to remove the debris left behind by Gasly's front wing. The VSC didn't last long, and racing resumed in full earnest. DRS got enabled on lap five, and Bottas wasted no time and reclaimed 3rd from Leclerc a lap later. Russell lost two positions to Vettel and Perez and got relegated to 15th. 



Meanwhile, at the front, Verstappen reported a differential setting issue to Red Bull. Red Bull affirmed that they were monitoring it. Vettel and Perez sparred over 13th, but the former managed to hold stations. Tsunoda overtook Russell for 15th ( lap 7 ) while Verstappen set two fastest laps back-to-back. Raikkonen reported over the radio that Giovinazzi, his team-mate, was slowing him down, and he could go faster if the team allowed a position swap. Norris tried to get past Leclerc, but the Monegasque didn't budge in his defence of P4. It was job done, however, on lap nine. Stroll overtook Alonso for P7 while Tsunoda got past Vettel for P14 on lap nine. Ocon got relegated to 13th on lap ten as Perez continued his charge up the field.



Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Stroll, Alonso, Sainz and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 11.



There was a slew of pit stops from the 12th lap. Alonso pitted for mediums, rejoining in 17th, while Norris, Leclerc and Stroll pitted for medium tyres, along with Giovinazzi, who switched to the hards, a lap later. Alonso's early stop allowed him to undercut Stroll. Hamilton, Ricciardo, Ocon and Raikkonen pitted on lap 14, Hamilton and Raikkonen switching to the hards and Ricciardo and Ocon choosing the medium tyres. The overcut worked for Raikkonen while Ricciardo rejoined behind Alonso but ahead of Stroll. 



Ocon got past Schumacher for 15th ( lap 15 ) while Hamilton started to eek into Verstappen's lead, Red Bull opting to go longer with its driver. Latifi pitted for mediums, rejoining in last while Norris set the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton got past Sainz for 3rd while Schumacher pitted for mediums, rejoining in 19th. Hamilton went the quickest, while Sainz and Tsunoda switched to the medium and hard tyres, respectively. Bottas, who was also in contention for victory, pitted for the hard tyres, relinquishing P3 to Perez.



Leclerc got past Vettel for 6th, while Stroll overtook Alonso for 9th on lap 17. Verstappen finally pitted on the 18th lap, switching to another set of medium tyres. Bottas reclaimed P3 from Perez, Latifi got past Gasly for 17th, while Ricciardo overtook Vettel for 7th. Perez made his 2nd stop of the day, switching to the hard tyres, and rejoined in P12. Vettel lost another position to Stroll ( lap 20 ) but managed to fend off Alonso, holding onto P8. Ocon and Tsunoda were involved in an intense fight for P13, while Perez got past Raikkonen for P11.



Tsunoda finally got past Ocon for P13 on lap 21. Alonso challenged Vettel for P8, but Sainz managed to jump them both. Alonso couldn't get past Vettel and fell back to 10th ( lap 21 ). It got worse for the Spaniard, who lost another place to Perez on lap 22, the Mexican then relegating Vettel to P10. Vettel was running out of grip on his medium tyres and ran wide at turn 1, dropping down to P12. Raikkonen was into the points with a move on Alonso on lap 23.



The battle at the front was hotting up, with Hamilton's lead getting cut down to 4 seconds. Vettel finally pitted for hard tyres, having lost another place to Tsunoda before his pit-stop. The German rejoined in 17th ( lap 25 ). Perez overtook Sainz and then Stroll for P7 while Tsunoda got past Alonso for P11. Further down the field, Gasly got past Schumacher for a lowly P18, the Frenchman having a wretched race after the Safety Car restart. 



The pit window for the second pit stop was open, and Hamilton and Stroll pitted for hard tyres on lap 29, rejoining the race in 3rd and 15th, respectively. A lap later, Raikkonen and Alonso pitted for the mediums and the hard tyres. Mercedes initially decided to split the strategies with its drivers, opting for Bottas to go longer. However, it wasn't going to plan, and Bottas got called in on lap 31 for a fresh set of hard tyres. Disaster struck as the right front tyre got stuck, and Bottas was stationary for 10 seconds! The Finn rejoined the race in 5th, ruling him out of contention for victory. Giovinazzi also pitted on lap 31 for a fresh set of medium tyres, followed by Ocon ( lap 32 ), Leclerc and Ricciardo ( lap 33 ), who all switched to the hard tyres. 



Alonso's race came to a premature end after he suffered rear brake failure on lap 34. Latifi pitted for the mediums, while Norris and Tsunoda pitted for the hard tyres, rejoining in 6th and 13th, respectively. Tsunoda, after his stop, got past Vettel and Russell and moved up into P11 while Russell lost three places in one lap to Raikkonen, Tsunoda and Vettel. The Briton pitted immediately after ( lap 38 ) for a set of medium tyres, rejoining in 16th. Sainz also pitted, emerging in 9th with a fresh set of hard tyres, while Tsunoda got back into the points with a move on Raikkonen for P10. 



The midfield battle was intense as ever, with drivers opting for different strategies to gain an advantage. Perez pitted for medium tyres on lap 39 but got overtaken by Stroll at the pit exit, relegating him to P8. While Mercedes had opted to pit Hamilton earlier, Red Bull decided to extend Verstappen's middle stint, giving him a tyre advantage towards the end. Verstappen finally pitted for the hard tyres on lap 40, rejoining the race 8.5 seconds behind Hamilton with 16 laps remaining. Meanwhile, on track, Perez overtook Stroll to take P7.



Mercedes, on lap 41, informed Hamilton that Verstappen would catch up to him in 10 laps. Verstappen began his chase in earnest by setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 42.



The top 10 at the end of lap 43 - Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll, Sainz and Tsunoda.



Perez overtook Ricciardo for P6 on lap 45, while Ocon and Vettel sparred for P12, going into turn one. Vettel missed his braking point and rear-ended Ocon's Alpine, sending the duo into a spin. Giovinazzi was able to jump them both for P12. Vettel suffered from front wing damage, and the incident got flagged for investigation by the stewards. Subsequently, Vettel got a ten-second time penalty and two more penalty points added to his licence, taking his total tally to 5 in one weekend.



Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton's lead got cut down to 3.7 seconds as Verstappen kept pushing his tyres with minimal management. The gap was further down to 1.4 seconds four laps later ( lap 50 ), and Hamilton informed his team that he couldn't go any faster. A rare mistake at turn 10 caused Hamilton to run wide, bringing Verstappen within DRS Range. The race for victory was well and truly on. There were overtakes at the back of the field, with Schumacher getting past Latifi for P17 and Russell overtaking Vettel for P14. Perez continued with his recovery drive with a move on Leclerc for P5, having overtaken Ricciardo a few laps earlier. 



All eyes were now on the battle at the front, with Verstappen making full use of the DRS to close up on Hamilton. The duo was side-by-side going into turn 4 ( lap 53 ), and it seemed Verstappen had made a successful overtake. However, replays showed that he had all four wheels off the racing track, and Red Bull got asked to instruct Verstappen to hand the position back, else face the possibility of a time penalty. Verstappen relented ( at turn 10 ), pulling off the racing line to hand the lead back to Hamilton and try once again. Verstappen then suffered from a slide at the penultimate turn, ruining his chances of an overtake on the next lap. 



Verstappen was pushing hard, but Hamilton was using his battery power at the right places to stay just out of reach of the Red Bull. The tyres on Verstappen's car were slowly losing performance, and he fell out of DRS range. Meanwhile, Mercedes decided to pit Bottas, putting on a new set of medium tyres, allowing him to gain the point for "the fastest lap of the race". It was a free stop, and Bottas kept his P3 on exiting the pits. 



The final lap got underway, and Verstappen was back in DRS Range, getting two opportunities of closing up and trying an overtake ( turns one and four ). The Dutchman tried hard but couldn't close up enough, and it was Hamilton who took the chequered flag and victory at the season opener in Bahrain! Verstappen came home in 2nd, only seven-tenths behind Hamilton. Bottas was 3rd, getting the point for the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. Norris drove a strong race for McLaren, crossing the finish line in 4th, followed by Perez in the other Red Bull. 6th was the best that Leclerc could achieve in his Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo and team-mate Sainz. A see-saw battle for 9th saw Tsunoda emerge victorious, the rookie scoring two points on his F1 debut, followed by Stroll, who was 10th in his Aston Martin.


The Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finished just outside the points. Ocon was 13th in his Alpine, followed by Russell and Vettel. Mick Schumacher finished his debut race, coming home in 16th, and Gasly had a forgettable Sunday in 17th and last.



Hamilton also set a new record in F1 for "the most number of race laps led", earlier held by Michael Schumacher.



Mercedes had struggled throughout the pre-season tests, suffering from limited running in the process. They lacked the pace shown by the Red Bulls on Friday. However, Mercedes managed to tip the scales, thanks to its race strategy and good tyre management by Hamilton. There was a lot of controversy surrounding track limits at turn four since Red Bull found the Mercedes cars flouting it during the race and not receiving a penalty. The FIA did notify Mercedes about the infringement later in the race, much to Hamilton's displeasure. The question remains as to why Verstappen handed the lead back to Hamilton, having overtaken him at the turn where track limits became a grey area, inviting intense discussions between both experts and fans. Only the FIA can clarify the concerns surrounding the track limits regulation. If Verstappen hadn't, could he have built a gap of five seconds to escape the time penalty associated with that infringement? We shall never know.

 

Bottas could have been in contention had it not been for his slow stop while Red Bull rued "what could have been" had Perez not suffered from an electronics failure and started 11th instead of last at the start of the race. Nevertheless, the Mexican drove a stellar race, winning the "Driver of the Day Award" from the fans. 


McLaren had another strong showing while Ferrari would be encouraged to see both its cars in the top 10. Alpha Tauri could have had a strong weekend, but for the unfortunate incident with Gasly at the Safety Car restart. Nonetheless, they would be pleased with the showing that Tsunoda had on his debut.


The Alfa Romeo drivers struggled with tyre management issues in their final stint, which denied them the chance of pushing harder and possibly grabbing a point. It is back to the drawing board for Aston Martin and Alpine, who failed to inspire on Sunday - Alonso's brake failure and Vettel's mistakes costing them dearly. Williams and Haas had a bitter-sweet race, with Russell and Schumacher doing well but Latifi and Mazepin coming up short.



Verstappen and Red Bull were the favourites and yet got pipped to victory by Hamilton and Mercedes. 



The Race is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong.



The season is long, and Red Bull will come back hard. This title fight is not going to be a "walk in the park".



Bring on Imola!


2021 F1 Season Preview - New Circuits, New Lineups, but the Same Goal!

2020 was the "Year of the Pandemic". The entire world went into a state of lockdown, and the Formula 1 season, which was due to kick off in Australia in March, got pushed back to July. The pandemic intensified, and more races got postponed or cancelled altogether. The FOM worked tirelessly, and new tracks got added to the revised calendar. The majority of the season got held in Europe with many double-headers and triple headers. Eventually, the 2020 season featured 17 races over six months.


Come 2021, and the pandemic still threatens the world, but the world is fighting back! Vaccination programmes have gotten underway, and even though certain regions have gone back into lockdown, humanity is pushing on to bring normalcy back again. 


The FIA and FOM have left no stone unturned in ensuring that nothing hampers the start of the 2021 season.


The calendar for the 2021 season would feature a record-breaking 23 races, with the season kicking off at Bahrain and ending in Abu Dhabi and the Australian GP getting rescheduled to November. Imola ( Emilia Romagna GP ) and Portimao ( Portuguese GP ) are retained from the previous season, while Zandvoort ( Dutch GP ) and Jeddah ( Saudi Arabian GP ) make their debuts in 2021. The technical regulations overhaul got pushed back by another year, and teams had a small window to ready their 2021 challengers.



Two teams went through a rechristening - Renault F1 changing to Alpine Racing F1 and Racing Point becoming Aston Martin Racing F1, switching from pink to green livery! Aston Martin has joined Mercedes in sharing Safety Car duties at races. 



There were personnel changes up and down the grid - Ferrari hired the services of Sainz to partner Leclerc, Ricciardo took the Spaniard's seat at McLaren. Alonso returned to F1 with Alpine Racing while Perez made the jump to Red Bull Racing, relegating Albon to a reserve driver role. Vettel joined Stroll in the newly inducted Aston Martin Racing F1 Team. Kvyat lost his Alpha Tauri seat to Honda protegee Yuki Tsunoda. 


Haas F1 introduced an all-new lineup in Nikita Mazepin and current F2 Champion and son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, Mick Schumacher!



There have been changes in the regulations, and here are some of them :


1) The maximum spending limit for teams is reduced to $145 million. 

2) Teams will be limited in the modification of the components in the season. McLaren gets special dispensation to accommodate the switch from Renault to Mercedes power. Teams get a series of tokens that allow them to introduce specific component upgrades.

3) The DAS System designed by Mercedes is banned for 2021. 

4) The race time limit ( with the inclusion of Red Flags, if any ) reduced to three hours from four.

5) Reduction in the duration of a race weekend from four to three days with media events and interview formalities from Thursday getting shifted to Friday morning. FP1 and FP2 will be 60 minutes long ( instead of 90 ), and FIA will enforce parc-ferme conditions at the end of FP3 instead of after Qualifying.


The pre-season test got held in Bahrain instead of Catalunya, with only three days of running for the teams. How did the teams fare, and how do they stack up going into the season? 


Time for an assessment before the bout begins!



Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Mercedes, the most successful team in the Turbo Era, has been setting new records each year. Mercedes has also been the pioneer of innovation, as seen in the DAS system, which unfortunately got banned for 2021. They are known to mask their pace at the pre-season tests, but this year they have had one of the most disappointing and underwhelming displays. Mercedes managed only 304 laps over three days as they tackled reliability issues and a problematic rear end on the W12. Bottas wasn't pleased with the overall balance and quipped that "they had work to do". Mercedes, by their admission, believe they can't match Red Bull in terms of race pace, but only an amateur would write off their chances before the season has even commenced. They might not be "sandbagging" like the earlier seasons, but the divide is not as big as it used to be.


Mercedes have persisted with their lineup of Hamilton and Bottas. Hamilton took his time in renewing his contract, albeit only for another year. Bottas, on the other hand, knows that his chances of winning a title are dwindling with each passing year. Hamilton has been flawless in his title defence, Bottas has been inconsistent with his results but done enough in helping Mercedes retain the Constructors' Championship every year. Mercedes protegee Russell is waiting for his chance at Williams, so Bottas can't afford any slip-ups. Lewis Hamilton will become the most successful driver of all time if he wins the title in 2021. Will Bottas be able to dethrone the reigning Champion? Highly doubtful!



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Red Bull Racing F1, the best of the rest, lost their title sponsor in Aston Martin ( for 2021 ). They are also going to lose the company of Honda at the end of 2021. However, this hasn't dampened their resolve to win. Verstappen led the charge in 2020 and was left fighting both Mercedes cars more often than not. Albon's performances came up short, and Red Bull announced their decision to assign him a Reserve Driver role for 2021. Sergio Perez, whose contract didn't get renewed at Racing Point ( now Aston Martin ), landed the drive. 


Verstappen will look to get even closer to Hamilton and Bottas, hopefully having fewer reliability issues. Perez's performances in 2020 justify him a seat at Red Bull, and he will be more than a handful once he gets up to speed. Will he able to challenge Verstappen for number one at Red Bull? Time will tell, but the team will have both their cars sparring for wins regularly. 


The RB16B has been a revelation at the pre-season tests. Red Bull seem to be in the class of their own, with no reliability issues whatsoever. Perez is also progressing well with his new ride. Mercedes is known to mask their pace until the appropriate time, but the battle looks closer than ever at the top. Red Bull is serious about winning titles again, and Verstappen and Perez might bring their hard work to fruition.



McLaren F1 Team :


McLaren won the midfield battle in 2020 but was 117 points adrift of Red Bull, who finished 2nd. The Woking-based outfit decided to switch back to Mercedes power from Renault from 2021. The iconic partnership of "McLaren Mercedes" is back! 


Lando Norris gets a new partner in Daniel Ricciardo, making this one of the strongest pairings in F1. Ricciardo is an accomplished racer with race wins to his name and is the right man to help get McLaren back to winning ways. The Australian himself yearns to be a World Champion, and McLaren might be the answer to his prayers. 


Norris is a talented racer and has been improving since his debut in 2019. The Briton bagged his first podium at the season-opener in 2020 and will be hoping to repeat this feat more often with a more potent engine at the back of his car. The intra-team battle will be a close affair.


The MCL25M, McLaren's challenger for the 2021 title, had a decent outing at the pre-season tests. While Ricciardo used testing to familiarize himself with his new car, Norris carried on with the job of providing feedback to the team, highlighting the strengths and flaws. Reliability has been McLaren's forte, and it will prove pivotal in close battles. McLaren might not be able to dethrone the top two teams but have the knowledge and resources to cement 3rd place in the Constructors' again.



Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :


Racing Point F1 changed its name to Aston Martin Cognizant F1 and its livery from pink to green for 2021. Team owner Lawrence Stroll acquired the brand, ensuring its return to "the pinnacle of motorsport" after a gap of 51 years. The team roped in the services of Sebastian Vettel, who would partner Lance Stroll. The brand further increased its presence in F1 by introducing the New Vantage as the safety car for many races. 


The team had a fantastic 2020 with one victory and three podium finishes. They came up short in the final race, which robbed them of the chance of finishing third in the Constructors'. 


However, their 2021 campaign seemed to have made a stuttering start. The pre-season test got hampered by problems ( gearbox and loss of boost pressure ) with the drivers stuck in the garage for extended periods. The limited running means that there will be a lot of learning happening going into the early rounds of the season. Vettel would need to settle in quickly since the team can't afford slip-ups in a hotly contested midfield. Stroll has a great mentor in Vettel, and the Canadian is building a reputation for himself with his consistent drivers. Aston Martin should be able to replicate the form of 2020, if not better it.



Alpine Racing F1 Team :


Alpine Racing, formerly known as Renault Sport F1, begin their challenge in 2021, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon taking the wheel of the A521. They will sport a striking blue livery with dashes of red and white. The performance division of the French marquee, Alpine Racing, had a decent showing in 2020, finishing 5th in the Constructors' Standings. 


Ricciardo left Alpine for McLaren in 2021 and got replaced by Fernando Alonso, the former Double World Champion. Alonso is well-versed with how the team operates and spent his most successful days in F1 here, so it is a win-win for both. Alonso's racecraft is hard to match, and the Spaniard can bring home unlikely results. 


Ocon continues with Alpine for the second year and will only become better. The Frenchman is an exciting prospect and will capitalize when an opportunity comes. Team chemistry will be pivotal if Alpine desires to come out on top in the midfield battle. The A521 didn't have a great outing at the pre-season tests, with the team trying multiple things over the three days. They are yet to find the perfect setup and balance, and this will continue going into Practice for the Bahrain GP. Nevertheless, as a works team, they have the resources to fund their quest to make it back to the top. 



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :


Ferrari had a torrid 2020, the team failing to win a race for the first time since 2014. The ban of their fuel flow sensor meant the engine was down on power. The team's focus was on improving downforce, and that added to their troubles. Vettel, who got replaced by Sainz, had a forgettable final year, a year mired with controversies and friction with the Team Principal. 


2021 is a new beginning for the Maranello-based outfit as they try to make amends for the disappointments of 2020. They looked like the third-best team at the end of testing, the upgraded power unit reducing the straight-line speed deficit. The amount of mileage clocked by the drivers was also commendable. 


Sainz joins forces with Leclerc in 2021. The Spaniard is one of the top drivers of the sport and will play a pivotal role in getting Ferrari back up. Leclerc, Ferrari's protegee, has already proved his worth and will enjoy preference at the start of the season. The Monegasque produced some unbelievable results in 2020 and will continue to build on those this year. Both Leclerc and Sainz are ambitious, and how the team manages the duo remains to be seen. Qualifying is one area that Ferrari will hope to address this year.


Victories might still be a challenge, but Ferrari should be a lot closer to those at the sharp end of the grid.



Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :


Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's sister team, had an exciting 2020 with a win for Pierre Gasly in Italy. Daniil Kvyat hadn't done enough to warrant him a drive, and the Russian got replaced by Honda protegee and F2 runner-up Yuki Tsunoda. The team's 2021 challenger AT02 clocked the same amount of mileage as the Alfa Romeo, and Gasly was ecstatic with the progress made. The Frenchman, who is now the team leader, had a trouble-free pre-season test. His younger team-mate Tsunoda suffered from multiple issues. The height differential between the two drivers led to problems with the pedals too. Nevertheless, the rookie was able to get up to speed quickly and was setting competitive lap times. Tsunoda has shown his calibre, rising rapidly from F4 to F1 in just four years.


Alpha Tauri has been going from strength to strength, and the data collected from the tests suggests that they could feature in the upper half of the field more often than not. The intra-team battle will also be a close affair, although I believe that Gasly will prevail, eventually.



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :


Alfa Romeo had a disappointing 2020, the turned-down Ferrari power unit being the primary cause of their lack of performance. Fredric Vasseur, the team principal, tested positive for COVID-19 before the pre-season test, but that did not hamper the team's programs. They racked up a tally of 422 laps over three days, a sign of encouragement for them going into the opening round. The midfield was a tightly contested affair in 2020, and it seems like Alfa Romeo will be a part of that mix this year. 


The team persisted with its lineup of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi. The latter won the intra-team qualifying battle and scored the same number of points as Raikkonen. Raikkonen was more consistent at finishing races, and Giovinazzi would aim to do the same in 2021. The duo enjoys a healthy relationship, and this augurs well for the team. The team needs its drivers to qualify higher to better their chances on race day. The upgraded Ferrari power unit should add more substance to Alfa Romeo's challenge in 2021. 



Haas F1 Team :


Haas F1 has been going backwards since the past few seasons and had a forgettable 2020. Haas bid goodbye to Magnussen and Grosjean, opting for an all-young lineup in Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher. 


Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, won the F2 Championship last season. Mazepin, who was brilliant in parts in F2, brings in the financial influx that the team so desperately needs. His inclusion attracted a lot of criticism from the fans, especially after a controversial incident that happened over the winter. Nevertheless, the Russian would be hoping to correct the wrongs on track and help the team get further up the grid. Schumacher takes a couple of races to find his feet, but once he settles in, he is unstoppable, just as his father.


Haas' 2021 challenger faced a few gremlins on Friday but racked up some mileage on Saturday. However, based on the data collected from the tests, Haas was the slowest team and will remain a backmarker in 2021. Gaining experience is paramount for Haas' rookies. They need clean races, and slowly but surely, the team will make gains in 2021. 



Williams Racing F1 Team :


Williams F1, under its new owners Dorilton Capital, will be looking to offload the tag of "backmarker" in 2021. The lack of sponsorships for the team means that the new owners need to be wise with their investments and set realistic targets. 


The team has developed their 2021 challenger, the FW43B, with improved downforce, but its sensitivity to the wind can make or break their plans. George Russell and Nicolas Latifi renew their partnership for 2021, and Williams would be hoping to see them finish in the points more often, thanks to the improvements made in the car over the winter. Russell had an eventful 2020 and would hope to iron out the errors that cost him some valuable points. Latifi will aim for more consistency in 2021. The Bahrain GP would be a good indicator of their fortunes for 2021. 



An exciting season awaits us in F1. The divide between Mercedes and Red Bull has reduced, and we could see a new champion at the end of 23 races. Iconic names like Aston Martin and Alpine will feature on the grid, and the midfield will feature a close contest again. It will be hard to predict who will win the "B" Championship. 


Who can forget the return of a "Schumacher" to the grid! All eyes will be on young Mick to see how he matures and what he can accomplish in a Haas. 


The pecking order will be clear after three or four races, but whatever that may be, we are just glad to have F1 return and return with a bang!


The battlegrounds change, the contenders change, but the goal remains the same - to Win and Lift the Crown!



Bring on 2021!

The Driver Merry-Go-Round... Musical Chairs in a Lockdown!

The 2020 F1 Season which was due to commence in March got postponed in the light of the pandemic COVID-19 which has wreaked havoc across the world. The calendar has been modified with the mid-summer break being preponed and the FIA hoping to have 15 to 16 race weekends in 2020.

The entire F1 Fraternity is in a state of lockdown but can there ever be calm and stillness in the world of F1??

There is a lot of paddock chatter at the start of every season about drivers moving to different teams, contracts being extended and hints being dropped to the media over every race weekend. The picture becomes clearer only during the mid-summer break, the time around which I used to make the Driver lineup predictions for the upcoming season. 

There have been major updates about Driver Lineups for 2021 since the past week, 2 of the biggest announcements coming in today. 


The 3 Major Announcements this week :

Sebastian Vettel will leave Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team at the end of the 2020 season, Daniel Ricciardo signs for McLaren F1 Team with a multi-year deal while Carlos Sainz Jr. makes the jump into the Ferrari seat vacated by Vettel!



The onset of the pandemic meant that no team was able to show their true capability. The FIA also decided to postpone the Technical Regulation overhaul which was due in 2021 to 2022. This means that teams would majorly run the same cars in 2021 ( as they would in a truncated 2020 season ) with their customary upgrades coming in in-season. This also means that drivers who are switching seats will carry vital R&D information to their new teams and this could bring the grid closer and make 2021 even more exciting.  


Let us have a look at teams who have their lineups confirmed and those which still have drives available.


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes have been the most successful team of the Turbo Era and the partnership of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ( since 2017 ) ensured that supremacy is maintained. Both are out of contract for 2021 though and there are a lot of takers for the best seats on the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the 6 Time World Champion and Mercedes' Prized Asset was rumoured to have been offered a deal by Ferrari but all the speculation came to an end after the appointment of Carlos Sainz Jr. today. Hamilton is capable of winning more titles and hasn't lost his edge, so staying put is the logical decision. Mercedes should announce the renewal of his contract soon.

Bottas, who was earlier managed by Toto Wolff, the Team Principal and CEO of the team has been through a hat-trick of one-year contract extensions with the team. The availability of Sebastian Vettel for 2021 means that Bottas' chances of contract extension are again down to his performances in 2020 ( if we go racing ). The chances of losing his seat seem bleak ( for now ) but if his performances aren't up to the mark then the team might have to do a rethink and probably convince Vettel ( if he is contemplating retirement ).  

If Mercedes were to consider signing the 4-time world champion ( Vettel ), Bottas would be relegated to a team further down the grid. Renault F1 Team would be the best bet in that case since Mercedes' Esteban Ocon got the nod for a drive in 2020 thanks to the efforts of Toto Wolff ( who might manage Bottas again if he is on the way out ). A lot hinges on what transpires on track for the Finn.  


There is George Russell as well ( who is a part of the team's driver program ) but is contracted at Williams till the end of 2021. The 2018 F2 Champion is a fantastic driver but will need more grooming before he is ready for the big jump.



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Carlos Sainz Jr. comes in to replace Sebastian Vettel for 2021 and will partner Charles Leclerc. Charles Leclerc had a great maiden season at Ferrari beating his more experienced team-mate and a 4 time World Champion in Vettel. He is the future and the team hope to see him as Champion one day!

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 with the dream of winning a championship with them, just like his idol Michael Schumacher. 5 years have passed and the dream is yet to be fulfilled. 2020 will be his last chance if we do have any races. Pre-season tests weren't the most encouraging but a lot can change at races ( as seen in the past ). Vettel had a lot more on his plate during his time at Ferrari than at Red Bull. There were frequent changes in the top brass, strategy calls weren't at their best, there were mechanical failures and then there were rookie mistakes at pivotal moments by the driver himself. He had to do a lot more within the team than just racing and that can take a toll on any individual. Not much has changed as is evident from the results of 2019. Vettel also knows that he might not have preferential status ( which was never the case despite public admission by the team ) and decided against renewing his contract. It is interesting to note that he took this decision after spending just one season with Leclerc as team-mate which hints at the fact that all was not well between them ( similar to his only season with Ricciardo in Red Bull in 2014 ).

What next for Sebastian Vettel :

Vettel still has the will to win. He is one of the top drivers on the grid and with the right team of people around him, can easily bring home his 5th World Title. The only teams capable of giving him those setups are Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and Red Bull Racing F1, his former employers. Going elsewhere doesn't make sense. Dr Helmut Marko has made it clear that Red Bull has no vacancy for Vettel. Mercedes AMG F1 have won 6 Constructors Championships in a row with their prized asset Lewis Hamilton winning 5 Champions in the Turbo Era! Valtteri Bottas in the other seat is out of contract at the end of 2020. 

Would Mercedes want to have 2 serious contenders for the title in each of their cars? It would be a dream lineup but such a move seems highly improbable since Hamilton will have a say in such a decision. It could lead to stressful times and even clashes, something that was a regular feature during the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership from 2014 to 2016. Bottas who joined in 2017 has done a fine job as a dutiful team-mate, keeping the best interests of the team always. He has had his fair share of wins but can't match the class of a Hamilton. Hamilton and Bottas share a great equation, so why change something that works? If Vettel was to move to Mercedes...then where would Bottas go? ( Renault probably )

I feel Sebastian Vettel will take a sabbatical from the sport. It would be really sad to not see a 4 time World Champion on the grid. I hope I am wrong.


What's in Store for Carlos Sainz Jr?

Carlos Sainz Jr. has worked hard to get a top drive. A product of the Red Bull Driver Program, he partnered Max Verstappen who was chosen over him for promotion to the A-Team ( in-season in 2016 ) by Red Bull. He stayed with Toro Rosso ( now Alpha Tauri ) until his switch in-season to Renault F1 in 2017 and then stayed with them for 2018. He did an exceptional job for McLaren F1 Team ( his employers in 2019 ), bagging a podium, a feat achieved by them after 2072 days and finishing 6th in the Drivers' Standings ( Best of the rest ) in a highly competitive year. He was termed as "hot property" and McLaren chased the others away by signing him on a multi-year deal till 2022. Ferrari would have paid a hefty amount to McLaren to fulfil the exit clause on his contract.

The Spanish Media is overjoyed with this news, evident from the series of tweets which were like a countdown to the official announcement of his appointment ( on  Movistar F1 Reporter Noemi di Miguel's Twitter Handle ). The Spaniard is following the footsteps of his hero and double world champion Fernando Alonso and I am sure he will be a handful at Ferrari! He needed the drive to show what he is truly capable of...THIS IS HIS CHANCE! We wish the best for Carlos Sainz Jr...

Ferrari will have relatively younger drivers in their lineup, something that goes against their tradition of having a mix of youth and experience. Hope they can develop a strong package for 2021 and beyond. 

Daniel Ricciardo was another contender for this seat ( equally worthy of it and a multiple race winner ) but I think he would have decided against it because Leclerc enjoys the same amount of attention that Verstappen does at Red Bull. He also saved himself from the politics that come with bagging a seat at Ferrari.   


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren is on the move, they have been improving since their switch to Renault Power from 2018 and 2019 saw them finish in a strong position ( 4th ) in the Constructors' Standings. They will be powered by Mercedes Benz from 2021 onwards, the return of the iconic "McLaren Mercedes" Partnership - reminiscent of the days of Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and a young Kimi Raikkonen! The switch to Mercedes power was due to the new technical regulations but due to the postponement of the same, considerable amount of work will be required on their 2020/21 chassis to accommodate the 2021 spec Mercedes Unit. 


Lando Norris, the McLaren protegee will be partnered by Daniel Ricciardo who makes his way from Renault F1 Team in 2021. Norris had a decent rookie year but will need to iron out the mistakes to bring the team closer to the top and ensure he enjoys an upper hand in the intra-team battle.


Daniel Ricciardo switched to Renault F1 at the start of the 2019 season on a 2 year deal with the hope to be part of a Factory Works Team that can return to winning ways. 2019 wasn't smooth sailing for either with experts and fans questioning the reason behind such a move. His switch to McLaren coincides with the arrival of the reliable and multi championship-winning Mercedes engine in 2021. This could be the boost that the team needs to propel themselves to the sharp end of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo was the driver of choice to land the Ferrari Seat ( for most of us ) but this switch isn't such a bad deal after all. He might not be in a Championship winning car yet but will be able to bag podiums and an occasional win. Will 2022 be the same? That is another matter.

Ricciardo and Norris are great entertainers in the world of F1 and the prospect of having them as team-mates will add more fans to an already popular and well-known team!


 


Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing F1 had some tough decisions to make in 2019. Pierre Gasly who had landed the drive alongside Max Verstappen had to be demoted to Scuderia Toro Rosso ( now known as Scuderia Alpha Tauri ) mid-season due to inconsistent performances. Alexander Albon, a rookie got the nod and he didn't disappoint. His performances warranted him a drive in 2020 but come 2021, that seat is once again up for grabs! Max Verstappen is the team leader and his contract extension of 3 years indicate he wants to win Championships at Red Bull. The one who comes on board as his team-mate will need to be equally good if not better since both drivers need to score big in the team's quest to win the Constructors' title again. 


The Contenders - Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat & Pierre Gasly. The trio has had a stint with the A-Team and is aware of the standards that need to be set to remain in that seat. 

If we don't have any racing in 2020, then the seat by default should land with Albon. The young Thai Driver has impressed the bosses with his consistent drives and almost bagged a podium in Brazil but to be taken out by Hamilton on the penultimate lap last year. 

Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly ( after his demotion ) made a strong case for themselves in 2019, bagging a podium each. 2020 is the best chance to win back the trust of the top brass. Dr Helmut Marko, the head of the Red Bull Driver Program admitted that Kvyat was back in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat after his performances in 2019 and Red Bull will take their time ( probably till the end of 2020 ) before making a decision. Dr Helmut Marko also shunned the possibility of Sebastian Vettel returning to Red Bull.


Albon is the favourite for 2021 ( according to me ).


 


Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Scuderia Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's "B" Team, has been a great launchpad for drivers of Red Bull's Driver Programme. The departures of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo from the programme have seen their options dwindle. The most promising youngster in their ranks is the Estonian Juri Vips but he is still a year or two away from an F1 Drive. This leaves Red Bull with Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. Albon stays in the A team for 2020 while the other two are retained by Alpha Tauri. 

The trio is in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat for 2021, so the pair that misses out is likely to be retained by the team for 2021. Red Bull can look outside their program and rope in the services of the next F2 Champion ( if he isn't of any other programme ) or sign another capable F2 driver. Too early to make that call and we shall have a better picture once racing in 2020 kicks off.   


( Jehan Daruvala, the Indian Racer in F2 has also been recruited to the Red Bull Junior Team )



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault Sport F1 had a challenging 2019. They snapped up the services of Esteban Ocon (2-year contract ) after he was released by Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo was also offered a long term contract but the talks fell apart and the Australian moved to McLaren F1. 


The empty Renault seat is now a hotbed for speculation. They aren't where they should be but as a works team have a lot of resources and manpower to turn things around. This will attract the attention of the extremely talented but currently on a sabbatical, Fernando Alonso. Alonso had 2 fantastic stints with Renault, winning back to back Championships in 2005 and 2006. He knows the team well, knows how they operate and has the skill set to help them diagnose issues and turn things around. His experience will be invaluable. He will also be a great mentor to a younger Ocon. 


Valtteri Bottas is another option if Mercedes were to release him in 2021. He would have a fair amount of experience and bring in vital knowledge which could help the team build a formidable challenger next year. We shall know soon. The team must weigh all their option before making any decision.


The recently released Nico Hulkenberg is also an option for the team. The German failed to capitalize whenever an opportunity arose and might not bring anything new to the table...so his chances of being re-signed are low.


Renault lost the services of F2 Driver Jack Aitken ( who was their reserve driver ) to Williams but they have a good pool of talented drivers who will eventually be F1 worthy soon. 




Racing Point F1 Team :

Sergio Perez, the faithful one, announced that he would be sticking with the team for another 3 years. Lance Stroll's contract is due for renewal at the end of 2020 but he is likely to stay put. His Billionaire Father Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in the team after saving it from going into administration in 2018. His acquisition of the Aston Martin brand brings an added impetus. There is a new factory on the way in 2021 and the team will be rechristened as Aston Martin Racing F1, so long term plans are already in place. There have also been reports of Toto Wolff, the current team principal and CEO of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 moving to the team since he holds a stake in Aston Martin. I see it as highly improbable. Mercedes will do everything to retain their winning combination.

On the Driver Front, it seems the pairing of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll will stay. The team need continuity in this rebuilding phase and the duo offer a right mix of Experience and Youth.



Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 persisted with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for 2020. It was a big surprise to retain the duo because they don't get along and have brought a fair share of pain to the team with their on-track errors and tiffs. They need to improve their performances in 2020 to help the team come back up and make the bosses view the team's participation in the sport as a profitable and feasible venture. Both drivers are out of contract in 2020 and I see Grosjean being released by the team.  


Magnussen is feisty but is more consistent of the two which tips the scales in his favour. I see him being retained for 2021.


Nico Hulkenberg will be a great option for the team. The German was initially resistant to a move lower down the grid but was willing to bend to save his F1 Career last year. Haas had made their decision by then. They should consider him for 2021 though. He is quick and more dependable than their current lineup. His not-so-amicable interactions with Magnussen ( in the past ) will pose a hurdle should the team have such a pairing.   

I see Louis Deletraz ( a Renault protegee ) and Haas' test driver for 2020 as another contender for the seat. The promotion will hinge on his performances in F2 where he has been racing for the past 4 years and improving steadily. 



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo is going through a massive rebuilding phase. Kimi Raikkonen provided them with a mini-revival of sorts in the first half of 2019 but the lack of updates sent them backwards in the second half. Antonio Giovinazzi, on the other hand, had a much better second half with performances improving with each passing race. The duo was retained for 2020 but come 2021, both seats will be up for grabs at this team.


Antonio Giovinazzi deserves a drive in 2021. One must remember that he hadn't raced competitively for 2 years and he will go from strength to strength in 2020. He has the skills to be in a top team and Scuderia Ferrari will be closely monitoring his progress..who knows he might eventually get the call up to partner Leclerc in the Prancing Horse!


Kimi Raikkonen, my hero, is in the twilight of his glorious career and 2020 is slated to be his last year in F1. We are yet to go racing in 2020 and the delay of the new regulations to 2022 might tempt him to stay on for another year at Alfa Romeo. The team that gave him his debut way back in 2002 have reiterated that he is free to race with them as long as he wants, his expertise being pivotal in their revival. He has also been mentoring his team-mate with regards to racing in F1.


There are a few talents from the Ferrari Drivers' Program waiting in the wings should a seat become available - Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher has been fast-tracked into F2, Callum Illot ( who tested for the team last year ), Marcus Armstrong and the F3 Champion of 2019 Robert Schwartzman.




Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :

Williams F1, one of the oldest teams of the sport have lost their way in the Turbo Era. There have been the slowest on the grid for quite some time but there are glimpses of hope from the results in the second half of 2019. George Russell, the 2018 F2 Champion is retained and contracted till the end of 2021 while Nicolas Latifi, the 2019 F2 Runner Up bagged the second seat for 2020. He brings a significant amount of funding with him, something desperately needed at the team and this will work in his favour for 2021.

If Mercedes were to exercise the option of hiring George Russell in 2021, then Williams has a considerable pool of talent from their programme to replace the Brit - Reserve Car Driver Jack Aitken, Dan Ticktum, Roy Nissany and even Jamie Chadwick who could bring the return of females into F1 after 43 years!



I think Nyck de Vries, the 2019 F2 Champion also deserves a special mention. The talented Dutchman who finally won the coveted title couldn't find a drive for 2020 ( quite unfortunate ) and is plying his trade in Formula E. I do hope that he is considered by some team and doesn't fade into oblivion like Davide Valsecchi, the 2012 GP2 Champion!

I would love to see him in the Black and Yellow of Renault F1 and if he does...then remember that you first read it here!


The 2020 F1 Season hasn't even kicked off and it feels like 2021 is already upon us. The news of Drivers with New Drives have made many of us forget that they still have a full season of racing left with their current teams! Time is flying by in 2020.

Such has been these lockdowns in the time of COVID-19.... and the F1 Fraternity have been playing Musical Chairs!