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2021 Dutch GP Race Recap : A Raging Bull in a Sea of Oranje!

The Dutch Grand Prix last appeared in the 1985 F1 Season. Circuit Zandvoort, since then, went through a series of upgrades and improvements but never got a place on the F1 calendar again.

The arrival of Max Verstappen, the next big star of the sport, had the Oranje Army travelling all over Europe, and the time was nigh for a home race.

The FIA and FOM heeded the pleas, and the Dutch GP announced its return in the 2020 Season. Zandvoort finally had the facilities to get classified as "F1 spec". However, the onset of the Pandemic COVID-19 put a spanner in the works, and the race got cancelled in 2020.

However, the circuit finally debuted in the turbo era as round 13 in the 2021 season. Circuit Zandvoort, built by the same designer who made the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, is famous for the steep bankings at turns three, thirteen and fourteen. A fast-flowing, old-school track with big gravel traps, Zandvoort is unique. The narrow nature of the circuit makes overtaking a challenge.

Leading up to the Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen announced his retirement from the sport. The Flying Finn had had his fill of the sport and desired to move onto better things in life after 2021. A flurry of farewell messages poured in from across the world. A tribute on my blog will get published at the opportune time.

Inclement weather played spoilsport on Sunday at Spa-Francorchamps the previous weekend, and the fans yearned for a proper race in the Netherlands. 

Hamilton knew that he would get a frosty reception at Verstappen's home race. Only 3 points separated the two drivers going into the weekend, and the battle for the Constructors was closer than ever.

Who reigned supreme on the shores of the North Sea? 

Time for a recap of the Dutch GP!

Practice :

Technical issues with FIA Safety Systems delayed the start of FP1 and FP2.

Tsunoda, who hadn't raced at Zandvoort before, suffered a spin after exiting the pits at the start of FP1. His teammate Gasly narrowly missed hitting the wall while Ocon had an offtrack excursion in his Alpine

It was a problematic morning for Vettel, who first reported an MGU-K issue. After a quick fix in the pits, the German returned to the track, but as he began his timed lap, smoke billowed from the back of his engine. Aston Martin instructed Vettel to come to an immediate stop. The German helped the marshalls in dousing the flames, but the vehicle couldn't get extricated since the green light was active on the car ( electrically live ). When the car finally got towed, 37 minutes of the one-hour session had passed. It was an engine failure for Vettel and Aston Martin.  

Eventually, the track was clear with six minutes remaining, and all the drivers rushed to gather as much data as possible. Norris went over a gravel trap, and then on another lap, almost got pushed off the track when Ocon cut across. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Ocon received a warning for his error.

Hamilton topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, nine-hundredths clear of home hero Verstappen. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were P3 and P4, followed by Bottas and the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon. Giovinazzi, Stroll and Gasly completed the top 10.

P11 was the best that Norris could manage from Latifi and Raikkonen. Ricciardo was P14 in the other McLaren, with Russell and Perez P15 and P16, respectively. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher, Vettel and Tsunoda, completed the back of the pack. 

There was drama at the start of FP2, with Hamilton coming to a stop on track due to an oil pressure anomaly detected by Mercedes. The Briton would take no further part, and the session got red-flagged to extricate the car safely. Another Red Flag followed shortly after, with Mazepin getting stuck in the gravel at turn eleven. 

The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz ended FP2 the quickest, with Ocon, Bottas, Verstappen and Alonso completing the top 6. Gasly was P7 in his Alpha Tauri, followed by Norris, Giovinazzi and Vettel.

Despite his session getting cut short, Hamilton set the 11th quickest time, ahead of Perez, Tsunoda and Stroll. Ricciardo was P15 in the other McLaren, followed by Raikkonen and Schumacher. Mazepin split the Williams of Latifi and Russell at the back of the field.

It was a compromised Friday for several drivers due to the frequent Red Flags in FP1 and FP2. The lack of high-fuel running left Hamilton at a disadvantage, and the Mercedes engines seemed to have chinks in their armour with breakdowns. The Ferraris looked competitive over one lap, and less than a second covered the top 10 in both sessions.

There was work to do for all the drivers in FP3.

Raikkonen tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday morning, which led to his withdrawal from the weekend. Alfa Romeo announced Robert Kubica, their reserve driver, as his replacement.

FP3 got underway, and the emphasis was on single-lap pace. While Vettel had a trip across the gravel at turn 10, Leclerc took to the runoff area at turn twelve. Norris and Schumacher too narrowly escaped from getting stuck in the gravel traps. However, Sainz lost the back of his Ferrari and clattered into the barriers at turn 3, bringing out the Red Flags. Thankfully, the Spaniard was unhurt, but the team faced a race against time to get the car ready for Qualifying.

Verstappen was the quickest at the end of the session, half a second clear of Bottas and Hamilton. Perez was P4 in the other Red Bull, with Alonso and Norris completing the top 6. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel were P7 and P8, followed by Leclerc and Gasly in P9 and P10, respectively.

Ricciardo was P11 in the other McLaren, while Ocon split the Williams of Latifi and Russell in P13. Giovinazzi set the 15th quickest time, followed by Sainz and Tsunoda. At the back of the pack, Kubica split the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher.

A clear track, along with optimal use of track evolution, would prove pivotal in the battle for Pole Position.

Qualifying :

It was time for Qualifying, and Sainz's Ferrari was ready for battle after a quick repair job by the Ferrari mechanics.

Q1 got underway, and, barring the Mercedes duo, the rest of the field opted for the soft tyres. The cars got fueled for multiple runs and lap times improved with more rubber getting laid onto the race track.

At the end of the first runs, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc and Alonso were the top 6 with Tsunoda, Sainz, Mazepin, Schumacher and Kubica facing elimination. 

Ferrari informed Sainz that track evolution would make the lap times quicker by a second, and sure enough, the Spaniard improved to P8. Russell, in his Williams, was the next driver to move up to P5.

As the lap times kept improving for everyone, the Mercedes drivers also switched to the soft tyres for their final runs. Barring Verstappen, Gasly and Alonso, everyone else was on track to better their times.

Traffic was forming up in the last sector as the drivers jostled for track position. Perez was at the back of this queue and failed to start his final attempt before the clock ran out. Vettel, on a flying lap, got impeded by the Haas duo, especially Mazepin. The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards decided against penalizing the Russian.

Less than a second separated the top 16 at the end of Q1. Leclerc, Sainz, Verstappen, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Hamilton were the top 6, with Perez, Vettel, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated in Q1.

Softs were the tyres of choice for all the 15 drivers participating in Q2.  Halfway through Q2, Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo were the top 6, while Russell, Stroll, Norris, Latifi and Tsunoda were in the drop zone.

The Williams drivers decided to head out earlier than the rest of the field for their final run of Q2. Russell looked on course to break into the top 10 when he carried too much speed into turn 13. He got spun around and suffered an impact with the barriers on the rear of his car. The stewards Red Flagged the session, but the Briton managed to limp back to the pits for a damage assessment. Eventually, when the session restarted, Russell's Williams wasn't fit to take further part in Qualifying. 

The final minutes of Q2 saw Leclerc and Giovinazzi stay put while the rest prepared to spar on the track for a place in Q3. Latifi, in the other Williams, was the first driver to start his flying lap but put a wheel on the grass at turn 8. The Canadian lost control of his Williams and rammed into the barriers, wrecking the rear of his car. The session got Red Flagged again, and the stewards announced that Q2 had ended!

Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Sainz, Ocon, Alonso and Giovinazzi got through to Q3, while Russell, Stroll, Norris, Tsunoda and Latifi got eliminated.

Q3 got underway, and all ten drivers opted for a fresh set of soft tyres. The drivers wasted no time in setting a representative time. Verstappen went the quickest, three-tenths clear of Bottas and Hamilton at the end of the first run. Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were into the top 6, with Giovinazzi going 8th quickest in his Alfa Romeo. 

The drivers returned to the pits for refuelling and new tyres. It was time for the final battle for pole position. Verstappen failed to improve in the first sector but went quickest in the second. He eventually went faster than his first attempt. Meanwhile, the Mercedes drivers set their personal best sector times. Hamilton went the fastest of anybody in sector three but ended the lap second best, three hundredths shy of Verstappen's time. Bottas' best lap was three tenths slower than Verstappen's.

Verstappen bagged pole position at his home race! His title rival Hamilton was on the front row in P2, with Bottas P3 in the other Mercedes. Two stellar laps in Q3 saw Gasly bag P4, followed by an all-Ferrari third row in Leclerc and Sainz. Giovinazzi equalled his best Qualifying result in P7, beating the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso. Ricciardo completed the top 10.

Replays showed that Verstappen's rear wing failed to open when he hit the DRS button on the pit straight. The resulting failure cost him two-tenths on his final lap. It was a Qualifying masterclass by Verstappen in Zandvoort, in front of the Oranje Army. However, his teammate Perez qualified a dismal 16th after a tactical error denied him his final attempt in Q1. It would be a long Sunday afternoon for the Mexican as he hoped to make up places on a track with limited overtaking opportunities. Red Bull was at a disadvantage with Verstappen having to contend with both Mercedes alone on Sunday. As for Mercedes, Hamilton and Bottas were right up there with Verstappen. Mercedes could outscore its rivals in the Constructors' Championships, with Bottas playing the perfect support role as Hamilton locked horns with Verstappen. However, the breakdown on Friday showed that Mercedes had chinks in its armour.

Gasly, like every other weekend, was the shining star for Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman continued to impress and looked set for a sizeable haul of points on Sunday. As for Tsunoda, P15 was the best that the Japanese could achieve. Team Principal Franz Tost hoped to see Tsunoda break into the top 10 on Saturday, but the latter failed to match it. Tsunoda was fighting for his seat in 2022 and couldn't afford mediocrity on Sunday. 

Ferrari-powered cars had looked strong on Friday, and the works team didn't disappoint come Qualifying. Despite the crash in FP3, the Ferrari mechanics got Sainz's car ready for Qualifying. Less than a hundredth of a second separated the Ferrari duo. The team had the opportunity of outscoring and retaking P3 from McLaren in the Constructor standings.

Antonio Giovinazzi was the revelation of Qualifying. The Italian equalled his best Qualifying performance in P7. With Raikkonen out of the race weekend due to COVID-19, the onus was on Giovinazzi to salvage some points. As for Kubica, who stepped in for Raikkonen for the remainder of the weekend, P18 was a commendable attempt in Qualifying. Although the lead built by Williams seemed insurmountable, Alfa Romeo needed to keep chipping away, and Giovinazzi was their best hope for Sunday.

Ocon and Alonso had been consistent in all practice sessions, with the team going through a resurgence since the past few races. Alpine hoped to outscore Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin on Sunday and further cement P5 in the Championship. As for the Aston Martin duo of Stroll and Vettel, it was a disappointing session. P12 and P17 were the best that Stroll and Vettel could achieve, and the possibility of getting into points-scoring positions on race day seemed bleak. 

Daniel Ricciardo managed to outqualify teammate Norris for the second consecutive time. The Australian seemed to have found a solution for his troubles at McLaren. Meanwhile, Norris had a forgettable Saturday in P13 and faced a long Sunday afternoon. In a hotly contested battle for P3, McLaren faced an uphill task at maintaining its slim cushion of 4.5 points.  

Russell and Latifi looked set for Q3 appearances when mistakes by both drivers cost them higher grid positions for the race. Latifi came off worse from the incidents, the rear of his Williams wrecked by the impact. Both drivers were apologetic towards the team but seemed to have the pace to recover some pride on Sunday. The struggles for Haas F1 continued, and once again, Schumacher managed to beat teammate Mazepin at the back of the field.

Race Strategy, combined with a clean opening lap, would pay dividends on Sunday. On a physically demanding circuit like Zandvoort, the drivers needed to maintain their focus throughout the race. One slip-up and the gravel traps would wreck their aspirations for the weekend.

Race :

Red Bull decided to change the power unit on Perez's car along with a new energy store. On a track where overtaking is difficult, it was a prudent decision to take up new components and serve the necessary penalties that came with it. As a result, the Mexican started the race from the pit lane.

Williams opted to change the front wing and nose assembly on Latifi's car to a different spec, resulting in a pit lane start for the Canadian.

The FIA issued a new directive for the race, considering the narrowness of the pit lane. The ruling was that a second car ( in the event of double stacking ) could block the pit box behind or end up hampering oncoming vehicles in the fast lane. Such an incident of impeding, if detected, would get referred to the stewards as an infringement.

Unlike Spa-Francorchamps, the sun was shining at Zandvoort. C1, C2 and C3 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race.

Outside the top 10, Russell, Norris, Kubica, Mazepin and Latifi opted for the mediums while Perez chose hard tyres for the start of the race. 

The five red lights went out, and the Dutch GP got underway. It was a clean getaway for Verstappen off the line. Hamilton and Bottas held onto P2 and P3, respectively, but further down the field, Giovinazzi dropped back to P10 after hitting the back of Ocon's Alpine, who cut across the track. Alonso and Ocon were up to P7 and P8, while Perez got past Latifi for P19. Meanwhile, the Haas cars were sparring, and Mazepin almost put Schumacher into the wall, much to the German's displeasure.

Verstappen pulled away from Hamilton and was the fastest man on track, building a lead of 3 seconds. Ocon was pressuring Alonso for P7, but the Spaniard fended off the challenge. Schumacher switched to the hard tyres on lap 5, rejoining last. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 6. 

Ocon complained to Alpine that Alonso was holding him up. Meanwhile, Perez suffered a massive lock-up into turn one while contending with Mazepin for P17 ( lap 7 ). The resulting flat spot on his tyres led to vibrations, and Red Bull instructed Perez to pit on lap 10. The Mexican switched to the mediums, rejoining in P19. 

Ferrari informed Leclerc that they were switching to Plan B. Hamilton was the fastest man on track as Verstappen reached the milestone - 1000 race laps led on lap 10. Vettel pitted for the mediums on lap 11, rejoining in P18. Latifi got past Mazepin for P16, while Stroll pressured Russell for P11. Perez began his charge up the field with overtakes on Mazepin, Latifi and Kubica on laps 16, 19, and 21, respectively.

Hamilton was losing tyre performance and pitted for a fresh set of mediums on lap 21. It was 3.6 seconds stop due to an issue with the front right tyre. Verstappen followed suit, a lap later, and maintained his advantage on Hamilton. 

Meanwhile, Perez got past Tsunoda for P14, while Vettel overtook Mazepin for P17. Gasly and Latifi pitted for mediums and hard tyres, respectively ( lap 25 ). While Gasly rejoined in P7, Latifi dropped down to P19. At the front, Hamilton had reduced the gap to Verstappen to only 1.2 seconds.

The first round of pit stops continued as Giovinazzi, Russell and Stroll pitted on lap 29. While Giovinazzi switched to the mediums, Russell and Stroll chose the hard tyres. Gasly got past Ocon for P6 on lap 28.

Bottas was yet to stop for fresh tyres, and Verstappen was closing in on him to reclaim the lead. Mercedes instructed Bottas to hold up Verstappen for as long as possible. The defence was short-lived as Verstappen retook the lead on lap 31, with Hamilton relegating his teammate to P3 a couple of corners later. Further down the field, Latifi got past Mazepin for P18.

A slew of pit stops followed, with Ricciardo switching to the hard tyres on lap 31 and Bottas switching to the mediums on lap 32. Lap 32 also saw Sainz, Ocon and Tsunoda pit for fresh tyres. While Sainz chose the hard tyres, Ocon and Tsunoda took the mediums. Alonso was the next driver to switch to the medium tyres on lap 34, rejoining in P9.

Meanwhile, on the track, Stroll got past Kubica for P14, while Russell got handed a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Leclerc pitted for the hard tyres on lap 35, rejoining in P5, while Giovinazzi suffered a puncture and had to pit again for a fresh set of mediums. The unfortunate incident took him out of contention for points. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Alonso and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 36.

Vettel challenged Kubica for P14 and suffered a spin at turn three, losing positions to Tsunoda and Latifi. Bottas, who was lapping the field, saw the spin ahead of him and locked up. The Finn had to take avoiding action and lost time to Verstappen and Hamilton at the front. 

Hamilton pitted again on lap 40, switching to a used set of mediums and rejoining in P2. Verstappen pitted a lap later, switched to the hards, and retained his lead. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got past Kubica for P14. Hamilton was the fastest man on the track on lap 42. 

At the back of the pack, Mazepin suffered a hydraulic failure and retired from the race. The second round of pit stops had begun, and Norris switched to hard tyres on lap 44, while Vettel to the mediums a couple of laps later.

Hamilton couldn't close the gap to Verstappen and quipped that the bluff of an early stop hadn't worked. Meanwhile, McLaren switched Norris and Ricciardo's positions to allow Norris to build a gap to others behind on fresher tyres. Perez had got himself into contention for a points finish and switched to the soft tyres on lap 49. The Mexican rejoined in P11 but lost a position to Russell, only to reclaim it a lap later. Alpha Tauri detected an issue on the PU Data, which forced Tsunoda to retire on lap 50. Meanwhile, Hamilton was the fastest driver on the track.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon, Norris and Ricciardo were the top 10 at lap 53.

Perez was setting blistering lap times and closing in on Ricciardo in the battle for P10. McLaren instructed Ricciardo to hold up Perez to protect Norris' P9. The ploy failed, and Ricciardo got relegated to P11 on lap 55. Meanwhile, Verstappen and Hamilton were making their way through the backmarkers, and the ensuing traffic allowed Hamilton to close up within 1.5 seconds of Verstappen. 

Further down the field, Vettel got past Kubica for P16 ( lap 57 ), while Giovinazzi relegated Latifi to P15 ( lap 60 ). Vettel continued his recovery with overtakes on Latifi and Giovinazzi to move up to P14. In the battle for P9, Perez had closed upon Norris. Similarly, Alonso began to pressure Sainz for P6.

Perez and Norris were side-by-side going into turn one on lap 67. Norris had the inside line but opted to go wide on the corner exit. Meanwhile, Perez opted to make a move on the outside of Norris. The duo banged wheels, and both cars lost some aerodynamic bits from the contact. Nevertheless, Perez claimed P9 from Norris and began to hunt down Ocon. 

Mercedes asked Bottas to pit for soft tyres on lap 68 as a "precaution" against the vibrations building on his existing tyres. He then got instructed to refrain from attempting the fastest lap and allow Hamilton to gain that point. The Finn didn't heed the request despite James Vowles' communication ( Chief Strategist ) to abort the attempt. As a result, Hamilton got forced to pit again on the penultimate lap and switch to the soft tyres. Russell also pitted for soft tyres and served his time penalty in the pits. 

Meanwhile, on track, Perez managed to get past Ocon for P8 ( lap 71 ) and closed up on Alonso and Sainz in the battle for P6. While Alonso got past Sainz for P6 on the final lap, Russell returned to the pits with a gearbox problem and retired. 

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Dutch GP, while Hamilton came home in 2nd, having bagged the point for the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. Bottas came home in 3rd to complete a double podium for Mercedes.

Gasly produced another stellar drive to finish P4, followed by Leclerc and Alonso. Sainz managed to hold onto P7 from Perez, who put him under intense pressure. Ocon and Norris completed the top 10.

P11 was the best that Ricciardo could achieve, followed by the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel. Giovinazzi and Kubica were 14th and 15th, respectively, for Alfa Romeo, with Latifi, Russell and Schumacher completing the classified finishers.

The Dutch supporters were overjoyed at the sight of their home hero winning the race. For Verstappen, it was win number seven in 2021. The Red Bull driver reclaimed the lead in the Drivers' Championship. He led Hamilton by 3 points going into Monza. Verstappen had been flawless all weekend and deserved the win. Such was the dominance of Verstappen that he lapped everyone up to P4. As for his teammate Perez, he recovered from the disappointment of Qualifying to finish a commendable P8. Red Bull trailed Mercedes by 12 points in the Constructor Standings, but today was a day of celebration for their star driver.

As for Mercedes, a double podium with an extra point for the fastest lap helped them outscore Red Bull by two on the weekend. Hamilton did all he could to challenge Verstappen, but the Dutchman romped to victory unopposed. The mechanical issue on Friday compromised Hamilton's preparations for the weekend, and P2 was damage-limitation. The Briton relinquished his lead in the Championship. Bottas put in a composed drive to P3, overtaking Norris in the battle for P3 in the Drivers' standings. He, however, ruffled some feathers with his disobedience to team orders. 

Gasly continued to impress with another P4 finish for Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman had finished in the top 6 for three races on the trot. Tsunoda suffered a retirement but was recovering well until the car broke down. Gasly's 12 points helped Alpha Tauri reduce the deficit to Alpine to six points in the battle for P5 in the Constructors'. 

Leclerc had another strong showing in P5, while Sainz finished P7 in the other Ferrari. While Leclerc achieved the best result possible, Sainz complained about engine power the entire race, finishing 30 seconds behind his teammate. Nevertheless, Ferrari regained P3 in the Constructors', opening up a lead of 11.5 points to arch-rivals McLaren. 

It was another double points-finish for the Alpine duo, with Alonso bagging P6 and Ocon P9. The Frenchman believed that he had more pace and got stuck behind Alonso during the early part of the race. Alpine maintained its hold on P5 in the Constructors' despite getting outscored by Alpha Tauri. 

McLaren had a weekend to forget in the Netherlands. P10 and one point were the best that they could extract from the weekend. While Norris bagged the better result, Ricciardo once again went backwards to finish just outside the points. The result dealt a severe blow to their aspirations for P3 in the Constructors. The team needed to turn things around in Monza.

Aston Martin had another weekend without any points, its drivers getting stuck behind slower cars at pivotal moments of the race. Like McLaren, they too had a weekend to forget, slowly fading away from the midfield battle. They now trailed Alpha Tauri by 29 points and remained a lowly 7th in the Constructors.

Giovinazzi's heroics on Saturday came to nought after a puncture in the race dropped him out of the points. The Italian fought hard to salvage some pride for the team, but P14 was the best he achieved from a highly compromised Sunday. Kubica finished in P15, having enjoyed a Grand Prix driving a "much better car" than those from the past. The unavailability of Raikkonen due to COVID-19 hurt the team's chances, and with Williams going point-less this weekend, it was a missed opportunity for Alfa Romeo to reduce the deficit.

Despite retiring on the final lap, Russell got classified as P17, behind his teammate Latifi. The mistakes by both the drivers on Saturday ended any hopes for a top 10 finish on Sunday. It was a disappointing weekend for Williams after the highs of Spa-Francorchamps. 

As for the Haas F1 Team, history was repeating itself as its drivers sparred both on and off the track. The friction from Saturday poured onto the race on Sunday, and Mazepin's defensive tactics didn't go down well with the top brass. Addressing the misunderstandings was a priority to avoid any untoward incidents at Monza.

Verstappen had made the most of the home advantage and won the race. Expectations were high, and Verstappen didn't falter in his performance. 

The F1 contingent would now travel to Monza, Italy, to compete for supremacy at the Temple of Speed. The home of the Tifosi, Ferrari's beloved fans, Monza is the fastest track on the calendar and promises another humdinger of a race. It is also the home race for Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo, who will hope for a good showing.

Everyone prayed for Raikkonen to return fully fit for one last dance at Monza in front of the Tifosi and the fans of Alfa Romeo, who have loved him through his years of racing in F1.

Let the countdown to the Italian GP begin!

2021 Belgian GP Race Recap : A Spa-ctacular Washout!

The second half of the 2021 F1 Season began with the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The teams and drivers faced a hectic schedule with six races over seven weeks at the start of the latter half of the season. The Belgian GP would be the first race of the two triple-headers in 2021.

The inclement weather, combined with the various gradient changes, make Spa-Francorchamps a circuit like no other. Nestled in the Ardennes, the track features famous sections such as Eau Rouge, Raidilion, La Source, Les Combes, Kemmel, Rivage, Blanchimont and the Bus Stop. It is also the longest circuit on the calendar. While sectors one and three demand straight-line speed, the second needs better downforce.

A lot transpired over the summer break leading up to the Belgian GP.

The FIA decided to introduce the "minimum reaction time" during pit stops from the Belgian GP.

Red Bull renewed Sergio Perez's contract for 2022, while Alpine retained the services of Fernando Alonso. 

The Japanese GP got cancelled due to a surge of COVID cases in Japan. Subsequently, the calendar got cut down to 22 races, with the FOM yet to announce a replacement.

Honda confirmed that ( both ) Verstappen and Perez had lost the second of their three engines due to the "irreparable damage" suffered from the incidents at Silverstone and Hungary. 

Bottas and Stroll stared at five-place grid penalties at Belgium due to their misdemeanours at the Hungarian GP.

While Red Bull looked to reclaim the lead in the championship, Mercedes felt optimistic about rebuffing any challenges that came their way.

How did the teams fare after returning from the summer break? Who came out on top? Did we have a new leader in the standings, or was the status quo maintained? 

Time for a recap of the Belgian GP!

Practice :

There was rain in the air at the start of FP1, and despite the track drying at a rapid rate, conditions remained tricky. Mercedes and Red Bull ran similar programs between their drivers, with one driver focused on straight-line speed and the other on better downforce. Raikkonen and Tsunoda suffered from spins at La Source, while the former hit the wall on entry into the pit lane. Hamilton got held up by Latifi on his timed lap, while Stroll impeded Russell on his. 

Bottas topped the timesheets, a tenth clear of Verstappen with Gasly half a second adrift in 3rd. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz were 4th and 5th, followed by Perez, Vettel and Norris. Ocon and Alonso completed the top 10.

Stroll was P11 in the other Aston Martin, followed by Ricciardo and Giovinazzi. Tsunoda split the Williams of Russell and Latifi in 15th, with Raikkonen and Hamilton P17 and P18, respectively. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher were at the back of the pack.

FP2 got underway, and Ocon suffered a spin at turn 14. Leclerc lost the rear of his Ferrari at turn six and crashed into the barriers, bringing out the Red Flags. The session resumed with 10 minutes remaining, and the drivers hurried to gather more data on race simulations. 

Verstappen got spun around at the exit of turn seven and hit the barriers, sending a lot of gravel across the track. The Dutchman was out, with the session getting Red Flagged again and the stewards deciding against resuming FP2. 

Verstappen ended FP2 the quickest, less than a tenth clear of Bottas and Hamilton. Alonso was 4th, followed by Gasly, Stroll and teammate Ocon. The top ten got completed by Vettel, Norris and Perez.

Sainz was P11 for Ferrari, followed by Tsunoda and the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. P15 was the best that Ricciardo could manage in his McLaren. The Williams of Latifi and Russell were P16 and P17, and Leclerc, Mazepin and Schumacher brought up the rear of the field.

Friday had restricted runs in the dry, but more importantly, the two Red Flags compromised the race simulation programs of the drivers. With rain and inclement weather predicted on Saturday, drivers and teams faced an uphill task to get their cars ready for race day.

Charles Leclerc switched to a new chassis after it cracked following his crash in FP2.

The final Practice Session ( FP3 ) got held in the rain. While some opted for full wets, others persisted with the intermediate tyres. Several drivers had off-track moments as they explored the limits. Eventually, a dry line began to appear, and drivers managed to set representative lap times. Meanwhile, Raikkonen's session got cut short after the Finn suffered from a brake-by-wire failure. 

Midway through FP3, the rain returned, hampering the practice programs of the drivers. The Red Bull drivers topped the timesheets, with Verstappen edging out his teammate Perez by almost a second. Hamilton was P3 for Mercedes, followed by Norris and Ocon. Gasly split the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel in P7, while Russell and Alonso completed the top 10.

Bottas was P11 for Mercedes, followed by Latifi and Ricciardo. Schumacher was in a Ferrari sandwich in P15. P17 was the best that Tsunoda managed with Giovinazzi, Mazepin and Raikkonen completing the rear of the field.

Rain was the biggest threat in Qualifying, and the drivers had to be prudent with their tyre usages.

Qualifying :

Rain delayed the start of Qualifying. Thankfully, track conditions improved, and Q1 got underway. The Williams drivers opted for intermediates while the rest of the field stuck with full wets. The cars had fuel for multiple runs.

Russell's opening lap got jeopardized due to Latifi spinning at turn twelve. Soon enough, it became evident that track conditions were more feasible for intermediate tyres. Everyone, bar the Williams drivers, returned to the pits to switch to the intermediates. 

Russell, Latifi, Norris, Verstappen, Bottas, and Stroll were the top 6, while Mazepin, Sainz, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Ocon faced the threat of elimination. 

Mercedes informed Bottas that rain would hit the circuit in the final minutes of Q1. The lap times kept improving, and at the end of the session, Norris, Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Russell and Bottas were the top 6. Ocon managed to scrape through in P15, but Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Raikkonen and Mazepin got eliminated.

Q2 got underway, and everyone exited the pits with intermediate tyres. The Mercedes drivers, however, came out on used sets and instantly regretted their decision. Mercedes wasted no time in pitting Hamilton and Bottas. Ferrari informed Sainz that as per their forecast, rain would hit the circuit five minutes into Q2. 

Norris, Verstappen, Vettel, Gasly, Perez and Leclerc were the top 6, with Latifi, Ocon, Alonso, Hamilton and Bottas in the drop zone, halfway through Q2. The Mercedes duo improved to P7 and P9 but dropped out of the top 10 again in the final minutes of Q2. 

The rain stayed away, and as the track dried up, the lap times improved for everyone across the field. In a desperate attempt to make it into Q3, the Mercedes drivers decided to use another set of intermediate tyres. The decision was fruitful as Hamilton and Bottas broke into the top 3. Sainz allegedly impeded Ocon, and the incident got flagged for investigation. Thankfully, the Spaniard escaped any penalties.

Norris, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Verstappen, Vettel, Perez, Russell, Ricciardo and Ocon got through to Q3, while Leclerc, Latifi, Sainz, Alonso and Stroll suffered from elimination.

The rain finally arrived at the start of Q3, and the conditions looked treacherous. Gasly, Perez and Russell took the bold step of opting for the intermediate tyres, while Norris and Vettel chose the full wets. The drivers complained about the presence of standing water on the track, with some suffering from aquaplaning. Vettel suggested that the stewards should Red Flag Q3 until conditions improved.

Norris was the first driver to attempt a flying lap, and as he went through Eau Rouge and Raidilion, he lost the rear of his McLaren and careered heavily into the barriers. His car got wrecked, and immediately the stewards red-flagged the session. Norris looked winded and got transferred to the medical centre for further checks. 

The FIA had to complete barrier repairs and clean the track before the session resumed after a long wait. Thankfully, the rain eased in intensity, and the track conditions improved. Russell and Ocon opted for the wet tyres while the rest chose the intermediates. Eventually, all the remaining nine drivers switched to the inters for their runs in Q3.

Hamilton was on "provisional pole", almost a second clear of Verstappen and Bottas. The lap times kept getting quicker, and Perez improved to P2, half a second shy of Hamilton's best attempt.

The final run of Q3 commenced, and Russell and Hamilton exchanged purple sector times. Russell, in a Williams, produced a stellar lap to go thirteen-hundredths clear of Hamilton at the top. It seemed that the Briton would bag P1 until Verstappen, on his final run, took pole position away by going faster by three-tenths.

Nevertheless, it was an unthinkable front row start for Russell alongside Verstappen. Hamilton had to settle for P3, followed by Ricciardo in his McLaren. Vettel and Gasly were on row three, with Perez and Bottas on four. A five-place grid drop for Bottas dropped the Finn to P13. As a result, Ocon would line up alongside Perez.

A gearbox change for Norris bumped him down to P14, promoting Leclerc and Latifi into the top 10, while Sainz Bottas and Alonso moved up a position each.

Verstappen ensured that he would start from the best position on race day. Perez, meanwhile, qualified a disappointing 7th and faced a long Sunday afternoon. Red Bull hoped for a clean opening lap for its drivers and seemed confident about the cars in race-trim.

Williams was on the front row at Spa-Francorchamps for the first time since 2001. The team had last bagged a front-row start at Italy in 2017, and Russell produced a stellar lap to achieve the unthinkable. If similar conditions prevailed, he could fight for a podium on SundayLatifi, too, was in the top 10, and along with Russell, could help Williams achieve a strong haul of points. 

As for Hamilton and Mercedes, a second-row start was far from ideal but outscoring Verstappen was the priority. The Briton didn't have new intermediates for the race since he used all his sets in Qualifying. Bottas, like his teammate, was in a similar situation and, after a mediocre display in Qualifying, would start a lowly P12. The Finn, under intense scrutiny, was fighting for his seat in 2022 and couldn't afford more lacklustre displays.

Norris was looking strong until his high-speed shunt at the start of Q3. The Briton was one of the favourites to bag pole position until the accident. The car was a wreck, and the McLaren mechanics faced a race against time to make it ready for race day. Thankfully, the doctors declared the driver fit for the race. The race stewards got a lot of heat for their inaction and delay at not red-flagging Q3 despite receiving information about poor conditions from those on track, which eventually led to the accident. Norris would start the race in P14, having attracted a grid penalty for a gearbox change. As for Ricciardo, the Australian produced his best Qualifying performance for McLaren to date and lined up alongside Hamilton. It was his best chance at silencing critics and doubters on race day. 

After a topsy-turvy Qualifying, Vettel's experience came to the fore for Aston Martin. The German was the team's best hope for a strong points-finish. As for Stroll, it was a start from the back of the grid due to the penalty from Hungary. The team needed to reduce the deficit to its midfield competitors, and strategy was key to an optimal finish. 

Gasly remained Alpha Tauri's main hope for a points-finish. The Frenchman qualified in the top 6 again, but Tsunoda, his teammate, was a disappointing 16th. In a hotly contested midfield, Alpha Tauri couldn't afford any slip-ups. 

Ocon, the latest Grand Prix winner, was P8 for Alpine, while Alonso qualified P13. The duo was more than capable of capitalizing on mistakes made by those further up the field. Alpine hoped for a double points haul on Sunday.

Leclerc narrowly out-qualified Sainz in what was a disappointing Saturday for Ferrari. A tactical error denied the duo a Q3 appearance. Nevertheless, the Ferraris looked competitive in race-trim and hoped to outscore arch-rivals McLaren in the battle for P3 in the Constructors. 

Antonio Giovinazzi remained the better performing of the two Alfa Romeo drivers on Saturday. The Italian qualified in P15 while his more experienced teammate Raikkonen would start in P18. It was an uphill battle for Alfa Romeo all weekend, and their chances of a points-finish hinged on mistakes made by those further up the grid.

Schumacher managed to outqualify Mazepin again in the Haas. However, the team seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack.

Inclement weather remained a threat for the drivers on Sunday. Strategy calls from the pit wall would prove pivotal in the battle for supremacy at Spa-Francorchamps.

Race :

Ricciardo celebrated 200 Race Starts in F1. His teammate Norris, along with Russell, completed 50. 

Honda completed 50 race weekends with Red Bull!

Alfa Romeo decided to change the rear wing on Raikkonen's car, to improve the downforce, which meant that he would start the race from the pit lane. 

C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, but these choices were immaterial. It was raining since morning, and for the Grand Prix, wet tyres were the choice for everyone.

The track conditions were poor, with low visibility, as the drivers headed out of their boxes to make it to the grid.

Disaster struck Red Bull after Perez crashed into the barriers on his sighting lap. The car suffered front right suspension damage, and Perez was out of the race!

Citing the treacherous conditions, the FIA announced that the formation lap would be behind the Safety Car. The rain intensified, and the start got delayed by 25 minutes. 

The Safety Car led the field away for the formation lap, but several drivers complained about the conditions and visibility. After a couple of formation laps, the stewards decided to suspend the Race Start!

The drivers returned to the pit lane, awaiting further instructions. 

The mechanics carried out repairs on the Red Bull car after Perez's crash on his sighting lap. As a result, Perez failed to take part in the formation laps. Meanwhile, Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull Sporting Director, contacted the FIA, requesting that the Race Director allow Perez to join the race at the restart. Michael Masi, the Race Director, decided to consult the stewards before giving his final verdict on Perez's participationThe result was positive, and Perez got the nod to start the race from the pit lane ( if the race commenced ). 

Eventually, the work got completed, and Perez was ready to race.

The waiting game continued, and the stewards stopped the race clock to accommodate at least one hour of racing before sunset. The FIA kept postponing updates hoping for the weather to improve.

Meanwhile, Aston Martin changed the rear wing on Stroll's car, which attracted the stewards' attention.

Finally, after a wait of more than three hours, the FIA announced that the race would resume. The timer got set to one hour as the Safety Car led the cars out onto the track. There was a collective roar by the fans who hoped to see some racing finally.

However, the weather didn't let up, and several drivers complained about aquaplaning and visibility. A procession of 3 laps behind the Safety Car followed, and the race got Red Flagged!

As per the FIA Regulations, half the Championship points would get awarded if the race lasted for more than two laps and up to 75% of the total distance. Citing no improvement in the conditions, the Race Director announced that the race would not resume.

The results of Qualifying stood became the final classification for the race, barring Perez's crash and the relevant penalties.

So Verstappen won the race, with Russell and Hamilton on the podium. Ricciardo finished in P4 for McLaren, followed by Vettel, Gasly and Ocon. Leclerc, Latifi and Sainz completed the top 10.

The latter half of the field comprised of Alonso, Bottas, Giovinazzi, Norris, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Mazepin, Stroll, Raikkonen and Perez.

The results allowed Verstappen to reduce the deficit to Hamilton to 3 points. More importantly, Red Bull saved some mileage on his engine, considering that his second unit was irreparable. In the Constructor Standings, Red Bull trailed Mercedes by 7 points.

Perez was the biggest loser since his accident on the sighting lap robbed him of free points and could have put Red Bull above Mercedes. 

Russell's P2, combined with Latifi's P9, helped Williams bag 10 points, extending their buffer over Alfa Romeo to 17. The finish should cement P8 for Williams in the Constructor Championship. Russell deserved the podium, the fruit of his effortshaving delivered sensational results in Qualifying in the past and even playing the team game at the Hungarian GP.

Ricciardo's P4 allowed him to jump Gasly for P8 in the Drivers' Championship, besides being his best finish for McLaren. McLaren reclaimed P3 from Ferrari, narrowly leading them by 4.5 points. As for Ferrari, the tactical gaffe in Qualifying proved costly. However, the damage to their P3 hopes was minimal, and the team could turn its fortunes around at Zandvoort.

As for Aston Martin, Vettel added 5 points to the tally versus Gasly's 4 for Alpha Tauri and Ocon's 3 for Alpine. Only one driver scored points for each of the three midfield teams, thus maintaining the status quo. 

The atrocious conditions denied F1 fans across the world an exciting Belgian Grand Prix. The race turned out to be the shortest in the sport's history, and it was the Medical Car that completed the most laps on race day. However, citing the safety of the drivers, the FIA made the right decision to postpone and eventually suspend the race.

Kudos to the fans and the marshalls at the track for displaying exemplary patience and resolve over four hours, waiting for a race. The drivers acknowledged their heroism, passion and love for the sport.

While rain and weather played spoiled sport in Belgium, F1 fans had Zandvoort in the Netherlands to look forward to the following weekend. The track would finally make its debut on the F1 calendar, and the Orange Army would come out in droves to support their home hero Max Verstappen, cheering him on to possible victory.

Thankfully, we have five more races in six weeks, so the frustrations from the Belgian GP will soon fade away.

The Driver Merry-Go-Round... New Voyage but New Navigators?

The 2021 F1 Season, the longest in the sport's history, is nearing the end of its mid-season break. It is that time of the year when those drivers, without a contract, become the centre of attention. The Paddock gets abuzz with rumours and speculations, some of which last up until the end of the season. Some drivers are in the twilight of their career, while some are waiting to jump into the big league.

With the complexity of the overhaul of Technical Regulations for the 2022 F1 Season, some teams will have to make tough decisions.

So, who has put pen to paper and which team is yet to confirm its driver-lineup for 2022? 

First up, the teams that have no concerns with their driver choices.

McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren is a team that is going through a resurgence. The Woking-based outfit will continue with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo for 2022. Both drivers have a contract till the end of 2023, and McLaren can focus on building a race-winning car in its quest to return to the sharp end of the grid. 

Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport, has retained the services of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr for 2022. Leclerc is the more experienced of the duo, but Sainz is quickly settling into life at Maranello. 

As for Ferrari, the focus is on returning to being successful again, and like McLaren, the journey has begun.

Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :

Aston Martin boasts a good mix of experience and youth in Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll. Vettel will be instrumental in developing the 2022 car, while Stroll, who has spent more time with the team, can be mentored by the former World Champion into a better driver. It is Lawrence Stroll's dream to make Aston Martin Championship winning unit. They might have found the ideal pairing for this goal. 

Alpine Racing F1 Team :

Alpine, like Aston Martin, have a mix of experience and youth too in Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon. Ocon managed to silence doubters with his win at the Hungarian GP, while Alonso, with his performances so far, has shown that he hasn't lost any of his competitive edges. The Spaniard, with his vast experience and championship-winning credentials, is an invaluable asset. As the only Renault-powered team on the grid, it is more challenging for Alpine to build a potent contender for 2022. Now, they can focus on performance on track rather than matters off it.

Haas F1 Team :

The biggest of worries that Haas F1 faces are the performances on the track. The team retains the services of its rookies Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin for 2022. Mick Schumacher, son of the legendary Michael Schumacher and current F2 Champion, can bring home results with a potent car. As for Mazepin, the Russian's performances are improving with each passing weekend, and the financial backing that he enjoys helps the team stay afloat. 

Now, for the teams that have one seat available for 2022.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes, the most successful team in the Turbo Era, has retained its prized asset in Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has rewritten history books, and his new contract keeps him with Mercedes until the end of 2023. 

As for Valtteri Bottas, his future hangs in the balance. Bottas' contract went through a couple of one-year renewals in the past, and as a driver, he plays a support role to Hamilton. He is a team player, adhering to the instructions of the higher-ups, thus making life easier for Hamilton at Mercedes. However, in the recent past, his performances have dipped. The reality check came when George Russell, the Mercedes Protegee and Williams driver, stepped in for Hamilton ( who had contracted COVID-19 ) at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell comfortably beat Bottas in his debut race with Mercedes. Come 2021, Bottas is yet to win a race, failing to impress and making a rookie error at the recently concluded Hungarian Grand Prix.

Russell, a firm favourite to replace Bottas at Mercedes for 2022, continues to impress in a Williams, be it on Saturday or a Sunday.

Hamilton holds the key to Mercedes retaining Bottas for 2022. Hamilton is locked in an intense battle with Verstappen for the Drivers' Title. He can add to his record-equalling tally of seven world titles in this year and beyond. The job would be a lot harder and more unsettling with the presence of George Russell ( should he get the promotion from Williams ). Hence, the likelihood of Bottas getting another extension ( one year ) seems more likely. If Mercedes choose otherwise, Bottas has a choice either at Alfa Romeo ( who are reportedly in contact or with his ex-team Williams Racing. But will the Finn move from a Championship and Race-winning team to one fighting further down the field? The demotion remains a bone of contention.

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Like their arch-rivals Mercedes, Red Bull Racing face the dilemma of choosing a teammate for Max Verstappen for 2022. The Red Bull driver program has gone through stagnation with limited talent coming through, suitable for F1. While Verstappen remains Red Bull's prized asset and number one driver, the team's struggles to find a driver with a similar level of performance continue. 

Sergio Perez's performances have been mercurial, but the Mexican has a win and podium to show in his first year at Red Bull. His performances, however, have been more convincing than his predecessor, Alex Albon. The Mexican got only a one year contract and will be hoping for a renewal. It would be unfair to assess his abilities based on a single season.

Pierre Gasly, who got demoted to Alpha Tauri ( midway during the 2019 season ), has produced stellar drives to warrant a promotion. He, too, remains a candidate for the seat, but Red Bull has reservations about his competitiveness in a high-pressure situation. 

Verstappen, too, will have a say and the likelihood of Sergio Perez getting retained seems more realistic. Everyone is hoping for the top brass at Red Bull to think likewise.

While more than half the field has at least one driver secured for 2022, three teams remain with both the seats ( each ) up for grabs.

Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's B-team and the assessment place for Red Bull before the "big promotion" is yet to announce its driver lineup for 2022. Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda are currently on their roster, and the team is contesting for P5 in the Constructor Championship.

Gasly has spearheaded the charge since his return midway through the 2019 season. The Frenchman managed to win a race in 2020 and feature once on the podium in 2021 ( so far ). While he garners hope of returning to the A-team, Gasly is also on the radar of other teams. Like Ricciardo and Sainz Jr, who were products of the Red Bull Driver Program, the Frenchman can opt for greener pastures elsewhere, but the options further up the grid are currently non-existent. The driver manages his career himself, and it would be prudent for him to stay with Alpha Tauri for another year. His place within the team is under no threat whatsoever.

However, for Yuki Tsunoda, the Honda-backed rookie, life in F1 has been a baptism by fire. The Japanese driver has failed to match the performances of Gasly's besides making many errors, which attracted the ire and displeasure of Dr Helmut Marko, advisor to Red Bull Racing and Head of the Driver Program. The clock is ticking for Tsunoda, and he must step up his game in the second half if he wishes to stay put at the team. Honda's withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2021 won't help his chances either. However, the lack of talent in the lower series ( from the program ) might force Red Bull to continue with the current partnership for 2022. Alex Albon, ex-Red Bull and currently the Reserve Driver, remains an option, but his chances hinge on Tsunoda's performances from hereon. 

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo announced a multi-year extension of its agreement with Sauber Engineering, with Team Principal Frederic Vasseur getting a free hand to choose his drivers for 2022. This announcement has freed the team from reserving a seat for Ferrari's "upcoming talent" and focus on their betterment. 

Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi currently drive for Alfa Romeo, their third year as teammates. While Raikkonen, at the age of 42, is nearing the end of his career, the former World Champion remains the more successful of the two on race day. His expertise and knowledge have been invaluable, and the Finn will be an asset in developing Alfa Romeo's 2022 Contender. However, will he still have this competitive edge going into 2022 is a cause for concern. Age is the biggest challenge, not motivation. As for Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian looks more settled, performing on par with Raikkonen at several races. 

Both drivers understand the team and have built a base for 2022 with Alfa Romeo. To bring in a new signing or a rookie could mean rebuilding a car more suited to the new driver's driving style. It would be wise for Alfa Romeo to persist with their current lineup to maintain continuity. 

If Alfa Romeo were to look elsewhere, then they aren't short on options. Team Principal Fredric Vasseur is in contact with Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes. Bottas is a multi-race winner, but unlike Raikkonen, he lacks the latter's experience and credentials. He could partner his countryman, but there is little to find fault with what Giovinazzi has accomplished so far.

The team is also monitoring the progress of Guanyu Zhou and Callum Ilott in F2. Ilott is also the team's Reserve Driver and a hot contender for the 2022 seat. However, the reduction of Ferrari's influence on the team could jeopardize his chances. Former F3 Champion and F2 Racer Robert Schwartzman is also an option. However, like Ilott, he too is a part of Ferrari's driver program.

As for Zhou, the Chinese driver is currently leading the F2 Championship. Despite being a part of the Alpine Driver Academy, Zhou might need to advance his career in the sport with another team since Alpine has both its current drivers on multi-year contracts. While Alpine is open to Zhou joining another outfit, it seems highly unlikely.

Williams Racing F1 Team :

Williams Racing retained the services of George Russell and Nicolas Latifi in 2021. The duo has put in commendable performances, and it would be a no-brainer to continue with the same partnership. Latifi is currently above Russell in the standings and destined to renew his contract again. Finances are a factor in decision making, and Latifi has the desired backing that the team needs.

George Russell is on the wishlist of Mercedes F1 and will eventually make the jump. He remains committed to the Williams cause, but if Mercedes comes calling in 2022, it leaves Williams with limited options as replacements. 

The team recently released F2 driver Dan Ticktum from its driver program, leaving Jack Aitken and Jamie Chadwick on the roster. 

Williams finds themselves in the same boat as Alfa Romeo. 

Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou ( should Alpine allow ) are feasible options for 2022. Bottas, an ex-Williams driver, is well versed in the working and functioning of the team. The Finn will also bring in a wealth of data from front-runners Mercedes which will help Williams develop a more capable car for 2022. There is no substitute for experience, and development is going to be paramount for 2022. 

A lot is at stake in the second half of 2021. Performances and the subsequent decisions will make or break what follows in 2022. The teams have enough resources to ascertain the calibre of every driver and decide what is best for the future and their chances.

So will the Old Guard get a chance to prove their mettle in the new chapter of racing, or will the next generation get the nod and join the elite club of Formula One racing?

Time will reveal all, and soon!

2021 F1 Mid Season Review - Can the Bulls be Tamed??

The 2021 F1 Season will be the longest in the sport's history featuring 23 races in the calendar year. The FIA and FOM are committed to adhering to this number despite the logistical challenges and the relevant COVID restrictions.

While the overhaul of the technical regulations got delayed to 2022, the governing body proceeded with the enforcement of cost caps.

The governing body also introduced a new race weekend format featuring Qualifying on Friday, a Sprint race on Saturday which would decide the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The same got showcased at Silverstone and attracted positive reviews from fans.

The F1 world also saw the arrival of iconic names such as Aston Martin and Alpine onto the grid, along with the return of former Double World Champion Fernando Alonso. Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin and Yuki Tsunoda were the new entrants in the elite club of F1 drivers.

Eleven races in, and the F1 world headed into the mid-season break. Contrary to 2020, Austria was the only track to host two back-to-back race weekends in Europe. The European leg of the season nears its end before the advent of the fly-away events.

So, how have the teams fared so far in 2021? Time for the mid-season report card! 

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes has been the best team in the new era of F1, but the crown has come under immense threat by Verstappen and Red Bull. The change in technical regulations disadvantaged Mercedes, being a low rake car. Despite the W12 not being the fastest car on the grid, the team leads the Constructor Standings by 12 points. 

Lewis Hamilton, the reigning World Champion, and the most successful driver in the sport, miraculously leads the Championship by 8 points at the halfway mark. The Briton currently has four wins ( Bahrain, Portugal, Spain and Silverstone ), besides four podium finishes. A rare mistake on the race restart in Baku saw him finish outside the points, bringing an end to a record run of consecutive point finishes. Hamilton's opening lap accident with Verstappen at Silverstone ended the latter's race, becoming the centre of attraction before the Hungarian GP.  

Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, has had a mediocre season and is yet to win a race in 2021. His best result was 2nd in Austria, followed by five podium finishes. The Finn sits 4th in the Championship, five points behind Norris. Bottas has played the team game till now, and Mercedes will expect him to continue with the same for the latter half of the year.

The team is yet to suffer from any mechanical failures, which will prove pivotal in the title battle. Mercedes cannot afford any slip-ups or mediocrity against a resurgent Red Bull. Upgrades and development need to continue for the remainder of the season if Hamilton and Co wish to stand on the top step again.

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Since the dawn of the turbo era, Red Bull has been relentless in its quest to return to supremacy. From switching engine suppliers from Renault to Honda to trying out different driver combinations, it seems like Red Bull has finally hit the sweet spot this season. 2021, so far, has been a revelation for the team from Milton Keynes. They have a potent driver lineup in Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who they signed at the end of last year. The RB16B has emerged as the fastest car on the grid, with Verstappen the favourite for the drivers' crown. 

Unfortunately, the team trails arch rivals Mercedes by 12 points going into the summer break. 

The last two races before the summer break titled the battle in Mercedes' favour. While Hamilton's coming together with Verstappen put the latter out of the race at Silverstone, Bottas was to blame for the opening lap melee at Hungary that prematurely ended Perez's race and damaged Verstappen's car heavily. The two incidents led to damage on multiple components on both cars, and in a financially regulated season, Red Bull faces the threat of potential penalties in the latter half. Christian Horner, the Team Principal, was visibly frustrated with the situation and didn't mince his words in the media.

Verstappen is the lead driver at Red Bull and, despite his stellar drives, trails Hamilton by 8 points at the summer break. The Dutchman has five victories to his name ( Imola, Monaco, France, Styria, Austria ) and would have added a sixth at Baku, but for a tyre failure near the end of the race. The Dutchman also bagged three podium finishes. 

As for Perez, his teammate, the Mexican, has struggled in Qualifying but displayed more character on race days. A win in Baku with a podium finish in France place him 5th in the standings, nine points shy of Norris in 3rd. Perez, like Bottas, has to be the team player for Verstappen and Red Bull. Red Bull will need him to produce better results on Saturday and get closer to the Mercedes cars. 

The team has a golden opportunity to return to the top step in the turbo era, but reliability and battered components could return to haunt them. Nevertheless, Red Bull has beaten Mercedes under legitimate racing conditions more often than not. All they need are some incident-free weekends!

Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, has gone from strength to strength after the disappointment of 2020. They currently sit P3 in the standings, level on points with McLaren, but placed above them due to better podium finishes. On the driver lineup front, Carlos Sainz Jr joined the team alongside Charles Leclerc. 

Ferrari has had its moments of brilliance, and a return to the sharp end of the grid seem near.

Only 3 points separate the two teammates, with Sainz bagging two podiums to Leclerc's one. Leclerc didn't start the race in Monaco after getting pole position and retired on the opening lap in Hungary following the turn one melee. Nevertheless, the Monegasque finished 2nd in Silverstone, besides finishing in the top 10 on seven occasions. Meanwhile, Sainz bagged two podiums, P2 in Monaco and P3 in Hungary, and like Leclerc, finished in the points on seven occasions. Leclerc has been more consistent of the two, with Sainz working hard to settle with life at Maranello.

Ferrari admitted that with Leclerc, the possibility of grid penalties for exceeding the allocated number of engine components for the season seem real, which could prove detrimental to their aspirations for finishing P3 at the end of the year. 

McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren, the best of the rest in 2020, finds itself locked in an intense battle with Ferrari, level on points in the Constructor Standings. Ferrari is above McLaren due to better race results. 

McLaren brought in Daniel Ricciardo to replace Carlos Sainz Jr for 2021. The Australian, however, is struggling to extract the best out of his McLaren. While Norris has three podium finishes to his name, P5 ( at Silverstone ) is the best that Ricciardo could manage till now. Norris comfortably leads the intra-team battle, having scored more than double the points of Ricciardo's in the first half of the year. Norris has finished on the podium thrice ( P3 in Imola, Monaco and Austria ) and, until Hungary, was the only driver to have scored points in every race.

Norris is in P3 in the Driver Standings, 5 and 9 points clear off Bottas and Perez, respectively. If he manages to fend the duo until the end of the season, then he will establish himself as one of the best drivers on the grid.

As for Ricciardo, he is currently P9 in the standings, level on points with Gasly. The Australian needs to work over the summer break and is capable of turning things around.

Reliability remains the team's forte, and this could pay dividends at the end of the season. However, if they intend to finish P3, then McLaren needs consistency from both drivers. Ferrari, with the upgrades, has become a formidable force, and the battle for supremacy between these two greats of the sport will be an intriguing one.


Alpine Racing F1 Team :

Renault Sport F1 Team got rechristened to Alpine Racing F1, named after the company's performance and racing division. The Black and Yellow livery got done away with for blue and red! While Ricciardo switched over to McLaren, seeking greener pastures, Fernando Alonso joined Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon. Alpine also brought in Davide Brivio, former chief of Suzuki's Championship-winning Moto GP team, to take the mantle of Racing Director. 

Ocon leads Alonso in the intra-team battle by one point, thanks to an unlikely victory at the Hungarian GP. The win was a combined team effort, with Alonso putting up a staunch defence against Hamilton. While Alonso has had eight finishes in the top 10, Ocon managed six. Their best finishes were P1 and P4 in Hungary. 

Alpine is going through a resurgence of sorts. As the only Renault-powered team on the grid, it has been tough to maintain competitiveness in 2021. The second half of the season will be equally challenging, and the team will need a weekend similar to that experienced in Hungary if they wish to keep Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin at bay.

Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's B-team, is locked in an intense battle for P5 in the Constructors' Championship. The team currently is 6th, with 68 points to its name, 20 points clear of Aston Martin, but trailing Alpine by 9. 

The Italian team brought in the Honda-backed rookie Yuki Tsunoda from F2 to partner Pierre Gasly for the 2021 season. However, the rookie has had a mediocre first half, scoring a mere 18 points versus Gasly's 50. While Tsunoda has had five points-finishes in the first half of the season, Gasly has managed eight! 

Dr Helmut Marko, Head of Red Bull's Driver Development Program, was critical of Tsunoda's performances thus far but reiterated that the latter had the talent to turn things around in the second half of the year. As for Gasly, the Frenchman has been the star at Alpha Tauri, producing stellar drives every weekend. The Frenchman even secured a podium for the team at the Azerbaijan GP. Gasly has outperformed Tsunoda in Qualifying and will remain the lead driver for the remainder of the year.

Alpha Tauri will need consistent performances from its drivers for the latter half of the season if they wish to surpass Alpine in the battle for P5 in the Championship. 

Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :

Aston Martin, an iconic name in the automobile world, returned to the sport in 2021. The team, formerly known as Racing Point, hoped to replicate the successes of 2020. The team roped in the services of Sebastian Vettel, a four-time World Champion, to partner the much younger Lance Stroll. However, the regulation changes of 2021 disadvantaged the low rake cars, and Aston Martin is one such team suffering due to this. 

The team is 7th in the standings, 20 points shy of Alpha Tauri, having lost a big haul of points following Vettel's disqualification from P2 in Hungary due to a fuel irregularity issue. Vettel leads the intra-team battle with 30 points to his name and a podium finish ( P2 in Baku ). The German finished in the points at Monaco and France as well. As for Stroll, the Canadian has managed to finish in the top 10 on six occasions, with P8 being his best finish at Imola, Monaco, Styria and Silverstone. 

In a tightly contested midfield, Aston Martin can afford no slip-ups in the second half of the season. They have the resources to beat Alpha Tauri and Alpine, but it's easier said than done.

Williams Racing :

Williams F1 Racing, owned by Dorilton Capital, persisted with George Russell and Nicolas Latifi for 2021. While Russell had been one of the top performers in Qualifying on several weekends, a finish in the top 10 eluded him on race day. Latifi, too, struggled to extract the best out of his Williams on Sundays, but their hard work finally bore fruit at the Hungarian GP.  

Russell finally scored his first points at Williams and playing the team man with his radio exchange in Hungary. In a race riddled with inclement weather at the start, both drivers found themselves in the top 10, comfortably holding onto their season-best finishes ( so far ). Latifi's P7 and Russell's P8 helped Williams bag 10 points going into the summer break. The British outfit now sat seven points clear off Alfa Romeo in the Constructor Standings.

Williams has the upper hand going into the second half of the year and will look to hold onto P8. They should manage to rebuff challenges by Alfa Romeo and reap the financial benefits of not finishing last in the Constructor Standings.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo has struggled to replicate its first-half form of 2019 in the past two seasons. The Swiss-based outfit sits 9th in the standings after relinquishing P8 to Williams at the final race before the mid-season break. 

While Giovinazzi has outshone his more experienced teammate, Raikkonen, on Saturdays, the latter has displayed superior racecraft on Sundays. Poor strategic calls combined with the lack of power from the Ferrari power unit are the Achilles heel for Alfa Romeo. 

Raikkonen's best finish was P10 in Baku and Hungary, while Giovinazzi made it into the points at Monaco. 

Alfa Romeo will get limited opportunities to score points for the remainder of the year and cannot afford to make poor decisions. The deficit of seven points to Williams might be too big an ask, however.

Haas F1 Team :

The baptism by fire continues for Haas F1. The team hired the services of the current F2 Champion Mick Schumacher and F2 graduate Nikita Mazepin but are yet to score a point in 2021. The rookies have battled each other as backmarkers, with Schumacher narrowly edging out his team. The team's best finish was P12 at the recently concluded Hungarian Grand Prix. 

The team owner, Gene Haas, is keen on shifting the team's focus to 2022, and the chances of a point finish this season seem bleak. However, the team can take heart from the talent and maturity showed by their dynamic rookie duo up until the halfway mark of the 2021 F1 season.

The season so far has witnessed battles throughout the field. While Mercedes and Red Bull lock horns at the top, Ferrari and McLaren are contending for P3. Alpine, Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin are vying for P5, and Williams hopes to hold onto P8 from Alfa Romeo. 

Verstappen and Red Bull have stepped up to the challenge in 2021 and are more than just a match for Hamilton and Mercedes. In an ideal world, Verstappen and Red Bull would have been leading their respective championships. However, due to sheer misfortune, they find themselves trailing the reigning Champions. All that transpired in Silverstone and Hungary has left Red Bull yearning for a befitting response. The gloves will be off, the time for niceties will be over, and the battle will get feistier than ever.

Will Hamilton and Mercedes be able to fend off Verstappen and Red Bull? Do they have enough to tame the Bulls?

Time will reveal all!

2021 Hungarian GP Race Recap : A New Blue, Hungary for Wins!

The Hungarian Grand Prix was the final race before the summer break of the 2021 F1 Season. Hungaroring, a street circuit located near Budapest, the capital of Hungary, features a 71 lap race with two DRS zones and has delivered exciting battles in the past, despite its tight and twisty nature. It is also referred to as "Monaco, but without the walls". 

Leading up to the Hungarian GP, the clash between Hamilton and Verstappen at the British GP remained the centre of focus. Hamilton became the victim of online racial abuse, but the F1 world rallied to support the World Champion and reiterate their stand against racism

Verstappen's crash cost Red Bull 1.3 million pounds, and Red Bull's top brass wasn't pleased with the severity of the penalty meted out to Hamilton at the British GP, requesting another review of the footage of the clash with Verstappen. The petition to review got disallowed by the race stewards. Mercedes issued a statement welcoming the stewards' decision and extended its full support to Hamilton. 

Verstappen, meanwhile, revealed that Hamilton had called him to check on his well-being, and the duo had a "discussion". The Dutchman, however, remained critical of Hamilton's post-race celebrations at the British GP.

The FIA decided to scrap the "minimum reaction time" rule ( for pit stops ) due to be introduced on the Hungarian GP weekend.

Hamilton had been playing catch-up in 2021, and now, only 8 points separated him from Verstappen. As for Mercedes, they were only 4 points shy of Red Bull. Hungaroring had been a fortress for Hamilton, with Mercedes enjoying a fair amount of success in the turbo era. Verstappen and Red Bull suffered a big dent in their quest for the Championships at the British GP and hoped to bounce back and extend their lead going into the summer break. Only nine points separated three teams vying for 5th place in the standings, while McLaren and Ferrari continued a heated battle for P3.

Who reigned supreme at Hungaroring? Time for a quick recap of the Hungarian GP!

Practice :

Kubica got the nod to take Raikkonen's place at Alfa Romeo for Free Practice 1. Alonso suffered a spin in the early minutes of FP1, with Leclerc running wide at turn five and Tsunoda losing the rear of his Alpha Tauri at turn nine. The session was short-lived for Tsunoda as the back of his car hit the barriers and brought out the red flags. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 from Bottas and Hamilton. Sainz was 4th for Ferrari, followed by Gasly, Alonso and Leclerc, who completed the top 7. Perez's best lap got him P8, with Norris and Stroll going a second slower than Verstappen in 9th and 10th, respectively. 

Ocon was 11th in the other Alpine, followed by Tsunoda, Vettel and Ricciardo. The Williams of Russell and Latifi were 15th and 16th. Kubica split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin in 18th, while teammate Giovinazzi was the slowest at the end of FP1. The Italian's program got cut short after five laps due to a technical issue. 

High track temperatures greeted the drivers at the start of FP2, and Verstappen complained about balance issues throughout the session. Norris and Hamilton had off-track moments while Leclerc locked up his medium tyres on an early run. 

Bottas was the fastest at the end of FP2, two-hundredths of a second clear of Hamilton, with Verstappen, almost three-tenths adrift in 3rd. Ocon was 4th for Alpine, followed by Perez, Gasly and Alonso. The Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll got split by Norris in P9.

Leclerc and Sainz led the bottom half of the field. Ricciardo was P13 in the other Mclaren, followed by Raikkonen, who was more than two seconds slower than Bottas' time. The Williams of Russell and Latifi were 15th and 16th. Tsunoda, who got confined to the pits after his crash in FP1, managed to do one flying lap at the end of FP2, setting the 17th quickest time. Giovinazzi split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin at the back of the field.

The pace delta between the softs and the medium tyres meant that the front runners would get forced to set their Q2 times on the softer compound, subject to Qualifying being a dry session. Red Bull struggled to find the ideal balance on Verstappen's car, and they had work to do on Saturday morning. It seemed like advantage Mercedes.


It was an eventful Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning with Giovinazzi clipping the back of Stroll's car while exiting his pit garage. Alfa Romeo got fined 5000 euros for the unsafe release. The Italian would then get a reprimand ( his first of 2021 ) for impeding Gasly, who was on a flying lap. Schumacher lost control of his Haas and ended up hitting the barriers at turn 11, which brought out the yellow flag. The mechanics needed to thoroughly check the chassis and replace the gearbox, which attracted a five-place grid penalty for the race. It was a race against time before the start of Qualifying later in the afternoon. 

Hamilton ended FP3 the quickest, eight-hundredths clear off Verstappen. Bottas was 3rd, two-tenths adrift. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were 4th and 5th, while Perez split the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo in 7th. Alonso and Stroll completed the top 10.

Gasly was 11th for Alpha Tauri, followed by Ocon and Vettel. His teammate Tsunoda was 14th, with Raikkonen getting the jump on the Williams duo of Russell and Latifi in 15th. Giovinazzi was 18th in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin.

Qualifying :

The track temperature was at an all-time high of 58 degrees C at the start of Qualifying. 

The Haas mechanics were busy working on Schumacher's car to ready it for a run in Q1. Tsunoda, Mazepin, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were the first drivers out on track with a set of soft tyres. The tight and twisty nature of the circuit meant that drivers had to build a gap to avoid being hindered by the dirty air coming from the back of another car. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Sainz, Gasly and Norris were the top 6, with Tsunoda, Russell, Latifi, Mazepin and Schumacher facing elimination at the end of the first runs. Replays showed that Gasly got impeded by Sainz at turn one. The Ferrari driver emerged from the pits and had to get onto the kerbs to avoid a collision with Gasly, who was on a flying lap. Thankfully, the Spaniard got a let off. Perez, who was a second slower than Verstappen, went in for another run but failed to make inroads and stayed in 9th. 

The final minutes of Q1 saw the Red Bulls, Ferraris, Alpines and Gasly stay put while the rest emerged from the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Sainz, Gasly and Stroll were the top 6, while Tsunoda, Russell, Latifi, Mazepin and Schumacher got eliminated at the end of Q1. 

The start of Q2 saw both the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers emerge from the pits with medium tyres. Sainz, who was on his first attempt with a set of soft tyres, made a mistake at the penultimate corner and slid into the wall sideways, tearing off his front wing. He tried to get going again, but the front wing got lodged under the Ferrari, bringing him to a stop. The session got red-flagged with less than 7 minutes remaining. 

Hamilton, Leclerc, Verstappen, Alonso, Vettel and Gasly were the top 6, with Norris, Stroll, Raikkonen, Sainz and Giovinazzi facing elimination.

Grip levels were improving, and everyone else, except for Bottas, switched to the soft tyres for their final runs of Q2. Bottas improved to P3, while Verstappen went the quickest at the end of Q2. 

The following drivers made it to Q3 - Verstappen, Norris, Gasly, Perez, Alonso, Hamilton, Leclerc, Bottas, Ocon and Vettel while Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Sainz suffered elimination. Eight-hundredths of a second denied Ricciardo from a Q3 appearance, the McLaren driver, visibly frustrated.

It was time for the top-ten shootout, and softs were the tyre of choice for all the drivers. Hamilton was the quickest at the end of the first runs, three-tenths clear of Bottas, with Verstappen half a second further adrift. 

Vettel opted to go out-of-sync with the rest and set the 8th quickest time ( provisionally ). 

The final minutes saw Hamilton emerge ahead of both the Red Bulls out of the pits. The Briton was slow on his out-lap, and both Verstappen and Perez faced the threat of failing to start their flying lap before the timer ran out. Hamilton backed up the Red Bull duo even more, eventually locking up at the penultimate corner himself. Although Verstappen survived Hamilton's ploy and started his lap before the timer ran out, Perez got denied a final shot. 

The change in track temperatures prevented the top 3 from improving their lap times.

Hamilton bagged Pole Position, the 101st of his career, from Bottas and Verstappen. Perez managed to hold onto 4th, less than seven-hundredths clear off Gasly, Norris and Leclerc. The Alpines of Ocon and Alonso were 8th and 9th, with Vettel completing the top 10.

Despite his questionable tactics at the end, Hamilton produced a stellar lap to take Pole Position. Mercedes locked out the front row after a long time in 2021 and seemed to have found a response to the Red Bull dominance. Verstappen, who had complained about balance and understeer issues all weekend, could only manage 3rd, while Perez, his teammate, had his work cut out playing the team role for Sunday. The Red Bulls were at a disadvantage with tyre choice as well, but if they could get a jump on the Mercedes drivers, they could influence a different result in the race.

Gasly was Alpha Tauri's best hope for points on Sunday again, while Tsunoda needed to charge from the back of the field, which seemed unlikely. The Japanese rookie continued to struggle, ending up in a lowly 16th, 1.5 seconds slower than his teammate. McLaren had a better chance at outscoring Ferrari, thanks to Sainz's crash in Q2. Norris managed to outqualify his teammate Ricciardo again. The latter had a free tyre choice, though, and a good strategy could help him make places on race day. As for Ferrari, Leclerc was their best bet for a big points haul, while Sainz needed to go aggressive if he was to salvage his weekend, a challenge considering the nature of the track.

Alpine had both its drivers in the top 10 and had an opportunity of reducing the deficit to Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin. Vettel would start the race on the softs, but Stroll had a free tyre choice; going deep into the race before their pit stops had paid dividends for the Aston Martin duo in the past. How the team would approach race day was a matter of great intrigue. 

Alfa Romeo had a better day at Qualifying with both its drivers in Q2. Raikkonen managed to outqualify Giovinazzi only for the second time this year but, with his superior racecraft, had an opportunity for another points-scoring finish. Russell failed to spring any surprise for Williams on Saturday. Latifi was second-best again. Schumacher couldn't participate in Qualifying but got the all-clear to race. Williams and Haas seemed destined for the back of the field. 

Race :

Red Bull decided to change the ICE, MGU-H, MGU-K, Turbo and Exhaust System on Verstappen's car after detecting a problem after Qualifying. The team believed it to be an after-effect of the crash suffered at Silverstone. Thankfully, the Dutchman didn't incur a penalty.

Sunday morning saw F3 Race 3 ( a support race ) happen under wet conditions after torrential rain hit the circuit. However, conditions changed quickly, with the track drying up before the Grand Prix. The threat of rain remained, though.

C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyres available for the race, but a light downpour before the race made it unfeasible for the slicks. All teams chose to start the race with intermediate tyres. The FIA proceeded with a standing start. The weather forecast predicted 25 minutes of rain with increasing intensity, and then the circuit would dry up for slick tyres.

Giovinazzi decided to gamble and switched to the medium tyres at the end of the formation lap. The rest of the field stuck with the intermediate tyres and lined up on the grid for the race start.

The five red lights went out, and Verstappen had the best start off the line. Hamilton had a clean getaway too, but Bottas got swamped by Norris and Perez. Bottas then missed his braking point and rear-ended Norris, who went and crashed into Verstappen. Bottas claimed another victim in Perez in the same incident. Gasly had to take avoiding action and lost positions. Meanwhile, Stroll got onto the kerbs at turn one ( out-braking himself ) and hit Leclerc, who ended up hitting Ricciardo in the other McLaren, sending the latter into a spin. 

Bottas and Perez suffered from terminal damage, while Verstappen rejoined down in 9th, the right side of his Red Bull damaged severely ( bargeboard gone ). Leclerc and Stroll also retired from the race, while the McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris continued their race, with a lot of bodywork damage and aero loss. 

Verstappen pitted at the end of lap one for another set of intermediates and rejoined in 13th, losing more bodywork at the exit of the pit lane.

Debris got strewn across the track due to the two accidents on the opening lap, and the stewards decided to Red Flag the race. 

Hamilton had come out unscathed from the turn one melee, while Ocon and Vettel had moved up to 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Sainz and Tsunoda had gained 11 positions each and were up into 4th and 5th. The Williams of Latifi and Russell were 6th and 8th, while Raikkonen ( P9 ) and Schumacher ( P10 ) were in the points.

The cars returned to the pit lane, and Verstappen's car underwent extensive repairs. The Red Bull mechanics taped up parts of the floor in a quest to make the car as race-worthy as possible. Raikkonen opted for a front wing change while McLaren wheeled Norris' car into the garage. McLaren then informed the FIA Race Director that they were retiring Norris from the race. 

A brief lull followed, and sunshine broke through the clouds. The teams, however, stuck with the intermediate tyres for the new formation lap of the race restart. Only 15 drivers remained for the rest of the race. The FIA confirmed that it would be a standing start again. As the drivers made it around the track, a couple quipped that the conditions were ideal for switching to the slick tyres. 

Everyone bar Hamilton dived into the pits and switched to the medium tyres. The pit lane was a hub of activity, with some teams double stacking their stops. Alfa Romeo released Raikkonen from his box at the same time when Mazepin was turning into his. The duo made contact, with Raikkonen's left rear tyre clipping the right front tyre of Mazepin's Haas. The resulting contact damaged the front wishbone, and Mazepin was out of the race. The incident got flagged for investigation. Raikkonen's teammate Giovinazzi was also in trouble for speeding in the pit lane. 

Meanwhile, on track, Hamilton was the only driver to line up on the grid for the race restart, while the rest of the field waited in the pit lane for the light to go green. Hamilton had a clean getaway while Russell jumped some cars in the pit lane, re-entering the race in 2nd. Alonso got past Raikkonen for P8, and Russell got instructed by the FIA to hand the positions back after his illegal overtake in the pit lane. The Briton fell back from P2 to P7 on the restart lap itself ( lap 4 ). 

Hamilton acknowledged ruefully that the track was dry, and Mercedes instructed him to pit for slick tyres. The Briton pitted for a set of mediums but rejoined at the back of the pack in 14th. His title rival, Verstappen, was up to P11.

Ocon, Vettel, Latifi, Tsunoda, Sainz, Alonso, Russell, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Schumacher were the top 10 at the end of lap 5.

Hamilton began his recovery in full earnest and was the quickest man on track. He closed in on Giovinazzi in the battle for P13. The Italian put up a fight but was unable to hold off the Mercedes on lap 10. Giovinazzi also got a ten-second stop-go penalty for his infringement of speeding in the pit lane ( at the restart ). Further up the field, Verstappen was now pressuring Schumacher for P10. 

Giovinazzi served his penalty on lap 12, while Schumacher defended valiantly from Verstappen. Verstappen, however, got past him on lap 15 after some fair but hard racing. Raikkonen's contact with Mazepin ( during his pit stop ) resulted in a ten-second penalty, making matters worse for Alfa Romeo. Meanwhile, Gasly also got past Schumacher for P11 on lap 16. 

Raikkonen pitted on lap 16 to serve his time penalty, switched to the hard tyres, and the team cleared debris from the front left brakes of his car. The debris had caused his front brakes to reach critical temperatures. The Finn rejoined in 14th and last. Hamilton relegated Schumacher to P12 on lap 16 and continued to set blistering lap times. Raikkonen closed up on Giovinazzi, and Alfa Romeo swapped their positions on lap 18.

Ocon, Vettel, Latifi, Tsunoda, Sainz, Alonso, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Gasly were the top 10 on lap 19. 

Vettel was within the DRS range of Ocon when Alpine asked the latter to extend plan A by five more laps. Hamilton, who had closed up on Gasly in the battle for P10, struggled to get past him, and Mercedes decided to switch his strategy, pitting him for a set of hards on lap 20. Hamilton rejoined in 12th, just ahead of Raikkonen, who set the fastest lap of the race. 

Ricciardo and Verstappen followed suit a lap later, switching to the hard tyres. However, a brilliant out-lap by Hamilton allowed him to jump the duo, the undercut working in Mercedes' favour. Hamilton then managed to jump Russell on lap 22 after the latter pitted for a fresh set of hard tyres. Hamilton was the fastest man on track, and Ferrari, sighting a threat for Sainz, asked him to pit on lap 23, but the Spaniard refused and decided to extend his stint a little more. Tsunoda, however, pitted for Alpha Tauri, jumping Latifi after the latter's stop to end up P6. Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Schumacher for P9 on lap 24.

Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Alonso, Gasly, Tsunoda, Latifi, Hamilton, Schumacher and Russell were the top 10 at the end of lap 26.

Hamilton continued his charge up the field with a move on Latifi for P7, while there was a train of cars forming up behind Schumacher. Russell, Ricciardo and Verstappen got stuck behind the Haas car, and this allowed Raikkonen to reduce the deficit to the quartet. 

Gasly pitted for hard tyres on lap 31, rejoining in P8. Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Tsunoda for P5 ( lap 32 ). As soon as Hamilton completed the overtake on Tsunoda, Ferrari called Sainz in for his pit stop and switched him to the hard tyres. The Spaniard re-emerged in 4th.

Schumacher's tyres were rapidly losing grip, and the German lost four positions to Russell, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Raikkonen in the space of two laps. The German immediately pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in P13. 

Vettel finally pitted for hard tyres on lap 37 but had a 3.3 second stop. Alpine responded immediately, pitting Ocon on the next lap. The Frenchman emerged from the pits and managed to fend off the challenge from Vettel, who had set blistering sector times on his out-lap. Alonso, who inherited the lead after the pit stops, pitted on lap 40 for his only stop of the race and switched to the hard tyres. He rejoined the race in P5, behind Hamilton.

Gasly got past Latifi for P7 while Verstappen completed his 2nd pit stop, switching to the mediums and rejoining in P11 ( lap 41 ). Alonso was the fastest man on track, while Hamilton struggled to challenge Sainz for P3.

Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda, Gasly, Latifi, Russell and Ricciardo were the top 10 at the end of lap 46.

Hamilton pitted again, on lap 48, switched to the medium tyres and rejoined the race in P5. The Briton got told to push till the end, and Mercedes believed he had the pace to win the race. Meanwhile, at the front, Ocon and Vettel closed in on Giovinazzi to lap the Alfa Romeo driver, and Ocon got compromised on the pit straight. The backmarker problem allowed Vettel to challenge Ocon for the lead into turn one, but Ocon managed to rebuff him. Alpha Tauri informed its drivers to swap positions as they believed Gasly had more speed than Tsunoda. The swap for P6 happened on lap 49. 

While Ocon and Vettel were busy clearing backmarkers, Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race, going four seconds faster than anyone on the track! Verstappen began his recovery for points by relegating Raikkonen to P12 on lap 50. 

The battle for P3 was hotting up, with Alonso getting within the DRS range of Sainz, and Hamilton, closing in on the duo. Meanwhile, Verstappen was pressuring Ricciardo for P10. Raikkonen pitted for the 2nd time, switching to the soft tyres on lap 55 and rejoined in P12. On the track, Hamilton sparred with Alonso in the battle for P4, but the latter fended off the challenge. The duo was side-by-side again a couple of laps later, but Alonso ensured that the status quo got maintained. Verstappen got into the points with an overtake on Ricciardo for P10 on lap 61.

Alonso continued to rebuff challenge after challenge by Hamilton, who complained about Alonso "moving under braking". The Spaniard finally made an uncharacteristic error at turn one, locking up his brakes ( lap 65 ) and leaving the door open. Hamilton closed up and overtook him with DRS assistance into turn two. The battle continued into the next couple of turns, but Hamilton had finally bagged P4. The Briton then quickly caught up to Sainz and got past him for P3 on lap 67. Less than six seconds separated Ocon and Vettel from Hamilton with four laps remaining.

Alonso pressured Sainz for P4, while Raikkonen got past Ricciardo for P11 ( lap 68 ). Gasly pitted for the soft tyres on lap 69, retaining P6 and going for the fastest lap point. The Frenchman achieved it on the final lap.

Ocon took the Chequered Flag and victory, having held off Vettel throughout the Grand Prix. Vettel was 2nd for Aston Martin, with Hamilton 3rd, just eight-tenths adrift.

Sainz bagged P4 for Ferrari, followed by Alonso and Gasly. Tsunoda was 7th in the other Alpha Tauri, followed by the Williams of Latifi and Russell, who managed to keep Verstappen at bay. Verstappen got the final point in P10.

Raikkonen finished P11 for Alfa Romeo, followed by Ricciardo in a heavily damaged McLaren. Schumacher and Giovinazzi completed the classified finishers. 

The results were provisional as Ocon got called to the stewards for not following the Race Director post-race procedure. The Frenchman had missed the pit entry and went down the start-finish straight again. He stopped his car at the end of the pit straight and ran back to Parc Ferme for the podium celebrations. Meanwhile, Vettel, who finished in P2, stopped on the track due to low fuel. Russell did likewise. 


Vettel, Bottas, Sainz and Stroll got called to the stewards for allegedly "not following the Race Director's instructions - the pre-race procedure". 

The quartet, along with Ocon, got reprimands for their mistakes. 

Celebrations broke out in the pit lane as the mechanics of Alpine and Aston Martin celebrated a famous podium. Alonso, also, was on Parc Ferme to celebrate Ocon's win. 

The stewards gave Bottas and Stroll a five-place grid drop ( each ) for the Belgian Grand Prix ( along with two penalty points each ) for their misdemeanours on the opening lap. 

The dust settled on the celebrations, and drama stuck an hour later. Vettel's Aston Martin didn't have the minimum quantity of fuel required ( one litre ) for post-race testing, and the team got summoned to the stewards. The FIA could extract only 0.3 litres, and due to this infringement, Vettel got disqualified from the race! Aston Martin believed that they had enough fuel onboard ( 1.44 litres to be precise ) for sampling and appealed against the decision.  

The appeal got rejected on Monday, and Vettel got excluded from the final classification. The exclusion meant that all drivers moved up a position, with Hamilton ending up in P2 and Sainz getting promoted to P3 and onto the podium.

Hamilton had a trying Sunday and, despite the tactical gaffe at the restart, recovered well to finish P3 and then inherited P2. The Briton now led the Driver Standings by 8 points, gaining momentum going into the summer break. It was not an easy drive as the reigning World Champion admitted that he was suffering from the effects of "Long Covid". Nevertheless, it was "advantage Hamilton" going into the second half of the season. A rookie error brought Bottas' race to a premature end, and unfortunately, the Finn wiped out both the Red Bulls and Norris. The mistake compromised his next race in Belgium, and Bottas faced a lot of scrutiny post-race. The likelihood of his contract getting renewed at Mercedes seemed bleak. Mercedes jumped Red Bull in the standings and now led their arch-rivals by 12 points. Team Principal Toto Wolff issued a public apology for the first lap collision caused by Bottas, which took out Perez and Norris and heavily damaged Verstappen's car. 

As for Red Bull, the team managed to score only five points from the last two races. Bottas was the culprit and Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal, wasn't pleased with the apology offered by Mercedes. Perez's engine suffered substantial damage, and the threat of incurring grid penalties due to new components became a concern. Verstappen was in a similar boat but salvaged a couple of points in a highly compromised car. The Dutchman had a Mercedes to blame again for his misfortune. The past two races saw his lead of 32 points turn into a deficit of eight. Verstappen & Co would now have to play catch-up due to no fault of their own. 

It was a bitter-sweet day for Ferrari. While Sainz secured P3 and his second podium with Ferrari in 2021, Leclerc, who would have challenged those ahead of him, got taken out by Stroll in the melee at turn one. The Monegasque cut a dejected figure as he clambered out of the car and into retirement on the opening lap. As for Sainz, the Spaniard struggled in the first half of the race and his decision to overturn Ferrari's strategy calls paid dividends. Sainz's P3 helped Ferrari get level with McLaren in the Constructor Standings. The battle for 3rd in the Constructors was well and truly on!

McLaren had a disastrous weekend. While Norris got taken out by Bottas, Ricciardo got hit by Leclerc on the opening lap. Both suffered damage, but for Norris, it was terminal. Norris was the only driver to have scored points in every race up until Hungary. The Briton was distraught as an opportunity for a win or possibly a podium went begging. Ricciardo was left fighting for scraps in the lower half of the field. The Australian cut a forlorn figure in 11th, his struggles in his new life at McLaren never-ending. As for Norris, the only silver lining from the weekend was that none of his immediate rivals scored any points. Bottas, Leclerc and Perez all suffered retirements, and it was status quo in the battle for P3 in the Driver Championship. McLaren's failure to score allowed Ferrari to get level in the fight for P3. The Woking-based outfit faced an uphill task for the second half of the season.

Ocon and Alpine hadn't put a foot wrong the entire race, placing his car in the right place and taking an opportunistic line at turn one, which kept him safe from all the incidents. The Frenchman displayed character and calmness in the face of unrelenting pressure from Vettel, taking an unlikely victory at one of the toughest races on the calendar. His calibre and talent came to the fore, but Ocon also had Alonso to thank. Alonso held up Hamilton for ten laps, which was enough to deny the Briton a shot at victory. Alonso got awarded the "The Driver of the Day".  The former double World Champion earned everyone's respect en route to a fine P4. The 37 points haul helped Alpine catapult themselves up into P5 in the Constructors' standings, nine points clear of Alpha Tauri. 

As for Aston Martin, the 18 points achieved by Vettel in 2nd got reversed after the rejection of the appeal. The team failed to add to their tally of points. Vettel had driven a great race nonetheless. The former World Champion tried hard to pressure Ocon for the win but came up short after several attempts. Stroll's mistake on the opening lap denied the team a strong result, and the Canadian's five-place grid drop complicated matters for Belgium. Aston Martin now trailed Alpha Tauri by 20 points in P7.

Despite scoring 19 points, Alpha Tauri lost out to Alpine but extended their lead to Aston Martin. Gasly was the stronger of the two drivers again, also bagging the point for the fastest lap and denying Hamilton the same at the end. Tsunoda kept it clean and recovered from the disappointment of Saturday. The Italian based team remain a strong contender in the midfield battle. 

It was a weekend to remember for the Williams F1 Team. Latifi and Russell made up several places after the opening lap melee. The duo displayed great racecraft and deserved to be in the top 10. Russell played the team game and offered Williams the chance to prioritize Latifi since the latter was running in the podium places for several laps. Nevertheless, P7 and P8 were more than the team could ask for on such an eventful weekend. Williams jumped Alfa Romeo into P8 and 7 points clear of their immediate rivals. 

As for Alfa Romeo, it was another weekend of "what could have been". Giovinazzi suffered from the penalty of speeding in the pit lane. Raikkonen got pulled up due to the "unsafe release" by Alfa Romeo, which lead to the coming together with Mazepin and the latter's retirement. Both drivers had the pace to perform better but got let down by poor decision making again. Raikkonen's promotion to P10 helped Alfa Romeo get one point. The team needed reforms over the summer break if they were to salvage their season. Surpassing Williams now became the priority.

Schumacher's talent and feistiness came to the fore in his battle with Russell and Verstappen. The German was briefly running in the points, and although he ended the race in P12, Haas seemed to have made improvements in their car. Mazepin's race got cut short after his incident with Raikkonen in the pits, so what he could have accomplished remained a mystery. 

The marathon 70 laps at the Hungarian GP produced a humdinger of a race. The title battle had turned on its head due to the unexpected results of the last two races. Mercedes and Hamilton were riding high from the success, while Red Bull and Verstappen had multiple factors to blame for their misfortune. The contenders had a month to assess and restrategize for the second half of the season. The duel would resume in the hills of the Ardennes at the iconic track of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, the home of the Belgian GP.

Hungary gave the fans of the sport a New Grand Prix Winner in Esteban Ocon. Eight years had passed since Alpine F1, under the guise of Lotus F1, had last won a race with Kimi Raikkonen. The journey from thereon had been a challenging one. It was "Redemption Day" for Alpine F1 in Hungary.

The season ahead will have many more surprises in the title battle, and eventually, F1 would have a Champion. 


However, in Hungary, the glory belonged to Ocon, Alonso and Alpine F1!

Allez Les Bleus!

2021 British GP Race Recap : Hammer-ing a Dent on the Home Turf!

The penultimate round before the summer break of the 2021 F1 Season got held at the iconic circuit of Silverstone. Silverstone, the home of the British GP, had served up exciting races in the past and was the first venue to hold "the new format for a race weekend" that got announced by the FOM earlier in the season. A majority of the teams had the British GP as their home race. The stands were full of spectators for the second time in 2021.

So what were the changes in the new format?

Twelve sets of dry tyres were available for each driver - six softs, four mediums and two hards for the entire weekend.

The British GP would feature a revamped schedule with Friday featuring only one practice session, followed by Qualifying, which would decide the grid for the F1 Sprint on Saturday. Friday Practice would last for 60 minutes, while Qualifying would follow the same format as a regular race weekend. Parc-Ferme conditions would get imposed before Qualifying. Drivers had access to only the soft tyres ( four from their allocation ) for Qualifying, with those making it into Q3 getting an extra set. The timings for the sessions got pushed back to later in the day to accommodate more viewership.

The term "Pole Position" got replaced by "the Fastest Qualifier".

Saturday would feature another 60-minute Practice Session, followed by an F1 Sprint later in the day. The F1 Sprint was the star attraction from the weekend, with drivers lining up based on their Qualifying results from Friday. 

The F1 Sprint followed a shorter race format, a total distance of 100 km ( 17 laps ), lasting 25-30 minutes. Drivers had free tyre choice and were not obligated to make a pit stop. The Sprint Race winner would bag Pole Position, and the results of the Sprint would decide the grid for the main Grand Prix on Sunday. The winner of the Sprint would get 3 points, second and third would get two and one points respectively. There would be no podium celebrations after the F1 Sprint. If a driver failed to finish the Sprint due to an accidentthe teams could change parts ( different spec allowed ) for the Grand Prix.

Sunday would feature the main event - The British Grand Prix over 52 laps, with points getting awarded to the top 10 drivers ( regular format ). The intriguing aspect of the weekend was that all 20 drivers would have a free tyre choice at the start of both the F1 Sprint and the Grand Prix. 

More Details about the New Race Weekend are here:

Leading up to the British GP, the Australian GP got called off due to restrictions and logistical challenges relating to the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Carlos Reutemann, a leading F1 driver in the 1970s and 1980s, passed away aged 79. Lando Norris suffered from a traumatic experience, getting robbed of his Richard Mille McLaren watch after attending the Euro 2020 final, in which the English Football Team came up second-best. McLaren got hit with more bad news after Zak Brown, the CEO, and two other members tested positive for COVID-19 and underwent isolation.

Alfa Romeo announced a multi-year extension of its agreement with Sauber Engineering, with Team Principal Frederic Vasseur getting a free hand to choose his drivers for 2022. 

The FOM also unveiled their concept of the 2022 F1 Car under the new regulations.

In 2020, tyre delaminations in the final laps of the race threatened to change the result of the British GP. While Bottas lost a position to Verstappen, Hamilton limped home with three tyres to win the British GP in a dramatic climax.

Come 2021, Mercedes had been playing catchup since the past five races and needed a response at the home race. Hamilton was banking on home advantage and crowd support to get his Championship fight back on track. How did the title battle unfold, and was there another twist in the tale? Time for a recap of the British GP weekend!

Friday Practice :

Free Practice 1, the only Practice Session before Qualifying, and the teams had their work cut out for sixty minutes. Stroll quipped that he didn't feel confident at the wheel of his Aston Martin, while Russell had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. Sainz suffered a spin at the exit of turn three, and Verstappen reported a loss of power at the final two turns on one of his flying laps. 

Nevertheless, the Dutchman topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, seven-tenths clear of Norris and Hamilton. Bottas split the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz in 5th, while Vettel, Perez, Ricciardo and Ocon completed the top 10. 

The Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Tsunoda were P11 and P12, with Alonso splitting the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P14. Latifi was 16th in his Williams, followed by Schumacher and Stroll. Mazepin and Russell completed the back of the field. 

Qualifying for F1 Sprint :

The soft tyres ( C3 ) were the only available choice for all the sessions of Qualifying. Red Bull carried out some setup changes on Verstappen's car before the start of Qualifying. The sun was shining, but the track temperatures were lower than those in FP1. 

Q1 got underway, and Ocon, Verstappen and the Aston Martin drivers decided to stay put in the early minutes. The track, however, saw the full quota of cars when ten minutes remained of Q1. Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Perez and Norris were the top 6, with Sainz, Raikkonen, Stroll, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination after the first runs.

The lap times started dropping as more rubber got laid on the track, and while Sainz improved to P5, Leclerc made a mistake on the penultimate corner on his flying lap.

For the final runs of Q1, Verstappen and Alonso chose to stay put while the rest of the field emerged with a fresh set of soft tyres. There was a rapid track evolution, and everyone improved on their final runs. Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Latifi and Schumacher got eliminated from Qualifying, while Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Ricciardo and Sainz ended as the top 6. Less than a second separated the top 14 drivers at the end of Q1.

Everyone bar Giovinazzi began their first attempt of Q2 on a fresh set of soft tyres. Nine-hundredths of a second separated Hamilton from Verstappen at the top, with Bottas, Perez and Vettel remaining in close contention. Gasly, Russell, Alonso, Stroll and Giovinazzi were in the drop zone at the end of the first runs. 

Perez and Vettel opted to not run again in Q2 while the rest of the field tried to better their attempts in the final minutes. 

Hamilton went the quickest, three-tenths clear of Verstappen. Russell produced a stellar lap to finish Q2 in P7! Bottas, Sainz, Leclerc, Perez, Vettel, Ricciardo and Norris were the others who got through to Q3, while Alonso, Gasly, Ocon, Giovinazzi and Stroll suffered elimination. Two-hundredths of a second separated Alonso from Q3, a matter of close margins again. 

The Ferrari drivers opted for a used set of soft tyres for their first attempts of Q3. Vettel had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits, while Russell decided to go out-of-sync with the rest of the field.

Hamilton discovered newfound pace and went two-tenths clear of Verstappen, with Bottas and Perez a further two-tenths adrift. Verstappen wasn't pleased with the balance of his car and complained about understeer in the final sector. Meanwhile, Russell emerged from the pits on a clear track and set the 7th quickest time amongst loud cheers from his home crowd. 

The final minutes of Q3 saw all drivers ( bar Russell ) emerge for the final top-ten shootout with a fresh set of soft. 

Hamilton set purple sector times but made a mistake at the Vale chicane. The Briton failed to improve on his previous attempt. Meanwhile, Verstappen set personal best times in sectors one and three but couldn't pip Hamilton to become the Fastest Qualifier. Seven hundredths of a second separated the duo at the end of Q3. 

Bottas qualified P3 while Perez had set the 4th quickest time but had his lap deleted for exceeding track limits. The deletion promoted Leclerc to P4, with Perez getting accompanied by Norris on row three of the grid. Ricciardo was P7 in the other McLaren, followed by Russell, Sainz and Vettel, who completed the top 10.

It had been an intense Qualifying, but Hamilton, despite his error, emerged as the first "Fastest Qualifier" in the new format. He had the best opportunity of bagging "Pole Position" for the Grand Prix and three points from the F1 Sprint. As for Verstappen, he had suffered a psychological blow, and the setup changes before Qualifying proved detrimental. Mercedes had stepped up to the challenge and had both its cars in the top 3, while Perez's lap time deletion ( in the end ) compromised Red Bull's plans for the F1 Sprint. 

Leclerc had his Ferrari in the mix, but Russell was the star of Qualifying, having finished P8 in a Williams, only a tenth slower than Leclerc in P4. 

In a tightly contested midfield, there was no room for errors, and the F1 Sprint race would prove pivotal in "making or breaking" the prospects of a driver and his team on Grand Prix Sunday. However, before that, the drivers would get one more opportunity to practice on Saturday morning.

Saturday Practice :

Saturday Practice ( FP2 ) saw teams attempt race simulations, with tyre options split between their drivers. Tyre choice for the F1 Sprint later in the day was equally important, and some drivers reported blisters even on the medium tyres. Bottas suffered from a spin after the end of FP2 and flat-spotted his soft tyres. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets from Leclerc and Sainz. Ocon was P4 for Alpine, followed by Perez and the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo. Hamilton, Bottas and Gasly completed the top 10.

Russell was P11 in his Williams, while Alonso split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P13. Latifi set the 15th quickest time, from Tsunoda and the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll. The Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin brought up the rear of the field.

Sainz, Vettel and Mazepin got summoned to the stewards for failing to follow Race Director's instructions with practice starts during FP2. The trio got let off with formal warnings.

F1 Sprint :

The sun was beating down on Silverstone, and track temperatures hit 48 degrees C. It was time for the maiden F1 Sprint of the 2021 F1 Season. Seventeen laps separated the drivers from Pole Position for the British Grand Prix.

The drivers set out on the formation lap, and four drivers chose the aggressive approach by opting for the soft tyres - Bottas, Alonso, Ocon and Raikkonen. Bottas was on a used set of softs. The rest of the field persisted with the mediums, with the Aston Martins starting on previously used tyres. 

The drivers lined up on the grid, and smoke was billowing from Verstappen's front brakes. 

As the five red lights illuminated and went out, Hamilton was hesitant off the line, but Verstappen timed his launch correctly and took the lead into turn one! Bottas, with his gripper tyres, also had a good launch off the line and pressured Hamilton only to relent at turn one. Meanwhile, Alonso displayed stellar racecraft jumping six positions into P5. Raikkonen, the most experienced driver on the grid, made up four places to end up P13. 

Russell and Sainz banged wheels, which sent the latter wide, bumping him down to P18. The incident got flagged for investigation post-session. The Haas cars had a coming together, and Mazepin got spun around. Meanwhile, Perez got past Ricciardo for P7.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Alonso, Norris, Perez, Ricciardo, Vettel and Russell were the top 10 at the end of lap 3.

Hamilton and Verstappen were trading the fastest laps at the front, while Sainz began his recovery with overtakes on Giovinazzi and Stroll for P14. Meanwhile, Norris, who had closed upon Alonso, couldn't get past due to the latter's tactics of "weaving while defending". Alonso's actions got reported to the stewards. Perez was also closing in on Ricciardo when an extra throttle input sent him spinning through the gravel at Maggotts-Becketts. The Mexican avoided hitting the barriers but fell to P19 and had massive flat spots and vibrations on his tyres. 

Norris finally got past Alonso for P5 on lap 6, while Verstappen extended his lead at the front to 1.7 seconds. Ricciardo honed in on Alonso and relegated him to P7 on lap 9. The latter tried to fight back using the slipstream, but Ricciardo rebuffed the challenge. Further down the field, Sainz got past Raikkonen for P12. Those who had started on the soft tyres were slowly losing grip and lap times.

Verstappen continued to stretch his lead, and Hamilton asked his team for options to maintain pressure. Both drivers had started to suffer from blistering on the right front tyres. Alonso had now fallen into the clutches of Vettel, who was pressuring him in the battle for P7. Alonso finally got warned by the stewards for "moving under braking". Meanwhile, Sainz overtook Gasly for P11.

Red Bull informed Verstappen that he had a comfortable lead of three seconds over Hamilton, asking him to avoid the kerbs as a fail-safe against tyre delamination. His teammate Perez, who had suffered a spin and had massive vibrations going through the car, got asked to retire. He would get the luxury of changing parts on his car but would start at the back of the grid on race day. 

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and became F1's first sprint winner. The Dutchman scored three points, bagging Pole Position for the British GP. Hamilton was 2nd and scored two points, while Bottas was 3rd for Mercedes and had one point added to his Championship tally.

Leclerc was 4th for Ferrari and would start alongside Bottas. Row 3 was an all-McLaren lineup with Norris and Ricciardo, followed by Alonso and Vettel on row 4. Russell and Ocon completed the top 10.

Sainz qualified P11 in the other Ferrari, followed by Gasly and Raikkonen. Stroll was 14th for Aston Martin, from Giovinazzi and Tsunoda. Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin and Perez completed the back of the field. Whether Perez would start the race from the back of the grid or the pit lane remained to be seen. 

Alonso was the star of the F1 Sprint after his opening lap heroics. The top 3 finishers got onto a truck for a "Victory Lap Parade", and Verstappen had a wreath put around him. 

Red Bull had finally scored a Pole Position in Silverstone after nine years. Mark Webber was the last Red Bull driver to start on pole at the 2012 British GP. Although Verstappen struggled on Qualifying Friday, his Red Bull was set up better in race mode, and he was the favourite to take the win on Sunday. Hamilton and Bottas had no answer for Verstappen's pace. However, Mercedes had both its cars on the sharp end of the grid, while Perez, the other Red Bull driver, was at the back of the pack. 

Tyre wear would prove pivotal in the battle for victory, as seen from the blisters on all tyres at the end of the F1 Sprint.

Leclerc ensured that at least one Ferrari started ahead of both the McLarens, while Sainz hoped to recover more places with an aggressive strategy on Sunday. The battle for P3 in the Constructors' was a hotly contested one, and both McLaren and Ferrari needed their drivers to score big on Sunday. Alpine's decision to start both its drivers on the softs in the F1 Sprint paid dividends, and they hoped to reduce the deficit to Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin. As for Alpha Tauri, Gasly and Tsunoda were in the lower half of the field, the duo facing a long Sunday afternoon. While Vettel continued to go from strength to strength, Stroll failed to find confidence at the wheel of his Aston Martin. However, a lot could change come Sunday. 

Russell was the star on Qualifying Friday and remained in the top 10 for the start of the Grand Prix. While Russell got a summons for his clash with Sainz in the F1 Sprint, Sainz was under investigation for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. Subsequently, Russell got penalized with a three-place grid drop for his coming together with Sainz, having locked up and pushed "another car off track". The resulting sentence demoted Russell to P12. Sainz escaped from a penalty. 

Latifi continued to get out-qualified by Russell but had the opportunity of turning things around in the race. Raikkonen, like Alonso, made up places at the start, which put him ahead of his teammate Giovinazzi. It was unlikely that Alfa Romeo would score points on the weekend. Haas F1 was going through a torrid time with its results, and the friction between its two young rookies wasn't helping matters. 

Race :

Red Bull gave Perez's car a new Energy Store, Control Electronics and Rear Wing Assembly. The replacements were in breach of the Parc Ferme regulations, which meant that Perez would start the race from the pit lane.

Alonso, on his sighting lap, spun out of Woodcote. Thankfully, his Alpine didn't suffer any damage.  

Raikkonen had 20 race starts at Silverstone, setting a new record for the most starts by a driver at any circuit.

C1, C2 and C3 were the tyres available for the race, and Pirelli predicted a two-stopper for those on an aggressive strategy. 

Everyone, bar Perez, opted to start the race on the medium tyres. The Mercedes, Aston Martin and Haas Cars were on a used set of mediums.

Track temperatures were at an all-time high at 52 degrees C, and teams were concerned with tyre wear.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Hamilton pressured him into turn one but slotted back into 2nd after minor contact. Leclerc jumped Bottas into 3rd. The battle for the lead was not over yet as Hamilton tried to get the tow off Verstappen and challenge him on the Wellington Straight. The duel continued, and they were almost side-by-side going into Copse. Hamilton's left front tyre clipped the right rear of Verstappen's car, leading to immediate suspension damage on the Red Bull and sending Verstappen flying off the track and into the barriers!

Verstappen was out of the race! 

Leclerc saw the opportunity and jumped Hamilton going into Maggotts-Becketts. The Safety Car got deployed, and Hamilton reported damage to his car. Meanwhile, Verstappen looked winded from the impact, and the medical car rushed to check on his wellbeing. The Dutchman had suffered a 51G crash, and the FIA medical team surmised that he needed a thorough check-up at a nearby hospital. 

Further down the field, the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi had made up positions and were up into P9 and P13, respectively. Russell was down to 14th, while Perez stayed P19 and last at the end of the opening lap.

The impact from Verstappen's crashed had damaged the tyre barriers, and the race stewards decided to Red Flag the race, carry out repairs and safely extricate the stricken Red Bull. The collision got flagged for investigation by the stewards, and Hamilton, in his defence, said that Verstappen turned in on him.

There was a series of radio communications between the FIA Race Director Michael Masi and the two teams. The Race Director reiterated that the stewards, and not him, would give a resolution on the matter. In the pit lane, the Mercedes mechanics taped up the damaged components on the front wing and replaced a cracked wheel rim on Hamilton's car. As for Verstappen's car, the Red Bull Mechanics were at the crash site and inspecting the underside. The car was still "live", possibly leaking fluid, and after safety checks, it finally got pulled out of the barriers. The right side of Verstappen's Red Bull suffered damage beyond recognition as it made it's way back to the pits. 

The FIA announced a standing start for the restart of the race, and this time, Leclerc had a clean getaway from P1. Hamilton couldn't challenge for the lead, but Norris managed to jump Bottas for P3. Further down the field, Vettel and Alonso were sparring over P6 when Vettel gave too much throttle and spun by himself at Luffield. The German fell back to 19th and last. Meanwhile, Ocon got past Giovinazzi for P10 while Perez was already up to P16.  

The stewards decided to give Hamilton a ten-second time penalty for his collision with Verstappen. The Briton was due to serve it during his pitstop, which would compromise his race considerably. On the track, Ocon relegated Raikkonen to P10, and Sainz overtook Alonso for P6. Further down the field, Perez got past Latifi for P15 ( lap 5 ). Leclerc was the fastest man on track as Givoinazzi lost P11 to Gasly.

Vettel and Perez were making their way through the field, with overtakes on Mazepin and Russell for P18 and P13, respectively. Hamilton set the fastest lap as he reduced the deficit to Leclerc to 1.3 seconds. Meanwhile, Raikkonen got track limits warning on lap 8, while Perez got past Giovinazzi for P12. 

Leclerc, Hamilton, Norris, Bottas, Ricciardo, Sainz, Alonso, Stroll, Ocon and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 10.

Ferrari informed Sainz that they would switch to either plan B or C, while Leclerc got instructions to switch to plan B ( lap 13 ). Hamilton struggled to stay in touch with Leclerc until the latter reported an engine cut and power loss on lap 15.  Ferrari guided Leclerc through some settings changes, but the issue returned a lap later. Bottas was setting blistering lap times as he tried to close in on Hamilton and Leclerc while Hamilton was within DRS range of Leclerc. The issue for Leclerc finally got resolved, and the Monegasque extended his lead at the front to 2 seconds again.

Meanwhile, Gasly got a Black & White Flag for exceeding track limits multiple times. The pit stop window for those on the medium tyres was now open, and Raikkonen, Russell and Vettel pitted for the hard tyres. Perez pitted as well but switched to the mediums. Leclerc set the fastest lap of the race, and Vettel got past Schumacher for P17. While Latifi and Ocon pitted for the hard tyres on lap 20, Perez finally managed to get past Raikkonen for P13. 

The McLaren drivers were next to pit for the hard tyres on laps 21 and 22. An issue on the right rear left Norris stationary for 6 seconds during his pit stop. 

At the front, Leclerc's engine woes continued with momentary losses of power. Bottas pitted for hard tyres on lap 23, with Mercedes pouncing on the slip up by McLaren with Norris' stop. Sure enough, Bottas emerged from the pits ahead of Norris. The Finn then relegated Alonso to P5, while Ocon lost P12 to Perez, who resumed his charge through the field. Alonso then lost another position to Norris on lap 24.

Giovinazzi and Stroll were the next to pit for the hard tyres on lap 24, rejoining in P15 and P10, respectively.  

Leclerc, who had a 2.5 seconds lead at the front, got instructions to not upshift during the engine power cuts. Alonso had run out of grip on his medium tyres and pitted for the hards on lap 25. However, he, too, had a slow stop due to issues on the right rear tyre. He lost a position to Stroll but immediately reclaimed it on track ( P9 ). 

Bottas was the fastest man on the track on lap 26, and Mercedes finally asked Hamilton to pit on lap 28 after he reported that his front left tyre had lost all grip. The Briton served his time penalty and exited the pits after having been stationary for 14.5 seconds. Hamilton was now P5 and needed to complete overtakes on track if he wished to take victory at his home race. 

A lap later, Sainz and Gasly pitted for the hard tyres. Sainz had an issue with his front left wheel, resulting in a slow stop. The Spaniard rejoined in P6. As for Gasly, his extended stint on the medium tyres helped him jump Raikkonen, and he quickly relegated Ocon to 12th.

Hamilton began his recovery with the fastest lap of the race on lap 30, while Leclerc got the call to pit and switch to the hard tyres. The Monegasque emerged from the pits, still in the race lead! Hamilton got past Norris for P3, while Tsunoda pitted for the hard tyres on lap 31. Hamilton was now catching Bottas while simultaneously eating into Leclerc's lead of 13 seconds.

Leclerc, Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Ricciardo, Sainz, Alonso, Stroll, Perez and Gasly were the top 10 on lap 35.

The battle for P5 was hotting up with Sainz closing in on Ricciardo. The Spaniard tried to pressure Ricciardo, but he rebuffed the challenge. Bottas reported to Mercedes that it was impossible to make it to the end on a one-stop strategy if he maintained his current pace. Meanwhile, his teammate was setting blistering lap times in his quest for victory. Further down the field, Perez pitted again for another set of mediums and relegated Vettel to P17 just after his stop ( lap 40 ). 

Hamilton was now within a second of Bottas, and team orders got enforced. The drivers swapped positions with minimal time loss on lap 41, freeing Hamilton to go for victory. Leclerc still enjoyed an 8.8 seconds cushion to Hamilton. Meanwhile, Perez got past Latifi for P15 and then Giovinazzi for P14. Vettel, who had spun around at the restart, got told to retire due to issues in his car ( lap 41 ). 

Leclerc's lead got cut to 6.5 seconds as Hamilton continued to set blistering lap times. Ferrari instructed Leclerc to switch to the highest engine mode available and go full throttle until the end. Further down the field, Perez completed overtakes on Russell and Tsunoda and was up to P12. He was now pressuring Raikkonen for P11, but the Finn used his experience to rebuff multiple challenges.

The battle for the lead was hotting up as Hamilton continued to lap almost a second quicker than Leclerc, bringing the gap down to 2.5 seconds on lap 47. Alpha Tauri detected a puncture on Gasly's car, and the Frenchman got forced to pit. Meanwhile, Perez seemed to have finally gotten past Raikkonen, but the Finn didn't relent and the two tangled at the penultimate turn. The resulting contact sent Raikkonen into a spin, bumping him down to P16 ( lap 48 ). The incident got flagged for investigation, but neither driver got penalized. 

The gap at the front was down to a second, and a victory for Hamilton seemed all but certain. The point for the fastest lap seemed destined to go to Hamilton. To counter this, Red Bull pitted Perez for a set of soft tyres, thus denying Hamilton of that point. 

Hamilton was now all over Leclerc, and the latter made a mistake going into Copse. Under pressure, Leclerc ran wide, ending up in the runoff and allowing Hamilton to take the lead of the race on lap 50!

Hamilton continued to push and opened up a lead of 2 seconds on Leclerc. Further down the field, Gasly got past Russell for P11, and Perez set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. 

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the British Grand Prix. Leclerc came home in 2nd for Ferrari, while Bottas held onto third to complete a double podium for Mercedes.

Norris and Ricciardo were P4 and P5 for McLaren, the latter unrelenting in defence against Sainz, who finished P6 in the other Ferrari. Alonso was P7 for Alpine, followed by Stroll, Ocon and Tsunoda, who completed the top 10.

Gasly finished just outside the points in P11, with Russell only managing P12 after his heroics on Friday and Saturday. Giovinazzi was P13 for Alfa Romeo, followed by Latifi and teammate Raikkonen. It was a weekend to forget for Perez, who finished in P16, followed by the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher, who completed the classified finishers. 

Hamilton won at Silverstone for the 8th time, and it was his 99th Career victory. Verstappen looked set for his 4th straight win, but the tangle with Hamilton on the opening lap wrecked his chances and cut his lead down to only 7 points in the Championship. The F1 World got split over the severity of Hamilton's punishment, considering that Verstappen needed medical assistance at a hospital to treat a possible concussion. Those at the helm in Red Bull even called for a race ban. Hamilton's celebrations post-race got seen as unsportsmanlike, attracting the ire of Verstappen's supporters. The Red Bull driver himself took to social media to make his displeasure known. While Verstappen got taken out on lap 1, Perez had a lacklustre day at the office and failed to score, leaving Red Bull with a cushion of only four points. As for Bottas, Hamilton's teammate, his drive helped Mercedes get a double podium. The Finn played the team game by complying with Mercedes' instructions to let Hamilton by. He jumped to 4th in the Championship, but his challenge for the title was all but over.

Leclerc led the Grand Prix for all laps but two. The Monegasque would have scored a famous victory and looked gutted after finishing P2. Nevertheless, it was his first podium finish of 2021 and a strong result for Ferrari. Sainz's finish in P6 helped Ferrari outscore McLaren by 4 points, reducing the deficit to 16 points in the battle for P3 in the Constructors' Championship. As for McLaren, Norris got denied a podium finish due to his botched pit stop, while Ricciardo managed to fend off Sainz at the end. Norris remains the only driver to score points in every race this season. The performance delta between the two teams seemed to be reducing, and neither team could afford a mediocre weekend from here on.

Alpine edged closer to Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri, with points finishes for both its drivers. Alonso produced a strong drive in P7 while Ocon recovered from his disappointments of Qualifying ( Friday ) to move into a position of contention on race day. Nine points separate three teams in the battle for P5, and like those placed above them, there remained no room for errors. A rare mistake by Vettel denied Aston Martin a double-point finish at Silverstone, but Stroll's P8 salvaged some pride at their home race. The team was able to make up places thanks to a good race strategy, and despite the result, the future looked bright. Meanwhile, Vettel got recognition and respect from the F1 world after he helped the Silverstone staff clear the litter from the stands post-race. 

Alpha Tauri had both its drivers in the points until they discovered a puncture on Gasly's car. The Frenchman pitted and charged back up the field to finish in 11th, just outside the points. The Italian outfit left Silverstone with only one point, thanks to Tsunoda. Aston Martin was out on the heels, and the possibility of losing P5 in the Championship looked real. 

Russell, after his heroics on Friday and Saturday, struggled to stay in the points on Sunday. However, he continued to outperform his teammate Latifi in the other Williams. A points-finish continued to elude the team as they struggled to find the ideal setups for the race. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen displayed a good race pace, but the latter's efforts got undone after an entanglement with Perez near the end of the race. The strategy adopted by Alfa Romeo remained questionable, and the team lacked outright pace. As for Haas F1, Mazepin outperformed his teammate Schumacher for the first time since the Monaco GP. Their travails at the back of the pack continued with no resolution in sight.

Hamilton and Mercedes reigned supreme on their home turf. The incident and penalty aside, the Briton dug deep to recover and take an unlikely victory against all odds. It was a Champion's drive from the reigning World Champion. However, his tactics and unwillingness to back out of a fight cost Verstappen a big shunt. Verstappen, thankfully, was unhurt from the crash and had two weeks to rest, recuperate and regroup before the next race. The Dutchman, like Hamilton, refused to yield and was on the received end. His lead of 32 points almost got wiped out, and from here on, he needed to play the long game. 

Verstappen would come back hard and leave no stone unturned in his quest for the crown. The gloves were off in the title fight, and we could see the tables turn in Hungary. 

Would Hamilton hit a century of wins, or would Verstappen return with a vengeance and flatten his opposition to victory?

Time will reveal all at the Hungarian GP!

2021 Austrian GP Race Recap : Max-imum Attack & No Second Chances

The Austrian GP served as the season opener for the 2020 F1 Season. The high-speed circuit, nestled in the town of Spielberg, and surrounded by the hills of Styria, produced a race of attrition that saw only 11 drivers complete the race in 2020. In 2021, the Austrian GP completed the first of the triple-headers of the season and the second of the two back-to-back weekends at the Red Bull Ring.

The week leading up to the Austrian GP weekend saw Andrew Alessi jump ship from Red Bull to Aston Martin to become the "Head of Technical Operations". Callum Ilott, reserve driver and part of the Sauber Junior Team ( Alfa Romeo ) and Guanyu Zhou, a member of the Alpine Driver Program, got the chance to drive for their respective teams in Free Practice 1. 

Hamilton renewed his contract at Mercedes, the reigning World Champion staying with the team till the 2023 season.

Pirelli opted for a more aggressive tyre choice that hinted at a two-stop race on Sunday. Pirelli also provided teams with a new version of rear tyres to try on Friday, which, if successful, would become a standard-issue from Silverstone. The prototype featured a "greater level of robustness and integrity".

Verstappen and Red Bull had extended their lead in the Championships, while Mercedes, for the first time, failed to win for four consecutive race weekends in the Turbo Era. They needed a quick turnaround of fortunes to reduce the deficit.

How did the teams fare in the second bout at the Red Bull Ring? Time for a recap!

Practice :

Williams Reserve Driver Roy Nissany, like Ilott and Zhou, got the chance to participate in FP1 instead of Russell.

FP1 got underway and cooler track temperatures made turn three a challenge as Ricciardo ran wide, and Mazepin inadvertently ended in Hamilton's path. While Tsunoda had a trip through the gravel at turn four, Stroll put a wheel wide at six, which sent him through the grass. The latter then suffered a spin at the final corner and narrowly avoided hitting the barriers. Turn one saw the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers and Norris have offtrack moments while the Alpha Tauris complained about traffic on their flying laps. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets from Leclerc and Sainz, followed by Bottas, Tsunoda and Raikkonen, who completed the top 6. 7th was the best that Hamilton could manage, with Perez, Norris and Gasly completing the top half of the field.

Ocon and Ricciardo were 11th and 12th, followed by Stroll and Zhou, who set their best times on medium tyres. Vettel was 15th in the other Aston Martin, with Ilott 16th for Alfa Romeo. The Williams of Nissany and Latifi split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin at the back of the field.

Traffic became the bone of contention during Free Practice 2. While Verstappen got held up at turn one, Alonso avoided rear-ending Schumacher at the pit entry. There was a train of cars forming up at the penultimate corner, which created a safety issue. Alonso suffered again, this time, due to Raikkonen and made his displeasure known over team radio. Meanwhile, Stroll had communication issues with his engineer while Norris suffered from a spin at T1 and flat-spotted his tyres. The Mercedes drivers and Leclerc had offtrack moments on their race simulation runs.

Nevertheless, Hamilton and Bottas were the quickest at the end of FP2, with Verstappen two tenths adrift. The Aston Martin duo of Stroll and Vettel was 4th and 5th, followed by Tsunoda and Gasly for Alpha Tauri. Alonso, Norris and Giovinazzi completed the top 10. 

Perez was P11 in the other Red Bull, with Ocon and Sainz a second slower than Hamilton's time. Raikkonen suffered from lap time deletions and had his best time set on medium tyres in P14. Ricciardo was 15th for McLaren, followed by Leclerc and Russell, while Latifi split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin at the back.

Less than a second separated the top 12 drivers in both the practice sessions. Mercedes seemed to have made progress with their setups, but Red Bull still looked the better car in race trim. Ferrari had a mixed showing on Friday while Alpha Tauri looked strong again. The threat of rain remained as seen in the drizzle during FP2. 

The Final Practice Session ( FP3 ) saw teams continue to sample the prototype tyres provided by Pirelli. Tsunoda suffered from a spin at turn nine while the Ferrari drivers had offtrack moments at five and ten. Mazepin, on the other hand, had a trip through the gravel trap at turn four.

It was Verstappen who went the quickest, from Bottas and Hamilton. Gasly and Giovinazzi were 4th and 5th, while Sainz went 6th fastest for the works Ferrari. Perez was P7 in the other Red Bull, followed by Alonso, Leclerc and Vettel, who completed the top 10. 

Stroll was P11 ahead of Tsunoda, Ocon and Russell. The McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo were P15 and P16, followed by Raikkonen, while Latifi split the Haas cars at the back.

Once again, less than a second separated the top 12 drivers in FP3 and with the track temperature rising, Qualifying promised to be an even closer affair.

Qualifying :

The stands had a sea of fans in orange cheering on Verstappen for Qualifying. 

The FIA had communicated to all the drivers that they could get investigated if they went too slow on their out-laps at turns nine and ten.

The Haas cars were the first to set representative laps in Q1. The Alpines and the Williams stayed put until later in the session. Meanwhile, Gasly suffered a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn nine. Everyone, bar the Aston Martins and the Alpha Tauris, chose the softs for their first runs. 

Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Hamilton, Bottas and Sainz were the top 6, with Latifi, Ocon, Gasly, Schumacher and Mazepin in the drop zone with 6 minutes remaining. 1.1 seconds separated the top 17 drivers as Leclerc was the next driver to suffer from a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits. 

The top 5 drivers chose to stay put while the rest of the field exited the pits with soft tyres. Q1 ended with Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Hamilton, Bottas and Sainz as the top 6 and Raikkonen, Ocon, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated. A lap time deletion for Ricciardo resulted in the Australian scraping through to Q2 by three-hundredths of a second.

Q2 got underway, and Perez was the first driver out on the track with medium tyres. The Mexican set a competitive banker lap but had fuel for another run. Meanwhile, his teammate Verstappen, the Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren drivers also opted for the mediums for their first runs of Q2. Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Hamilton and Stroll were the top 6, with Bottas managing only the 8th quickest time at the end of the first runs. Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi were facing elimination. 

The final minutes of Q2 saw Verstappen, Russell, Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc and Sainz, choose a fresh set of medium tyres. Giovinazzi suffered a lap time deletion on his final attempt in Q2.  

Alonso ( on the soft tyres ) set personal best sector times when he got massively impeded by Vettel on the penultimate turn. Vettel, on the other hand, failed to cross the finish line before the end of Q2. 

Alonso was livid since his lap would have gotten him a place in Q3. The incident got flagged for investigation post-session, and Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for his infringement. Bottas and Sainz also got summoned to the stewards for allegedly going slowly between turns nine and ten. The duo, however, escaped penalties. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Tsunoda, Stroll and Russell were through to Q3, while Sainz, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Alonso and Giovinazzi bowed out of Qualifying.

Less than a second separated the top 14 drivers at the end of Q2. Russell and Williams were into Q3 for the first time in 2021!

Softs were the tyre of choice for the ten drivers competing for pole position in Q3. Russell opted to limit his Q3 participation to a single lap, while Verstappen went the quickest, three-tenths clear of Norris and Hamilton on his first attempt. 

The final minutes of Qualifying saw everyone on a fresh set of softs in the quest for pole position for the Austrian GP. Norris went the quickest in sector one, while Verstappen went purple in three. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Bottas failed to improve on their final runs. 

Verstappen took pole position from Norris by four-hundredths of a second! Perez, in the other Red Bull, improved to P3, finishing two-tenths adrift. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas were P4 and P5, followed by Gasly. Row four got taken up by Tsunoda and Vettel, but the latter's penalty dropped him out of the top 10 to P11. Russell got promoted to P8 with Sainz accompanying Stroll on row 5, albeit with a free tyre choice.

The orange brigade was overjoyed, and celebrations broke out in the stands after Verstappen bagged pole position for Sunday. The Dutchman had scored a hattrick in 2021! Red Bull had both its cars in the top 3 and could use Perez as a rear guard ( if needed ) in the race. It was "advantage Red Bull" on Sunday. Verstappen, however, felt that he could have gone faster had he had a tow like the others behind him. McLaren's front row start with Norris was the team's first since the Brazilian GP in 2012. Ricciardo, however, continued to struggle with balance issues, qualifying a second slower than Norris. Norris lost time to Verstappen at the final turn and could have bagged P1. Nevertheless, McLaren was in a better position than immediate rivals Ferrari for Sunday.

Hamilton admitted that it was damage limitation day on Sunday and didn't have an answer for Red Bull's newfound pace. Bottas had fallen away in the title fight, but Mercedes still needed him to bring home results for the Constructors'. The Mercedes were slower than Red Bull in straight-line speed and needed an aggressive strategy to make inroads. It was a great day for Honda power, with Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's sister team, having both its cars in the top 7. Gasly and Tsunoda needed to outscore the Aston Martins to extend their lead in the battle for P5. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel weren't far behind, and considering their superior race pace and better tyre management, it promised to be a close affair on Sunday. 

Russell continued to impress in his Williams, and his first Q3 appearance ensured that he had a great chance to score points on Sunday. Teammate Latifi's performance was mediocre, but the Canadian had the opportunity to turn it around on race day. Ferrari was going through a resurgence of sorts, but the choice of using medium tyres in Q2 was a questionable decision. Sainz and Leclerc had a free tyre choice for Sunday but needed a superior strategy to ensure a double-points finish in a tightly contested midfield. 

Alpine and Alonso got denied a Q3 appearance due to the impeding by Vettel. Alonso believed he had the pace to break into the top 6. The Spaniard remained the stronger of the two drivers at Alpine, with Ocon going through a lean phase and facing a long afternoon from P17. Alfa Romeo failed to replicate the form shown in Free Practice and seemed better than only the Haas cars. However, the car was better in race trim, as seen during the Styrian GP, and Alfa hoped to make it back into the top 10. The learning curve was steep for the Haas rookies, and the team seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack.

Race :

132,000 was the attendance on Sunday as the stands got packed to capacity for the race.

The track temperature was much lower than that on Saturday afternoon, with a slim chance of rain. C3, C4 and C5 were the tyres available for the race, with Pirelli going one step softer than those used for the Styrian GP weekend. 

Sainz and Raikkonen opted for the hard tyres, while the rest chose the mediums outside the top 10.

The five red lights went out, and Norris had a slightly better start than Verstappen. However, the Dutchman led into turn one. Meanwhile, Hamilton pressured Perez for P3, but the Mexican fended off the challenge. Further down the field, Ocon got sandwiched between Schumacher and Giovinazzi, and the latter clipped the right front tyre of his Alpine. The tie rod broke, and Ocon retired due to suspension damage. The Safety Car got deployed at the end of the opening lap. As a precaution, Alfa Romeo pitted Giovinazzi, switching him to the hard tyres.

Raikkonen and Schumacher had made up places into P14 and P16, respectively, while Russell fell back to P12, Alonso to P15 and Sainz to P13.

The Safety Car peeled into the pits on lap 4, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Bottas got past teammate Hamilton only for him to reclaim the position a couple of corners later. The battle for P2 hotted up with Norris initially fending off Perez. The duo continued the squabble into turn four, and Perez tried an overtake on the outside. The Mexican ran out of space with Norris not yielding, ended up in the gravel trap and lost places in the process. Perez was down to 10th and complained over team radio about being pushed off track. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Norris got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track ( verdict on lap 20 ). Ricciardo got past Leclerc for P9, and further down the field, Alonso and Raikkonen were sparring over P14, only for the latter to retake the place after losing it on the restart. Meanwhile, Latifi got past Schumacher for P16.

Giovinazzi incurred a five-second time penalty for overtaking before the Safety Car line at the restart. Nevertheless, the Italian got past Mazepin and Schumacher and was up to P17. DRS got enabled on lap 7, and Verstappen went about setting blistering lap times as he extended his lead at the front.

Sainz got past Russell for P12 on lap 12, while Tsunoda was the first driver to pit for hard tyres on lap 14. His teammate Gasly followed suit a lap later, rejoining in P18. Stroll also pitted for the hard tyres on lap 15 while on the track, Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel with Perez and took P8 from the Mexican. In the battle for P2, Norris managed to rebuff Hamilton, and the latter asked the team for more engine power. While Gasly got past Mazepin for P16, Tsunoda got flagged for investigation for cutting the white line at pit entry on his way to the pit stop earlier. The Japanese rookie incurred a five-second time penalty for the infringement.

Ricciardo got past Vettel for P5, and the latter immediately pitted for hard tyres on lap 19. Gasly continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Schumacher for P14, while the Aston Martin cars of Stroll and Vettel got past Mazepin for P17 and P18, respectively. Tsunoda relegated Schumacher to P16, while Vettel got past Stroll for P17 on lap 20. 

Hamilton finally got past Norris for P2 on lap 20, but Verstappen had built a 9.5 seconds lead by then. Hamilton was appreciative of Norris' talent and his defensive skills up until the overtake. Further down the field, Vettel got past Schumacher for P16.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Bottas, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Russell and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.

Stroll got past Schumacher for P17, while Gasly overtook Giovinazzi and Latifi to move up to P12. Verstappen was the fastest man on track on lap 26. It was time for those on the medium tyres to go through with their pit stops, and Ricciardo switched to the hard tyres on lap 30. The Australian rejoined in P12, behind Gasly. Giovinazzi also pitted, albeit for the 2nd time, for a fresh set of hard tyres.

Mercedes instructed Bottas to mirror Norris' strategy and pit at the same time as him. The duo pitted on lap 31, and Bottas jumped Norris for P3 after the latter served his time penalty in the pitstop. Russell also pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in 16th.

Hamilton and Verstappen pitted on laps 32 and 33, respectively, and Verstappen maintained his lead in the race. Perez and Alonso were the next to switch to hard tyres on lap 33, rejoining in P10 and P16. Meanwhile, on the track, Tsunoda got past Latifi for P11. Verstappen had built a lead of 14 seconds to Hamilton, and Mercedes discovered that Hamilton's car lost aero performance on the rear after going heavily over the kerbs and suffering damage. Leclerc pitted on lap 35 for hard tyres, but Perez managed to undercut him. Russell relegated Stroll to P14 on lap 38, while Raikkonen switched to the mediums and rejoined in P15. 

The battle for P6 was hotting up as a train of cars formed up behind Gasly. Ricciardo, Perez and Leclerc had closed in on the Frenchman for fresher tyres. Leclerc, who had lost track position to Perez, pressured him for P8, and Perez sent him through the gravel at turn four, much like the earlier incident with Norris. The clash got flagged for investigation, and Perez got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Sainz, Gasly, Ricciardo, Perez, Leclerc and Tsunoda were the top 10 at the end of lap 45.

Bottas was honing in on Hamilton in the battle for 2nd. Hamilton was losing lap time due to the loss of aero performance, and it soon became evident that the reigning World Champion wouldn't be able to hold onto the podium places. Gasly made his 2nd stop, switching to a fresh set of hard tyres and rejoining in P12 ( lap 47 ). Leclerc closed up on Perez in the battle for P7, getting pushed again onto the gravel, this time at turn six. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Perez was the driver at fault again. The Mexican got a 2nd five-second time penalty in the race. 

Alonso got past Stroll for P13 before the latter pitted for hard tyres again on lap 48. Bottas was within striking distance of P2, but Mercedes asked him to hold stations and not pressure Hamilton. Meanwhile, Hamilton didn't feel confident about the tyres making it to the end of the race. While Mercedes kept debating about allowing Bottas to race HamiltonNorris closed in and was a second adrift of the Mercedes duo.

Sainz, the only driver who was yet to stop, switched to a used set of medium tyres on lap 50 and rejoined in P9. The Spaniard quickly relegated Tsunoda to P9 on his out-lap and began his charge up the field. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi got past Gasly for P15, while Mazepin got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits multiple times. Vettel made his 2nd stop on lap 51, switching to a fresh set of hard tyres for his final stint.

Mercedes finally allowed Bottas to race Hamilton, and the Finn bagged P2 on lap 52. Verstappen and Bottas exchanged the fastest laps of the race as Tsunoda pitted for the second time, switching to the hards and rejoining in P14. The Alpha Tauri driver repeated his mistake of cutting across the white line at pit entry and incurred another five-second time penalty. Stroll was another driver to receive a similar punishment for speeding in the pit lane during his stop a few laps earlier!

Hamilton was unable to stay in touch with Bottas and fell into the clutches of Norris. The McLaren was past Hamilton for P3 on lap 54. Mercedes immediately pitted Hamilton, switching him to a fresh set of hard tyres to bag the point for the fastest lap. The plan seemed to have worked before Verstappen reclaimed the crown by setting blistering times on laps 57 and 58. 

Leclerc was pressuring Ricciardo for P6, and Alonso was closing in on Russell in the battle for P10. Raikkonen got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits at turn ten, and the Finn was livid with his team for not informing about the infringement sooner. Verstappen pitted again on lap 61 for a fresh set of hard tyres. Red Bull notified him that they had discovered a cut on his previous set and allowed him one chance to push for the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, his teammate Perez drove hard to extend the gap to Ricciardo to more than 10 seconds to cover off his time penalties. 

On lap 65, Alonso began to exert more pressure, but Russell rebuffed the challenge to hold onto P10. The battle for P6 saw Sainz close up on the duo of Ricciardo and Leclerc. Ferrari allowed Sainz to swap positions with Leclerc, and the Spaniard was P7 on lap 66, free to chase Ricciardo for P5. Despite his stoic defence, Russell failed to hold onto P10 as Alonso got past with the assistance of DRS. Perez extended the gap to Ricciardo to more than 9 seconds on the penultimate lap.

Sainz, with DRS assistance, got past Ricciardo for P6 on the final lap and was within 10 seconds of Perez. Meanwhile, Raikkonen had closed in on Russell in the battle for P11 but unable to overtake despite a few attempts. The Finn complained about Russell moving under braking, which got reported to the stewards. On the final lap, Vettel joined the fray. Raikkonen locked up at turn four, which opened the door for Vettel to make an overtake. The German got ahead, but Raikkonen failed to see him and cut across, which led to a collision and sent them both into the gravel. Raikkonen limped across the line, but Vettel returned to the pits and retired.

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the end of 71 laps. Bottas came home in 2nd for Mercedes, with Norris completing the podium places.

4th was the best that Hamilton could manage with the challenges he faced. Perez crossed the line in 5th but failed to build a gap of 10 seconds to Sainz, which relegated him to P6. Ricciardo was P7 in the other McLaren, followed by Leclerc, Gasly and Alonso, who completed the top 10.

Russell and Williams missed out on another points-scoring finish in 11th. Tsunoda was 12th, followed by Stroll and Giovinazzi. Latifi was 15th in the other Williams, followed by Raikkonen, who limped home in 16th. Vettel, despite the collision, got classified 17th, followed by Schumacher and Mazepin.

The results stayed provisional as Raikkonen and Vettel got summoned to the stewards for the collision. Shortly after, Russell got the call for allegedly moving under braking. The stewards then discovered that Sainz, Perez, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Mazepin had failed to adhere to double-waved yellows on the final lap.

Post investigations, Raikkonen got 20 seconds added to his race time besides getting two penalty points on his license. Russell got a let-off for his movement under braking. Latifi and Mazepin got 30 seconds added to their race time ( equating to a 10 seconds stop-go penalty ) and three penalty points each on their license for failing to obey double-yellow flag conditions. The other drivers in question got the "all clear". As a result of the penalty, Raikkonen and Latifi's positions got swapped in the final classification. Norris got two penalty points on his license, which took his tally to 10 in 12 months ( for the incident with Perez ). He was now two points away from a race ban. Meanwhile, Perez's tally went up to 8 after incurring two points each for his two incidents with Leclerc. 

In an incident-packed and penalty-strewn race, Verstappen remained flawless, comfortably taking the win and the maximum haul of points from the weekend. His lead at the front got extended to 32 points, while Red Bull outscored Mercedes for another weekend. The Dutchman could have won five consecutive races had it not been for the tyre delamination in Baku. Red Bull and Verstappen were the favourites for the crown. His teammate Perez got compromised after the incident with Norris, and in his quest to charge back up, got entangled with Leclerc and suffered punishments. Nevertheless, the Mexican finished in P5, which was enough to help Red Bull extend their lead to 44 points in the Constructors.

Hamilton and Mercedes had no answer, and the former struggled to stay in touch, especially after the damage on the rear of his car. Bottas was the stronger of the two teammates and bolstered his chances of retaining his drive for 2022. As for Mercedes, they have never had five race weekends without a victory in the Turbo Era. It was back to the drawing board before they line up for their home race in Silverstone.

Norris produced a stellar drive to take the final podium place, while teammate Ricciardo charged up the field to finish in P7 to ensure that McLaren outscores immediate rivals in Ferrari. Although Ricciardo couldn't hold off Sainz on the final lap, the Australian displayed a strong race pace and recovered well from the disappointments on Saturday. Norris remained the stronger of the two teammates, bagging his 3rd podium of 2021. Consistency was key for McLaren as they extended their lead to 19 points in the Constructors.

Ferrari had a double-points finish, with Sainz and Leclerc finishing in P5 and P8, respectively. Tyre management and an appropriate strategy call allowed Sainz to extract the maximum from the weekend. Leclerc got denied a better finish by Perez, who pushed him onto the gravel on two occasions. The Monegasque wasn't impressed by his tactics and had to settle for P8. Nevertheless, Ferrari stayed in touch with McLaren in the battle for P3.

Gasly ensured that Alpha Tauri outscored rivals Aston Martin and Alpine. Tsunoda made two rookie errors which cost him a shot for P10. The Japanese driver needed to iron out these mistakes if he wanted to justify his appointment and help Alpha Tauri stay P5 in the Championship. As for Aston Martin, Stroll finished in P12 while Vettel retired on the last lap after a clash with Raikkonen. The team didn't look as strong as they were on the previous two weekends but hoped to turn things around in the home race at Silverstone. 

Alonso was the saving grace for Alpine yet again. The Spaniard could have scored more points had it not been for the impeding by Vettel in Qualifying, which cost him a top 10 race start. Ocon, on the other hand, was the victim of an unfortunate accident. The Frenchman was in a lean patch and needed to step up his game. Alpine still trailed Aston Martin by 12 points, and it was yet another weekend of "what could have been". 

Alfa Romeo flattered to deceive again, and a rare mistake by Raikkonen on the final lap ended a disappointing race for the team. Giovinazzi was the stronger of the two on Saturday, but Raikkonen stepped up to the challenge on race day. The strategies adopted by the team were highly questionable, and they cannot afford slip-ups such as these in the face of a resurgent Williams.

Russell came very close to breaking his scoring duck with Williams. The Briton got denied by Alonso, who was appreciative of the talent that Russell possessed. The former F2 World Champion has been schooling his teammate Latifi, be it Qualifying or the Race. Latifi cannot afford mediocrity if he hopes to retain his drive for 2022. As for Haas, the rookies Schumacher and Mazepin remained at the back of the pack. It seems highly unlikely that Haas would manage to score any points in 2021.

The teams and drivers now get a two-week break before the battle resumes at the British GP in Silverstone. The circuit will also feature the new format of a race weekend as proposed by the FOM earlier in the year. The Grand Prix will also be the home race for seven teams, and they would be hoping for a strong showing in front of their supporters. 

Will Hamilton be able to use the home advantage to reduce Verstappen's lead at the front? Time will reveal all! Until then, Verstappen and Red Bull are on Maximum Attack and offering No Second Chances!

2021 Styrian GP Race Recap : No Vers-Stopping the King of the Ring!

The Red Bull Ring was the season opener in the truncated 2020 F1 Season. The circuit in the hills of Styria and the town of Spielberg hosted back-to-back race weekends in the first triple-header of 2020. In 2021, the track returned to become the second and third races of the first triple-header. The first weekend got christened as "The Styrian GP" and the second "The Austrian GP".

The circuit had been a regular feature of the F1 calendar since 2014, and it also had the shortest lap time of the season. The track also has the second-highest elevation change on the F1 calendar. 

The Turkish GP, which got cancelled earlier in the year, made a return, getting hosted on the dates of Singapore GP weekend, bringing back the tally of 23 races in 2021. The FOM announced that the Russian GP would shift to Autodrom Igora Drive from 2023 onwards, a track to the north of St Petersberg. 

The FIA decided to slow down pitstops from the Hungarian GP, citing safety concerns. A "minimum reaction time got imposed, a move that invited mixed reactions from the F1 paddock. 

More details about the changes here :

Dan Fallows, head of aerodynamics at Red Bull, jumped ship to become the Technical Director at Aston Martin Racing ( at the end of his contract ). 

In Austria, Mercedes enjoyed more success than Red Bull but were running 2nd best this year. The reigning World Champions got outfoxed and outpaced more often than not and needed to reduce the deficit to Red Bull. As for Red Bull, cooler track temperatures helped their car perform better, and in Perez, they had found an equally competitive driver to Verstappen. The weather forecast depicted thunderstorms for the weekend, which promised to add to the excitement and drama. Meanwhile, McLaren had extended their lead in the fight for 3rd, while Ferrari ate humble pie in France.

How did the teams fare in Styria? Did Hamilton reduce the deficit to Verstappen? Did Bottas reenergize his title aspirations? Time to revisit the events from the weekend!

Practice :

Track limits got enforced at turns 9 and 10, and there were a few lap time deletions on Friday.

Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo Reserve Driver, got the nod to take part in Free Practice 1, with Raikkonen sitting out the session.

FP1 got underway, with Sainz reporting throttle issues to his team. The Spaniard then suffered a spin at turn one, blocking the pit exit and holding up Bottas. Giovinazzi complained about Bottas on team radio for pushing him onto the grass, while Gasly expressed his displeasure after being held up by Sainz. Verstappen got held up by traffic on his flying lap, while Perez suffered a spin at turn four, which ruined his soft tyres. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 from Gasly and Hamilton. Bottas was 4th in the other Mercedes, followed by the Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda. The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were 6th and 7th, with Stroll, Giovinazzi and Leclerc completing the top 10. 

Sainz was 11th quickest in the other Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo and Perez, who could only manage 13th. Vettel was 14th in the other Aston Martin, with Norris splitting the Williams of Russell and Latifi in 16th. Schumacher, Kubica and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

A sensor issue on the Power unit denied Gasly participation in FP2. 

Rain clouds gathered over the circuit at the start of FP2, and there was an 80% chance of rain. The drivers quickly commenced their Qualifying and Race simulations. While Sainz and Mazepin suffered from spins at turn five after putting a wheel in the gravel, Hamilton managed to keep his Mercedes facing the right direction. Turn three saw Hamilton and Verstappen run wide, while Leclerc had to take correcting action after taking too much of the inside kerb. 

Latifi was yet another driver to suffer from a spin at turn 6, but the most shocking incident was in the pit lane. Bottas pitted for the hard tyres, and as he exited his box, he lost the rear of his car, resulting in a spin and going sideways through the pit lane. The McLaren mechanics helped the Finn in getting him turned around. Although Bottas laughed it off, McLaren reported it to the FIA, and consequently, post-session, Bottas suffered a three-place grid penalty for the race along with two penalty points. Hamilton went to the top of the timesheets, only to have his lap deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 10.

Verstappen was the fastest at the end of FP2 from Ricciardo. Hamilton split the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso in 4th, while Norris was in an Aston Martin sandwich of Vettel and Stroll in 7th. Perez was 9th in the other Red Bull, followed by Giovinazzi, who completed the top 10.  

Sainz was 11th for Ferrari, followed by Bottas and teammate Leclerc. Raikkonen was 14th in the other Alfa Romeo, with Tsunoda and Russell slotting in in P15 and P16, respectively. The Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin were 17th and 18th, with Latifi 19th and Gasly failing to set a time in FP2. 

Red Bull and Honda power seemed to have an edge at the end of Friday running, but Hamilton and Mercedes' lap time deletion due to track limits masked their actual pace. The penalty meted to Bottas didn't help matters, and the Finn continued to struggle with balance in both sessions. Alpine had a strong showing, and it seemed that they could bridge the gap to those ahead in the midfield battle. Less than a second separated the top 17 drivers in FP1 and 15 in FP2; this meant that Qualifying would be a close affair come Saturday afternoon. 

Alpha Tauri fitted a new MGU-K on Gasly's car after discovering a data anomaly that forced him to sit out FP2. 

FP3 got underway under clear skies, and the teams took their time before sending the drivers on track. Bottas exited the garage and had to take avoiding action from hitting Gasly, who got released into his path. Mazepin suffered a spin at turn one, while Russell was the fastest man on track early in the session, with Verstappen and Bottas taking over the reins after their low fuel runs. However, it was Hamilton who ended FP3 the fastest, two tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by the Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly. Leclerc was 7th for Ferrari, with Alonso, Stroll and Vettel completing the top 10. 

The Alfa Romeo of Giovinazzi was P11. Ocon and Sainz slotted in in 12th and 13th, respectively. Russell was 14th, followed by Raikkonen and Schumacher. P17 was the best that Ricciardo could manage, with Latifi, Norris and Mazepin completing the back of the field. There were many lap time deletions in FP3 due to drivers exceeding track limits.

Qualifying :

The start of Q1 saw the Williams and Haas cars out on track. The rest of the field ( barring the Alpine drivers ) followed a few minutes after, everyone opting for the soft tyres. Some drivers opted for multiple runs with two cool-down laps instead of one. Mazepin and Gasly got their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 9. 

Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc and Gasly were the top 6, with Giovinazzi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination with six minutes remaining of Q1. Less than a tenth of a second covered the top three. The final minutes of Q1 saw the top 4 drivers stay put while the rest of the field emerged from the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. A traffic jam formed up in the final sector, but no impeding got reported, thankfully. 

The lap times came down, and the top 6 changed to Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Tsunoda, Perez and Hamilton at the end of Q1. Ricciardo scraped through in 15th despite setting the fastest time in sector one. Less than a second separated 18 drivers as Latifi, Ocon, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin got eliminated. 

Tyre choice was paramount in Q2, and Red Bull decided to send Perez out on the soft tyres. Russell was another to do likewise, while the Mercedes drivers, Verstappen and Giovinazzi, opted for the mediums. The other drivers stayed put, waiting for more rubber to get laid on the track. Bottas managed to set a representative lap time, but Mercedes informed him that his time was unsafe. The Finn had to do another flying lap. Hamilton, on the other hand, locked up his tyres at turn three. The off-track moment cost him time and compromised his Qualifying and Race plans. The rest of the field joined the party ( on soft tyres ) with 9 minutes remaining in Q2. 

Gasly, Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Hamilton and Tsunoda were the top 6 with Leclerc, Vettel, Russell, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi in the drop zone with 6 minutes remaining. Bottas emerged from the pits with another set of mediums and went third quickest. Only twenty-four thousandths of a second separated the top 4 drivers. Hamilton was the next to do another run on a fresh set of mediums but could only manage P5. Gasly stayed put while the rest of the field switched to the soft tyres for the final minutes of Q2. Sainz, Stroll and Vettel had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits. 

Perez, Norris, Gasly, Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda, Leclerc and Stroll went through to Q3, while Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel and Giovinazzi got eliminated. It was a matter of close margins again as only half a second separated the top 11 drivers, Russell missing out on a Q3 appearance by eight-thousandths of a second!

Q3 got underway, with Hamilton heading out on track early to put in a banker lap. While Stroll decided to go out of sync with the rest, others emerged with soft tyres for their first runs of Q3. Verstappen went the quickest, two-tenths clear of Hamilton with Norris in 3rd and Bottas in 4th. Replays showed that Bottas got impeded by Tsunoda on his flying lap. The incident got flagged for investigation post Qualifying, and Tsunoda incurred a three-place grid penalty. Hamilton pushed for another lap and reduced the gap to Verstappen by another tenth. 

P8 was the best Stroll could manage on his only run of Q3, and as the Canadian returned to the pits, the others went out for one final push for pole position. Hamilton was concerned with track position and fast-tracked his out-lap, jumping a train of cars for his flying lap. The decision backfired as the Briton failed to improve in sectors one and two and eventually running wide at the penultimate turn. Bottas, however, jumped up to P2, but Verstappen's lap from earlier remained unchallenged.

The Dutchman took pole position from Bottas and Hamilton. Bottas' penalty pushed him down to 5th, promoting Norris to P3. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, with Gasly taking up P6 alongside Bottas. Leclerc and Tsunoda were on row 4, with Alonso and Stroll on row 5. However, Tsunoda's penalty bumped him down to P11, with Russell starting P10 with a free tyre choice.

Verstappen had been flawless in Qualifying and deservedly bagged pole position for the Styrian GP. Red Bull split the tyre strategy with Perez starting the race on soft tyres in P4. Having won twice in the past three years, Verstappen had a great opportunity to extend his lead in the Championship. Hamilton's performance was ragged, and the reigning World Champion quipped that he needed to bring his "A-game" to the race. Bottas' error in FP2 cost him dearly, but the Finn had the luxury of starting the race on the cleaner side. The duo, like Verstappen, would start the race on medium tyres. Mercedes lost out to Red Bull in straight-line speed, but Sunday promised fans an intriguing battle between these Turbo Era giants.

Norris produced a stellar lap to inherit 3rd. Meanwhile, his teammate Ricciardo struggled in the other McLaren, qualifying in 13th. Nevertheless, McLaren had the opportunity of extending their lead over Ferrari in the battle for 3rd. Gasly equalled his best starting position again, while Tsunoda, despite his heroics in Qualifying, got penalized for impeding, eventually starting the race in 11th. Alpha Tauri was locked in a heated battle with Aston Martin and needed a good haul of points to ensure that it stayed ahead in the Constructors. Leclerc remained the stronger of the two drivers at Ferrari, doing his best to qualify P7. Sainz, on the other hand, could manage only 12th. Ferrari was going backwards since the past two races and needed to iron out the flaws to stay in contention for P3.

Qualifying was a mixed bag for Alpine, with Alonso starting in P8 but Ocon a lowly 17th. The latter's performance was a disappointment considering that both cars had been in the top 10 on Friday. However, Sunday was the day that mattered, and fortunes could turn. Stroll looked more settled than Vettel at Aston Martin, but a free tyre choice coupled with a strong race pace could help Vettel break into the top 10 on race day. Russell was the star of Qualifying in his Williams. The Briton narrowly missed out on Q3 but got promoted to P10 and had the luxury of a free tyre choice. He hoped to score the first points of the season. His teammate Latifi could only manage 16th but had a comparable race pace. Giovinazzi out-qualified his more experienced teammate in Raikkonen, but Alfa Romeo lacked the pace to challenge those ahead. Haas, like Alfa Romeo, didn't have the speed due to the Ferrari PU faltering in straight-line speed and remained destined at the back of the field.

The Red Bull Ring's three DRS zones offered ample overtaking opportunities, and a lot could change come Sunday.

Race :

C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, and Pirelli predicted a one-stop race. The risk of rain was 40%, and a mammoth 71 laps awaited the 20 drivers fighting for supremacy at Red Bull Ring.

Raikkonen was the only driver to start on the hard tyres, while those outside the top 10 ( including Russell ) opted for the mediums. 

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen and Hamilton. Perez jumped Norris for P3 only to lose the position a turn later. Further back, Alonso, Gasly and Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel, and Leclerc tried to get into the slipstream behind Gasly. The Monegasque made an error of judgement, his front wing clipping the rear left wheel of Gasly's car. Gasly got a puncture, and Leclerc damaged his front wing. As Gasly tried to tippy-toe his way at turn 3, he hit Giovinazzi, which spun the latter around and clipped Latifi's Williams too. It was race over for the Frenchman as he returned to the pits with suspension damage on the rear. 

Stroll made a bold overtake on Alonso for P7, while Russell was up to 8th. Ricciardo and Raikkonen were two other drivers who made up places on the opening lap, with Ricciardo in 9th and Raikkonen in 14th. 

Leclerc pitted on lap 2, taking on a new front wing and switching to the hard tyres. Latifi suffered a puncture from the contact made with Gasly and switched to the soft tyres after his pit stop on the same lap. 

Verstappen was the fastest man on track and was 1.5 seconds clear at the front. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi started his recovery with a move on Schumacher for P16. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell, Ricciardo and Tsunoda were the top 6 at the end of lap 5.

Ricciardo, who made up four places at the start of the race, fell back to 13th after he suffered a power drop off in his McLaren. Thankfully, the team addressed the issue through changes in the settings, but the Australian's race got compromised. Meanwhile, Perez had been pressuring Norris for P3 and finally got past him on lap 10. Norris then lost another position to Bottas a lap later. McLaren informed Norris that they were sticking to plan A and extending his stint on the soft tyres.

At the front, Verstappen had opened up a three seconds lead. Leclerc got past Schumacher and Mazepin and was upto P16 on lap 15. A train of cars was forming up behind Alonso, who was running in 7th. Six drivers were vying for P7, but DRS access for all denied them the chance of making an overtake. Williams discovered a reliability issue on Russell's car and told him that they were shifting to "Plan B".

Verstappen was the fastest man on track when Leclerc got past Giovinazzi for P15 ( lap 23 ). The pit stop window had opened for those who had started the race on soft tyres, but Mazepin ( on the mediums ) was the first driver to switch to the hard tyres, rejoining in 18th.

The battle for P3 was hotting up with Bottas closing in on Perez. Leclerc got past Ocon for P14, while Giovinazzi pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in P17 ( lap 25 ). Hamilton put a wheel in the gravel at turn four while pushing hard but fortunately prevented his Mercedes from spinning. Russell pitted for the hard tyres on lap 27, but it was a slow stop as the Williams mechanics cleared debris from the side-pod and tried to address the pneumatic pressure. The Briton rejoined in 17th but had to pit again, a lap later, for pressure refilling. 

Red Bull called Perez in for a pit stop on lap 27 since the Mexican had started the race on soft tyres. However, the rear left tyre got stuck, leading to a 4.8 seconds stop. The slow pit stop offered Mercedes the opportunity to help Bottas jump Perez, and it was job done on lap 28. Tsunoda, Alonso and Vettel pitted for hard tyres on laps 27 and 28 as well. 

Lap 29 saw Hamilton and Stroll switch to the hard tyres, with Verstappen pitting a lap later and maintaining his lead of 4.5 seconds at the front. Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen exchanged fastest laps while Norris pitted for the hard tyres on lap 32. The Briton rejoined in P7 but quickly relegated Raikkonen at turn three. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Sainz, Norris, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 36.

Raikkonen, who had started the race on hard tyres, switched to the mediums while Ocon did the opposite on lap 38, the duo rejoining in P14 and P15, respectively. Leclerc pitted for mediums a lap later, while Williams couldn't address the PU issues on Russell's car and retired him on lap 39. Sainz and Ricciardo pitted for hard tyres on lap 43, while Leclerc got past Raikkonen for P13. The Ferrari driver cut across Raikkonen, which damaged his front wing, and the Finn made his displeasure known over team radio. Meanwhile, his teammate Sainz relegated Stroll to P7 on lap 45. 

Leclerc continued his charge up the field with a move on Giovinazzi for P11 on lap 46. He then pushed Vettel out of the points on lap 51. At the front, Verstappen extended his lead to 7 seconds. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Norris, Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Tsunoda and Leclerc were in the top 10 at the end of lap 53. 

Ricciardo got past ex-teammate Ocon for P14 on lap 55, while Hamilton reported blistering on his front tyres. Red Bull sprung a surprise on lap 56 as they pitted Perez for medium tyres, giving him the chance of getting the point for the fastest lap. Perez obliged on lap 58. Meanwhile, Leclerc had been pressuring Tsunoda for P9, and it was job done for the Monegasque on lap 55. He then relegated Alonso to 9th a lap later. Raikkonen got past teammate Giovinazzi for P12, while Hamilton received a track-limits warning for abusing the limits at turn 10. 

Perez was setting blistering lap times and closing in on Bottas at a rate of knots. Further down the field, Leclerc got past Stroll for P7, while Ricciardo relegated Giovinazzi to P14. Giovinazzi then lost another position to Ocon on lap 64. Dark clouds were hovering over the circuit, and the risk of rain intensified. Sainz, who was on fresher tyres, got the nod to un-lap himself from Hamilton, while Perez reduced the deficit to Bottas to 6.5 seconds ( lap 66 ). 

Raikkonen overtook Vettel for P11 on lap 69, while Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton for a set of soft tyres on lap 70. Hamilton then pushed for the point for the fastest lap. Perez was within DRS range of Bottas on the final lap of the race in the battle for P3. 

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the Styrian GP. Hamilton crossed the finish line in 2nd and also took the point for the fastest lap. Bottas managed to fend off Perez, and half a second separated them at the end. 

Norris came home in 5th, with the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in 6th and 7th, respectively. Stroll was 8th for Aston Martin, followed by Alonso and Tsunoda, who completed the top 10.

Raikkonen was 11th in his Alfa Romeo, ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo. Ocon could only manage P14, with Giovinazzi and Schumacher coming home in P15 and P16. Latifi and Mazepin completed the classified finishers.

Two new records got set in the sport's history: Car with number 7 completed the most race starts, and Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record of second-place finishes.

Records aside, Mercedes failed to win for four consecutive race weekends. Verstappen extended his lead to 18 points while Red Bull was 40 clear off Mercedes in the Constructors'. Bottas returned to the podium after three races and could have finished higher had it not been for the penalty. Mercedes had a double podium finish, yet Red Bull outscored their rivals by three points. Such had been Verstappen's dominance that he lapped everyone up to Norris in P4. Mercedes couldn't match Red Bull's pace despite extracting the maximum out of their W12. 

McLaren stayed in 3rd but had its lead cut short due to both the Ferraris finishing in 6th and 7th. Ricciardo's engine issue cost them dearly, but Norris was the saving grace for the Woking-based outfit. Stellar drives by Sainz and Leclerc saw Ferrari reduce the deficit in the battle for 3rd to 12 points. Leclerc's race got compromised after his coming together on lap one, and a finish higher up could have been on the cards. He got awarded the "Driver of the Day".

Gasly's retirement dealt a blow to Alpha Tauri's lead over Aston Martin. The Frenchman was unfortunate to be on the receiving end at the start of the race, but thankfully, his teammate Tsunoda ensured that the team didn't end the weekend empty-handed. However, it was a "what could have been" weekend for the Italian outfit. Stroll produced a strong drive for Aston Martin, but Vettel was in no man's land in terms of his strategy. The team managed four points, and only two separated them from Alpha Tauri in the battle for P5 in the Constructors. 

Alonso was slowly getting to grips with his Alpine and was the more successful of the two teammates in 9th. Alpine remained in touch with their immediate rivals but needed Ocon to step up his performances too. The Frenchman had a mercurial weekend, managing only P14. It was a case of "so near yet so far" for Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo as they finished one position shy of the points. The Finn put in a stellar drive to make up seven places, but Qualifying and a questionable race strategy denied him a higher finish. As for teammate Giovinazzi, who got spun on the opening lap, got damage on his car that cost him places and compromised the Italian's race. It was a day of damage limitation for him. 

Russell had done everything possible to finish in the points, but a problem with the PU and the pneumatic pressure denied the Briton a points-finish in 2021. P17 was the best that Latifi could achieve, and the team needed to be careful to not miss out on points scoring opportunities when they come their way. The Haas drivers were in a contest of their own, and Schumacher remained the more successful of the two teammates. 

Verstappen had been flawless all weekend, not giving an inkling of a chance to Hamilton. Mercedes and co. have less than a week to turn it around. Thankfully, they will have data to work with and hope to minimize the deficit to the new leaders of the Turbo Era. There was no stopping Verstappen in the Styrian GP, the King of the Red Bull Ring.

Would he repeat the feat a week later, or would Hamilton, Bottas and Co turn the tables? Bring on the Austrian Grand Prix!

2021 French GP Race Recap : Bull-ish Undercuts on Strategy Sunday!

The 2021 F1 Season returned to the heart of Europe to the southeastern part of France for the French Grand Prix. Circuit Paul Ricard was the first race of the first triple-header of the season. The circuit, constructed in 1969, offered multiple configurations with the current layout spanning 5.842 km. The track returned to the F1 calendar in 2018 but got cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic COVID-19. The circuit is distinctive for its Blue and Red run-off areas, the latter having a more abrasive surface to bring cars to a stop and prevent them from hitting the Tecpro barriers. The 1800m long Mistral Straight is another highlight of this track.

Baku had seen a topsy turvy contest with Perez and Red Bull coming out on top, but Verstappen failing to finish a race due to tyre delamination. Hamilton's record streak of consecutive points finishes came to an end after a mistake at the restart in Baku. Although the status quo got maintained in the Drivers' Championship, Red Bull extended their lead in the Constructors'. 

The two tyre delaminations in Baku ( Stroll and Verstappen ) brought about an investigation by Pirelli to ascertain the cause. Their findings revealed: "the failures were down to a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tyre despite the prescribed starting parameters getting followed". Red Bull and Aston Martin shared statements, claiming that their cars were in adherence with the recommended tyre pressures, as provided by Pirelli.

More details shared here:

Post investigation, a new set of technical directives and protocols got agreed upon between Pirelli and the FIA, and the same got distributed to the teams. However, the teams desired to seek more clarity on the issue.

Leading up to the French GP weekend, Williams underwent an internal restructuring, with Jost Capito taking on the responsibilities of Team Principal from Simon Roberts and FX Demaison becoming the technical chief. 

Esteban Ocon signed a three year deal with Alpine Racing, which would keep him with the French outfit until the end of 2024. Mercedes had planned to give Grosjean a farewell test in their W10 on the French GP weekend. However, Grosjean was in the US with Indycar and citing travel and quarantine restrictions, Mercedes got forced to delay the test to later in the summer.

Honda's power units on Red Bull and Alpha Tauri sported the "e: Technology" badge, the name given to Honda's concept of high-efficiency electrification technology. Meanwhile, Mercedes swapped the chassis between its drivers, calling it "standard procedure".

McLaren was running a special tribute to the late Mansour Ojjeh (who passed away on 6th June ), a shareholder and a significant figure in the team. The team had new helmet designs, car livery, uniforms and garage decor in his honour.

So how did the contenders to the crown fair in Le Castellet? Time for a quick recap!

Practice :

Roy Nissany got the chance to participate in FP1 in place of Russell. Free Practice 1 got underway, and gusty conditions at turn eleven claimed the first victim in Vettel, who got spun around and hit the barriers. The abrasive tarmac in the Red run-off zone was instrumental in slowing his Aston Martin, however. Verstappen ran wide over the kerbs at the same turn and damaged his Red Bull's floor. Sainz got spun around at turns two and three, his soft tyres destroyed due to the abrasive run-off areas. Bottas suffered damage on his front wing after he went over the yellow kerbs, while Schumacher hit the barriers but managed to continue his run. The rookie Tsunoda suffered a slow spin at the last corner.

The Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton topped the timesheets, followed by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez. Ricciardo split the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso in 6th, while teammate Norris split the Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Tsunoda in 9th. 

Leclerc could manage only 11th in his Ferrari, followed by Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel were 14th and 15th, and Sainz 16th in the other Ferrari. Latifi, Mazepin, Schumacher and Nissany brought up the rear of the field.

It was time for FP2, and the teams began their Qualifying and Race simulations with earnestness. Verstappen suffered front wing damage after going over the kerbs at turn two, while Mazepin complained about seat discomfort. Leclerc had to run wide to avoid hitting Ocon while Perez got held up by a Haas on his flying lap. Sainz had an offtrack moment at turn three while Mazepin suffered a spin but continued with his program.

Verstappen was the quickest at the end of FP2, eight-thousandths of a second clear of Bottas with Hamilton a further two-tenths adrift. Leclerc split the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in 5th, while Gasly, Sainz, Raikkonen and Norris completed the top 10.

Giovinazzi was 11th in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Tsunoda, a second slower than Verstappen's best time. Ricciardo was 14th, with the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll in 15th and 16th. Russell led Latifi, while Schumacher got the better of Mazepin at the back of the field.

The Mercedes seemed to have the edge over Red Bull, be it in Qualifying or Race-Trim. Bottas was the more settled of the two Mercedes drivers. The Alpines also displayed a competitive race pace, closely followed by McLaren and Alpha Tauri. The Ferrari powered cars seemed to struggle from balance issues while Aston Martin was nowhere close to other midfield contenders. 

McLaren detected a sensor issue on Ricciardo's gearbox and got forced to break the curfew restrictions by the FIA. No penalty incurred. 

The lights went green for the start of FP3, but no driver emerged from the pits in the first seven minutes. Mazepin was the first driver out on the circuit and suffered a spin at turn two. The abrasive run-off area destroyed his tyres, and the Russian had to tip-toe his Haas back to the pits. Soon enough, the track became a busy place with all drivers running their qualifying simulation programs with fresh sets of soft tyres. Verstappen was the quickest at the end of FP3, more than seven-tenths clear of Bottas and Sainz. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by Hamilton and Norris. The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were 7th and 8th, with Gasly and Ricciardo completing the top 10.

Leclerc was P11, followed by Giovinazzi and the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel. Raikkonen was 15th in the other Alfa Romeo, with Tsunoda splitting the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P17. Schumacher and Mazepin were at the back of the field for Haas.

Track limits got enforced at turn six on Saturday morning, and Sainz and Norris were two drivers who suffered from lap time deletions in FP3.

Qualifying :

Mercedes executed setup changes on Hamilton's car before the start of Qualifying in a bid to make the car more "driveable" for the Briton. 

Q1 got underway, and softs were the tyre of choice for everyone. The drivers had just begun their first runs when Tsunoda lost control of his Alpha Tauri at turn two and ended up hitting the barriers rearwards. The rookie couldn't get going again, and the session got red-flagged.

The session restarted with most of the drivers opting to do two runs in the first stint. Everyone was out on track with 11 minutes left on the clock. Stroll suffered from a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn six.

Verstappen, Perez, Bottas, Hamilton, Gasly and Norris were the top six with Leclerc, Raikkonen, Mazepin, Stroll and Tsunoda in the drop zone at the end of the first runs. Leclerc went for another flying lap and improved to 11th, dropping Latifi down to 16th. Hamilton did likewise and improved to 2nd. The Red Bulls, Mercedes and Norris decided to stay put for the final minutes of Q1. The other drivers vying for a place in Q2 were setting personal best sector times when Schumacher got spun around and hit the barriers at turn six. The German's Haas got wrecked, and only 22 seconds remained of Q1. The stewards red-flagged the session again with the notification that Q1 wouldn't restart.

Latifi, Raikkonen, Mazepin, Stroll and Tsunoda got eliminated. Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Bottas, Norris and Gasly were the top six at the end of Q1, with Russell getting through to Q2 by a mere two-thousandths of a second. Schumacher was through to Q2 as well but couldn't take any further part due to his accident.

The Qualifying simulations from the practice sessions had revealed that the soft tyres had a small shelf life. Barring Russell, the other 13 drivers opted for the medium tyres for their first runs. All drivers were out on track with 11 minutes left on the clock. Norris suffered a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn six. The Alpine drivers decided to go out of sync with the others, and at the end of the first runs, Perez, Verstappen, Sainz, Bottas, Gasly and Hamilton were the top 6. Norris went for another flying lap and managed to complete a legitimate round, ending 7th quickest. Hamilton chose to do the same and went to the top of the timesheets. The drivers in the drop zone were: Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Schumacher. 

Perez, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi switched to the soft tyres for their final runs. Norris was on his out lap when McLaren asked him to return to the pits. It got revealed later that McLaren was facing fueling issues in Qualifying. Gasly was on a blistering lap but exceeded track limits at turn six, resulting in his lap deletion. Perez and Ricciardo's times remained unchallenged, and the duo slowed enough to ensure that their fastest laps of Q2 were on the medium tyres.

Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Verstappen, Sainz, Gasly, Norris, Alonso, Leclerc and Ricciardo got through to Q3 with Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Schumacher suffering elimination.

Q3 got underway, and except for Ricciardo and Alonso, the rest opted for the soft tyres. Gasly suffered from a lap time deletion again for exceeding track limits at turn six. Verstappen was on "provisional pole", almost four-tenths clear of Hamilton in 2nd. Perez was half a second adrift in 3rd, with Bottas setting the 4th quickest time after the first runs. 

The final minutes of Q3 saw all ten drivers get a fresh set of soft tyres, and the battle for pole position was hotting up. 

Hamilton went purple in sector one, but Verstappen went the quickest in sectors two and three to bag pole position! Hamilton qualified 2nd, two and a half tenths shy of Verstappen's time. Bottas improved to 3rd, with Perez taking 4th in the other Red Bull. Less than half a second separated the top four qualifiers. 

Row 3 got taken up by Sainz and Gasly, while Leclerc and Norris were 7th and 8th, respectively. Alonso and Ricciardo completed the top 10.

France had been Mercedes' fortress, but Red Bull broke the dominance on Saturday. Verstappen finally managed to land his first pole position of 2021, carrying on the form exhibited by him since Friday. Red Bull was glad to have Perez on the sharp end of the grid, and they hoped to outscore Mercedes and extend their lead in the Constructors' come Sunday. As for Hamilton, who was playing catch up, a setup change before Qualifying got him closer to his competitor. Bottas had a lacklustre weekend in Baku and needed a stellar performance to bring his title challenge back on track. 

Sainz converted his practice sessions form into Qualifying, becoming the best of the rest, and the Ferrari man had a chance to score a decent haul of points. His teammate Leclerc wasn't far behind in 7th. In a tightly contested midfield, Gasly remained the shining light for Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman qualified a commendable 6th at his home race. Another mistake by rookie Tsunoda invited scrutiny over his worthiness of an F1 drive. McLaren and Alpine were in the mix, too, with Ocon having the luxury of a free tyre choice come Sunday. 

It was a bitter-sweet day for Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo. While Vettel and Giovinazzi made it into Q2, Stroll and Raikkonen got caught out due to Schumacher's accident near the end of Q1, jeopardizing their chances of starting higher up for the race. Williams and Haas had a car each in Q2, but holding off those behind them on race day was a different challenge altogether.

Race :

C2, C3 and C4 were the tyre compounds available for the 53 laps race. The track had been wet in the morning during the F3 race but dried for the F1 race. Conditions were gusty, and the risk of rain was 10 %.

Tsunoda had a pitlane start after Alpha Tauri switched his car's floor to a different specification besides changing the suspension and gearbox post his crash on Sunday.

Russell, Schumacher, Latifi and Tsunoda chose the medium tyres, while the rest chose the hards ( outside the top 10 ). Pirelli predicted a one-stop strategy, but there was the option of a two-stopper as well ( should a team opt to go aggressive ). 

The five red lights went out, and it was time to go racing! Verstappen and Hamilton had great starts off the line, and Verstappen led the field going into turn one. However, the Dutchman lost the rear-end of his car due to the gusty winds and ended up going wide at turn two. Hamilton inherited the lead of the race, while Verstappen slotted back into 2nd. Bottas and Perez remained 3rd and 4th while Norris lost two positions and fell back to P9. Further down the field, Schumacher went backwards and was down in P18, while Raikkonen made up three places ending up in P14. 

Hamilton started building a lead at the front and was 1.5 seconds clear of Verstappen. Meanwhile, Norris went wide at turn one, which allowed teammate Ricciardo to snatch P9. Vettel got past Ocon for P11, while Stroll overtook Latifi for P15 ( lap 2 ). 

Verstappen was the fastest man on track while Schumacher lost two positions to Russell and Mazepin at the back of the field. Tsunoda, who had started from the pit lane, was up to P16 with an overtake on Latifi ( lap 4 ). Bottas began to hone in on Verstappen as he went about setting blistering laps. Ricciardo began to pressure Alonso for P8, while Stroll got past Raikkonen for P14 ( lap 9 ).

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

The Mercedes drivers began to report graining on their medium tyres, and some drivers reported a loss of tyre performance. Alonso was one such driver and ended up losing three places to Ricciardo, Norris and Vettel in the space of three laps. Meanwhile, Russell got past teammate Latifi for P17. A lock-up by Bottas at turn three allowed Verstappen to build a gap to the Finn. Stroll got past Giovinazzi for P13 and Ricciardo overtook Leclerc for P7 on lap 14.

Leclerc was the first from the top 10 to pit for hard tyres on lap 15, emerging in P19. Soon after, he got past Mazepin for P18. Tsunoda did likewise, a lap later, and rejoined P20 and last. A slew of pit stops followed, with every driver switching to the hard tyres. The undercut worked for Leclerc and Ricciardo, who managed to jump Sainz and Gasly after their round of pit stops. 

Mercedes decided to pit Bottas on lap 18, but the Finn failed to jump Verstappen when he completed his stop a lap later. The gap, however, had reduced to a second. Alonso and Latifi also pitted for the hard tyres on lap 19, rejoining in P15 and P18, respectively. Mercedes asked Hamilton to "use all the grip left" as he pitted on lap 20. The team believed they had built a gap big enough to emerge ahead of Verstappen. Hamilton's stop for hard tyres was a tenth quicker than Verstappen's, but as he exited the pits, the Briton got overtaken by the Dutchman going into turn one. Verstappen had taken the effective lead of the race! Further up the field, his teammate Perez got asked to extend his stint on the medium tyres. 

Bottas was the fastest man on track as both Mercedes cars stayed within the DRS range of Verstappen, who managed to fend off the challenge. Raikkonen, who had started the race on hards, lost performance on his tyres and relinquished P10 and P11 to Leclerc and Ricciardo. He then dropped back to P14, with Sainz and Gasly getting the better of him too. Leclerc continued his charge up the field with a move on Giovinazzi for P9 on lap 24. 

Red Bull finally pitted Perez for hard tyres on lap 25, the Mexican rejoining in P4. Norris did likewise and rejoined in P14. The drivers who had pitted caught up to those who had started their race on the hard tyres. A slew of overtakes followed over the next three laps. Giovinazzi got relegated to P12 by Ricciado, Sainz and Gasly; Norris and Alonso got past Raikkonen for P13 and P14, while Ocon got bumped down to P12 by Leclerc, Ricciardo, Gasly and Norris. 

The midfield battle was hotting up, and Ricciardo got the better of Leclerc for P7 on lap 29, while Norris pressured Gasly for P10, the duo making contact at turn 11. Ocon and Giovinazzi finally pitted for the medium tyres on lap 29, rejoining in 17th and 18th. Meanwhile, in the battle for P10, Norris managed to get past Gasly, and the duo relegated Leclerc to P11. The Monegasque was the first to pit for hard tyres, and his tyres had fallen off the cliff. Norris then got past ex-teammate Sainz for P8, while Leclerc lost P11 to Alonso on lap 32.

The front runners complained about tyre graining, and Verstappen quipped that he couldn't maintain the current pace if he were to finish the race with a one-stop strategy. Bottas too hinted at changing to a two-stopper. The gap between the top three began to open up, and Red Bull decided to switch Verstappen to the medium tyres on lap 33. The Dutchman pitted for a set of mediums and emerged P4 behind teammate Perez. He had an 18 seconds deficit to cover to Hamilton.  Meanwhile, Raikkonen lost two positions to Tsunoda and Russell before making his only pit stop on lap 35 for medium tyres. 

McLaren asked Ricciardo and Norris to swap places to allow the latter to attack those ahead with fresher tyres. The move paid dividends when Norris got past Stroll ( who was yet to pit ) for P6 on lap 35. Stroll pitted for soft tyres on lap 35, rejoining in 14th. Meanwhile, Perez let Verstappen by on lap 36, and the duo began to hunt down the Mercedes drivers together. Verstappen was the fastest man on track, lapping 2 seconds quicker than Hamilton at the front. The gap was down to 12 seconds with 17 laps remaining.

Gasly and Alonso got past Sainz, relegating him to P10. Vettel, the only driver yet to stop, pitted for mediums on lap 39 and rejoined in 11th. Leclerc made another stop in the race, switching to the mediums and rejoining in P16. Raikkonen got past Latifi for P17 while Stroll relegated Tsunoda to P12. Meanwhile, Verstappen continued his charge to the front and reduced the deficit to Hamilton to 6.5 seconds.

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Norris, Ricciardo, Gasly, Alonso, Sainz and Vettel were the top 10 at the end of lap 43.

Verstappen had honed in on Bottas and was within the DRS range. The Dutchman pressured Bottas, who out-braked himself going into turn one. The mistake allowed Verstappen to close up and get past him for P2 on lap 45! It wasn't the defence that Mercedes were hoping for from Bottas, but he was out of tyre life. Only 4.5 seconds separated Verstappen from Hamilton, and the final few laps promised to be a tense affair. Meanwhile, Bottas didn't mince his words on team radio as he expressed his displeasure with the team for not heeding his advice of switching to a two-stop strategy. 

Hamilton tried his best to maintain a 4 seconds lead over Verstappen, but the battle for P3 hotted up as Perez closed in on Bottas. It was job done for Perez on lap 49, and Red Bull was looking at a double podium finish. Verstappen kept eating away into Hamilton's lead, bringing it down to 2 seconds by lap 50, and on lap 51, the Dutchman got within the DRS range. 

Verstappen made a comfortable pass on Hamilton ( with DRS ) to take the lead on the penultimate lap! The reigning World Champion could offer little resistance.

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and victory at the French GP! Hamilton came home in 2nd, with Perez completing a double podium for Red Bull in 3rd. 4th was the best that Bottas could achieve, followed by the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo. Gasly finished a commendable 7th, with Alonso, Vettel and Stroll completing the top 10.

Sainz finished in P11 for Ferrari, with Russell and Tsunoda 12th and 13th, respectively. Ocon was 14th in the other Alpine, and Leclerc split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in 16th. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

Interestingly, all 20 drivers finished the race, and there was no VSC or Safety Car incident the entire race. 

Verstappen got the "Driver of the Day" and scored his first hattrick of 2021 - Pole, Fastest Lap and Race Victory. The win helped him extend his lead to 12 points in the Drivers' Championship. As for Red Bull, they outscored Mercedes and led the Constructors' Championship by 37 points. 

Red Bull had come up second best in Spain and was on the receiving end when Mercedes had adopted the same strategy then. It was payback time in France. Meanwhile, Perez, in the other Red Bull, had driven a stellar race to 3rd. Red Bull's search for a driver who would deliver the goods like Verstappen was finally over. 

Mercedes and Hamilton were bewildered by the effectiveness of the undercut. The team apologized to Hamilton for the strategy gaffe. While Hamilton managed to exact the maximum out of his car, Bottas was left disgruntled with the one-stop strategy. The Finn returned to a points finish, but his title challenge seemed all but over now. 

McLaren emerged victorious in the "best of the rest" battle and cemented P3 in the Constructors with P5 and P6. Norris led the charge again while Ricciardo seemed more settled with life in the new team. The Australian made some stunning passes along the way. 

Ferrari, McLaren's immediate competitor, failed to score and now trailed them by 16 points. It was back to the drawing board for the Italian marquee. Sainz and Leclerc had done well to qualify in the top 10 but went backwards in the race. Ferrari has limited time to turn things around with back-to-back race weekends in Austria. Alpha Tauri managed to hold onto 5th in the Constructors', thanks to a P7 finish by Gasly. The team need Tsunoda to step up as his drive is coming under intense scrutiny. The rookie cannot afford many mistakes in the unforgiving world of F1. 

Vettel and Stroll did a stellar job with the alternate strategy, making the one-stopper work for Aston Martin and getting them 3 points from the weekend. Aston Martin seems capable of usurping 5th from Alpa Tauri if its drivers continue to perform in the same vein. Alonso ensured that Alpine didn't go pointless from their home race. Ocon had a poor showing in P14. Alpine cannot afford mediocre days such as these if they want to stay in touch with the rest of the midfield.

Russell had a great race, finishing in P12, but a points-finish still eludes Williams and him. His teammate Latifi came up second best again. Nevertheless, the results served as a good platform for the team to build on. Alfa Romeo had a lacklustre day at the office with Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P15 and P17, respectively. The team ended nowhere with the strategies it had adopted. Ferrari powered cars struggled with outright pace in France, and like Alfa Romeo, Haas would be hoping to have a better showing in Austria.

Verstappen and Red Bull had broken Hamilton and Mercedes dominance in France. Mercedes had begun to exhibit chinks in the armour, and tactical errors were costing them in the title fight, something unheard of in the turbo era. An undercut combined with an aggressive strategy proved pivotal in the quest for victory. 

The battle now resumes in the hills of Styria, with back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring, Red Bull's home race. There is little time for Mercedes and Co to set things right, and Red Bull has enjoyed a fair share of success in Austria. Who will emerge the victor? Time will reveal all!

Bring on the Styrian GP!  

2021 Azerbaijan GP Race Recap : A Mexican Standoff near the Caspian Coast!

The 2021 Monaco GP saw the tables turn in the battle for the title in 2021. Verstappen and Red Bull reigned supreme in the streets of Monaco, while Hamilton and Mercedes stuttered. Two weeks later, the battle resumed at another street circuit, through the heart of Baku, Azerbaijan!

The Baku International Circuit is one of its kind, with two long straights coupled with the tight and twisty second sector. There are overtaking opportunities, with the circuit producing incident-packed races in the past. Straight-line speed and "getting a tow" was pivotal, be it in Qualifying or the Race. The track, which made its debut in 2017, tops the list with 70 gear changes over one lap.

Leading up to the Grand Prix, the F1 world got hit with the news of Max Mosley passing away at the age of 81. The former FIA President was responsible for improving safety standards in motorsports.

The Singapore GP also got called off due to COVID-19, and the FOM were yet to announce a replacement.

Mercedes had been critical and questioned the legality of Red Bull's "Flexi rear wing". The opposition gained momentum going into the Azerbaijan GP weekend. 

Mercedes and Ferrari took up new power units for the weekend to extract the best results possible. As for Red Bull, the "skinny rear wing" made a return. 

Who reigned supreme in the streets of Azerbaijan? Time for a quick recap!

Practice :

The tarmac was dusty as FP1 got underway. However, the drivers were able to push as the track got more rubbered in. Hamilton had an off-track moment at turn 15, while Norris suffered from a spin while setting purple sector times ( turn 16 ). The Briton then joined Bottas in the run-off area at turn three, while rookie Tsunoda clipped the wall at turn four, struggling to manoeuvre his Alpha Tauri out of trouble due to reverse gear issues. The windy conditions caused Mazepin to spin and hit the barriers at turn 16, while Schumacher and Sainz ended up in the run-off area at T15

Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 from Leclerc and Sainz. His teammate Perez was 4th, followed by Ricciardo and Gasly. Hamilton got hampered on all his runs and ended FP1 in P7. Norris, Alonso and Bottas completed the top 10.

The Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were 11th and 12th, respectively, with Tsunoda splitting the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel in 14th. Ocon was 16th, followed by the Williams of Russell and Latifi, with Schumacher and Mazepin completing the rear of the field.

Turn 15 claimed its first victim of the weekend, with Leclerc hitting the barriers and losing the front wing. The Monegasque limped back to the pits for a new nose cone and front wing. Gasly and Norris, meanwhile, ventured into the run-off area at the same turn, while Bottas missed his braking into turn one twice in FP2. A charging issue on his Haas forced Schumacher to return to the pits, while a power loss on Latifi's car caused him to stop on track, bringing out the Red Flags. Meanwhile, Sainz and Mazepin made their displeasure known on the respective radios, the duo unhappy about getting impeded by the other. 

Drivers complained about the lack of grip towards the end of their race simulation runs, hinting that the soft wouldn't be the optimum choice for Sunday. 

Perez was the quickest at the end of FP2 from Verstappen and Sainz. Leclerc was three-tenths adrift, followed by Gasly and Alonso. Giovinazzi was 7th in his Alfa Romeo, while Norris, Ocon and Tsunoda completed the top 10.

Hamilton could only manage 11th, followed by Raikkonen, Ricciardo and the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel. His teammate Bottas was down in 16th, with Mazepin and Schumacher separating the Williams of Russell and Latifi.

Red Bull seemed to hold the upper hand, with Ferrari in close contention. Mercedes was more focused on race simulation, and its drivers got denied the chance of having clean laps on low fuel. Saturday promised to be an intriguing day.

The conditions were dusty at the start of FP3, and turn 15 claimed its second victim of the weekend in Max Verstappen. The Dutchman careered into the barriers, breaking the front right wishbone of his car, which prematurely ended his session. Bottas had an offtrack moment at turn 3, while Hamilton narrowly avoided rear-ending Stroll's Aston Martin at turn 16. Mazepin was another driver to suffer the wrath of turn 15 when he carried too much speed on exit and his car suffered from a heavy hit on the right-hand side. A loss of power cut short Russell's FP3 session, the Williams leaking fluids at the rear. 

Track evolution was rapid, and the lap times started tumbling as the drivers went about their Qualifying simulations. Gasly was the surprise of FP3, topping the timesheets, three-tenths clear of Perez and Hamilton. Hamilton, who struggled in all three sessions, benefitted from a tow ( by Perez ) that helped him gain six-tenths before the timing beam. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz were 4th and 5th, followed by Norris and Alonso. Tsunoda was 8th in the other Alpha Tauri, with Ocon and Ricciardo completing the top 10.

The Aston Martins were 11th and 12th, followed by the Finns ( Bottas and Raikkonen ). Verstappen's curtailed participation left him with the 15th quickest time, with Giovinazzi splitting the Williams of Latifi and Russell. The Haas cars completed the rear of the field.

Ensuring a clean lap with a decent tow promised to work wonders for those fighting for pole in Qualifying. 

Qualifying :

Williams discovered that a water pump leak caused Russell's retirement in FP3. The team had to change the power unit, and it was a race against time to help Russell participate in Q1. A host of mechanics were frantically working on his car as the lights went green for the start of Q1.

Mercedes chose the medium tyres ( hinting at multiple runs ) while the rest of the field persisted with the softs. However, all the plans went down the drain when Stroll crashed heavily into the barriers. Turn 15 had claimed its 3rd victim of the weekend, and the session got Red Flagged. Replays showed that the Canadian's car had gotten out of shape at the corner exit. The stoppage gave the mechanics at Williams some respite, and Russell's car was ready for battle when the session restarted!

Barring Latifi, everyone else was out on track with 14 minutes left on the clock. Ten drivers were able to set representative lap times before disaster struck, once again at turn 15. Giovinazzi, like Stroll, ended up wrecking his Alfa Romeo in the barriers. Another Red Flag followed with 9 minutes remaining in Q1.

Norris got flagged for investigation for failing to adhere to Red Flag Procedures. Replays showed that Norris didn't enter the pit lane despite seeing the red light flashing on the signalling system on track. The stewards decided to investigate the same post-session. 

Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Leclerc and Ricciardo were the top 6 with Russell, Mazepin, Schumacher, Stroll and Giovinazzi facing elimination with 5 minutes remaining of Q1.

Lap times kept getting quicker with track evolution, and by the end of Q1, the top 6 had changed to - Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Norris and Leclerc. Bottas managed only the 12th quickest time while Alonso scraped through in 15th. Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin, Stroll and Giovinazzi got eliminated in Q1.

Q2 got underway, and despite the high degradation of the soft tyre, everyone chose to set their lap times with it. Ocon had a brush with the wall at turn two but was able to continue. Perez, Hamilton, Leclerc, Sainz, Verstappen and Norris were the top 6, with Ocon, Tsunoda, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Russell in the drop zone, halfway through the session. Only three hundredths of a second covered the top 5 as everyone headed out for their final runs of Q2.

Multiple drivers were on quick laps with 90 seconds remaining on the clock when Ricciardo made a mistake at turn three and ended up in the barriers. His McLaren was a wreck, and it was the 3rd Red Flag of Qualifying! The stewards decided against resuming Q2, and the drivers that made it into the top-ten-shootout were - Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Gasly, Bottas and Alonso.

Vettel got denied a Q3 appearance by three hundredths of a second. Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Russell were the others who suffered elimination.

The Alpha Tauri drivers decided to stay put while the other eight drivers put on a set of soft tyres and attempted to put in banker laps. Hamilton aborted his first attempt and continued to warm his tyres for another lap. The Briton's decision caused him to give Leclerc a lucky tow up to the finish line, bumping the latter to provisional pole and three-tenths clear of Verstappen and Sainz. Norris was 4th, half a second adrift, while Perez and Alonso completed the top 6. The Mercedes drivers were yet to set a time, but Bottas could only manage 7th while Hamilton bumped himself up into 2nd! The reigning World Champion was only a couple of tenths shy of Leclerc's time.

While the others returned to the pits to refuel and switch to new tyres, the Alpha Tauri drivers decided to go out-of-sync to the rest. Tsunoda set the 8th quickest time, but Gasly went the fastest of all in sector one, eventually ending up 4th at the end of his lap. The Frenchman missed 3rd by two-thousandths of a second. However, everyone had time for one last attempt in Q3. The drivers exited the pits, and Bottas was leading the train of cars on their out lap. However, the Finn realised that he would be without a "tow" and almost grounded to a halt to allow Leclerc past him. Hamilton was the last to cross the line, losing track position to both the Red Bulls

The drivers had begun their charge for pole position when Yellow Flags came out in sector one. Tsunoda, like Ricciardo, had gone into the barriers at turn three, while Sainz got spun around and was without his front wing at the same spot. The two accidents caused another Red Flag, and Qualifying was over. Replays showed that Tsunoda locked up his brakes and ended up hitting the barriers. Sainz, a couple of seconds behind, got distracted by the incident and suffered a lock-up himself. The Spaniard tried to take avoiding action but ended up hitting the wall and losing his front wing. His Ferrari also hit the barriers rearwards, possibly causing damage to his gearbox. 

The curtailment of Q3 meant that Leclerc inherited pole position from his first attempt, with Hamilton slotting into 2nd. Verstappen got denied a shot at pole position and was frustrated about starting from row two, alongside Gasly, who produced a stellar lap to set the 4th quickest time. Sainz and Norris occupied row three, but Norris got a three-place grid drop for his earlier infringement from Q1. The Briton also got three penalty points on his licence. As a result, Perez got promoted to 6th for the race start. Tsunoda and Alonso were on row four, with Norris and Bottas completing the top 10 on five.

2016 Hungarian GP was the last time the sport saw four Red Flags in Qualifying. The stoppages wrecked the strategies and chances of a better showing for a lot of drivers.

Leclerc bagged pole position for the 9th time in his career, and the Monegasque had a chance at redemption after suffering from the pain of a DNS in Monaco. Ferrari was going through a resurgence of sorts, and despite lacking outright pace, Leclerc was able to bag pole position. He also had his teammate to thank, whose incident brought out the red flags and denied anyone else the chance to go faster. Sainz wasn't too far behind in 5th, but the fitness of his gearbox was a concern. 

Mercedes and Hamilton had been a second slower throughout the three practice sessions, but they managed to eke out every ounce of performance come Qualifying. Hamilton faced the uphill task of holding off a disgruntled Verstappen. Bottas had been off-colour and seemed destined for a long afternoon.

Verstappen made his displeasure known with the frequent stoppages, especially the one in Q3, which cost him a shot at pole position. Nevertheless, the Dutchman had a car capable of victory on Sunday and outperforming Hamilton was paramount. His teammate Perez was improving with each weekend, and race simulations suggested that he would be a threat on Sunday as well. Red Bull had the luxury of having both its cars in the top six, pivotal in the Constructors' battle. 

Gasly continued to impress, going from strength to strength, and Tsunoda had an opportunity to help  Alpha Tauri get a sizeable double-points haul. 

The midfield battle between Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin promised to be a close affair, and neither could afford a slip-up on Sunday. The upgrades were working for Alpine, while McLaren and Aston Martin aimed for damage limitation. A rare error by Giovinazzi cost Alfa Romeo a possible Q3 appearance, but the Italian had a chance to make amends on Sunday. Raikkonen, his teammate, got caught out at the wrong time with the Red Flags and could have qualified higher. The struggles for Williams and Haas continued.

A lot could happen on race day, as seen in the F2 races held over the weekend. The Azerbaijan GP never was a procession, nor a race without any dramas.

Race :

The F1 world suffered another loss on Sunday morning. Mr Mansour Ojjeh, McLaren shareholder and an influential figure in the team's history, passed away. The 68-year-old tycoon was a well-known face in the F1 paddock, and tributes poured in from all across the world. 

Conditions were windy, and the track was notorious for getting debris strewn over the racing line sometimes.

Red Bull changed the brake-by-wire system on Verstappen's car, and the Dutchman also got permission to start the race on a different set of soft tyres rather than the ones used in Q2. Paint from the pit lane tarmac was pulled onto the tyres when Verstappen got called to the FIA weighbridge during Qualifying, and this would reduce the grip ( on the grid ) hence the permission granted.

Fifty-one laps separated the likes of Verstappen, Hamilton and possibly a Leclerc from victory. Pirelli had provided the C3, C4 and C5 compounds for the race weekend, and teams planned to execute a one-stop strategy.

While Raikkonen, Russell and Latifi chose the medium tyres, Stroll opted for the hards and the rest the softs ( outside the top 10 ). 

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Leclerc, Hamilton and Verstappen ( in that order ). Perez completed overtakes on Sainz and Gasly to move up into 4th, while Alonso was up to P7. Further down the field, Giovinazzi gained five positions to end up P15, while Stroll made up three places to 17th. Meanwhile, Norris went backwards, falling to P12. Russell pitted for hard tyres on lap 2, while Ricciardo got past Norris, only to lose the position again a few corners later. It was a strategic decision by Williams to pit Russell after just one lap on the soft tyres.

Gasly was the fastest man on track, but the battle for the lead hotted up after Leclerc made an error at turn 15. Hamilton closed up on the Monegasque, got into the tow, and took the lead on lap 3. Giovinazzi, like Russell, pitted for the hard tyres as well, rejoining in 19th ( lap 3 ). The race ended prematurely for Ocon when he reported a power loss on lap four and returned to the pits. Ontrack, Stroll, got past Raikkonen for P13.

Verstappen and Hamilton were trading fastest laps, and there was a DRS train forming up behind Leclerc. Verstappen relegated Leclerc to 3rd while Tsunoda got past Alonso for P7 ( lap 7 ). A lap later, Leclerc lost another position to Perez, while Alonso and Norris pitted for the hard tyres, rejoining in 16th and 17th, respectively. Schumacher followed suit on lap 9.

Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Gasly, Sainz, Tsunoda, Vettel, Bottas and Ricciardo were the top 10 at the end of lap 9.

A slew of pits stops followed on laps 10 and 11 with Leclerc, Tsunoda, Latifi, Mazepin and Sainz switching to the hard tyres. Perez, in clean air, was now the fastest man on track. Norris got past Alonso for P13, while Sainz missed his braking on cold tyres, ending up in the run-off area after a lock-up. The Spaniard had to reverse back on track and lost four places with the mistake. 

Mercedes decided to double stack its cars on lap 12, and Hamilton was the first to be serviced. The team had to hold up Hamilton to avoid an unsafe release into the path of Gasly, who was also pitting on the same lap. The delay meant that Hamilton was stationary for 4.6 seconds, which turned the tables in the battle for victory. The trio of Hamilton, Gasly and Bottas switched to the hard tyres for their second stint.

Red Bull called Verstappen in a lap later and a seamless 1.9 seconds stop allowed him to emerge onto the racetrack comfortably ahead of Hamilton. It was now Perez's turn to make it into the pits, and the Mexican had been setting blistering lap times. Statistics suggested that he would be the race leader if Red Bull were to execute another sub-two second stop. However, the plan failed as Perez was stationary for 4.3 seconds. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race but couldn't prevent Perez from gaining track position on him. Raikkonen too pitted for hard tyres on lap 14, rejoining in P15.

Hamilton was pressuring Perez for 3rd, but the Mexican was able to fend off the challenge. Soon enough, the hard tyres reached their optimal temperature range, and Perez set the fastest lap of the race. Further down the field, Ricciardo got past Alonso for P11.

The Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll were yet to pit. Vettel was extending his stint on the soft tyres, while Stroll was on the alternate strategy, having started the race on hard tyres. Vettel was gaining time on Tsunoda, Norris and Bottas and seemed destined for a good points haul. Verstappen, Perez and Hamilton were trading fastest laps, and Verstappen got told to take care of his right rear tyre.

Verstappen was closing in on Vettel, who had inherited the lead after the round of pit stops. Aston Martin finally asked Vettel to pit for hard tyres on lap 19. The German driver rejoined the race in P7, having jumped Tsunoda thanks to the "overcut". 

Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Stroll, Gasly, Leclerc, Vettel, Tsunoda, Norris and Bottas were the top 10 at the end of lap 20.

Bottas tried to attack Norris for 9th, but the Briton fended off the challenge. Meanwhile, Sainz got past Giovinazzi for P13 ( lap 23 ). Perez and Verstappen continued to set blistering lap times at the front as Hamilton struggled to keep up with the Red Bulls. Sainz continued his recovery by relegating Alonso to 13th. Mercedes informed Bottas that it was critical to get past Norris if he wanted a top-six finish. 

Meanwhile, Vettel, on his new tyres, was honing in on Gasly and Leclerc. He was in contention for a 5th place finish. Baku is known for Safety Car periods, and disaster struck Stroll in the other Aston Martin on lap 31The Canadian, the only driver left to pit, suffered delamination on the left rear tyre. The tyre blew up at high speed, on the main straight, and Stroll was a passenger as his Aston Martin rammed into the wall. He was able to bring his wrecked car to a stop by the side of the road, but the stewards immediately deployed the Safety Car. The pit lane remained closed up until lap 34 as the marshalls cleared the stricken car. 

Alonso, Giovinazzi, Russell and Schumacher dived into the pits on lap 35. Alonso and Schumacher opted for the soft tyres while the other two the hards. However, Schumacher stopped in the pit lane after the team realised that the front left tyre was loose. Thankfully, the Haas mechanics rolled him back into the pit box and addressed the issue. 

The Safety Car pulled into the pits, and racing resumed on lap 36. Verstappen had a clean getaway, but Perez had to defend P2 from Hamilton. Vettel, who was on fresh hard tyres and got past Leclerc for P5, while Bottas lost four places to Sainz, Ricciardo, Alonso and Raikkonen. The Finn was down to P13 and out of contention for a finish in the points. Vettel continued his charge up the field and got past Gasly for P4 a lap later. DRS got enabled on lap 39, and Russell overtook Latfifi for P15, while Giovinazzi relegated Bottas to 14th. Verstappen was the fastest man on track and began to extend his lead at the front.

Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Vettel, Gasly, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo were the top 10 on lap 41.

Hamilton and Verstappen were exchanging fastest laps when Norris reported excessive vibrations in his tyres. The team checked the data and reverted that all was "ok". Meanwhile, Giovinazzi had caught up to his teammate Raikkonen, who was pressuring Alonso for P11.

Lap 47 saw the race turn on its head. Verstappen comfortably in the lead, suffered tyre delamination ( left rear ), like Stroll, on the main straight and ended up hitting the barriers. The Dutchman was out of the race! While Perez and Hamilton took avoiding action from hitting any debris strewn on the track, Verstappen was distraught looking at his stricken Red Bull, a win robbed by a tyre blowout. The stewards deployed the Safety Car again, and the drivers got asked to go through the pit lane as the marshalls went about clearing the debris.

The FIA saw it prudent to Red Flag the race on lap 48, and the drivers returned to the pits, awaiting further updates. Pirelli was left red-faced after the two tyre blowouts and went about collecting data from the teams. The stewards announced that the race would get restarted to complete the full quota of 51 laps. Hamilton and Mercedes proceeded with a front wing change ( damage suffered as per them ) under the watchful eyes of Jo Bauer, the FIA Technical Delegate. 

Latifi got handed a ten-second stop-go penalty for not using the pit lane during the Safety Car period. Replays showed that a communication mixup left Latifi stranded on the main straight while the rest of the field went through the pit lane a few laps earlier. 

The stewards announced that the race would resume with a standing start. The drivers were free to swap to another set of tyres, but barring Vettel, no one had a fresh set of softs. Scrubbed softs were the unanimous choice. 

Russell suffered a gearbox failure on the "formation lap" and returned to the pits and into retirement. The drivers drove into the grid slots and waited for the race to restart. Hamilton's brakes were smoking as the five red lights went out! Hamilton had a better getaway than Perez and got the jump on him. However, he suffered a massive lock-up going into turn one and ended up in the run-off area! The reigning World Champions was down in 15th and out of the points! Meanwhile, Tsunoda lost two places to Norris and Alonso and was down to P7. Giovinazzi had a good start but lost momentum behind Ricciardo, relinquishing P10 to teammate Raikkonen. Perez led the field and was comfortably ahead of Vettel, who had inherited P2 after Hamilton's mistake.

Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Tsunoda, Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen were the top 10 on lap 50.

The battle for the final podium position was still underway, with Leclerc getting past Gasly, only for the latter to fight back a couple of corners later. The sparring duo fell into the clutches of Norris, who also tried to benefit, but got rebuffed.

Perez took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the Azerbaijan GP! Vettel came home in 2nd, and Gasly managed to hold onto 3rd from Leclerc and Norris. Alonso, who had had a mega restart, finished in P6, followed by Tsunoda and Sainz. Ricciardo and Raikkonen completed the top 10.

Giovinazzi was P11 in the other Alfa Romeo, from Bottas and Latifi. Schumacher, Mazepin and Hamilton completed the classified finishers. 

Perez got asked to stop the car just after the finish, which revealed that Red Bull was managing an issue on his car. There were celebrations throughout the paddock, with Perez having scored his first victory with Red Bull. The Mexican was equally happy with his ex-team Aston Martin and Vettel's 2nd place, while Gasly proved his worth with another fine finish in Red Bull's B-team. Verstappen too joined the celebrations, congratulating his teammate on his first victory.

It was a bitter-sweet day for Red Bull, with Verstappen losing the chance of extending his lead in the Championship. Verstappen had not put a foot/wheel wrong the entire weekend but lost it all due to Pirelli and the hard tyre. As for Perez, it was his maiden victory and podium with Red Bull. The team had been searching for a driver who would deliver at the same levels as a Verstappen. The search was now over. Perez jumped to 3rd in the Drivers' standings while Red Bull extended its lead to 26 points in the Constructors. The team would have loved a 1-2, something that they hadn't achieved since 2016.

Hamilton's consecutive points finishes came to an end after a record 54 races. The reigning World Champion faced an uphill task all weekend, and despite the odds, made it to the front row of the grid. While he led the race up until the pit stop, his car lacked the pace and balance that the Red Bulls enjoyed through the streets of Baku. Hamilton had been driving on the limit and had a shot at victory at the restart. Toto Wolff, the Team Principal, revealed that Hamilton had forgotten to switch off the "Brake Magic" button, which caused his brakes to smoke, and he accidentally flipped a switch that transferred the brake bias to the front, causing him to lock up into turn one at the restart. It was a rare mistake by the veteran but a costly one too. He blew the chance of retaking the lead in the Championship, and as he said in the post-race interview - "it was a humbling experience". 

Bottas, in the other Mercedes, had a horrid weekend. He struggled with setup issues, and the high downforce rear wing made him a sitting duck on the long straight. The team's strategy calls didn't help either, and Bottas' challenge in 2021 was fading fast.

Ferrari had been going through a resurgence of sorts since the Monaco GP weekend, and despite Leclerc's pole lap, it was too much to ask on race day. Nevertheless, Leclerc managed to finish a commendable 4th, while Sainz, despite his error after the pit stop, recovered to 8th. Sainz needs to iron out these errors, which cost him at pivotal moments of a race weekend. Ferrari managed to surpass McLaren in the Constructors' standings but face a challenge in maintaining the status quo for the rest of the year. 

It was damage limitation day for McLaren, and although they got outscored by Ferrari, the deficit wasn't too big. Norris led the charge and almost pipped Leclerc to 4th, while Ricciardo's struggles at McLaren continued. The Australian is in desperate need of a podium or a top-six to get his maiden season at McLaren back on track. 

Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin enjoyed a fruitful day at the office. Vettel's brilliant race strategy and racecraft showed that the German still hadn't lost his fighting edge. Vettel also bagged the "The Driver of the Day" award for his opportunistic overtakes throughout the race. His teammate Stroll was doing a fine job himself until he got denied by the tyre blowout on lap 31. Aston Martin, however, got outscored by Alpha Tauri ( 3 points ). Red Bull's sister team saw Gasly bag his first podium of 2021, while Tsunoda finished in the points for the 2nd time this season. Gasly had emerged as a true leader and made a strong case for himself with his performances. As for Tsunoda, his radio communications with the team need to be toned down. The lack of respect by the rookie towards his team could cost him dearly in the long run.

Alonso had a mega restart and finished a commendable 6th, ensuring that Alpine didn't leave Baku empty-handed. Reliability remains a concern for the team, as seen with Ocon's retirement early in the race. They are 12 points shy of Aston Martin and need strong results in the upcoming rounds to stay in touch with the midfield.

Raikkonen scored the first point of 2021, with Giovinazzi narrowly missing the same in 11th. The 2007 World Champion was setting competitive lap times and drove consistently. Giovinazzi, whose confidence got dented on Saturday with the crash, was motivated and displayed no inhibitions, making up nine positions at the end. The Italian could have finished in the points but for his mistake on the restart.

Haas and Williams had races of their own between the teammates. Schumacher came out on top at Haas, while a gearbox issue for Russell denied him a result at the restart. Schumacher wasn't pleased with the tactics adopted in defence by Mazepin, and the team acknowledged that it would be discussed in their post-race debrief. 

Pirelli needs to investigate the cause of the tyre blow ups since the teams ( Aston Martin and Red Bull ) reiterated that they had no prior warning or anomaly in the data before the mishaps occurred. The incidents could have proved pivotal in the title fight, but thankfully status quo remained between the top two.

In a faceoff between Verstappen and Hamilton, the wild card Sergio Perez got top honours! Mercedes will be hurting after the disappointments from the two street circuits. They will hit hard. Will the Bull be able to stand firm in France?

We shall know at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet!