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2021 Abu Dhabi GP Race Recap : And then, there were Two...

The 2021 F1 Season finale got held at the iconic Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The circuit on Yas Island is famous for hosting a race at dusk, with the Chequered Flag getting waved under lights. Designed by Hermann Tilke, the track has been the venue for season finales for several years since its inception. Recently, the circuit got awarded a ten-year extension up until the 2030 F1 Season. 

The Abu Dhabi GP has seen several farewells over the years, and this year was no different. Kimi Raikkonen bid goodbye to the world of Formula 1, ending a career that spanned two decades. The Iceman had been one of the most popular drivers of the sport, endearing himself with his straightforward approach to life in F1. The Finn would complete 349 race starts, the most by any F1 driver, leaving behind a legacy like no other.

Meanwhile, his teammate Giovinazzi would end a three-year tenure with Alfa Romeo Racing, only to switch to Formula E for 2022. Williams said its farewells to Russell, who would replace Bottas at Mercedes in 2022, while the Finn would move over to Alfa Romeo to replace the retiring Raikkonen. Meanwhile, Haas F1 announced Pietro Fittipaldi as their reserve driver for 2022. Logan Sargeant ( F2 Driver ) got a chance to drive an F1 car with Williams at the young drivers' test, scheduled after the Abu Dhabi GP weekend. 

The season finale was a tense affair for the title contenders. With Verstappen and Hamilton level on points in the Drivers' Championship, the stakes were as high as they could be. This feat got repeated for the first time since 1974. Abu Dhabi had been a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, but Hamilton had the momentum going into the weekend.

Although Red Bull trailed Mercedes by 28 points, their focus was to win the Drivers' title. Bottas and Perez had their work cut out for the weekend. A DNF for both Verstappen and Hamilton would crown Verstappen the 2021 Champion! 

The Yas Marina Circuit promised better battles and closer racing, having gone through a reconfiguration at certain turns.

Which driver proved himself worthy of the crown? Time for a recap of the final race of 2021!

Practice :

Williams gave Jack Aitken, their reserve driver, a chance to participate in FP1 in place of Russell. It was an eventful FP1 for Ocon, who narrowly escaped hitting the wall and got stuck in neutral after going over the kerbs. A settings change quickly resolved the false-neutral issue. The McLaren and the Ferrari drivers took to the run-off areas on a few occasions. Hamilton had several lap times deleted for exceeding track limits. Leclerc was unhappy with Verstappen, who drifted into his path in the final sector. Raikkonen suffered a spin at turn nine, while Vettel lost the rear of his Aston Martin near the end of the session. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets, with Bottas and Hamilton P2 and P3 for Mercedes. Perez was P4 in the other Red Bull, while Alonso split the Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly in P6. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz were P8 and P9, and Vettel completed the top 10.

Ocon was P11 in the other Alpine, followed by Norris and the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. P15 was the best that Stroll could manage, with Ricciardo P16. The Williams of Aitken and Latifi were P17 and P18, with Schumacher and Mazepin completing the rear of the field in the Haas cars. 

It was time for the race simulations in Free Practice 2, and all eyes were on the lap times set by Verstappen and Hamilton. Bottas locked up his tyres at turn 12 and tapped the barriers at 14. Meanwhile, Latifi damaged his rear wing after a spin at turn 13. Alonso suffered from several lap time deletions after exceeding track limits.

The session got Red Flagged at the end after Raikkonen wrecked the rear of his Alfa Romeo at turn 14. Thankfully, the Finn was ok and returned to the pits in the medical car. 

Hamilton ended FP2 the quickest, from Ocon and Bottas. The Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez were P4 and P5, followed by Alonso and Tsunoda. Leclerc and Sainz were P8 and P9 for Ferrari, with Gasly completing the top 10. 

Giovinazzi split the McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris in P12. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel were P14 and P15, respectively, with Raikkonen 16th in the other Alfa Romeo. Russell and Latifi were P17 and P18 for Williams, with Schumacher and Mazepin completing the rear of the field.

While Hamilton had the better one-lap race, Verstappen looked menacing in race trim. Which team was masking its actual pace remained a mystery. Saturday promised to be an intriguing day. 

FP3 got underway, and gusty conditions at turn 12 unsettled some cars. While Norris ran wide, Hamilton had to take corrective action on his flying lap. A pit marker almost fell on Gasly's car as he exited his pit box. Meanwhile, Mazepin wasn't pleased with Hamilton ending up in his path ( again ). Thankfully, the Briton got away without an investigation.

Hamilton topped the timesheets, and Bottas split the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez in P3. Norris was P5 for McLaren, followed by the Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly. Ricciardo split the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in P9. 

Stroll was P11 for Aston Martin, followed by Ocon and the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. P15 was the best that Alonso could manage from Vettel and Russell. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

Qualifying :

The lights went green for the start of Q1, and, barring the Ferraris who chose the mediums, everyone else persisted with the softs. Schumacher ran wide at turn one, and many drivers had fuel for multiple runs. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Norris, Alonso and Gasly were the top 6, with Stroll, Vettel, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin in the drop zone, halfway through Q1. 

Verstappen improved to P2, while Gasly had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 16. Schumacher's eventful Qualifying continued as he hit the bollard at the final turn, followed by Norris driving over it. The session got Red-Flagged for safe extrication of the bollard. Replays showed that Vettel clipped the wall at turn 14, and then Ocon impeded him at the end of his lap. The incident got flagged for investigation. 

Everyone switched to the soft tyres for their final runs, and Giovinazzi locked up his brakes at turn one. Vettel complained about traffic in the last sector again. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Tsunoda and Gasly were the top 6, while Latifi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin got elimiated at the end of Q1.

Q2 got underway, and the Aston Martins ( used ), Ferraris, Alpines and Ricciardo chose the soft tyres for their first runs. Verstappen began his flying lap but locked up at turn one, which resulted in a flat spot on his tyre. Nevertheless, the Dutchman set a representative lap time. At the end of the first run, Sainz, Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Bottas, and Tsunoda were the top 6, with Ricciardo, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Vettel and Gasly in the drop zone. 

With Verstappen flat-spotting his medium tyres, Red Bull saw it prudent to send him again on a set of softs. Barring the Mercedes and Alpha Tauri drivers, everyone chose the soft tyres for their final attempts of Q2. A queue of cars began to form up in the last sector. As the drivers jostled for track position, Vettel stopped to clear himself off the traffic. Alonso was unhappy with a McLaren in front, while Gasly reported brake-by-wire issues which hampered his lap time.

The following drivers made it to Q3 - Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, Bottas, Norris, Tsunoda, Ocon and Ricciardo. 

Alonso, Gasly, Stroll, Giovinazzi and Vettel got eliminated. 

It was time for the final shootout of 2021 ( Q3 ), and everyone bar Ricciardo emerged from the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. Red Bull deployed a strategy to help Verstappen gain time in the second sector. His teammate Perez used his Red Bull to give Verstappen a tow down the straight, and the Dutchman didn't falter. He was the quickest ( provisionally ), half a second clear of Hamilton. Perez was P3, eight-tenths adrift. Meanwhile, Tsunoda had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. 

Hamilton and Bottas emerged earlier than the rest for their final attempts of Q3. Hamilton couldn't improve in sector one but set personal best times in two and three. However, his lap time wasn't enough to dethrone Verstappen at the top. The Briton got within three-tenths of Verstappen's time, though. Verstappen was improving on his 2nd attempt but backed off as soon as it got confirmed that he would be on pole position. Meanwhile, Perez got bumped down to P4 by Norris in the dying minutes of Q3!

So the Championship contenders lined up on the front row, with Verstappen starting on pole position. Norris was P3, followed by Perez. Sainz and Bottas were on row 3, with Leclerc and Tsunoda on 4. The top 10 got completed by Ocon and Ricciardo.

Ocon got a reprimand for impeding Vettel, while Ricciardo got let off for holding up Alonso.

It had been an eventful Qualifying for Red Bull. With Verstappen flat-spotting his medium tyres, the team got forced to switch to an alternate strategy. While it wasn't ideal to start the race on the softer tyres, Verstappen would enjoy better traction from P1. Perez, meanwhile, also deserved credit for his role in Qualifying. The Mexican was instrumental in helping Verstappen with the tow that eventually got him the pole position. Having qualified P4, Perez was better placed than Bottas to help his teammate. Red Bull needed to get their strategy right to help Verstappen win the title. Although Red Bull trailed Mercedes by 28 points, they still had a chance of winning the Constructors with teamwork. 

As for Hamilton and Mercedes, it wasn't the ideal situation. Having set the quickest lap times in Free Practice sessions, Hamilton was the favourite to claim Pole Position. The Briton still had a front-row start, and with the medium tyres, could go longer than Verstappen in the race. Bottas had a disappointing Qualifying, managing only P6. Bottas needed to gain positions quickly to negate the Red Bull advantage, but like Hamilton, he too had the medium tyres and was under threat from guys with the faster rubber ( soft ). 

Norris produced a stellar lap to go P3, while Ricciardo struggled to qualify only P10. McLaren had fallen back in the race for P3 against Ferrari but hoped to end 2021 with a strong result for Norris and Ricciardo. 

With Sainz and Leclerc qualifying P5 and P7, Ferrari looked set for a double-points haul and securing P3 in the Constructors' Championship. Who would win the intra-team battle remained a mystery.

It had been a tough day for Gasly, who got plagued by brake-by-wire issues throughout Qualifying. The Frenchman could only manage P12, while his teammate, Tsunoda, did a commendable job to qualify P8. If Alpha Tauri could address Gasly's issues and if Tsunoda could keep himself incident-free, the cars had the pace to achieve a double-points finish in the season finale. 

It hadn't been a strong Saturday showing for Alpine. While Ocon qualified P9, Alonso managed P11. Thankfully, the latter had free tyre choice and could make up places by overcutting those ahead. As for Ocon, he needed to maximise the use of the softer rubber to gain positions at the start.

Aston Martin had had a mediocre second half of a season, and the trend threatened to continue in Abu Dhabi. Both drivers lacked outright pace, and going deeper into the race was the only solution for a finish in the top 10. Vettel felt hard done by traffic in Qualifying, while Stroll hoped to make amends in his 100th race start.

It was an emotional weekend for Alfa Romeo Racing as it bid goodbye to its drivers, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi, with his Qualifying performance, again showed his mettle over one lap, while Raikkonen's Qualifying got cut short due to an error on his final attempt of Q1. The team needed a potent strategy to give both drivers a memorable finish and a fitting farewell for their time in F1.  The fight for P8 with Williams wasn't over yet. 

An error by Russell took him out of contention for Q2 in his final race for Williams. The Briton also got out-qualified by Latifi. Williams looked quicker only than the Haas cars. As for Haas F1, it was an eventful session, with Schumacher taking out the bollard, which caused the Red Flag in Q1. The German rookie out-qualified Mazepin yet again, the duo destined to remain as backmarkers.

All eyes were on Verstappen and Hamilton. Was Verstappen at a disadvantage by starting on soft tyres, or would Hamilton try and claim track position at turn one with his mediums? If there was a Safety Car, who would benefit from it? Would Norris get into the mix and challenge for a win? The season finale promised a humdinger of a race.

Race :

Mazepin tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn't take part in the race for Haas F1.

Fifty-eight laps separated the F1 world from its 2021 World Champion. C3, C4 and C5 were the tyres available for the race, and there was a mixed choice outside the top 10. While Gasly ( new ) and Alonso ( used ) chose hard tyres, Schumacher opted for the softs while the rest persisted with the mediums. Pirelli predicted a one-stop race. 

The five red lights went out, and Hamilton had a better get away from the line, leading into turn one. Verstappen slotted into P2, while Perez moved up to P3 after Norris ran wide. Meanwhile, Bottas fell back to P8. 

Verstappen, desperate to retake the lead, tried a divebomb at the Turn 9 hairpin. The duo banged wheels, and Hamilton had to cut the chicane to rejoin the race. Hamilton seemed to have gained a visual advantage over VerstappenMercedes acknowledged that Hamilton had "restored" the original gap to Verstappen. The stewards decided against investigating the incident.

Further down the field, Raikkonen got past Latifi for P16. Hamilton was the fastest man on the track as the DRS got enabled on lap 3. The Aston Martin teammate battle saw Vettel get the better of Stroll for P14. Hamilton began to extend his lead at the front. Red Bull continued its discussions with the Race Director about the opening lap incident, but the justifications got ignored. Meanwhile, Verstappen complained about his tyres losing grip.

Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Bottas, Ocon and Ricciardo were the top 10 on lap 10. 

Hamilton continued to set blistering lap times as the field got spread out. Meanwhile, McLaren informed Norris that he had to manage his gearing issues throughout the race. 

The first round of pit stops kickstarted with Verstappen pitting for the hard tyres on lap 14. He rejoined P5. Leclerc, racing behind Verstappen on the track, got distracted by the Dutchman and ran wide. The Monegasque lost P6 to Tsunoda as a result. Verstappen began his charge on the hard tyres with an overtake on Norris for P4. Meanwhile, Leclerc retook P6 from Tsunoda on lap 15. 

Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton for the hard tyres on lap 15 to negate Verstappen's pace. The Briton rejoined in P2, behind Perez. Leclerc and Ocon followed suit a lap later. Hamilton was the fastest man on the track as Leclerc got past Latifi, and Verstappen relegated Sainz to P4. Norris and Giovinazzi switched to the hard tyres on lap 18, while Ricciardo and Sainz followed suit on 19 and 20, respectively. 

Hamilton, meanwhile, had closed upon Perez, who was leading the race. Red Bull extended the Mexican's stint on the soft tyres to hold up Hamilton and allow Verstappen to close the gap. The ploy worked as every attempt by Hamilton got thwarted. Perez made Hamilton lose more than 5 seconds to Verstappen over one lap. The Briton wasn't pleased with the standard of driving, and when he eventually got past on lap 21, Verstappen had reduced the deficit to 1.2 seconds only. 

Verstappen got past Perez without any drama, and Hamilton's advantage got negated. Further down the field, Norris and Leclerc relegated Raikkonen to P13. Perez, Stroll and Raikkonen pitted for the hard tyres on lap 22. Vettel and Tsunoda followed suit two laps later.

Hamilton began to build a gap to Verstappen at the front while Giovinazzi overtook Russell for P14. Disaster struck Raikkonen on lap 26. The Finn suffered from brake failure, got spun around, and hit the barriers at turn 6. He limped back to the pits, the issue being terminal. It was a cruel end to his racing career in F1. Russell, meanwhile, also retired from the race with Williams detecting a Power Unit failure on his car. Latifi switched to the hard tyres on lap 29.

Hamilton was the fastest man on the track, extending his lead at the front. Meanwhile, Bottas pitted for hard tyres on lap 31 and rejoined in P9 behind Leclerc. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Alonso, Gasly, Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Bottas and Tsunoda were the top 10 on lap 34.

Bottas, after a few attempts, finally got past Leclerc for P8. Giovinazzi was the next casualty from the race, with what looked like a hydraulic failure on his car. The Italian, like Raikkonen, got robbed of a befitting farewell. The incident caused the stewards to deploy the Virtual Safety Car, and a few drivers decided to pit again. More importantly, Mercedes chose to keep Hamilton on the older hard tyres to avoid giving track position. Red Bull, however, did the opposite and switched Verstappen to another set of hard tyres. Leclerc and Perez were the others who did likewise, while Alonso and Gasly opted for mediums.

Racing resumed on lap 38, and Verstappen trailed Hamilton by 17 seconds. The Dutchman began his charge to reduce the deficit, and with Hamilton carving his way through traffic, it happened quicker. Verstappen was the fastest man on track as Tsunoda and Alonso jostled for P7. Hamilton asked Mercedes if they had made the right decision by not pitting him as he believed he would run out of grip towards the end. The Briton's lead over Verstappen got reduced to 14 seconds.  

Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Norris, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly, Alonso and Ocon were the top 10 on lap 46.

Norris was holding off Bottas for P5 when McLaren detected a slow puncture on his car. The Briton pitted for new tyres and rejoined in P10. Mercedes informed Hamilton to avoid the kerbs at turns 15 and 16 ( lap 50 ) as Verstappen reduced the gap to 11 seconds. Norris got past Ocon for P9 and then Alonso for P8. At the back of the field, Latifi was racing with Schumacher for P15 when he ran wide and rejoined the track only to lose grip at turn 14 and clatter into the barriers!

The Williams was a wreck, and there was no option for the stewards but to deploy the Safety Car! Mercedes chose decided against pitting Hamilton! They believed that the incident would last long enough to end the race behind the Safety Car. However, Red Bull switched Verstappen to the soft tyres. Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll and the Alpha Tauri drivers did likewise. The marshalls had to use fire extinguishers to douse the flames from the brakes and the Safety Car period got prolonged.  

The top 10 changed to - Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly, Norris, Alonso and Ocon on lap 55.

Red Bull detected an oil and water leak on Perez's car and called him back to the pits, leading to his retirement on lap 56. Five lapped cars separated Verstappen from Hamilton, and Michael Masi, the Race Director, chose against letting the lapped cars overtake the Safety Car.

The decision attracted the displeasure of the Red Bull pit wall, and on the penultimate lap, Masi overturned his previous decision. Surprisingly, he also decided to end the Safety Car period on the same lap, which paved the way for Verstappen to make one last attempt at victory on the final lap.

Mercedes were livid with the decision making but couldn't affect further change. The Safety Car peeled into the pits, and Verstappen's eagerness to attack Hamilton momentarily put him ahead of the Safety Car-line. Racing resumed, with Verstappen attacking Hamilton at turn five and succeeding in taking the lead. He tried to break the slipstream that Hamilton desired and fended off a challenge at turn six. Hamilton hadn't given up made another attempt to retake the lead at turn nine, but Verstappen had more grip to retain the position.

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Abu Dhabi GP! He became the 2021 F1 World Champion! He also took the point for the fastest lap. Hamilton had to settle for P2 while Sainz completed the podium finishers.

The Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly were P4 and P5, with Bottas P6 in the other Mercedes. Norris finished P7, followed by the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon, with Leclerc completing the top 10.

Ricciardo split the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll in P12, with Schumacher in P14 completing the classified finishers.

Celebrations erupted in the Red Bull garage as they had finally won a Drivers' Championship after eight years. Both Max Verstappen and Christian Horner were in tears, overwhelmed by the joy of winning again. Hamilton cut a forlorn figure in the pits, Mercedes speechless with the events from the last few laps. As other drivers made it to Parc-Ferme to congratulate Verstappen, the new Champion, Hamilton took refuge in the arms of his father. Jos Verstappen joined in his son's celebrations, the dream achieved.

Hamilton was gracious in defeat and congratulated Verstappen for his exploits in 2021. However, Mercedes was unhappy with the result, and Toto Wolff got told off by Michael Masi for his protests. As the podium celebrations kickstarted, Kimi Raikkonen got the "The Driver of the Day" award, the fans recognising the legacy of the Iceman. 

It had been a titanic battle in 2021, but Verstappen finally emerged Champion. The Dutchman had no answer to Hamilton's pace but used the circumstances to his advantage to tip the scales in his favour. Verstappen had repaid the faith that Red Bull had had in him. He also had Perez to thank, who was instrumental in holding up Hamilton, which eventually proved pivotal during the VSC and SC periods. Although Perez ended the race in retirement, he had played the perfect support role to his teammate. Christian Horner had said that the team's focus was to win the Drivers' Championship and enjoy the prestige it carried. Verstappen became the first non-German and non-English Champion since Raikkonen in 2007. It was also a year of redemption for Honda powertrains, who had attracted a lot of criticism ever since their return to F1. They bid goodbye to the sport, having broken Hamilton's domination through Verstappen.

Mercedes had been outwitted and outclassed by the Red Bull pit wall. The strategists at Mercedes refused to give up the track position, which eventually brought Hamilton's undoing. The strategy calls in 2021 had let the team down more often than not, and despite having the speed advantage, Mercedes was unable to help Hamilton to his 8th World Title. Poor Race Direction by Michael Masi led Mercedes to lodge two protests - the first being the incident where Verstappen was momentarily ahead and the other where the FIA had broken their regulations concerning lapped cars and Safety Car. The stewards ruled that the Race Director had the right to control the deployment or withdrawal of the Safety Car as per his judgement of conditions. The protests got dismissed, and Mercedes lodged a right to appeal, which meant that the decision would go to the Court of Arbitration. Mercedes had won their 8th Constructors Title, continuing their team domination in the Turbo Era. It was the first time since 2008 ( Ferrari ) where a team failed to win the Drivers' Championship despite winning the Constructors. Bottas, in his farewell race, had a tough day at the office and could only manage P6.

Sainz's P3 saw him leapfrog Norris and Leclerc in the Drivers' Standings ( P5 ). Leclerc managed P10, and the double points haul was enough to seal P3 in the Constructors for Ferrari. Ferrari had been on a resurgence in the second half, and the future looked promising for the Italian outfit.

Tsunoda secured his best finish in 2021 with P4, followed by teammate Gasly, who had remained consistent throughout the season. Although Alpha Tauri couldn't dethrone Alpine from P5 in the Constructors', they finished the season on a high, with a memorable farewell to their powertrain supplier, Honda. 

Norris finished P7, while Ricciardo could only manage P12 for McLaren. It was a disappointing day for Norris, who had qualified P3 and fell backwards in the race. The Briton was nursing an issue with gearing throughout the race. Ricciardo, like Norris, lacked the speed to challenge those in the front. McLaren finished 2021 in P4 in the Constructor standings.

Alpine secured P5 in the Championship with a double-points finish for Alonso and Ocon. The duo finished P8 and P9 after some great wheel-to-wheel battles with those around them. Only 13 points separated Alpine and Alpha Tauri at the end. As a works team, Alpine hoped for an improved showing in 2022.

Vettel finished P11, while Stroll managed P13 for Aston Martin. It was another point-less weekend for Aston Martin, completing a dismal 2021 season. It was back to the drawing board with improvements needed in all departments for 2022.

Williams had a double DNF. While Russell's final race with the team ended prematurely with an engine failure, Latifi crashed out of the race after hitting the wall at turn 14. The Canadian had run off track a few corners earlier and lost grip due to the tyres getting dirty. His incident tipped the scales of the title battle in Red Bull's favour. For Williams, though, a double DNF for Alfa Romeo saw them secure P8 in the Constructors, a marked improvement from the mediocrity of 2020.

It wasn't the fondest of farewells for either Raikkonen or Giovinazzi. While Raikkonen suffered from brake failure, a hydraulics issue cut short Giovinazzi's race. Alfa Romeo suffered a double DNF, ending their challenge for P8 in the Constructors. Be it 2013, 2018 or 2021, all the farewell races for Raikkonen have been DNFs. The Iceman got a standing ovation from the crown as he bid farewell to a sport he had been a part of for the past two decades. Despite a commendable Qualifying performance, Giovianzzi got denied the opportunity to challenge for a top 10 finish. The Italian had a strong 2021 but would ply his trade in Formula E for 2022.

Haas F1 had only Schumacher participating in the Grand Prix after Mazepin tested positive for COVID-19. The German had some wheel-to-wheel battles at the back of the field, eventually finishing P14 and last. Haas F1 failed to score in 2021, finishing last in the Constructor standings.

2021 had been one of the most exciting seasons in the history of F1. Verstappen and Hamilton were in a league of their own and, after 21 races, were inseparable at Abu Dhabi. Although Hamilton looked Champion elect, circumstances swung the title to Verstappen. While Red Bull and Verstappen had produced a racing masterclass to victory, Mercedes and Hamilton felt hard done by the Race Director's decisions and rulings. Neither driver deserved to lose, but there could only be one winner!

The "Dutch Lion" had emerged as the new king of the F1 jungle. Hamilton was hurting but would be back, with a vengeance in 2022, to reclaim his crown. 

Verstappen, the beloved of the Oranje Army, was the 2021 F1 World Champion! The efforts at Red Bull Racing finally bore fruit! 

As the dawn of the 2022 season nears, we remember the legacy of a young Finn who took the F1 world by storm in the early 2000s, became Champion and continued to enthral in the new era of racing.

The Racer, the Champion, the Legend, Kimi Matias Raikkonen!

Kiitos Kimi! Wishing you a happy retirement!

2021 Saudi Arabian GP Race Recap : Entanglements, Crashes & Drama on an Arabian Night!

The penultimate round of the 2021 F1 Season got held at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia became the 34th country to host an F1 Grand Prix, adding to the roster of night races on the calendar. Although the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was a street track, it boasted average speeds of 252 km/hr, second only to Monza, the home of the Italian GP. With 27 corners and three DRS zones, the drivers needed utmost focus while going full throttle over 79% of the lap.

Leading up to the Grand Prix, PKN Orlen extended its title partnership alongside Alfa Romeo for 2022. Mercedes announced that their chief aerodynamicist, Eric Blandin, would move to Aston Martin Racing in 2022. Meanwhile, Haas presented FDA driver Robert Schwartzman with the opportunity to participate in the young driver's test at Abu Dhabi postseason. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya extended its contract for hosting F1 races till 2026.

The F1 world got hit by the news of the demise of Sir Frank Williams CBE, Founder and Former Team Principal of Williams Racing, at the age of 79. Tributes poured in from all across the world for one of the most iconic figures of F1. His hard work, passion for racing and innovation was unmatched. He spearheaded Williams Racing's domination of the 80s and the 90s, steamrolling the competition to seven Drivers' and nine Constructors' Championships.  All the F1 teams sported a special tribute on their car liveries ( for the weekend ), honouring Sir Frank Williams CBE. 

Meanwhile, Jost Capito, the current Team Principal of Williams Racing, tested positive for COVID-19. Aston Martin confirmed that a small fire had broken out in the extraction system of their wind tunnel at one of their facilities in the UK. Thankfully, the situation got contained in time. 

Mercedes and Hamilton brought their new ICE unit ( as used in Brazil ) to further reduce the deficit to Verstappen in the Drivers' Championship. Meanwhile, Red Bull looked at options of their own to counter Hamilton's charge. Who reigned supreme through the streets of Jeddah? Was the 2021 Drivers' Champion crowned, or did the title fight continue to the season finale in Abu Dhabi?

Time for a quick recap of the race weekend!

Practice :

Free Practice 1 got underway in the setting sun, and the drivers took to the track to search for the optimal setup for the race. While Bottas got held up by Mazepin, Raikkonen took avoiding action from grazing the wall on a flying lap. Tsunoda needed a helping hand from his engineers as he tried to manoeuvre his Alpha Tauri out of the garage.

Hamilton topped the timesheets, five-hundredths clear of Verstappen, with Bottas a further two-tenths adrift. Gasly was P4 in his Alpha Tauri, followed by Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were P6 and P7, with Ricciardo, Alonso and Vettel completing the top 10. 

Perez led the latter half of the field in the other Red Bull, followed by Ocon and Norris. Stroll was P14 in the other Aston Martin, with Tsunoda and Raikkonen P15 and P16, respectively. Schumacher split the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P18, with teammate Mazepin in P20.

The temperature was cooler under the floodlights at the start of FP2. Mazepin needed a helmet change to tackle the lighting on the track. Mazepin then suffered a spin at turn two while his teammate Schumacher brushed the wall on his flying lap. Several drivers suffered from lock-ups at turn one, while the kerbs at eleven caused sparks to fly as the car skidplates grazed over them. While Russell reported a momentary Brake-by-wire failure, Hamilton got caught up in traffic on one of his Qualifying simulation runs. Verstappen ran wide at turns seven and eight but continued without further incidents. 

Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari and hit the barriers at turn 22, ending his Free Practice 2 prematurelyThe Monegasque wrecked the rear of his Ferrari. The Stewards decided against restarting the session, and Hamilton topped the timesheets again. Less than a tenth separated Hamilton from Bottas and Gasly, with Verstappen finishing P4. The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were P5 and P6, with Sainz getting the better of Tsunoda and Perez in P7. Leclerc completed the top 10.

The McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris were P11 and P12, followed by the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. Stroll and Vettel were P15 and P16 for Aston Martin, with Schumacher splitting the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P18. Mazepin was P20, more than 2.5 seconds slower than Hamilton's time.  

Be it the battle at the top or those in the midfield, FP3 and Qualifying promised to be a close affair. 

The Final Practice session ( FP3 ) got underway, and Hamilton locked up his tyres at turn one. The Briton was in hot water when he ended up impeding Gasly and Mazepin. It was a lucky escape for Hamilton as Mazepin managed to take avoiding action from rear-ending Hamilton. The incident got flagged for investigation, with Hamilton getting summoned to the stewards. Meanwhile, Stroll had to return to the pits after running over debris on the track. His teammate Vettel went wide at turn nine but was able to continue.

Verstappen ended FP3 the quickest, from Hamilton and Perez. The Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly were P4 and P5, with Bottas completing the top 6. Leclerc and Sainz were P7 and P8 for Ferrari, followed by Ocon and Norris.

Alonso was P11 in the other Alpine, with the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen P12 and P13. P14 was the best that Ricciardo could manage in the McLaren, while Russell split the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel in P16. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

Hamilton also got summoned for failing to adhere to double-waved Yellow flags. The Briton escaped penalty but got a reprimand for impeding Mazepin. Mercedes didn't inform Hamilton ( in time ) about a faster car behind and received a 25000 euros fine from the Stewards. 

Mercedes detected a fuel leak on Bottas' power unit at the end of FP3. The Finn got forced to switch to another engine before the start of Qualifying. Thankfully, he didn't incur a penalty.

Qualifying :

It was time for Qualifying, and a queue of cars formed up at the pit lane exit at the start of Q1. Soft tyres were the choice for everyone, and as the cars headed out onto the track, Leclerc was concerned about the issue of traffic.

Hamilton went wide at turn one on his first attempt and had to do another lap to set a representative time. With 10 minutes remaining, Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Norris, Sainz and Bottas were the top 6, while Raikkonen, Stroll, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin faced the threat of elimination.

The drivers had fuel for multiple runs and the lap times began to drop as more rubber got laid on the track. Less than a second separated the top 14 drivers going into the final minutes of Q1. Several drivers switched to a new set of soft tyres, and the pecking order was changing rapidly. Meanwhile, Verstappen, on a flying lap, got impeded in the last sector by traffic, one driver being Bottas, who reported a misfire on his engine. The Finn limped back to the pits and ground to a halt, his engine shutting down completely. Thankfully, the Mercedes mechanics wheeled him back to the garage for further assessment. 

Perez, Bottas, Ricciardo, Sainz, Verstappen and Leclerc ended Q1 as the top 6, while Latifi, Vettel, Stroll, Schumacher and Mazepin got eliminated. 

Replays showed that Gasly had allegedly impeded Sainz on his flying lap. The incident got flagged for investigation post-session.

The Frenchman got let off with a formal warning.

Q2 got underway, and the Alpine drivers, along with Giovinazzi, chose to stay put in the early minutes of the session. While Russell opted for the soft tyres, the rest of the drivers switched to the mediums. Perez had his lap time deleted after he exceeded the track limits at turn four. Sainz suffered a spin, clipping the barriers at eleven with his rear wing. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Bottas, Leclerc and Ricciardo were the top 6, with Russell, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Alonso and Sainz facing elimination halfway through Q2. 

Raikkonen, Norris and Verstappen switched to the soft tyres for their final attempts of Q2. Sainz suffered another incident at turn 11 that eliminated him from Q2. The Spaniard notified Ferrari that the car felt "undrivable". Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Alonso and Russell joined Sainz in elimination.

The following drivers made it to Q3 - Hamilton, Perez, Verstappen, Bottas, Tsunoda, Gasly, Norris, Leclerc, Ocon and Giovinazzi.

Incidentally, Hamilton completed four more laps than Verstappen on the medium tyres while Giovinazzi clipped the wall on his final flying lap. Thankfully, the Alfa Romeo driver didn't suffer damage. Replays showed that Bottas and Raikkonen had a coming together, the former clipping the right rear of Raikkonen's car. Both drivers escaped unscathed. 

The lights went green for the start of Q3, and the Mercedes, Alpha Tauri drivers, along with Leclerc, emerged from the pits with a fresh set of soft tyres. Hamilton, pushing on his first attempt, almost lost control and had to take to the runoff. Hamilton seemed to have lost the initiative in the battle for Pole Position. Meanwhile, Verstappen headed out onto the track and went four-tenths clear of Hamilton's attempt. Bottas improved to P2 as five minutes remained of Q3. 

Hamilton began his final run of Q3 earlier than the rest, setting a personal best time in sector one and going purple in two and three. The Briton was the quickest driver ( provisionally ). Bottas went P2 in the other Mercedes, a tenth adrift. It was time for Verstappen to respond, and although the Dutchman scraped the wall at turn 2, he went the quickest in sector one. He then nailed sector two, going three-tenths clear of Hamilton. Verstappen was en route to a famous Pole Position when he locked up his brakes at turn 27 and got too eager on the throttle at the corner exit. The result was deadly as the Dutchman couldn't control his Red Bull from hitting the wall, damaging the rear right wishbone on his car and bringing him to a halt at the side of the track! Red Bull feared that the impact with the wall could have damaged his gearbox.

Hamilton had inherited Pole Position, with teammate Bottas alongside him on the front row. Despite his error, Verstappen managed to set the 3rd quickest time, followed by Leclerc in P4. Perez and Gasly were on row 3, followed by Norris and Tsunoda on four. Ocon and Giovinazzi completed the top 10.

Mercedes aimed for a front-row lockout on Saturday, and thanks to Verstappen's error, it was mission accomplished. Bottas could now play rearguard to Hamilton if he held onto P2 after the opening lap. Mercedes now had the chance to extend their lead over Red Bull, while Hamilton was favourite to end on the top step of the podium in Jeddah. The only concern for Mercedes was that Hamilton had done four more laps than Verstappen on his race start tyres ( mediums from Q2 ).


As for Verstappen and Red Bull, it was a day of despair and frustration. Verstappen was flying across the track en route to a famous lap for Pole Position when his eagerness to recover lost time cost him spectacularly. Red Bull now needed to check the fitness of the gearbox before the race. If they deemed it necessary to replace the gearbox, then Verstappen would face a five-place grid penalty, adding insult to injury. Meanwhile, his teammate, Perez, did a commendable job to qualify P5 after his struggles in the Practice sessions. He would still need to contend with Leclerc to get alongside Verstappen. 

While Sainz struggled to control his Ferrari and qualified a lowly P15, Leclerc bumped up his to the second row of the grid. With Ferrari having a comfortable lead over McLaren in the battle for P3, the goal was to outscore the latter. Leclerc had the perfect opportunity to jump Norris in the driver standings. As for Sainz, he needed to carve his way through the field to break into the top 10. Would he be able to do a better job in race trim remained the million-dollar question?

The Alpha Tauris had been strong over a single lap, and both drivers didn't disappoint in Qualifying. While Gasly remained consistent with another top 6 performance, Tsunoda qualified P8. Alpha Tauri, now chasing Alpine for P5 in the Championship, couldn't afford a poor showing on Sunday. 

It was a mixed Saturday for McLaren. Norris qualified P7 but Ricciardo managed P11. With a free tyre choice for the race, Ricciardo hoped to break into the top 10. McLaren had experienced a drop in performances and couldn't afford another mediocre showing if they wished to reduce the deficit to Ferrari.

Ocon and Alonso were P9 and P13 in the Alpines. Strategic calls were pivotal for the French outfit if they hoped to do better in the race. The focus was on outperforming Alpha Tauri, and with Alonso getting on the podium in the previous round, anything was achievable. 

Alfa Romeo had a strong showing in Qualifying. A stellar performance by Giovinazzi saw him feature in Q3, the Italian qualifying P10. Meanwhile, Raikkonen set the 12th quickest time. The Finn has been faster in race trim, and Alfa Romeo needed to produce a potent strategy to achieve a double-points finish.

Williams were also in the midfield mix, with Russell outperforming Latifi again. The race pace was a cause of concern, however. Aston Martin had a disappointing Qualifying. Neither Vettel nor Stroll could find the optimal setup for their cars, and the duo faced a long Sunday evening. Aston Martin, with opportunistic strategies, had salvaged similar weekends in the past. As for Haas F1, they looked destined to remain backmarkers.  

Race :

Red Bull, after extensive checks, announced that Verstappen wouldn't need a new gearbox for the race. 

Fifty laps awaited the teams and drivers through the Jeddah Corniche!

Ricciardo, Sainz and Vettel ( used ) opted for the hard tyres, while the rest outside the top 10 persisted with the mediums. 

The five lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for the top 3 drivers. Perez tried to pressure Leclerc for P4 but locked up his tyres and almost hit Verstappen. Hamilton led the field, followed by Bottas and Verstappen. Further down the field, Ocon and Tsunoda made contact while Tsunoda fell back to P12.

Ricciardo was up to P9, Alonso P11, and Sainz got the better of Raikkonen for P13 on the opening lap. Hamilton was the fastest driver on lap 3, while Sainz got past Tsunoda for P12. The Mercedes duo exchanged the fastest laps as Giovinazzi overtook Alonso for P10 ( lap 7 ). Ricciardo got past Gasly for P8, while Sainz relegated Alonso to P12 on lap 8.

Disaster struck the Haas F1 team when Schumacher lost control of his car and careered into the barriers. The car was a wreck, and the Safety Car got deployed ( lap 10 ). Sainz got past Giovinazzi for P10 just before the Safety Car period got enforced. Russell and Stroll were the first to switch to hard tyres. Mercedes decided to do likewise with Hamilton and Bottas on lap 11. As the team prepared to double stack, Bottas slowed down to give himself a buffer to Hamilton. Verstappen, getting impeded, made his displeasure known over team radio. Meanwhile, Norris and Alonso also switched to the hard tyres.

Verstappen now inherited the lead of the race. The top 10 after the pit stops were - Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Ocon, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Perez, Sainz and Giovinazzi.

The marshalls needed more time to repair the barriers where the Haas had crashed, and the stewards decided to Red Flag the race! Verstappen got free tyre choice as a result of the stoppage. Hamilton wasn't pleased with Mercedes' decision to pit him, having a radio exchange with the strategists. He asked them about the possible scenarios to salvage a victory.

The stewards announced a standing start for the race. Ricciardo, Perez and Latifi chose new mediums, while Sainz and Vettel got used sets. Verstappen wasn't happy with the Safety Car going "too slow" since he struggled to get his tyres up to temperature. To make matters worse, Verstappen alleged that Hamilton wasn't maintaining the car cars gap at the back, riling Verstappen even more.

It was a clean getaway, but Hamilton had the better start from P2. Verstappen tried to go around the outside at turn one, and both got compromised into the next. While Verstappen retained the lead, Ocon got past Hamilton to take P2. Bottas locked up his brakes at turn one and dropped to P5. Further down the field, Perez and Leclerc made contact, which sent Perez into the wall. The Mexican lost his front wing and suffered terminal damage. Mazepin arrived at the incident and left without a racing room. The Russian rear-ended Russell, the latter's Williams getting wrecked by the resulting contact. 

The stewards had to Red Flag the race ( again ) due to the debris on the track and to extricate Perez, Mazepin and Russell's stricken cars. While Leclerc and Perez's incident got flagged for investigation post-race, the Stewards ruled out penalties. Leclerc, however, suffered "floor damage" on the right side. As for the Verstappen-Hamilton incident into turn one, Verstappen faced the threat of a time penalty.

Michael Masi, the Race Director, offered Red Bull the option to start P3 behind Ocon and Hamilton. Red Bull complied reluctantly. The race would restart with a standing start, and the drivers opted for different strategies with their tyre choices. Verstappen ( new ), Ricciardo, Bottas, Sainz, Vettel, Tsunoda and Stroll opted for the mediums, while the rest of the field stuck to the hards. 

Racing got underway again on lap 17. Ocon, from P1, had a clean getaway, but Hamilton responded to the lights quicker. Meanwhile, Verstappen from P3 made an opportunistic move on the inside of turn one. With three drivers abreast at the first turn, there was contact between Hamilton's front wing and Ocon's rear tyre, but thankfully, neither driver suffered extensive damage. Verstappen led the race, again!

Further down the field, Tsunoda got past Ocon for P9, and Hamilton retook P2 from Ocon on lap 18. Hamilton and Verstappen continued to exchange the fastest laps.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Ocon, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Tsunoda and Leclerc were the top 10 at the end of lap 20.

DRS got enabled on lap 22, and Tsunoda tried overtaking Vettel but collided with him instead. The resulting contact caused both to spin and, Tsunoda lost his front wing. Further behind, both Ferraris were battling for track position and had to take avoiding action from hitting either Tsunoda or Vettel. Meanwhile, Tsunoda tried to get rid of his front wing, which got stuck on the underside of his Alpha Tauri. He limped back to the pits for a new front wing and the hard tyres.

The stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car period, which lasted till lap 24. On lap 25, Alonso made an error that spun him around and allowed Norris and Latifi to move up to P13 and P14, respectively. Another Virtual Safety Car period got enforced when Raikkonen tried an opportunistic overtake on Vettel. Both suffered damage, but Vettel got asked to continue. Meanwhile, Raikkonen pitted for a front wing change and switched to the mediums ( lap 27 ).  

Alonso reported the presence of debris on the track and requested the Race Director to enforce a VSC period to clear them. After a lengthy period, the race finally returned to full speed on lap 33. Alonso got past Vettel for P13, while Hamilton, with his fastest laps, was within the DRS range of Verstappen.  He tried to challenge Verstappen for the lead on lap 36, but Verstappen caused both drivers to run wide at turn one. The incident got flagged for investigation.

Red Bull tried to hand Hamilton the lead of the race, albeit in a "strategic manner". Verstappen slowed down before the 3rd DRS zone, but Hamilton, unaware of Verstappen's intentions, couldn't take avoiding action in time. The Briton ended up hitting the back of the Red Bull and lost more downforce on his front wing. The Mercedes garage was livid! Verstappen, after "brake testing" Hamilton, continued with his race. Meanwhile, despite the collision, Hamilton continued with his stricken front wing. The incident got flagged for investigation ( lap 37 ).

Meanwhile, Giovinazzi got overtaken by both Ferraris and was down to P9. After a failed attempt, Bottas finally got past Ricciardo for P4. At the front, Red Bull instructed Verstappen to allow Hamilton to overtake him. The Dutchman complied but immediately, with DRS assistance, retook the race lead. However, the Dutchman's chances for victory took a hit when the stewards decided to punish him with a five seconds time penalty for "going off track and gaining an advantage" at the turn one incident on lap 36.

Hamilton wanted to win this race on the track and took the race lead on lap 43. Meanwhile, Vettel retired from the race after extensive damage suffered to his car. Alonso switched to the soft tyres on lap 46. Verstappen began to lose grip and slowly fell backwards. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Ocon, Bottas, Ricciardo, Gasly, Sainz, Leclerc, Giovinazzi and Norris were the top 10 on lap 47.

Bottas was honing in on Ocon for P3, while Hamilton continued with his blistering lap times. Leclerc retook P7 from Sainz on the final lap ( 50 ).

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Saudi Arabian GP! He also bagged the point for the fastest lap. Verstappen came home in P2, getting the "The Driver of the Day" award. 

Bottas, despite Ocon's dogged defence, managed to snatch P3 on the finish line, a tenth separating the duo. Ricciardo was P5 for McLaren, followed by Gasly and the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Giovinazzi and Norris completed the top 10.

Stroll finished P11 for Aston Martin, with Latifi P12 for Williams. Alonso could only manage P13, followed by Tsunoda and Raikkonen, who completed the classified finishers.

After reviewing the footage from lap 37, the stewards deemed it appropriate to give Verstappen a penalty of ten seconds, added to his race time. The result remained the same, however.

Hamilton was now level on points with Verstappen, the latter ahead courtesy of an extra victory. The Briton had to play the hunter after the two stoppages, and despite the damage sustained to his front wing, Hamilton not only won but also set the fastest lap of the race. He didn't mince his words when asked about the incidents with Verstappen. However, experience over youth came to the fore as the defending World Champion continued his unrelenting charge. As for Bottas, it was a recovery drive after getting bumped down to P5 at the restart. The Finn secured P3 in the Drivers Championship! 

The double podium helped Mercedes open a 28 points gap to Red Bull, the Constructors' battle almost over.

Verstappen's tactics in the race were questionable. The Dutchman completed a couple of great overtakes and led for several laps. However, Red Bull's decision to switch him to the medium tyres left him with heavily degraded rubber at the end. Nevertheless, the Dutchman refused to yield, which led to the collision on lap 37. Due to his driving standards, Verstappen got a fair amount of criticism from many in the F1 world. He was in no mood to celebrate and stormed off the podium after the National Anthems. For many, Verstappen had crossed the line of racing ethics. He now had to outscore Hamilton if he wanted to be Champion in 2021. As for Perez, a racing incident with Leclerc prematurely ended his race. The Mexican's DNF cost Red Bull valuable points in the Constructors. Christian Horner, the Team Principal said, their focus was on the Drivers Championship, which was a matter of prestige rather than the money earned in the Constructors. Red Bull had given up the fight against Mercedes, or so it seemed.

Ocon's P4 was instrumental in helping Alpine open up a 29 point gap to Alpha Tauri in the Constructor Standings. Alpine had all but secured P5 in 2021. The Frenchman had driven a flawless race, and despite being on "pole position" at the restart, he was wise to pick his battles en route to a fine P4. As for Alonso, a spin cost him track position and time, which eventually saw him finish a disappointing P13. 

After the disappointments of the previous few races, McLaren finally secured a double-points finish with Ricciardo and Norris. Ricciardo charged through the field to bag P5, while Norris was unfortunate to get bumped down the grid due to the Red Flag from Schumacher's crash. Nevertheless, he recovered to P10 for the solitary point. 38.5 points separated McLaren from P3 in the Constructors' standings. The fight was all but over.

Gasly's consistency in 2021 has been unmatched, and once again, the Frenchman ensured that Alpha Tauri remained in the fight for P5 in the Championship. After his heroics on Saturday, Tsunoda faltered in the race and wrecked a top 10 finish following a collision with Vettel. The rookie was disappointed, his performances repeatedly costing Alpha Tauri precious points.

The Ferraris had been in a battle of their own. The duo of Leclerc and Sainz was inseparable on the track, and the 10 points haul helped Ferrari maintain a comfortable cushion to McLaren. A P7 finish allowed Leclerc to open a 4 point lead over Norris ( P6 ). Ferrari's resurgence in 2021 continued!

A stellar race featuring some wholesome wheel-to-wheel battles saw Giovinazzi finish P9! The Italian kept it clean, maintaining his focus through the tight and twisty and blazingly fast turns of Jeddah to bring Alfa Romeo closer to Williams by two points. As for Raikkonen, it had been a lacklustre weekend for the Finn, the incident with Vettel ending the chances of a top 10 finish. Alfa Romeo now trailed Williams by 10 points and needed a miracle in Abu Dhabi to secure P8 in the Constructors Championship.

It had been a weekend to forget for Aston Martin. After making up places, Vettel's race got cut short by collisions with Tsunoda and Raikkonen, while Stroll couldn't match the pace of those ahead, eventually finishing just outside the points in P10. 2021 had been a baptism by fire for Aston Martin, and they wouldn't go better than P7 in the Constructors.

Latifi finished P12 for Williams, while Russell got rear-ended by Mazepin, who himself had no space after Perez got tagged by Leclerc. Ideally, Williams Racing would have hoped for both cars to finish the race in memory of Sir Frank Williams, but destiny chose otherwise. As for Haas F1, a driver error by Schumacher and a high-speed collision for Mazepin left Haas with a double DNF. They now had to contend with extensive repairs on both cars before the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi beckons next, a race in the setting sun. Abu Dhabi would witness the crowning of the 2021 World Champion. After 21 races, the contenders for the crown remained inseparable. Both Hamilton and Verstappen had been in a league of their own throughout the season. The events that unfolded in Jeddah revealed that the Championship fight had taken an ugly turn. There have been titanic battles throughout the sport's history, some unforgettable. The duel through the Jeddah Corniche circuit was controversial, and it showed how determined the protagonists were for the victor's crown.

Would experience triumph over youth eventually? Abu Dhabi would reveal all!

More importantly, the sport would also say farewell to a legend, a World Champion and one of the most loved in the world of Formula 1..., KIMI RAIKKONEN! While the Iceman would say his farewells with a style he knows best, those who adore him know that there will never be another.

Abu Dhabi will be memorable yet painful for some.

2021 Qatar GP Race Recap : Lewis sails under the Lights of Losail!

The last race of the final triple-header of the 2021 F1 Season got held at Losail International Circuit near Doha, Qatar. The circuit, a regular feature on the Moto GP calendar, had to be prepared to make it suitable for F1 cars. It became the 75th venue and the 33rd nation to hold an F1 Grand Prix. Qatar also bagged a ten-year contract ( from 2023 ) to host F1 races.

Qatar, a night race featuring high-speed sections, also had a kilometre long pit straight to add to the overtaking opportunities on offer. The track surroundings had artificial grass to prevent the encroachment of sand onto the track. It was a trip into the unknown as the teams and drivers prepared to race under the lights at Losail.

Leading up to the weekend, McLaren squashed rumours about a possible takeover by Audi. Alfa Romeo announced that Antonio Giovinazzi would leave the team at the end of 2021. He would get replaced by Chinese F2 racer Guanyu Zhou, who would partner Valtteri Bottas. Zhou would become the first full-time Chinese racer in F1. Finances played a role in the decision-making process, and this attracted the ire of many fans. Giovinazzi chose to move to Formula E, getting a drive with Dragon Penske Autosport. Meanwhile, Alpine announced Oscar Piastri as their reserve driver for 2022. 

The drama from the recently concluded Brazilian GP continued as Mercedes lodged a "Right to Review" request with the FIA. Mercedes alleged that Verstappen had breached the International Sporting Code as he defended his lead from Hamilton on lap 48. Verstappen's dogged defence caused Hamilton and him to run wide at turn four in Brazil. The stewards, after some deliberation, denied Mercedes their request. 

With three races remaining in 2021, the title battle was as intense as ever.

How did the teams and drivers fare at the inaugural edition of the Qatar GP? 

Time for a quick recap!

Practice :

Free Practice 1 saw drivers and teams learn about the ideal setups, racing lines and limits of their car at a new circuit. Track temperatures were scorching hot at the start of FP1. 

Mazepin and Russell exceeded track limits, while Hamilton reported power issues on his Mercedes engine. The team eventually retired him from the session. While Stroll had a brake-by-wire problem on his Aston Martin, Norris ran wide and over the sausage kerbs at turn 14 and damaged the underside of his McLaren. Schumacher suffered a lock-up at turn seven and went across the gravel, while Tsunoda had to take avoiding action from rear-ending a Ferrari on the pit straight. 

Verstappen topped the timesheets from Gasly, followed by the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton. Tsunoda was P5 in the other Alpha Tauri, with the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in P6 and P7. P8 was the best that Perez could manage, followed by Ocon and Norris, who completed the top 10.

Ricciardo was P11 in the other McLaren, with the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen splitting the Williams of Latifi and Russell in P14 and P15. Alonso was P17 in the other Alpine, followed by Schumacher, Stroll and Mazepin. 

FP2 got underway, and the track got lit up at dusk. Mazepin got forced to skip FP2 after his Haas suffered extensive chassis damage from the running in FP1. The Red Bull mechanics carried out repairs on the rear wings of both their cars, while Giovinazzi lost a piece of bodywork after drifting over the sausage kerbs. Vettel got impeded twice on his low fuel runs, while the Ferrari duo had off-track moments as they tried to avoid other cars. 

Less than half a second separated the top 6 drivers. The session ended with Bottas, the quickest from Gasly and Verstappen, with his teammate Hamilton, P4. Norris was P5 for McLaren, followed by Stroll and Tsunoda. Perez set the 8th fastest time in the other Red Bull, while Vettel and Sainz completed the top 10.

The Alpines of Ocon and Alonso were P11 and P12, respectively, followed by Leclerc and Ricciardo. Russell split the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in P16, while Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin were at the back of the pack.

With extensive running completed on Friday, the teams and drivers aimed for a better showing on Saturday. Many cars had suffered from underside damage, and the drivers needed to avoid the sausage kerbs in the upcoming sessions. Gasly was the star on Friday, having set the 2nd quickest time in both the practice sessions. Tsunoda was also in the mix, making Alpha Tauri a top contender for the weekend. 

The final practice session of the weekend ( FP3 ) got underway, another closely contested session. Mazepin's woes continued as the Russian suffered an engine problem after exiting the pits and ground to a stop. The mechanics rolled the stricken Haas back to the garage, with the session getting Red Flagged for a short period. Perez had an offtrack moment at turn 15, while Gasly suffered a spin at two. Leclerc was another to lose control of his car at turn two. 

Bottas led a Mercedes 1-2 at the end of FP3, less than eight-hundredths of a second separating the duo. Gasly split the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez in P5, with Sainz completing the top 6. The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were P7 and P8, followed by Leclerc and Tsunoda.

Vettel split the McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris in P12, with Russell P14 in the Williams. Stroll was P15 in the other Aston Martin, followed by the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin were at the rear of the field.

Qualifying :

Track temperatures were 8 degrees cooler than that observed in FP3 for the start of Qualifying. 

Track limits got enforced at turns 2, 10 and 16. 

Q1 got underway, and Mazepin, on his flying lap, suffered damage to his front wing. Although it didn't get dislodged, it was at an odd angle throughout the lap. Gasly was the only driver to opt for mediums on his first run while the rest of the field chose soft tyres. Meanwhile, Schumacher had his lap time deleted after exceeding track limits at turn two. Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, Gasly, Norris and Tsunoda were the top 6, with Stroll, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Mazepin and Schumacher facing elimination at the end of the first runs.

Leclerc and Norris suffered lap time deletions after exceeding track limits at turn 16. Ocon reported brake issues on his Alpine. The team acknowledged the problem but didn't have time to address it in Qualifying. The Red Bulls joined Gasly in choosing the medium tyres for their final runs of Q1. The final minute of Q1 saw a train of cars lining up for their last attempt. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Perez and Alonso were the top 6, with Raikkonen, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated at the end of Q1.

Tyre choice was a factor in Q2, and the field got split in their decision making. While the Alpha Tauris, Alpines, Aston Martins and Russell opted for the soft tyres, others chose the mediums for their first runs. 

Hamilton, Gasly, Verstappen, Bottas, Tsunoda and Alonso were the top 6 with Norris, Perez, Russell, Ricciardo and Leclerc in the drop zone, halfway through Q2. Russell chose to go out of sync with the rest of the field and completed his 2nd attempt sooner. The Briton couldn't better P13. Bottas and Sainz were the only drivers on the medium tyres for their final runs of Q2. Lap times improved quickly as more rubber got laid.

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

Leclerc sounded listless about the lack of pace over team radio, while Perez was the major upset of Q2.

It was time for the final session of Qualifying and the battle for Pole Position! Norris, Tsunoda, Ocon and Vettel had to stick with a used set of softs for their first runs of Q3. Hamilton went the quickest on his first attempt, only two-tenths separating him from Verstappen and Bottas. 

The battle was hotting up as all ten drivers headed out with fresh soft tyres in the final minutes of Q3. Hamilton went purple in all three sectors and looked to have secured Pole Position. However, further back, Bottas and Verstappen were also setting personal best sector times. Their progress got cut short when the marshalls waved double waved yellow flags in sector 3. Gasly was on his flying lap when he went over the sausage kerbs at turn 15. The resulting vibrations dislodged his front wing, which ripped the right front tyre. Bits of carbon fibre and tyre rubber got strewn over the track, and Gasly ground to a halt on the pit straight. No other driver ( bar Hamilton ) could improve on their first attempts of Q3, and Hamilton inherited Pole Position for Sunday. Verstappen had to settle for 2nd, followed by Bottas in 3rd.

Gasly joined Bottas on the 2nd row, while row 3 got occupied by Alonso and Norris. Sainz was the quickest Ferrari in P7, followed by Tsunoda in the other Alpha Tauri. P9 was the best that Ocon could manage in an ailing Alpine, with Vettel completing the top 10.

Post Qualifying, Verstappen got summoned to the stewards for failing to respect the double yellow flags in Q3. Sainz and Bottas also got the summons, but for single waved yellows. Meanwhile, Ferrari discovered a crack on Leclerc's chassis, replaced it, and hoped to have the car ready before the race started.

Mercedes and Hamilton had upped their game after the performances witnessed in Brazil. Bottas, too was in the mix, in the top 3 to asset more pressure on Verstappen. With a two versus one situation on Sunday, Red Bull and Verstappen were at a disadvantage. While Mercedes had the opportunity of extending its lead over Red Bull, Hamilton hoped to trim the deficit to Verstappen. 

Perez's elimination in Q2 threw a spanner in the works for Red Bull. While Verstappen did his best to get into P2, the Dutchman faced an uphill battle without the presence of his wingman. Verstappen could overturn the disadvantage ( as seen in Mexico ), but starting on the dirtier side of the track in P2 posed an added challenge. 

The Alpha Tauri drivers had stolen the limelight with their performances in the practice sessions, and they didn't disappoint in Qualifying. While Gasly qualified P4, Tsunoda set the 8th quickest time. Both drivers would start on the soft tyres, which would give them extra grip at the start of the race. With Alpha Tauri level on points with Alpine in the Constructor Championship, the battle for P5 promised to be a closely contested affair. 

Like Alpha Tauri, Alpine had displayed excellent pace in all three practice sessions. Alonso and Ocon didn't falter, setting the 5th and the 9th quickest time, respectively. Although Ocon struggled with brake problems in Qualifying, Alpine hoped to repair it by race day. With the Alpine drivers starting on the soft tyres, priority was to make up positions early on the race, especially against their rivals, Alpha Tauri.

Both McLaren and Ferrari had only one driver in the top 10. While Norris ended up ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo trailed Leclerc in the latter half of the field. With Leclerc's car going through a chassis change, things didn't look good for Ferrari. Colder track temperatures had affected the balance on the Ferraris. As for McLaren, they were struggling with outright pace all weekend. Both teams faced a long evening with McLaren knowing that it couldn't afford a mediocre weekend against a resurgent Ferrari. 

Vettel out-qualified his teammate Stroll at Aston Martin. The team looked destined to finish P7 in the Constructors, and finishing in the points was the priority. Stroll got a free tyre choice for the race start, and with an optimal strategy, the team had the pace to secure a double-points finish.

Williams and Alfa Romeo were locked in a tussle for P8 in the Constructors, with the latter still 12 points adrift. Unless there was a slip-up by those in the top 10, having a points-scoring weekend seemed unlikely for either team. Alfa Romeo, however, seemed to be having better weekends than the Williams in the recent races.

Haas F1 was having a troublesome weekend with Mazepin's car undergoing extensive repairs and replacements. Nevertheless, the mechanics were able to get both cars ready for Qualifying. The team would remain backmarkers, however. 

Race :

Sunday kickstarted with a lot of drama as the verdicts from the investigation ( from Q3 ) came to the fore.

The stewards, after much deliberation, gave Bottas a three-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags. Verstappen also got penalized, which saw him drop back to P7 for the race start. Meanwhile, Sainz escaped any punishment after data showed that he had slowed enough.

As a result of the penalties, Sainz would eventually start P5, Bottas P6 and Verstappen P7.

C1, C2 and C3 were the tyres available, with Pirelli recommending a two-stop strategy for the 57 lap race. 

Those in the latter half of the field went with mixed tyre choices. While Perez, Stroll, Leclerc, Ricciardo and Mazepin chose the mediums, Russell, Raikkonen, Latifi, Giovinazzi and Schumacher ( used ) persisted with the soft tyres.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for all cars. Hamilton, under threat from the grippier soft tyres on Gasly and Alonso's cars, cut across to mitigate their challenge into turn one. The Briton held on to the lead. His title contender Verstappen made up three positions at turn one but got pushed out onto the grass by Alonso. Nevertheless, the Dutchman secured P4. Meanwhile, Alonso pressured Gasly and got the better of the Frenchman for P2.

Further down the field, Schumacher got past Latifi for P18, while Giovinazzi overtook Russell for P14. Raikkonen was up to P12, while Stroll and Perez had broken into the top 10. Bottas had a shocking start in the other Mercedes and had fallen back to P11.

Perez got past Stroll for P9, while Hamilton extended his gap at the front with the fastest lap. Meanwhile, Latifi reclaimed P18 from Schumacher.

Verstappen began to pressure Gasly for P3, and at the final turn, the former went wide. The mistake allowed Verstappen to close up and get past for P3 on lap 4. Verstappen was now the quickest man on track as he tried to hone in on Alonso for P2. It was "job done" for the Dutchman, and Verstappen now trailed Hamilton by 4 seconds.

Meanwhile, his teammate Perez continued his charge through the field with an overtake on Tsunoda for P8. Lap 6 saw Leclerc overtake Raikkonen for P12 and Perez pressure Sainz for P7. The Mexican completed the overtake but ran wide at turn one, which allowed Sainz to reclaim the position. Meanwhile, Ricciardo got past Russell for P15. 

Perez finally got the better of Sainz on lap 8. Replays showed that Verstappen had suffered endplate damage after going over the kerbs at turn one. The front wing had also suffered imbalance on the Red Bull car, and the team asked Verstappen to be careful. Further down the field, Ricciardo continued his recovery with an overtake on Giovinazzi for P14.

Perez got past Ocon for P6, while Tsunoda lost two places to Stroll and Bottas on lap 9, getting relegated to P11. At the front, Hamilton was setting blistering lap times and stretching his lead over Verstappen. Norris began to pressure Gasly for P4, but the latter held the fort. Tsunoda was the first driver to pit, an early stop for the rookie, switching to the mediums. 

Bottas got past Stroll for P9, while Raikkonen was the next driver to switch to the mediums on lap 11. Gasly lost two positions to Norris and Perez in the space of 2 laps. The Frenchman pitted on lap 14 and switched to a used set of medium tyres. Meanwhile, Vettel got past Russell for P13, and Hamilton extended his lead over Verstappen to 7 seconds. 

Bottas overtook Sainz for P7 ( lap 15 ) while Perez relegated Norris to P5 ( lap 16 ). Further down the field, Giovinazzi switched to the medium tyres on lap 16. Hamilton continued to hammer in blistering laps as Bottas got past Ocon for P6. 

Red Bull surprisingly pitted Verstappen for hard tyres on lap 18. The Dutchman rejoined in P2, having built a gap to those behind. Ricciardo also pitted for hard tyres on the same lap, while Gasly got past Schumacher for P14. Meanwhile, Hamilton informed Mercedes that he was happy with his tyres and wanted to extend his stint. However, the team decided to pit him for hard tyres on lap 19 to cover off against Verstappen. The Briton rejoined in the lead, now with a 9 seconds buffer.

Perez was the next driver to pit for the hard tyres on lap 20, the Mexican rejoining in P12. Hamilton was the fastest man on the track as Tsunoda got past Mazepin for P15. Perez battled with Vettel for P11, but the latter delayed the inevitable overtake. Meanwhile, Mazepin lost P16 to Raikkonen on lap 22. The battle for P4 ended with Bottas getting the better of Norris on lap 23. The round of pit stops continued with Schumacher switching to the used mediums ( lap 23 ) and Alonso and Stroll choosing the hard tyres ( lap 24 ). Alpine timing of Alonso's stop allowed the Spaniard to rejoin the race ahead of Ricciardo and Perez, gaining track position on the latter. 

Giovinazzi overtook Mazepin for P16, while Verstappen was the fastest man on the track. Ocon pitted for the hard tyres on lap 25, while Perez got past Ricciardo for P8. Norris pitted for the hard tyres on lap 26, and Alonso got past Leclerc for P5. Perez, who had also closed up on the Alonso-Leclerc battle, tried to follow Alonso with an overtake on Leclerc but delayed it until a few corners later. He was now P6 and hunting down Alonso. 


Ricciardo and Vettel pitted on lap 27, with Vettel switching to the mediums and Ricciardo the hards. Ferrari decided to double stack with its drivers on lap 28, switching both to the hards. Meanwhile, Perez got the better of Alonso for P4 despite some dogged defence on lap 29. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Alonso, Gasly, Norris, Ocon, Stroll and Sainz were the top 10 on lap 30. 

Raikkonen pitted for the 2nd time, switching to another set of hard tyres on lap 32. Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton and Verstappen were setting blistering lap times. Disaster struck Bottas on lap 33 when he reported a puncture on the left front tyre. The Finn had gotten into contention for P3, extending his stint on the medium tyres when the front left gave way. He had to tiptoe his way around the circuit and also went across the gravel, losing time and track positions to Perez and Alonso before he finally entered the pits. Mercedes had to change the front wing on his car besides switching him to the hard tyres. Bottas rejoined in P14.

Tsunoda and Gasly pitted for the hards and mediums, respectively, while Raikkonen got past Schumacher for P17. Latifi got relegated to P16 by Tsunoda on lap 40, while Giovinazzi got the better of Schumacher for P18 on lap 41. Verstappen and Perez pitted for medium tyres on lap 42, the latter taking on a used set. Hamilton followed suit a lap later. On the track, Bottas got past Ricciardo for P12, while Raikkonen overtook Latifi for P16. Perez was the fastest man on lap 44 as he began his quest for P3. Tsunoda got past Russell for P14 on lap 45.

Perez, with his fresher tyres, was honing in on Stroll and Ocon for P5. Alonso in P3 was aware that he would come under threat from Perez towards the end and asked Alpine to request Ocon to defend against Perez with all his might. Perez got past Stroll for P6 on lap 46 and then tried to get past Ocon for P5 on 48. The Frenchman couldn't defend in the DRS zone but fought back a few corners later, which delayed Perez's charge. Nevertheless, Perez bagged P5 and now had Norris in his sights. 

Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton and Verstappen were exchanging "fastest laps".

Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Stroll, Sainz, Leclerc and Vettel were the top 10 on lap 49.

Raikkonen got past Russell for P15, while McLaren detected a slow puncture on Norris' car. The Briton got forced to pit for new mediums on lap 51. Norris immediately got past Gasly for P10. Meanwhile, Mercedes decided to retire Bottas after discovering multiple issues with his car. There was more drama on lap 51 as Russell suffered a puncture on his left front tyre and had to return to the pits for soft tyres. Williams' woes didn't end there as Latifi too suffered the same fate, a lap later and had to retire from the race, grinding to a halt at one of the run-off areas. 

Those drivers on a one-stop strategy seemed to be in peril with their worn-out hard tyres. More teams feared delaminations, and Alonso in P3 got told to avoid the kerbs altogether. Perez now trailed Alonso only by 8.5 seconds, and the gap was reducing with every lap. Meanwhile, Norris got past Vettel for P9 on lap 54.

The stewards decided to enforce the Virtual Safety Car to allow safe extrication of Latifi's stricken Williams. The VSC period allowed Verstappen to pit for soft tyres, which would secure him the point for the fastest lap of the race. The VSC ended on the final lap, and it was a race to the finish line in the battle for P3 between Alonso and Perez.

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and the victory at the inaugural Qatar GP. Verstappen came home in P2, having secured the extra point for the fastest lap at the end. Alonso held off Perez's charge to score his first podium in 7 years! 

P4 was the best that Perez could achieve, followed by Ocon and Stroll. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were 7th and 8th, with Norris and Vettel completing the top 10.

Ricciardo split the Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Tsunoda in P12, followed by the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in P14 and P15, respectively. Schumacher, Russell and Mazepin completed the classified finishers.

The entire weekend, Hamilton and Mercedes had been unchallenged. With Verstappen getting relegated to P7 ( due to the penalty ), Hamilton's task got simpler at the start. The Briton remained flawless at the front, building and managing the gap en route to a fine victory. The win helped him reduce the deficit to Verstappen to 8 points. Mercedes looked set for a double podium finish until Bottas' puncture on lap 33. The team was pushing its luck by extending Bottas' first stint and had to bear its consequences. It was a wretched weekend for Bottas, who first suffered from a grid drop and then had to charge through the field after a poor start only to have his race cut short due to a puncture and PU issues. Mercedes saw its lead in the Constructors trimmed down to 5 points, and with two races remaining, fortunes could change quickly.

Like Brazil, it was damage limitation day for Verstappen and Red Bull. Despite the grid drop, the Dutchman made overtaking look easy and finished 2nd only to Hamilton. He also bagged the point for the fastest lap, losing 6 to his title challengerAlthough Verstappen still led the title battle, it was an uphill task to keep a resurgent Hamilton at bay in the final two races. As for Perez, after the disappointment of Saturday, he responded in style and almost got on to the podium. He wasn't in agreement with Red Bull for pitting him for the 2nd time, but it did prove to be the correct decision in the end. The battle with Ocon, coupled with the VSC period, denied him the opportunity of attacking Alonso for P3 at the end. He was now just 13 points shy of Bottas in the fight for P3 in the Drivers' Championship. The results helped Red Bull outscore Mercedes by six points and reduce the deficit to only five in the Constructors.

Meanwhile, the FIA gave Christian Horner ( Red Bull Team Principal ) a formal warning for his choice of words while criticizing a marshall who he believed was to blame for Verstappen's grid penalty.

After Hungary, this was the best weekend for Alpine. Alonso achieved his first podium of the season ( after a gap of 7 years ), having managed to eek more life out of his worn hard tyres at the end. While Ocon delayed Perez's charge, the VSC at the end gave Alonso the respite he needed from the charging Perez. Alonso also got the "The Driver of the Day" award, and deservedly so. Ocon produced a stellar drive in P5. The combined tally of 25 points allowed Alpine to open a gap of the same margin to Alpha Tauri in the battle for P5. This weekend would prove pivotal if Alpine held onto P5 at the end of the year.

Aston Martin finally broke into the top 10 with both its drivers after quite a few races. While Stroll bagged P6, Vettel took the final point in P10. The team made the right strategic calls, and despite a one-stop strategy, both drivers did a commendable job with tyre management. The 9 points took Aston Martin's tally to 77, but the deficit to Alpha Tauri was still a sizeable 35 points.

P7 and P8 were the best that the Ferrari drivers could achieve, but that was enough to outscore McLaren again. Like many others, Leclerc and Sainz pitted only once in the race, and the Ferrari mechanics did a stellar job with double-stacking. The result saw Ferrari extend their lead to 39.5 points over McLaren. 

It was a weekend to forget for McLaren. While Norris fell out of P4 due to a slow puncture, Ricciardo had to undergo fuel management for most of the race. Norris finished P9, with only two points to show for his efforts. It was another lacklustre weekend for Ricciardo in a lowly 12th. Time was running out for McLaren to overturn their poor run of form.

Alpha Tauri flattered to deceive. After the heroics of Saturday, both drivers fell backwards in the race. The lack of speed was unexplainable, despite having a two-stop strategy. Gasly and Tsunoda eventually finished outside the points. With Alpine scoring a podium and opening a 25 point gap, Alpha Tauri looked to be out of the reckoning for a P5 finish in the Constructors.

The Alfa Romeo drivers made up positions at the start, but with a mediocre strategy ended in P14 and P15. The decision to start on soft tyres didn't pay off, and both drivers struggled to make inroads even after stopping twice. It seemed unlikely for Alfa Romeo to overtake Williams in the final two races.

Williams had a dismal day with punctures and delaminations on both Russell and Latifi's cars. While Latifi had to retire, Russell managed to continue and finish in P17. As for Haas F1, P16 and P18 were the best that Schumacher and Mazepin could achieve. Like Williams, it had been a troublesome weekend for Haas. It seemed like Haas would be the only team to go point-less in 2021.

Hamilton and Mercedes had the momentum, and with the title battles being as close as they were, anything could transpire at a new track like Saudi Arabia. Although the next race was a fortnight away, there was no time to rest for the teams or their drivers.

It was time for the final push, through the streets of Jeddah, followed by the season-ender in Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi. 

But in Qatar, the glory belonged to Hamilton and Mercedes! Hamilton sailed to victory under the lights of Losail!

2021 Brazilian GP Race Recap : A Herculean Weekend, Defying all odds!

The Americas leg of the 2021 F1 Season came to an end at Interlagos, Sao Paulo, the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix. One of the shortest circuits on the calendar, the race had seen many pivotal battles through the years. With four races remaining on the calendar, it was time for the final charge for the teams and drivers.

Be it for the title battle or a higher position in the Constructors, no team or driver could afford a mediocre weekend. The 1.2 km long straight up until turn one meant that straight-line speed was paramount for a better race result. It was also the race where the FIA sampled the new race weekend format.

Mercedes and Hamilton were facing a formidable opponent in Red Bull and Verstappen in 2021. Mercedes opted to give Hamilton a new ICE, which resulted in a five-place grid penalty for the race. With the Mercedes engines suffering massive performance degradation, the team couldn't risk reliability issues with Hamilton. 

How did the World Champion recover from this setback? Was he able to reduce the deficit to Verstappen? Verstappen had never scored at an F1 Sprint weekendDid he break the rut? 

Was Red Bull able to take the lead in the Constructor battle? Did Ferrari continue its resurgence, or did McLaren recover in the fight for P3? Which midfield team had the best weekend in Brazil? 

Time for a recap of the Brazilian GP!

Friday Practice :

Hamilton also sported a new helmet design offering a tribute to his hero, the late Aryton Senna.

Friday Practice got underway, and the drivers had limited time to get their setups right before Qualifying later that day. Hamilton complained about the front suspension settings, while Ricciardo suffered from a massive lock-up at turn 10. Raikkonen took to the run-off at turn seven and then reported an issue with his rear-left wheel.

Hamilton topped the timesheets, four-tenths clear of Verstappen and Perez. His teammate Bottas was P4, followed by Gasly and the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc. The Alpines of Ocon and Alonso were P8 and P9, with Stroll completing the top 10. 

Tsunoda was P11 in the other Alpha Tauri, from Vettel and the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. P15 was the best that Norris could manage, followed by Schumacher in the Haas. Latifi and Russell were P17 and P18 for Williams, with Ricciardo and Mazepin completing the classification.

Qualifying :

The conditions were overcast, and the threat of rain loomed over the circuit.

Q1 got underway, and Gasly, along with the Ferrari duo, opted for used soft tyres. The others, however, chose a fresh set for their first runs. 

Hamilton, Sainz, Verstappen, Gasly, Tsunoda and Bottas were the top 6 with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Leclerc, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination with 7 minutes remaining in Q1.  

Leclerc and Schumacher had their lap times deleted after they exceeded the track limits at turn 4. The lap times began to improve as more rubber got laid on the track. 

The entire field opted for the soft tyres in the final minutes of Q1. Less than a second separated 17 drivers. 

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

All drivers decided to stay put in the early minutes of Q2. While Perez and the Alfa Romeo duo chose a used set of soft tyres for their first runs, the rest of the field persisted with new. Hamilton exceeded the track limits at turn four and suffered from a lap time deletion.

At the end of the first runs, Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were the top 6, with Ocon, Tsunoda, Vettel, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in the drop zone. 

Everyone opted for soft tyres for their final attempts, and at the end of Q2, the following drivers made it into Q3 - Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Perez, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo and Alonso.

Ocon, Vettel, Tsunoda, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi got eliminated from Q2.

The start of Q3 saw drivers staying put in the early minutes ( again ). Leclerc was on used softs with the rest on a fresh set for their first runs. Hamilton went the quickest from Verstappen, Bottas and Perez, with half a second separating the top 3 drivers from each other. Verstappen reported that his front tyres were overheating. 

It was time for the final shootout, and Hamilton went purple in sectors 2 and 3. Meanwhile, Verstappen and Bottas made mistakes on their last attempts and couldn't beat Hamilton's lap time.

Hamilton bagged the Speed King / Fastest Qualifier award and would start the F1 Sprint from P1. Verstappen would start P2, followed by Bottas and Perez. Row 3 got occupied by Gasly and Sainz, while Leclerc and Norris were on four. Ricciardo and Alonso completed the top 10.

Hamilton's straight-line speed was unmatchable and attracted the attention of Verstappen, who tried to inspect it on Parc-Ferme. Hamilton's car then got referred to the stewards for a DRS Technical infringement. The stewards decided to impound the part for further investigation. 

Verstappen got summoned to the stewards for allegedly touching Hamilton's rear wing while inspecting it on Parc Ferme. 


The Dutchman got a 50000 Euros fine for breaching Parc Ferme regulations. However, Hamilton's title aspirations suffered a big dent when the stewards surmised that Mercedes had committed a technical infringement with the DRS on the rear wing of Hamilton's car. The Briton got disqualified from Qualifying and started the Sprint from the back of the grid! Mercedes chose against appealing the decision.

Saturday Practice :

The drivers focused on preparing for the F1 Sprint later on Saturday afternoon, and there was a mix of tyre choices throughout the field. 


Alonso surprised one and all by topping the timesheets in Saturday Practice, four-tenths clear of Verstappen. Bottas was P3, a second adrift. Alonso's teammate, Ocon, set the 4th quickest time, followed by Hamilton and Perez. The Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen got split by the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in P8 and P9.

Stroll was P11 for Aston Martin, followed by the McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris. Russell split the Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Tsunoda in P15, with Vettel setting the 17th quickest time. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

F1 Sprint :

The skies were clear as the teams and drivers prepared for the 3rd F1 Sprint of the season. Twenty four laps of flat-out racing awaited the fans on Saturday afternoon.

All eyes were on Hamilton, whose aim was to charge through the field from P20 and limit the effects of the five-place grid penalty on Sunday. 

Tyre choice was a big concern, with some opting for the softs and some choosing the more durable mediums.

The following drivers chose new mediums - Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Norris, Ricciardo, Alonso, Latifi, Russell and Hamilton. The Aston Martin duo opted for the used mediums.

While Bottas, Sainz and Gasly had used sets of soft tyres, Ocon, Tsunoda, the Alfa Romeos and the Haas drivers persisted with brand new ones. 

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for both Verstappen and Bottas. However, Bottas, due to his grippier soft tyres, made it sooner into turn one than Verstappen and took the lead of the Sprint. Perez also lost out to Sainz and got relegated to P4. Sainz then got into the slipstream of Verstappen, and in a wheel-to-wheel battle, the latter got pushed off-track, rejoining in P3.

Further down the field, Hamilton was already up to P16. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi overtook Alonso from either side on the pit straight. Raikkonen tried to commit to a tighter line and got tagged on the rear left by Giovinazzi. The Finn got spun around and fell back to P20. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi was up to P11, and Hamilton had recovered to P14 on lap 2.  

Verstappen reported gear sync issues but addressed them with a setting change. The Dutchman then got past Sainz to reclaim P2 on lap 4. Meanwhile, Alonso got the better of Giovinazzi for P11, and Hamilton overtook Tsunoda for P13. Hamilton then relegated Giovinazzi to P13, while Raikkonen got past Mazepin at the back of the pack. 

Hamilton was the fastest man on track as he began to hone in on Alonso, while Perez tried to pressure Sainz for P3, but the Spaniard didn't relent. Meanwhile, Raikkonen overtook Schumacher for P18. Hamilton closed up on Alonso and got past him for P11 on lap 8. The battle for P5 was hotting up as Norris began to pressure Leclerc. It was "job done" for Norris on lap 9. 

Verstappen was the fastest man on the track as a DRS train began to form up behind Ocon. The Frenchman in P8 was holding off the trio of Vettel, Ricciardo and Hamilton. Hamilton broke into the top 10 with a move on Ricciardo on lap 13.

Bottas, Verstappen, Sainz, Perez, Norris, Leclerc, Gasly, Ocon, Vettel and Hamilton were the top 10 on lap 14.

Hamilton got the better of Vettel for P9 on lap 15. At the front, Verstappen got within the DRS range of Bottas, but the latter held on to the lead. Hamilton continued his charge through the field with overtakes on Ocon and Gasly to move up to P7.

Sainz reported that his tyres had lost grip, and the Spaniard was becoming increasingly vulnerable to an overtake by Perez. Hamilton relegated Leclerc to P7 on lap 20 and began to reduce the deficit to Norris in P5. The Briton was lapping quicker than those ahead and eventually bagged P5 on the final lap. Meanwhile, Stroll got past Tsunoda for P14.

Bottas took the Chequered Flag and Pole Position for the Grand Prix on Sunday. Verstappen would start P2, on the front row alongside Bottas. Sainz took P3, followed by Perez in P4. 

Hamilton finished in P5 but would eventually start in P10 after serving his penalty. Row 3 got occupied by Norris and Leclerc. Gasly and Ocon were on row 4, with Vettel and Hamilton completing the top 10.

Ricciardo led the latter half of the field from Alonso and Giovinazzi. Stroll was P14, followed by Tsunoda in the other Alpha Tauri. The Williams of Russell and Latifi would start the GP in P16 and P17, respectively, followed by Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin at the back of the field.

Bottas' pole position fetched Mercedes an invaluable 3 points in the Constructors' Championship. It extended their buffer to Red Bull to 2 points. An inspired drive by Hamilton from the back to the grid to P5 earned the respect of one and all. He was a serious contender for a podium finish on Sunday.

It wasn't an ideal Saturday for Red Bull, with Verstappen losing out to Bottas for pole position and Perez getting outperformed by Sainz. Nevertheless, they lost only one point to Mercedes and could turn it around on Sunday. More importantly, Verstappen now led Hamilton by 21 points and had the chance of extending his lead even further on Sunday. Perez needed to step up his performance on Sunday and play a better support role to Verstappen.

Ferrari had the better of McLaren on Saturday and hoped to repeat the feat on Sunday. The Italian outfit had its drivers in the top 6 and looked set for another big points haul. As for McLaren, Norris would start P5, but Ricciardo could only manage P11. The possibility of outscoring Ferrari seemed highly unlikely unless weather or circumstances played a part. 

Gasly would start P7 and again was the only Alpha Tauri driver in the top 10. As for his teammate Tsunoda, P15 was far from ideal, and the rookie faced a long Sunday afternoon. With Alpha Tauri level on points with Alpine, outscoring the latter was paramount. 

P8 and P12 were decent starting positions for the Alpine drivers. Alpine was locked in an intense battle with Alpha Tauri, having lost a considerable lead to the latter. They couldn't afford a mediocre showing on Sunday. 

Vettel qualified P9, while Stroll bagged P14. Aston Martin, running out of time to catch up to Alpha Tauri and Alpine in the battle for P5, needed points from both its drivers to stay in contention. The team had made pivotal strategic calls in the past, and they needed a similar Sunday.

It was a bittersweet day for Alfa Romeo. While Giovinazzi qualified P13, an error by Raikkonen bumped him down to P18. The Finn miscalculated an overtake on Giovinazzi, the resulting contact sending him into a spin. With free tyre choices for the race start, both drivers had the opportunity of breaking into the top 10 with an optimal strategy. 

Williams and Haas F1 were having a tough weekend and looked destined to be at the back of the pack. Interestingly, Latifi out-qualified his better-performing teammate in Russell. Whether the pecking order would remain the same or not on Sunday was a different matter altogether. 

Race :

Alfa Romeo decided to change the rear wing on Raikkonen's car to a different spec, which resulted in a pit-lane start for the Finn.

C2, C3 and C4 were the tyres compounds available for the weekend. Tsunoda was the only driver to choose the softs for the race start. While the Aston Martin duo had used mediums, the rest of the field opted for fresh sets.

The race got underway, and it was a clean getaway for Bottas and Verstappen. Bottas cut across to block Verstappen, but the latter managed to get side-by-side and pushed him wide at turn one to take the lead of the race! Bottas lost momentum out of turn one and had to defend from Perez, who had jumped Sainz at the start. The Finn missed his braking at turn 3, running wide, allowing Perez to take P2, making it a Red Bull 1-2! 

Further down, Norris tried to pass Sainz at the race start, but the duo made contact, and Norris suffered instant delamination on his rear left tyre. The Briton had to limp back to the pits with the puncture. Norris switched to the hards and rejoined in P20. 

Ricciardo got past Ocon for P9, while Mazepin overtook Schumacher for P14. Vettel was up to P6, while Hamilton had gained three positions on the opening lap and was P7. Tsunoda got the better of Schumacher for P14, while Ocon retook P9 from Ricciardo.

Hamilton overtook Vettel for P6 and then got past Sainz for P5, a lap later. Verstappen was the fastest man on track and tried to build a gap at the front. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got past Giovinazzi for P13, and Latifi overtook Russell for P17.

Tsunoda now had Stroll in his sights and tried to attack the latter at turn one. Tsunoda tried an opportunistic overtake, resulting in contact between the two drivers. The Japanese rookie lost his front wing, and bits of bodywork got strewn across the track. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Tsunoda got a 10 seconds time penalty for his misdemeanour. He had to pit for hard tyres and a new front wing shortly after.

Meanwhile, Hamilton continued to push with an overtake on Leclerc before a position swap with Bottas on lap 5 for P3. Hamilton was now the quickest driver on the track as he tried to hunt down Perez. 

The incident between Tsunoda and Stroll had left a lot of debris on the track, and the Race Director decided to deploy the Safety Car. The Safety Car directed the field through the pit lane as the marshalls cleared the debris from the track. Meanwhile, Russell pitted for the hard tyres. 

Racing resumed on lap 10, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Perez managed to fend off any challenge by Hamilton and Bottas, and the status quo got maintained. Further down the field, Latifi lost two positions to Raikkonen, Norris and Tsunoda and was down to P19. Raikkonen got the better of Schumacher for P15, but the latter lost his front wing from a resulting contact. The stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to remove the debris from the track, and Schumacher pitted for another front wing and new hard tyres.

Racing resumed on lap 14, and Norris relegated Mazepin to P15. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got past Russell for P17 and then overtook Raikkonen for P16 on lap 17. 

Hamilton was now all over Perez in the battle for P2, and the Briton got past him at turn one. However, Perez, with the use of the 2nd DRS zone, reclaimed P2. The Mexican had no answer for Hamilton on lap 19, though, getting relegated to P3 on lap 19. Further down the field, Gasly overtook Vettel for P7, while Tsunoda and Raikkonen relegated Mazepin to P17. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly, Vettel, Ricciardo and Ocon were the top 10 on lap 20.

Alonso overtook Stroll for P11, and the latter pitted for the hard tyres on lap 23. Meanwhile, at the front, Verstappen's lead over Hamilton was hovering around the 3.5 seconds mark. Gasly was the next driver to switch to the hard tyres on lap 26 and got past Raikkonen for P14 shortly after rejoining the race.

Hamilton pitted for the hard tyres on lap 27, Mercedes trying to undercut Verstappen and Red Bull. Sainz also pitted on the same lap but switched to another set of mediums. Red Bull wasted no time in pitting Verstappen to cover off for Hamilton's earlier stop. The Dutchman pitted on lap 28 and rejoined the race, albeit 1.7 seconds clear of Hamilton. Hamilton had to get past Ricciardo on track which cost him an extra second. Meanwhile, Verstappen wasn't pleased about losing time due to the undercut and requested Red Bull to ensure that they don't lose the initiative later in the race.

Leclerc pitted for medium tyres on lap 28 and rejoined in P9. His teammate Sainz got past Tsunoda for P12, who then got relegated to P13 by Gasly. Meanwhile, Norris overtook Giovinazzi for P10, and Stroll got the better of Latifi for P18. Sainz continued his recovery, getting past Giovinazzi for P11, while Perez pitted for hard tyres and rejoined in P5. 

Hamilton was the fastest man on track as he tried to get within attacking range of Verstappen. Further down the field, Vettel and Raikkonen pitted for the hard tyres. Gasly got the better of Norris for P10, while Stroll, battling with Russell down the pit straight, lost more bodywork from his Aston Martin. The stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to extricate the debris from the track.

Taking advantage of the VSC period, Bottas, Ricciardo and Ocon switched to the hard tyres on lap 31. Pitting under the VSC allowed Bottas to jump Perez in the battle for P3. 

The VSC period ended shortly after, and Ocon got past Russell for P12 while Gasly overtook Ricciardo for P8. Bottas was the fastest man on the track as Leclerc got the better of Alonso for P5, and Raikkonen relegated Latifi to P18 on lap 33. Vettel got past Russell for P13, the Briton going backwards in the Williams.

Pit stops continued with Alonso switching to the hard tyres on lap 35 and Norris pitting for a 2nd time, again for the hards on 38. On the track, Ocon broke into the top 10 with an overtake on Tsunoda, with the latter losing more positions to Vettel and Alonso, who were on fresher tyres. Tsunoda pitted for the 2nd time, served his time penalty and took a new set of hard tyres on lap 40.

Meanwhile, Alonso got past Vettel for P10. At the front, Verstappen had begun to report about his tyres losing grip, and Red Bull decided to pit him again on lap 41. The Dutchman rejoined in P4, with another set of hard tyres for his final stint in the race. His pit exit, however, got compromised by Latifi, who had also pitted in his Williams. 

Mercedes called in Bottas on lap 42 to switch him to new hards, while Hamilton extended his stint at the front. Perez followed suit a lap later, rejoining in P5, which allowed Bottas to regain track position. Verstappen was the fastest man on track on lap 43 and began to reduce the deficit to Hamilton.

Mercedes couldn't afford further delays and pitted Hamilton again on lap 43. It was now a race to the finish between the two title protagonists. Hamilton wasn't pleased with getting another set of hard tyres for his final stint, but Mercedes insisted that this was the correct choice and the mediums wouldn't have lasted for the remainder of the race. Bottas and Perez exchanged the fastest laps of the race, and the latter got past Leclerc for P4. Further down the field, Stroll lost positions to Raikkonen and Norris, dropping down to P14.

Hamilton was setting blistering lap times and got within the DRS range of Verstappen. Verstappen had the edge over Hamilton in the 2nd sector, but the latter made up ground on the straights in sectors one and three. Lap 48 saw Hamilton pressure Verstappen for the lead. The Briton was side-by-side with Verstappen going into turn 3, but the latter didn't turn in enough, resulting in the duo running wide. Verstappen held onto the lead. The incident got noted by the stewards and, after deliberation, decided against an investigation. 

Meanwhile, Norris got Raikkonen for P12, and Stroll had to retire from the race due to the extensive damage suffered from the earlier incidents. Ricciardo also retired on lap 51 after reporting a "power loss" on his Mercedes engine. Gasly and Leclerc switched to another set of hard tyres on laps 52 and 53, respectively. Sainz followed suit on lap 54, with Raikkonen switching to the mediums. Vettel was the next driver to pit for the medium tyres on lap 57.

At the front, Hamilton continued to pressure Verstappen but failed to get closer to launch an attack. Verstappen got caught weaving down the straights as he tried to break the tow to Hamilton. The Dutchman got served a Black and White Flag for his unsportsmanlike behaviour. 

Hamilton was closer than ever on lap 59 and tried to attack Verstappen at turn one. The Dutchman rebuffed the challenge but then had no answer in the run-up to the third turn. Hamilton, with the DRS assistance, finally got past Verstappen to take the lead of the race. 

The Briton then started to pull away and build a gap to Verstappen. Meanwhile, despite his best efforts, Ocon couldn't hold off Gasly in the battle for P8. Gasly then got past Alonso for P7 on lap 62. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly, Alonso, Ocon and Norris were the top 10 on lap 65.

Hamilton was now 7 seconds clear of Verstappen en route to a famous victory! Red Bull pitted Perez on the penultimate lap to deny Hamilton the extra point for the fastest lap. The Mexican, with a set of soft tyres, accomplished the task on the final lap. 

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Brazilian GP! Verstappen had to settle for P2, while Bottas took P3 in the other Mercedes.

Perez finished P4, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. A stellar drive by Gasly saw him finish P7 for Alpha Tauri, with the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon, P8 and P9, respectively. Norris completed the top 10.

Vettel finished P11 in the Aston Martin, while Russell split the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in P13. Tsunoda was P15 in the other Alpha Tauri, followed by Latifi, Mazepin and Schumacher, who completed the classified finishers. 

Hamilton was ecstatic to win at his hero's ( Ayrton Senna ) home race and stopped to take a Brazilian flag from a marshall. While waving to the crowd, he unbuckled one of his safety belts, which was against the safety standards set by the FIA. Hamilton got a 5000 Euros fine, with a further 20000 Euros, suspended for 2022 ( should he repeat this infringement ). 


No driver could match Hamilton's performance the entire weekend. Against all odds, the Briton kept pushing through both the F1 Sprint and the Grand Prix to take an unlikely victory. The Safety Car period at the start benefitted his chances, and Hamilton went from a podium contender to a prospective race winner. Verstappen did his best to make life uncomfortable for Hamilton, but the straight-line speed of the Mercedes was too much to handle. Although Red Bull managed to take the point for the fastest lap off Hamilton, the Briton's win reduced the deficit to Verstappen to 14 points. With three races remaining and a new ICE on his Mercedes, the momentum was with Hamilton to go all the way! 

As for Bottas, it was a tough start, losing positions to both Verstappen and Perez, but then he reclaimed P3 from Perez thanks to a VSC period. The Finn kept it clean after that and believed that he could have achieved a 1-2 with Hamilton had he not pitted for the 2nd time. The result helped him cement his grip on P3 in the Driver Standings. More importantly, Mercedes outscored Red Bull in the Constructors to extend the buffer to 11 points at the front. Mercedes looked favourites to retain the Constructors crown.

It was damage limitation day for Red Bull. While Verstappen led for most of the race, he ran out of steam against a charging Hamilton towards the end. The Dutchman eventually finished the race 10 seconds adrift, accepting that P2 was the best result achievable from the weekend. Verstappen saw his lead get trimmed to 14 points in the title battle. Meanwhile, Perez was unfortunate with the timing of the Virtual Safety Car, which robbed him of P3 against Bottas. The Mexican now trailed Bottas by 25 points in the battle for P3 in the Driver Standings. Red Bull lost ground to Mercedes in the Constructors, and it promised to remain a tight affair until the end.

Ferrari was the best of the rest, with Leclerc and Sainz bagging P5 and P6, a big haul of points in their battle against McLaren. Ferrari was confident about a two-stop strategy from the start, and their planning paid dividends. The Italian outfit now led McLaren by 31.5 points and strengthened its hold on P3 in the Constructor standings. 

Alpha Tauri stayed level on points with Alpine in the Constructor standings, thanks to Gasly's P7. The Frenchman had yet another stellar performance in the sister Red Bull, completing several overtakes on the track, getting past the Alpine duo as well. It was a frustrating day for Tsunoda in P15. The Japanese rookie had never raced at Brazil and would like to put this result behind him as soon as possible. His accident with Stroll earned him a time penalty and brought out the Safety Car, which allowed Mercedes to close up on the Red Bull cars. If Alpha Tauri hoped for securing P5 in the Constructors, it needed Tsunoda to feature in the top 10 in the final three races.

Ocon's P8 and Alonso's P9 ensured that Alpine scored as many points as Alpha Tauri. Alpine stayed P5 due to the victory earned in Hungary. It wasn't a straightforward race for the Alpine duo, with both having to defend and overtake other cars en route to the final positions. 

It was a horrid weekend for McLaren in Brazil. Ricciardo was in contention for points finish until McLaren detected power issues in his engine. The Australian eventually retired. Norris suffered a puncture on the opening lap from his collision with Sainz and bagged the final point in P10. The result was far from ideal, and McLaren was fading away rapidly against a resurgent Ferrari. Overturning a 31.5 points deficit seemed highly unlikely for the Woking-based team. 

Aston Martin had another point-less weekend. While Vettel finished P11, Stroll had to retire the car after suffering extensive damage from the accident with Tsunoda. Neither driver seemed to have the pace to challenge other midfield teams, and once their tyres got older, both began to fall backwards rapidly. Aston Martin was out of the race for P5 ( although not mathematically ) and running out of positives in the season. 

An inspired drive by Raikkonen after a pit-lane start saw him finish P12. Only Hamilton had gained more positions than Raikkonen ( 8 vs 9 ). Giovinazzi had another mediocre pit strategy to blame for his finish in P14. He got called to the pits sooner than he would have liked ( just like Mexico ). Both drivers struggled with outright performance as soon as their tyres began to age. Alfa Romeo has work to do in the final three races, or else they will finish the season as the 9th best team.

Russell and Latifi could only manage P13 and P16 in the Williams cars. Like the Alfa Romeo drivers, the Williams duo couldn't compete with other midfield teams. Both the drivers at Haas F1 had never raced at Sao Paulo, so race finishes for both was an achievement in itself. Schumacher was in the mix until a collision with Raikkonen bumped him to the back of the pack. Mazepin also managed to keep it clean en route to his P17 finish. 

The F1 circus now travels trans-Atlantic to the Middle East, with two countries hosting a Grand Prix for the first time. Momentum will play a pivotal role in the title battle, and Hamilton and Mercedes seem to have a measure of their rivals. 

Hamilton was feisty, determined and purpose-driven in Brazil. Will there be a response by Verstappen in Qatar? 

Time will reveal all!

2021 Mexican GP Race Recap : The Max-ican Fortress, Challenged but Unconquered!

The 2021 F1 Season was nearing its end, and the final triple-header kicked off at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. The Mexican GP made a return after the 2020 edition got cancelled due to the Pandemic COVID-19. At an altitude of 2240 metres, the track presents a unique challenge for the drivers and the teams. Redesigned with Hermann Tilke's assistance, modern F1 cars could reach speeds over 360 kph down the main straight. The track had been a field hospital during the peak of the Pandemic, and the lack of racing made the tarmac dusty.  

With five races in six weeks, reliability remained the biggest challenge for the teams. Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri chose new engine components for Stroll and Tsunoda, resulting in a start from the back of the grid on Sunday.

Mexico was the start of the final push for Hamilton and Verstappen for the 2021 crown. Twelve points separated the duo at the top of the standings. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez hoped to become the first Mexican driver to win or be on the podium at his home race. Mercedes had struggled with the cooler temperatures of Mexico in the pastDid they have a change of fortunes? Or did the Red Bulls romp to victory unchallenged? Was McLaren able to fend off the late charge by Ferrari in the battle for P3, and who achieved the best result in the quest for P5 in the Constructors'?

Time for a recap of the Mexican GP weekend!

Practice :

FP1 got underway, and the drivers tried to find the limits under dusty conditions. Perez and Leclerc hit the wall at turn 16 after suffering spins. Both drivers damaged their cars' rear wings and had to return to the pits for repairs. Hamilton and Raikkonen had offtrack moments at turn one and failed to comply with the Race Director instructions. The duo got a reprimand from the stewards for rejoining the track incorrectly. 

Bottas topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, followed by teammate Hamilton and the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez. Gasly was P5 for Alpha Tauri, while Alonso split the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in P7. The top 10 got completed by Ocon and Vettel. 

Tsunoda was P11 in the other Alpha Tauri, followed by Raikkonen and Stroll. The McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris were P14 and P15, respectively. P16 was the best that Giovinazzi could manage in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by the Williams of Russell and Latifi. Schumacher and Mazepin were at the back of the pack. 

Clear skies greeted the drivers at the start of FP2. The lap times began to improve as more rubber got laid on the track. The Mercedes duo suffered lock-ups at turn one and had to take to the run-off area. While Leclerc complained about setup issues, Ocon reported that the problems of Austin had resurfaced on his Alpine. A gearbox failure for Russell ended his session prematurely. 

Verstappen ended FP2 the quickest from Bottas and Hamilton. His teammate Perez was P4, with Gasly splitting the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in P6. Tsunoda was P8 in the other Alpa Tauri, while Vettel and Alonso completed the top 10. 

Norris split the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in P12, while Ocon was P14 in the other Alpine. P15 was the best that Ricciardo could manage, with Schumacher setting the 16th quickest time in his Haas. Stroll was P17, followed by Latifi and Mazepin, with Russell failing to set a lap time due to his gearbox issues in P20.

Red Bull seemed to have the upper hand in the race simulation runs, while Ferrari looked quicker than the McLarens, who failed to break into the top 10 on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russell got hit with a five-place grid drop as Williams had to replace his faulty gearbox. 

Norris and Ocon got forced to take new PU components for the remainder of the weekend, which sent the duo to the back of the grid.

The final practice ( FP3 ) saw Hamilton, Norris and Alonso run wide at turn one after suffering from lock-ups. Leclerc suffered a spin at turn three as he exited the pits on a fresh set of soft tyres. 

Perez was the quickest at the end of FP3, followed by Verstappen and the Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas. Sainz was one second slower than Perez in P5, with Ricciardo splitting the Alpha Tauris of Tsunoda and Gasly in P7. The top 10 got completed by Leclerc and Norris. 

Stroll led the lower half of the field from the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi, with Vettel P14 in the other Aston Martin. P15 was the best that Alonso could manage, followed by teammate Ocon. Russell, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin completed the rear of the field. 

With a pace deficit of six-tenths, Mercedes seemed to have no answer to Red Bull's pace. 

Qualifying :

Williams detected an issue in the Power Unit on Russell's car but addressed it by the start of Qualifying. Clear skies greeted the drivers, and track temperatures were hitting 45 degrees Celcius. 

The Williams, Haas and Alfa Romeo drivers were the first ones out on track at the start of Q1. The rest of the teams waited for more rubber to get laid on the circuit. The Williams duo opted for medium tyres for their first runs. With 11 minutes remaining, everyone was out trying to set representative lap times. Stroll was about to start his flying lap when he lost control of his Aston Martin and careered into the barriers at the final turn. The resulting impact wrecked his car, and the session got Red Flagged. Raikkonen saw the Red Flag and attempted to enter the pit lane before aborting the decision. The Finn got summoned to the stewards and escaped with a reprimand, his 2nd of the weekend. 

The FIA inspected the barriers as the marshalls went about their repairs. The session finally restarted, and the Haas and Williams cars exited the pits close to each other. Both Williams drivers inadvertently crossed the white line at the pit exit and thankfully escaped punishment by the stewards. Meanwhile, Sainz reported that he had no engine power. Ferrari guided the Spaniard, and the issue got addressed a few seconds later. Everyone chose the soft tyres for their final runs.

Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Gasly, Perez and Hamilton were the top 6 at the end of Q1. Alonso, Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin and Stroll got eliminated.

The start of Q2 saw Tsunoda opt for new softs, Ocon the used. While Russell chose to continue with a used set of mediums, the rest chose new ones. Verstappen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Bottas, Leclerc and Perez were the top 6, with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Russell and Vettel facing elimination at the end of the first runs.

The final minutes of Q2 saw all 15 drivers out on track, with Verstappen, Russell ( new ), and Tsunoda ( used ) opting for soft tyres. Giovinazzi, on his final attempt, suffered a spin at turn 12 and hit the barriers sideways, momentarily bringing out the Yellow Flags. 

The following drivers made it through to Q3 - Hamilton, Verstappen, Tsunoda, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Perez, Ricciardo, Sainz and Norris. 

Vettel, Raikkonen, Russell, Giovinazzi and Ocon got eliminated.

It was time for the final top-ten shootout, and everyone chose the soft tyres for their first runs of Q3. The teams ensured that the faster driver got a tow from his teammate. Bottas went the quickest, a tenth clear of Hamilton on his first run. The Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Perez were four-tenths adrift. Verstappen reported a lack of balance on the rear, while Norris suffered a lock-up at turn one again. 

While Norris and Tsunoda opted for used softs, the others had the advantage of new tyres for the final minutes of Q3. Bottas went purple in sector one but couldn't improve on his previous attempt. Hamilton failed as well. Meanwhile, both Perez and Verstappen got a tow on their final run. However, Tsunoda ran wide on the high-speed section and his off distracted Perez, who followed suit. With the duo running wide, Verstappen had to lift through those corners, which cost him time across the remainder of the lap.

Bottas took pole position from Hamilton and Verstappen. P4 was the best that Perez could manage, despite his heroics. Gasly qualified P5 for Alpha Tauri, followed by Sainz in the Ferrari. Row 4 got occupied by Ricciardo and Leclerc. 

Tsunoda and Norris finished P9 and P10 but got bumped down to P17 and P18 due to their respective engine penalties.

The penalties paved the way for Vettel and Raikkonen to break into the top 10, albeit with a free tyre choice for the race.

Mercedes had been second best and seemed to have no answers for Red Bull's dominance until the final Qualifying. The decision to send the Mercedes duo sooner than the rest of the field paid dividends. More importantly, Hamilton had the track position on Verstappen and hoped to maintain the status quo on lap 1. 

As for the Red Bulls, despite both drivers getting a tow, a mistake by Tsunoda in the sister team jeopardized a guaranteed front-row lockout. Questions would get raised over why Tsunoda participated in Q3 as he already had a penalty to send him to the back of the grid. Astonishingly, the Red Bull drivers were only a tenth quicker than Gasly in the Alpha Tauri. With Verstappen's rear wing taped up, things looked far from ideal. However, points got awarded on Sunday, and Red Bull had the resources to turn things around.

Gasly and his top 6 Qualifying performances continued with another P5 on Saturday. While Tsunoda showed marked improvement in the past few races, he got shamed by the Red Bull management for jeopardizing Perez and Verstappen's final laps. The criticism was uncalled for, and many chose to stand by the rookie. 

Sainz and Leclerc looked strong the entire weekend, and with P6 and P8 as their starting positions, the duo looked to overturn the deficit to McLaren ( for Ferrari ). Ferrari had executed the tow between its drivers quite well throughout Qualifying and making progress towards the return of their glory days.

Ricciardo in P7 was the only real contender for McLaren, while Norris would start from a lowly P18 after his engine penalty. McLaren had had a few humbling weekends, and relinquishing P3 in the Constructors looked all but certain. Norris, however, had the pace to break into the points.

Aston Martin had representation in the top 10 in the form of Vettel in P9, but a crash for Stroll left the team with expensive repairs on Saturday night. Both drivers had a free tyre choice, and with a superior strategy, could score a handful of points on the weekend. 

Alfa Romeo had a strong showing on Saturday. Raikkonen inherited P10, while Giovinazzi got P11 for the race on Sunday. Like Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo needed a potent strategy to ensure a points-finish, and with faster cars charging through the field, it was a tough ask.

Despite getting the tow from Ocon, Alonso failed to make it into Q2. However, the Spaniard moved up to P12 after those ahead served their relevant penalties. Meanwhile, his teammate Ocon would start in P19. Alpine had been off the pace in all three practice sessions, and a points finish looked unlikely. 

Latifi qualified P13 with teammate Russell in P16. Despite his gearbox penalty, Russell stayed P16. The Williams duo faced a long Sunday afternoon, their main goal to keep the faster cars behind them at bay.

Schumacher and Mazepin's P14 and P15 made it a fruitful Qualifying for Haas F1 Team. However, like Williams, the American-backed outfit lacked the outright pace and would fall back through the race.

Would team orders come into play if Bottas led Hamilton? The latter needed all the points available to cut down the deficit to Verstappen. 

An intriguing race awaited the teams and drivers.

Race :

Raikkonen got a fine for speeding on his way to the grid. C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyres available for the race.

At the start of the race, Vettel and Raikkonen were on used mediums, along with Norris Q2 set ), while Tsunoda started on the soft tyres from the Q2 session. While Ocon opted for the softs, the rest outside the top 10 were on the mediums.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for the top 4 drivers. Going into turn one, Verstappen was abreast with Bottas and Hamilton and made a move on the outside to take the lead of the race! Bottas got overtaken by Hamilton at turn one for P2 but got spun around by Ricciardo, who locked up his brakes and failed to slow down. Subsequently, Ricciardo lost his front wing. The incident caused a couple of drivers to go off track, with Perez holding off Gasly for P3. Ocon got sandwiched between Tsunoda and Schumacher. The trio made contact, and Tsunoda and Schumacher's race came to a premature end. There was debris strewn across the track, and the Safety Car got deployed.

Giovinazzi was up to P6, Russell up to P9, Mazepin P11 and Ocon P14 despite an eventful opening lap. Ricciardo and Bottas pitted for hard tyres ( and front wing for Ricciardo ) under the Safety Car ( lap 2 ). 

Racing resumed on lap 5, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen again. Sainz got past Giovinazzi for P5, Alonso overtook Mazepin for P11, Norris relegated Ocon to P14, and Ricciardo got the better of Bottas for P17. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Russell and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 7.

Verstappen was the fastest man on the track and began to extend his lead to Hamilton. Meanwhile, Raikkonen got past Russell for P9, and Norris relegated Latifi to P14 on lap 9. Alonso bumped Russell out of the points on lap 10. Norris got past Mazepin for P12, while Latifi lost P15 to Stroll on lap 11. 

Latifi pitted for hard tyres on lap 12 and rejoined in P18. Stroll followed suit a lap later and managed to fend off Latifi. More pit stops followed with Mazepin, Ocon, Russell and Giovinazzi switching to hard tyres ( laps 14 to 17 ). Red Bull informed Perez that they were switching to "Plan B". At the front, Verstappen was 8 seconds clear of Hamilton and in total control.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Norris were the top 10 on lap 24. 

The pit window was open for those on a one-stop strategy. Bottas stuck behind Ricciardo in the battle for P11, tried to pressure the Australian but got rebuffed. Meanwhile, Red Bull asked Perez to reduce the gap to Hamilton. Hamilton pitted for hard tyres on lap 30 and rejoined in P5 but lost track position to Leclerc. However, Hamilton lost minimal time with Leclerc pitting ( for hard tyres ) a lap later. Hamilton was the fastest man on track as Gasly pitted for hards and rejoined in P7 ( lap 32 ). Meanwhile, Leclerc got past Alonso for P8.

Raikkonen pitted for hard tyres on lap 33, rejoining in P10. Red Bull covered off Hamilton's early stop by pitting Verstappen for hard tyres on lap 34. The Dutchman rejoined in P2, and Perez inherited the lead of the race. Perez was leading his home race, inviting big cheers by the fans across the track. The Mexican was happy to extend his stint on the medium tyres. 

The Aston Martin duo of Vettel and Stroll pitted for hard and medium tyres, respectively. It was a slow stop for Stroll ( 6.7 seconds ). Bottas tried to pressure Ricciardo for P11 again, but the Australian didn't relent. However, Ricciardo pitted for medium tyres on lap 39 ( his 2nd stop ), which released Bottas into clear air. Ocon got past Russell for P14, while Alonso pitted for hard tyres on lap 40. 

Perez finally pitted for hard tyres on lap 41, rejoining in P3 behind Hamilton. Hamilton asked his race engineer about Verstappen's lap times, requesting information about the corners where the latter was quicker. Further down the field, Bottas, who had been in clear air for a couple of laps, pitted for medium tyres on lap 42. However, a slow swap on the left front tyre left him stationary for 11.7 seconds, and the Finn rejoined the race a lowly 15th. 

Perez was the fastest man on track as Sainz pitted for hard tyres on lap 43. Meanwhile, Bottas got past Russell for P14. Norris was the only driver yet to make a pit stop, and the Briton finally switched to hard tyres on lap 45, rejoining in P10. Bottas continued his recovery with an overtake on Ocon for P13 ( lap 47 ). Meanwhile, in the battle for P2, Perez continued to set blistering lap times and reduced the deficit to Hamilton to 6 seconds.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Norris were the top 10 at the end of lap 51.

Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race on lap 53. Meanwhile, Ricciardo and Bottas had closed up on Giovinazzi in the battle for P11. Ferrari asked Leclerc to swap positions with Sainz while Stroll got past Russell for P15. 

Perez was now only 2.5 seconds behind Hamilton, and the duo was closing up on backmarkers. Ferrari swapped the driver positions on lap 58, and Sainz began to hunt down Gasly in P4. With Hamilton having to negotiate his way through the backmarkers, Perez gained faster than expected and was within the DRS range of the Briton. Hamilton finally got some respite on lap 63 as he pulled a second out on Perez.

Meanwhile, Mercedes pitted Bottas for soft tyres on lap 65 to rob the point for the fastest lap from Verstappen. The Finn got released into Verstappen's path and got impeded by the latter on his first attempt. Bottas then unlapped himself, and Verstappen made his displeasure known over team radio. Eventually, Bottas got instructions to allow Verstappen through and pitted him again on lap 70. This time, Bottas had a clear track to push for the fastest lap. 

Perez was within DRS range of Hamilton on the final lap but couldn't close up enough to overtake. Meanwhile, Leclerc got handed back P5 by Sainz after the latter failed to challenge Gasly. Bottas overtook Russell and bagged the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. He also set a new track record.

Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the Mexican GP! Hamilton had to settle for P2, with Perez completing the podium finishers in P3. It was the first time a Mexican had finished on the podium at his home race, and celebrations broke out on Parc Ferme.

A stellar drive by Gasly saw him finish P4, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Vettel was P7 for Aston Martin, followed by Raikkonen in P8. Alonso and Norris completed the top 10.

Giovinazzi was P11 in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Ricciardo, Ocon and Stroll. Poleman Bottas finished a dismal P15, followed by Russell, Latifi and Mazepin, who completed the race classification.

It was a hattrick of wins for Verstappen and Red Bull at Mexico, the Dutchman having extended his lead to 19 points in the Drivers' Championship. His race-winning overtake on the opening lap was also a pivotal moment in his title fight with Hamilton. Perez's P3 sent the fans at his home race into a frenzy. The Mexican did well to extend his stint on the medium tyres but ran out of time to challenge Hamilton for P2. More importantly, Red Bull now trailed Mercedes by a mere point in the Constructors' standings. The Milton-Keynes outfit had turned it around after a disappointing Saturday. 

Bottas was unfortunate to be bumped out of contention by Ricciardo on the opening lap. The Finn never recovered and finished a dismal P15. Questions would be raised in the debrief about how Verstappen got a clean run into turn one on both the Mercedes cars and whether Bottas adopted the right line or not. No driver had won the Mexican GP from pole position, and the trend continued. As for Hamilton, P2 was the best result on Sunday. The Briton had no answer for Verstappen's pace, having to fend off a challenge by Perez as well near the end of the race. With a front-row lockout on Saturday, Mercedes had hoped for a better showing on Sunday. The battle for the Constructors was wide open.

Gasly's P4 brought Alpha Tauri level on points with Alpine, with the latter placed higher due to Ocon's victory at Hungary. It was yet another stellar performance by Gasly, who still harbours hopes of a call-up to the Red Bull A-team one day. As for Tsunoda, a first lap contact with Ocon led to his retirement from the race. Tsunoda's contribution ( in the last four races ) needed to be as substantial as Gasly's if Alpha Tauri wished to finish in P5 at the end of the season.

An 18 points haul by Leclerc and Sainz saw Ferrari leapfrog McLaren in the Constructor standings. P5 and P6 were that the Ferrari duo could manage, and their efforts allowed Ferrari to open a 13.5 point lead over McLaren. Ferrari was going through a resurgence of sorts and now looked "the best of the rest".

Vettel made the most of his start from the top 10, finishing a commendable P7 for Aston Martin. It was an eventful race for Stroll, but the Canadian lacked the pace to charge through the field. Stroll's efforts yielded only P14. Nevertheless, Vettel's P7 gave Aston Martin six points against Alpine's twoAlthough the deficit to Alpine and Alpha Tauri is still 38 points, Aston Martin remains committed in their fight for a position higher than P7 in the Constructors. 

Raikkonen produced a stellar drive in P8 to give Alfa Romeo 4 points from the weekend, reducing the deficit to Williams to 12 points. However, Alfa Romeo made a strategic howler with Giovinazzi's race. The Italian was running in P6 until Alfa Romeo called him in for an early stop. On rejoining, Giovinazzi got stuck behind Ricciardo and Bottas, which put him out of contention for the top 10. Nevertheless, the Italian recovered to P11, and it was a day of "what could have been" had it not been for the blunder from the Alfa Romeo pit wall. This result ( like many others earlier ) will haunt Alfa Romeo if they fail to beat Williams at the end of the season.

P9 was the best result that Alonso could manage in an Alpine that looked to struggle all weekend. The Spaniard also had a slow pit stop, which prevented him from challenging Raikkonen for P8. As for Ocon, his accidents with Tsunoda and Schumacher on the opening lap compromised his race. It was a humbling weekend for Alpine, who are now ahead of Alpha Tauri only due to Ocon's win in Hungary. They cannot afford more mediocrity in the final four races if they wish to hold onto P5 in the Constructors.

McLaren had a weekend to forget in Mexico. While Ricciardo's mistake on the opening lap took him out of contention for points, Norris could only manage P10 after his charge from the back of the grid. The decision to pit as late as lap 45 didn't pay off for Norris in the end. The Woking-based outfit was faltering in the fight for P3 in the Constructors against a resurgent Ferrari. They could ill afford another Mexico in the final four races.

Despite making positions at the start, Russell and Latifi went backwards in the race. Eventually, they finished P16 and P17, remaining quicker only against Haas. As for Haas F1, Schumacher's hopes of a strong finish ended with a collision on the opening lap. Mazepin was as high as P11 but went backwards like the Williams duo in the race. Haas is yet to score a point in 2021, and it seems highly unlikely that their fortunes will change at the business end of the season.

Mexico had been a fortress for Verstappen and Red Bull in the past, and they ensured that it stayed that way. Hamilton and Mercedes faced an uphill task playing the chasers, something they hadn't experienced before in the turbo era. With Hamilton yet to take an engine penalty, the possibility of New Champions getting crowned seemed plausible. 

Would there be another shift in the title fight, or would the odds favour Verstappen and Red Bull even more after the Brazilian GP, which was less than a weekend away? Time would reveal all.

Until then, Verstappen could bask in the glory of yet another famous and flawless Mexican GP victory!

2021 US GP Race Recap : The Bulls rage on in the Texan Sun!

Circuit of the Americas, also known as COTA, played host to the 2021 United States Grand Prix. The race made a return to the F1 calendar after a hiatus of two years. The circuit, one of the few anti-clockwise tracks on the F1 calendar, boasts a 30.6m elevation change along with some fast flowing corners.

Leading up to the Grand Prix weekend, the F1 world was abuzz with a host of updates. The FOM announced a 23 race calendar for 2022, with the season opener in Bahrain followed by Saudi Arabia. F1 and NBA announced a "content and promotion partnership" for the US GP weekend. The tie-up was also to celebrate 75 years of NBA. 

F3 racer Logan Sargeant joined the Williams Driver Acadamey as part of a long-term agreement. 

Aston Martin and Williams decided to give Vettel and Russell a new engine unit. As a result, the duo would start the race from the back of the grid. Despite taking a 5th ICE, Mercedes deemed it necessary to opt for a 6th unit on Bottas' car, which resulted in a five-place grid drop for the race.

Mercedes had brought in upgrades and hoped to help Hamilton overturn the six points deficit to Verstappen. Likewise, Ferrari looked to jump McLaren in the standings. How did the teams and drivers fare at one of the most demanding circuits on the F1 calendar?

Time for a recap of the US GP weekend!

Practice :

FP1 got underway, and Alonso's Alpine ground to a halt at turn 12. The session got Red Flagged briefly. Thankfully, the Spaniard returned in the latter half of the session. Leclerc lost the rear of his Ferrari through turn five and had a trip across the gravel. It was an eventful session for the Haas duo, with Mazepin suffering a spin at turn 19 and Schumacher banging wheels with Perez at 12. While Raikkonen suffered from a spin at turn 9, Giovinazzi had to pit for a helmet change. Track limits got enforced at turns 9 and 19, and there were several time deletions.

Bottas topped the timesheets, five-hundredths clear of Hamilton in P2. Verstappen was P3, followed by the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Sainz. Gasly was P6 for Alpha Tauri, with Perez and Norris P7 and P8, respectively. The Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen completed the top 10. 

Russell was P11 for Williams. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel split the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso in P12 and P13. Ricciardo was P16 in the other McLaren, followed by Latifi and Tsunoda. The Haas duo of Schumacher and Mazepin brought up the rear of the field.

It was time for Free Practice 2, and the teams began their race simulation runs in full earnest. Hamilton and Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel at turn one, which compromised the latter's timed lap. Verstappen made his displeasure known over team radio. Norris had a troublesome FP2; the Briton had to pit to address an issue on the left-hand side of his cockpit. He then suffered a lock-up at turn 11, which flat-spotted his mediums. However, he recovered to set the 2nd quickest time! Alonso lost a portion of his rear wing endplate after suffering from a spin at turn 19. Hamilton, like several others, had his lap time deleted after exceeding the track limits at turn 19.

It was Perez who ended FP2 the quickest, from Norris and Hamilton. Bottas was P4 in the other Mercedes, followed by Ricciardo and Stroll. Verstappen split the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz in P8, while Giovinazzi completed the top 10 in his Alfa Romeo.

Gasly split the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso in P12, followed by Raikkonen, Vettel and Tsunoda. Schumacher was P17 for Haas, with the Williams of Latifi and Russell P18 and P19. Mazepin finished P20 at the back of the field.

COTA had never been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull, but the Milton-Keynes based outfit displayed competitive pace in the race simulations. As for Mercedes, both Hamilton and Bottas were consistent with their lap times. Ferrari seemed to have a better race pace than McLaren, but the latter edged them out on low fuel runs.

Alpine announced that Alonso would take his 4th Power Unit of the season, which sent him to the back of the grid for the Grand Prix.

The final Practice session ( FP3 ) got underway, and it was time to prepare for Qualifying. While Bottas suffered a spin at turn 7, Hamilton ran wide at turn 9, which resulted in his lap time getting deleted. Verstappen set the quickest time of FP3 but, like Hamilton, exceeded track limits at turn 19 and had his lap time deleted. A spin at turn 5 resulted in Russell flat-spotting his soft tyres.

Perez topped the timesheets again from Sainz and Verstappen. Norris was P4 for McLaren, followed by the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton and teammate Ricciardo. Gasly, Leclerc and Ocon completed the top 10. 

Vettel was P11 for Aston Martin, while Raikkonen split the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P13. Giovinazzi was P14 in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Stroll and Alonso. Tsunoda, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

Qualifying :

The track had gotten bumpier, and Red Bull discovered a hairline crack on the rear wing of Verstappen's car. The mechanics replaced it and got the car ready for Qualifying. There was a 40% chance of rain in the session, and the stands were full of fans waiting for the lights to go green for Qualifying.

Q1 got underway, and everyone chose the soft tyres for their first runs. Mazepin got his lap time deleted after exceeding the track limits at turn 19 and then ended up impeding Vettel on a quick lap, attracting the ire of the German. Mazepin was on the receiving end when Stroll got into his way on a flying lap. Both incidents got written off by the stewards. Meanwhile, Raikkonen and Stroll suffered lap deletions after exceeding the track limits at turn 19.

Ricciardo, Verstappen, Norris, Sainz, Perez and Bottas were the top 6 at the end of the first runs, with Alonso, Latifi, Schumacher, Raikkonen and Mazepin facing elimination.

Ricciardo, Norris and Sainz decided to stay put while the rest of the field headed out onto the track for their final runs of Q1. The Mercedes duo chose a used set of soft tyres for their second attempt. Giovinazzi got spun around after exiting turn one, which briefly brought out the yellow flags. The Alfa Romeo driver fell backwards and was on the cusp of elimination in P15. However, he made it into Q2. Stroll, Latifi, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin got eliminated, with Leclerc, Verstappen and Perez ending Q1 as the top 3. 

The front runners had preserved their medium tyres for Q2. Both the drivers at Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull chose the mediums while Ferrari split strategies by giving Sainz the soft tyres and Leclerc the mediums. While Tsunoda, Russell and Alonso chose a used set of soft tyres, Gasly and Ocon opted for the mediums. Vettel and Giovinazzi decided to stay put and planned a single attempt. With mixed tyres choices across the field, Q2 promised to be an exciting affair. 

Ricciardo and Perez had their lap times deleted after exceeding the track limits at turn 9 and 19. Russell, too, suffered a similar fate. Halfway through the session, Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Leclerc, Bottas and Sainz were the top 6, while Perez, Ricciardo, Russell, Vettel and Giovinazzi were in the drop zone. Those in the drop zone were yet to set a representative lap. 

Perez decided to head out early on a new set of medium tyres and managed only the 7th quickest time. Meanwhile, Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc and Bottas chose to not run again in Q2. The Alpha Tauri drivers and Vettel chose a fresh set of softs, Alonso the used while the others persisted with the mediums. Russell suffered from a lap time deletion after he exceeded track limits at turn 9. 

The following drivers went through to Q3 - Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Leclerc, Bottas, Sainz, Perez, Gasly, Ricciardo and Tsunoda. 

Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Alonso and Russell got eliminated.

It was time for the final shootout ( Q3 ), and the Alpha Tauri drivers chose a used set of softs for their first timed laps. At the end of the first runs, Perez was the quickest driver, a hundredth clear of Verstappen with Bottas and Hamilton in P3 and P4. Halfway through Q3, the classification was two-by-twos; first, the Red Bulls, followed by the Mercedes and the Ferraris and then the  McLarens and the Alpha Tauris.

Everyone exited the pits on a new set of soft tyres. McLaren informed Norris that light rain would hit the circuit ( at turn 1 ) near the end of Qualifying. On their final attempts, Bottas failed to improve in sectors one and two. Hamilton went purple in sector two, Verstappen in one, while Perez set personal best sector times. 

Verstappen bagged pole position from Hamilton! Hamilton finished in P2, two-tenths adrift of the Dutchman. Perez had excessive wheelspin at the end and had to settle for P3. Although Bottas set the 4th quickest time, his penalty dropped him down to P9. Leclerc inherited P4, with teammate Sainz in P5 for Ferrari. The McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris were P6 and P7, while Gasly took the other spot on row 4 in P8. Row 5 got occupied by Bottas and Tsunoda. 

Red Bull finally found the sweet spot at COTA and seemed to have the measure of their rivals on Sunday. Verstappen produced a stellar lap and extracted the best out of his car. Although Hamilton was alongside him on the front row, Red Bull had Perez in P3 to play the perfect support role to his teammate. Perez had been strong all weekend, and P3 was a great starting position to launch a two vs one attack on Hamilton. 

As for Hamilton and Mercedes, the Briton had struggled with grip levels throughout Qualifying. Hamilton cut a dejected figure as he made his way back to the pits and knew that he had to dig deep if he hoped to outdo Verstappen. He had been the most successful driver at COTA and had the experience to turn his fortunes come Sunday. Meanwhile, Bottas, down in P9, had his work cut out for race day. Thankfully, with the myriad overtaking opportunities on offer, recovering to a satisfactory result was possible for Bottas. Reliability, however, remained the biggest concern for Mercedes.

Ferrari continued their resurgence, outperforming McLaren on Saturday. However, Sainz was at a disadvantage after having set his best lap in Q2 on soft tyres. Tyre preservation in the first stint was paramount for his chances of a strong result. Ferrari needed to make the right strategic calls if they hoped to outscore and reduce the deficit to McLaren. 

The McLaren duo of Ricciardo and Norris was right behind the Ferrari drivers on the grid. Both Ricciardo and Norris would start on the medium tyres, putting them at an advantage against Sainz ( if not Leclerc ). McLaren had had two humbling race weekends and needed to turn things around in the Championship to cement their hold on P3.

Alpha Tauri had reason to rejoice after seeing both its drivers in the top 10 again. Tsunoda had stepped up his performances and made another Q3 appearance, his second consecutive one. The consistency that Gasly had displayed throughout the season had given Alpha Tauri much encouragement. With Alpine and Aston Martin having one of their drivers at the back of the grid ( due to penalties ), COTA presented Alpha Tauri with a golden opportunity to outscore the rivals in their quest for P5 in the Constructors.  

P11 was the best that Ocon could manage despite the tows provided by Alonso in both Q1 and Q2. Alonso, meanwhile, with his engine penalty, would start P19. Both drivers had the luxury of a free tyre choice, and Ocon was Alpine's best hope to score points on the weekend. As for Alonso, the Spaniard faced a long Sunday afternoon as he tried to charge through the back of the pack. 

Aston Martin found themselves in a similar situation to Alpine. While Stroll managed a disappointing P13, Vettel would start P18 after his engine penalty. The team had produced commendable race strategies in the past, yet points finishes had eluded at least one driver. Aston Martin couldn't afford mediocrity on race day. 

Giovinazzi won the intra-team battle in Qualifying against Raikkonen for 2021. However, the latter has been the more consistent of the two on race day. With the 2nd seat still up for grabs at Alfa Romeo, Giovinazzi will be aiming to get into the top 10 and add more points to his season tally. As for Raikkonen, he has all to do on Sunday from P15. 

Williams will be hoping for a trouble-free weekend for both its drivers. Russell starts P20 after his engine penalty while Latifi is in P14. The Grove-based outfit will be hoping to capitalize on the slip-ups of those ahead to extract something fruitful from the weekend. As for Haas F1, P16 and P17 are good starting points, but the cars lack the pace to sustain a credible challenge. However, the team would be hoping for a decent showing at their home race.

Race :

Clear skies and hot weather greeted the drivers on race day. Alpha Tauri detected a sensor issue on Gasly's car, and the mechanics quickly replaced it on the grid.

C2, C3 and C4 were the tyre compounds available for the Grand Prix. Outside the top 10, Ocon and Vettel started the race on a used set of mediums while the others had fresh sets available.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for both Verstappen and Hamilton. However, Hamilton had reacted slightly quicker to the lights and gained momentum into turn one. Verstappen tried to cut him off, but Hamilton refused to back out. Eventually, Hamilton took the lead of the race while Verstappen got pushed off into the runoff. The Dutchman rejoined the track and would have gotten relegated to P3, but Perez backed out of the challenge. Further down the field, Latifi clipped the back of Stroll's car, which sent the latter into a spin and left the duo at the back of the pack.

Sainz and Ricciardo went wheel-to-wheel in the battle for P5, and as the duo bickered, Norris tried to take advantage down the back straight. Sainz got boxed into a McLaren sandwich and had to cede position to Ricciardo. Meanwhile, the Alfa Romeo duo of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen was up to P11 and P12, respectively. Vettel and Alonso had moved up to P14 and P15.

Verstappen was the quickest man on track as he tried to maintain pressure on Hamilton. Meanwhile, Bottas tried to challenge Tsunoda for P8 but lost P9 to Gasly instead on lap 3. Ocon had suffered front wing endplate damage on the opening lap after contact with Giovinazzi and had to pit on lap 4. The Frenchman switched to hard tyres and rejoined in P20. Latifi also pitted for a new front wing and hard tyres on lap six and managed to stay ahead of Ocon after exiting from the pits. 

Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Tsunoda, Gasly and Bottas were the top 10 at the end of lap 7.

Meanwhile, Alonso and Giovinazzi pitted on laps 8 and 9, Alonso switching to the hards while Giovinazzi opted for the mediums again. On the track, Vettel got past Russell for P12. Tsunoda and Russell pitted for hard tyres on lap 10, rejoining in P14 and P17. Verstappen, Norris and Gasly followed suit a lap later. Verstappen had built a considerable gap to the rest of the field and rejoined behind Ricciardo in P5. He then overtook Ricciardo and began to set blistering lap times. Further down the field, Tsnuoda overtook Gasly and Schumacher to bag P12. 

Ricciardo and Sainz pitted for hard tyres on lap 12, rejoining in P7 and P9. Norris got past Stroll for P12, while Ocon overtook Schumacher for P18 on lap 12. Lap 13 saw Perez and Raikkonen pit for medium tyres and Leclerc for hards. Perez rejoined the race in P3, Leclerc in P5 and Raikkonen in P15. Meanwhile, Vettel got relegated to P9 by Sainz and Norris. Verstappen was now the fastest driver on the track as Hamilton got called in by Mercedes for a switch to the hard tyres. The Briton rejoined the race in P2, 6 seconds behind Verstappen. 

Gasly reported a rear suspension issue and had to retire from the race on lap 15. Meanwhile, Mercedes asked Bottas to push as they prepared for his pit stop on lap 16. The Finn switched to hard tyres, rejoining in P11. Raikkonen got side-by-side with Alonso in the battle for P13, and the duo made contact at turn one. Raikkonen muscled past Alonso but suffered floor damage to his car. A livid Alonso alleged that Raikkonen had completed an overtake off the racing line, but the stewards saw the overtake as legitimate and refused to investigate further. Vettel pitted for the medium tyres on lap 18 and rejoined in P15.

Stroll lost two positions to Tsunoda and Bottas and pitted immediately after for a fresh set of mediums on lap 19. The Canadian rejoined behind his teammate Vettel in P15. Meanwhile, Raikkonen was lapping quicker than Giovinazzi, and the team ordered a position swap ( for P10 ) on lap 19. Bottas, after several attempts, finally got past Tsunoda for P8. Giovinazzi got relegated to P12 by Alonso on lap 21, but it was an illegal overtake as the latter drove off the track and gained an advantage. The stewards instructed Alonso to return the place to Giovinazzi, and he complied with their request on lap 24. Alonso returned for bout two, and this time, Giovinazzi took to the runoff while defending P11. It was his turn to receive instructions to cede P11 to Alonso. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Bottas, Tsunoda and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 26. 

Mazepin switched to the medium tyres on lap 26, while Vettel got past Russell for P13. Latifi and Giovinazzi pitted for hard tyres, while Ocon for the mediums, a lap later. The stewards decided to deploy the Virtual Safety Car as a marshall cleared debris off the track. The period was a brief one. 

At the front, Hamilton was honing in on Verstappen and had reduced the deficit to 3 seconds ( lap 29 ). Ferrari informed Leclerc that the hard tyres were lasting longer than anticipated. Verstappen made the second stop of his race on lap 30, taking on a fresh set of hard tyres. Alonso did likewise and rejoined in P14. Sainz pitted next for new hard tyres but got held up due to a slow right rear swap. The Spaniard rejoined in P8. On the track, Verstappen got past teammate Perez for P2. McLaren, having seen Sainz's pit stop, instructed Ricciardo to push to effect the overcut. It was mission accomplished for McLaren and Ricciardo as he pitted on lap 31. However, Norris wasn't able to jump Sainz after the team opted to double-stack its drivers.

The second round of pit stops continued with Raikkonen and Russell pitting for hard tyres and rejoining in P12 and P16. Leclerc's switch to the hard tyres on lap 33 was perfect timing as the Monegasque rejoined in P4, just ahead of Bottas. Perez was the fastest man on track as Tsunoda pitted for hard tyres and had to fend off a challenge by Raikkonen for P11 after rejoining the race. Stroll fell back to P12 after getting overtaken by Tsunoda and Raikkonen and pitted for hard tyres on lap 36. Bottas, too, switched to a fresh set of hard tyres, rejoining in P7. 

Mercedes tried to extend Hamilton's stint to give him fresher tyres near the end of the race. The Briton pitted for his 2nd stop on lap 38, rejoining almost 9 seconds adrift of Verstappen. Further down the field, Vettel and Alonso switched to the hards and the mediums on laps 39 and 40.

Hamilton was the quickest man on track and reduced the deficit to Verstappen to 6 seconds. A mechanical issue on Ocon's car led to his retirement on lap 42. Mazepin and Raikkonen got served Black and White flags for exceeding track limits during the race. Meanwhile, Alonso got past Stroll for P13.

Sainz had closed up on Ricciardo and began to pressure him for P5. On lap 42, the duo made contact, and Sainz suffered damage to the endplate of his front wing. The gap at the front was down to 1.9 seconds as Hamilton continued to lap faster than Verstappen. 

Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Sainz, Bottas, Norris, Tsunoda and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 48.

Stroll got served a Black and White flag for exceeding track limits on lap 49, and Alonso had to retire his Alpine after discovering that his rear wing broke ( lap 51 ). Meanwhile, Vettel relegated Giovinazzi to P12 and now had Raikkonen in his sights. A rare error by Raikkonen sent his car into a spin and through the gravel. The Finn fell out of the points and down to P12 ( lap 53 ). The battle for P6 was hotting as Bottas closed in on Sainz. Despite a couple of failed attempts, the Finn finally got past on the penultimate lap. After his trip across the gravel on lap 53, Raikkonen's tyres got destroyed, and Stroll caught up to him and relegated him to P13.

At the front, Hamilton was within one second of Verstappen as he tried to make one last attempt for the race victory. Verstappen managed to maintain the gap and took the win at the US GP! Hamilton had to settle for 2nd. Perez finished the race in P3, completing a double podium for Red Bull.  P4 was the best that Leclerc could manage in his Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo and Bottas in the other Mercedes. Sainz had to settle for P7, followed by Norris, Tsunoda and Vettel, who completed the top 10.

Stroll split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P12, with the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P14 and P15, respectively. Schumacher and Mazepin completed the 17 classified finishers. 

It was another double podium finish for Red Bull and Honda's first victory on American soil! More importantly, Verstappen emerged victorious, extending his lead over Hamilton to 12 points in the Drivers Championship. Verstappen displayed stellar skills at tyre management, which helped him keep Hamilton at bay in the end. Perez finished a commendable P3, having completed the entire race without his drinks system in operation. It had been a challenging weekend, but Red Bull and Verstappen had broken Mercedes dominance at COTA. The aggressive strategy adopted by the team paid dividends. The team also managed to outscore Mercedes and reduce the deficit to 23 points in the Constructors. 

Another tactical error by Mercedes cost Hamilton a shot at victory. While the team wanted to give Hamilton fresher tyres at the end, they pitted him too late. However, Hamilton managed to grab the point for the fastest lap in addition to the 18 from P2 in the race. Despite having the best straight-line speed, Bottas struggled with his overtakes, and P6 was the maximum that he could extract on race day. The Finn also saw his lead cut to 35 points in the fight for P3 in the Championship. Reliability remained Mercedes' Achilles heel. 

Leclerc drove a lonely race in P4 but brought home a valuable points haul for Ferrari. Although Sainz had the pace to produce a better result, he had to settle for P7. Ferrari outscored McLaren by 4 points, reducing the deficit to 3.5 points. The Italian outfit was going through a resurgence and needed to carry the same momentum into the final five races.

P5 and P8 are what Ricciardo and Norris had to show for their efforts. Having started P6 and P7, the duo would have hoped to fare better. Norris lost P4 in the Championship to Perez, and his hopes of finishing third were slowly fading away. Ricciardo had newfound momentum since the summer break and was performing at comparable levels to Norris. His duel with Sainz allowed Leclerc to pull away. Nevertheless, McLaren got 14 valuable points from its drivers, still holding onto P3 in the Constructors, albeit by a mere 3.5 points. They needed to outperform their archrivals in the upcoming rounds.

Tsunoda produced a commendable drive in P9, bringing home 2 points for Alpha Tauri. The team was in contention for double points finish until Gasly's suspension failure. Despite the disappointment of a driver DNF, they managed to outscore Alpine, edging closer to the P5 spot in the standings. They now trailed Alpine by only 10 points. 

Aston Martin would have left COTA without a point had it not been for Raikkonen's error on lap 53. Vettel, however, took full advantage and held on to P10 at the end to ensure that Aston Martin didn't leave empty-handed. Stroll's race got compromised at the first turn of the opening lap, and the Canadian had to fight for scraps at the end of the day. Aston Martin trails Alpha Tauri by 32 points and needs a miracle to overturn that deficit.

Mechanical failures put both Ocon and Alonso out of the race. It was a forgettable weekend for Alpine, and it was back to the drawing board for the Enstone-based outfit. They couldn't afford any more slip-ups, especially with Alpha Tauri now within striking distance.

It was a case of "so near yet so far" for Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen was on course for a P10 finish when an uncharacteristic error bumped him out of the points. Giovinazzi, despite his heroics on Saturday, had his race compromised after the early stop. The Italian finished a commendable P11, showcasing good defensive skills against the more experienced contenders. Alfa Romeo has suffered from missed opportunities in 2021, and with five races remaining, the possibility of catching Williams seems bleak.

Russell and Latifi finished P14 and P15, capping off another disappointing showing by Williams. The team's travails in race-spec seem unending. They still have a 16 point cushion to Alfa Romeo. Nevertheless, the car's issues need addressing at the earliest. The Haas duo of Schumacher and Mazepin managed to complete another race and add more miles to their racing CV. Haas remains the only team yet to score a point in 2021, and it would be prudent to shift focus to 2022.

Red Bull and Verstappen had broken Mercedes' streak of dominance at COTA. Verstappen produced a stellar drive, and Red Bull pulled off a masterstroke with their strategy calls. The team is purpose-driven to claim top honours in both the Drivers and the Constructors. Mercedes powered cars face difficulties with the lower temperatures seen in Mexico, the next race on the F1 calendar.

Will we see Verstappen and Co emerge victorious in Mexico, or will Hamilton hit back with purpose in the 2nd race on the American subcontinent? Time will reveal all!

Until then, kudos to Red Bull and Verstappen for yet another race day masterclass! 

2021 Turkish GP Race Recap : The Flawless Finn in Fickle weather!

The 2021 F1 Season originally featured a 23 race calendar. However, with the world still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Formula One management faced challenges in adhering to the original schedule. The Japanese GP was one such race that got cancelled due to the Quarantine protocols of the country. As a result, the hunt began for a replacement, and it was Turkey that came to the sport's rescue. After a hiatus of 9 years, the circuit got included in 2020, and come 2021, Istanbul Park hosted the 2nd "fly-away" event of the revised F1 Calendar.

The Hermann Tilke designed circuit was another track that ran in an anti-clockwise direction and offered several overtaking opportunities. Ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone dubbed it "the best track in the world". The changeable weather conditions had produced a humdinger of a GP in 2020. Hamilton got crowned the World Champion at this track, equalling the record of 7 world titles in 2020. While the weather forecast stated mixed conditions for the race in 2021, the Championship battle remained an open affair, be it the Drivers or the Constructors.

In the week leading up to the Turkish GP weekend, the FOM added Losail International Circuit ( Qatar ) to the 2021 calendar. Qatar also bagged a ten-year deal to host F1 races from 2023. 

While Japan got replaced by Turkey, it didn't prevent Red Bull from running "special White liveried" cars on both the teams ( Red Bull and Alpha Tauri ) as a tribute to engine supplier Honda. Red Bull and Honda also announced a collaboration beyond F1 from 2022. The Japanese manufacturer also offered its support to "Red Bull Powertrains" for 2022.

Meanwhile, Mercedes saw it wise to give Hamilton a 4th ICE ( Internal Combustion Engine ) for the Turkish GP weekend. As a result, the Briton got a ten-place grid penalty for the race. As for Sainz, the Spaniard opted for a completely new Power Unit, which relegated him to the back of the grid for the race. 

In an attempt to improve safety in the sport, the FIA asked Hamilton, Vettel, Sainz, Russell and Ricciardo to trial prototype gloves ( on Friday ) that featured better protection from heat.

Reliability was the biggest concern for the front running teams. With the season nearing its business end, the struggle to extend the shelf life of the components raged on.

Was there another twist in the title fight? Did the special livery give Red Bull and Honda a memorable weekend? Was Hamilton able to limit the effect of his grid penalty? Time for a recap of the Turkish GP weekend!

Practice :

Clear skies greeted the drivers at the start of FP1. Kimi Raikkonen, the first Turkish GP winner, had two lap times deleted after exceeding the track limits at turn 6. While Verstappen complained about low grip levels on the soft tyres, Leclerc looked competitive in his Ferrari. However, it was Hamilton who topped the timesheets, four-tenths clear of Verstappen and Leclerc. Bottas was P4 in the other Mercedes, followed by Sainz and Ocon. Ocon had set his best attempt on the hard tyres, which suggested that the Alpines looked set for a strong weekend. Likewise, his teammate Alonso set his quickest lap on the medium tyres. Norris was P7 for McLaren, followed by Gasly, Alonso and Perez, who completed the top 10.

Russell led the lower half of the field, with Ricciardo and Vettel P12 and P13, respectively. Latifi split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P15, while P17 was the best that Stroll could manage in the other Aston Martin car. The back of the field got completed by Tsunoda, Schumacher and Mazepin.

FP2 got underway, and with the track rubbered in from FP1, lap times began to improve. Bottas suffered a lock-up at turn one while Norris went over the kerbs at nine and ten. Drivers jostled for track position, and Stroll caused a traffic jam, much to the displeasure of Alonso. Hamilton, too, had to take avoiding action. While Latifi got spun around at turn 9, Raikkonen had issues with his drinks system, which left him stuck in the garage for a considerable time. Gasly complained about his seat positioning and suffered a spin at turn 6, which flat-spotted his tyres. Mazepin suffered a similar fate, destroying his mediums at turn eight. Post FP2, Ocon's Alpine broke down while performing a practice start on the grid.

It was Hamilton again at the top of the timesheets, a tenth clear of Leclerc and Bottas. The Red Bulls of Perez and Verstappen were P4 and P5, with Norris completing the top 6. Alonso and Ocon were 7th and 8th for Alpine, followed by the Alpha Tauri of Gasly and the Alfa Romeo of Giovinazzi. 

Tsunoda was P11 in the other Alpha Tauri, with Sainz and Stroll P12 and P13, respectively. 14th was the best that Ricciardo managed in FP2, followed by Raikkonen and Vettel. The Williams of Latifi and Russell and the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.

Mercedes had a strong showing on Friday, while Red Bull struggled with setup issues. Ferrari, too, looked competitive and seemed to have a measure of rivals McLaren. Saturday promised to be another busy day for the teams and the drivers as they prepped the cars for Qualifying and then the Grand Prix. 

Rain hit the circuit overnight and in the early hours of the morning. As a result, FP3 saw wet weather conditions. While some drivers waited for conditions to improve, others decided to take to the track and gather data under changeable weather. Tsunoda was the first man out in FP3, followed by Gasly, who suffered a spin at turn 11. With increased grip levels, it became evident that the intermediates were the better tyres for the remainder of the session. However, Mazepin suffered a spin at turn 11, while Russell went surfing through the grass at turn two and beached his Williams in the gravel. As a result, the session got briefly Red Flagged. Turns nine and ten had standing water, and slip-ups by Leclerc, Vettel and Verstappen cost them a spin. Tsunoda got impeded by Perez on a flying lap while Alonso had a trip through the gravel.

It was Honda power in the top 3, with Gasly topping the timesheets from Verstappen and Perez. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were P4 and P5, followed by Alonso and Raikkonen. Tsunoda, Bottas and Ocon completed the top 10.

Giovinazzi was P11 in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Vettel and Schumacher. The McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris were P14 and P15, respectively, with Stroll setting the 16th quickest time in his Aston Martin. Mazepin was P17 in the other Haas, while Hamilton was P18, having spent the majority of FP3 in the garage. The Williams of Latifi and Russell completed the rear of the field.

Qualifying :

The skies were overcast, and the risk of rain was at 100%. Post FP3, the track still had damp patches off the racing line. However, the teams and drivers deemed conditions to be fit to run slick tyres.

The lights went green for the start of Q1, and all the drivers rushed onto the track to set representative laps. Softs were the tyre of choice, with the cars fueled for multiple runs. McLaren informed Ricciardo that rain would hit the circuit three minutes into Q1. As the drivers began their first timed laps, Hamilton struggled to control his Mercedes at turn one and suffered a lap time deletion. His championship rival Verstappen spun at turn one, while Sainz's spin brought out the yellow flags in the first sector. There was a host of lap time deletions with drivers exceeding track limits, the Alfa Romeo duo of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi suffering the most. The rain arrived, and conditions got trickier with each passing minute. However, the drivers soldiered on with slick tyres.

Hamilton, Gasly, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo and Stroll were the top 6, with Perez, Schumacher, Mazepin, Alonso and Sainz in the drop zone, halfway through Q1.

Tsunoda had an off-track excursion at turn one, while Leclerc and Raikkonen suffered from lap time deletions after exceeding track limits. Turn one saw two spins for Mazepin as several drivers returned to the pits for a fresh set of soft tyres in the final minutes. Red Bull informed Verstappen that conditions were improving as the rain eased off. Eventually, track evolution became rapid, and drivers jostled to be the last one to set a time. 

At the end of Q1, Hamilton, Verstappen, Gasly, Leclerc, Perez and Bottas were the top 6, with Ricciardo, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Mazepin getting eliminated. Sainz was the last driver to attempt a lap and enjoyed the best conditions. He was pivotal in ousting Ricciardo, the shock of Q1.

Q2 got underway, and thankfully, the rain stayed away. The drivers had fuel for multiple runs, with Tsunoda, Schumacher and Russell opting for softs while the rest, the medium tyres. Sainz chose to stay put and save mileage on his engine. Perez lost control of his Red Bull and went across the gravel at turn one. 

Halfway through Q2, Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Alonso, Gasly and Tsunoda were the top 6, with Vettel, Stroll, Schumacher, Russell and Sainz facing elimination.

The drivers pitted for fresh tyres. Leclerc, on his flying lap, suffered a spin at the final turn. Meanwhile, Stroll missed his braking and ran wide at turn one and then across the gravel like Perez. Russell looked set to break into the top 10 on his final attempt when the rear of his Williams snapped out of control at the last turn. The Briton ran wide and was out of contention. Sainz emerged from the pits but didn't attempt a timed lap. Instead, he gave Leclerc a tow which catapulted the Monegasque into the top 10 with the 7th quickest time. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Alonso, Perez, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Stroll and Norris made it into Q3, while Vettel, Ocon, Russell, Schumacher and Sainz got eliminated.

The start of Q3 saw Tsunoda opt for the medium tyres, with Perez, Leclerc and Stroll choosing a used set of soft tyres. The drivers headed out for their first timed laps, with some aiming to complete two attempts.

Less than six-tenths separated the top 6 drivers as Bottas went quicker than Hamilton and Verstappen at the top. 

The drivers returned to the pits for the final minutes of the top-ten shootout. Hamilton, Tsunoda, Leclerc and Gasly went out earlier than the rest of the field, and everyone got a fresh set of softs.

Hamilton improved his lap time to go quickest and two-tenths clear of Bottas. The Briton attempted another lap but failed to improve. As for Bottas, it was a faster lap, but not enough to beat Hamilton's time. Verstappen set the 3rd quickest time, with Leclerc going P4. Four-tenths separated the top 4 drivers. Gasly, Alonso and Perez were within a second of Hamilton's attempt in P5, P6, and P7, respectively. Norris was P8, with row 5 getting occupied by Stroll and Tsunoda.

Although Hamilton was the quickest at the end of Q3, the Briton would eventually start the race in P11 due to his grid penalty. Bottas inherited pole position and had the opportunity of scoring a much-awaited victory come Sunday. As for Hamilton, it was the best possible result in Qualifying, and with the several overtaking opportunities, the Briton looked set to carve his way through the field. Reliability remained a challenge, though.

Red Bull had been 2nd best, and Verstappen predicted a tough battle against the Mercedes on Sunday. However, the Dutchman had a front-row start and was capable of beating Bottas over race distance. As for Perez, P6 wasn't the ideal result, but the Mexican got tasked with holding up Hamilton for as long as possible. The possibility of outscoring Mercedes seemed unlikely for Red Bull. 

Ferrari produced a tactical masterclass in Qualifying. The team made the right calls to hamper and compromise McLaren's chances on the weekend. While Sainz had a start from the back of the grid, the Spaniard took part in Qualifying and did enough to bump Ricciardo out of Q1. More importantly, the tow provided to Leclerc in Q2 helped the latter get a place in Q3. Leclerc repaid the team's efforts with a stellar lap which saw him inherit a P3 start. The Ferrari drivers had been strong in the race simulations in the practice sessions and looked set to outscore the McLaren duo. A podium finish was on the cards with the right strategic calls.

It had been a long time since Alpha Tauri had both its drivers in Q3. While Gasly remained ever efficient, Tsunoda, after a few hiccups, came good with the 9th quickest time. Qualifying was a confidence booster for Tsunoda since the rookie had been under fire for his mediocre performances the past few weeks. In the quest for P5 in the Constructors, outscoring Alpine was paramount, and with both its drivers in the top 10, Alpha Tauri aimed for a double points haul. 

Alonso out-qualified his teammate Ocon to start P5 on Sunday. The Spaniard was famous for lightning starts and gaining multiple positions on the opening lap. His race was pivotal for Alpine's hopes of keeping Alpha Tauri at bay. As for Ocon, a P12 start was far from ideal, but the Frenchman needed smart calls from the pit wall coupled with bold overtaking manoeuvres to break into the top 10. The presence of quicker cars behind made the task more challenging.

Norris was McLaren's best hope at salvaging what had been a tough weekend. P7 was the best that the Briton could achieve on Saturday, while Ricciardo qualified a lowly P15. The possibility of outscoring Ferrari was unlikely. McLaren was in damage limitation mode come Sunday. 

It wasn't smooth sailing for the Aston Martin drivers. While Stroll made it into Q3, Vettel narrowly missed out in P11. Nevertheless, the duo would start P8 and P10 following Hamilton's grid penalty. Although superior race strategies had helped Stroll and Vettel in the past, the presence of quicker cars behind them presented a challenge for staying in points-scoring positions. Aston Martin was trailing its rivals by a considerable margin and couldn't afford a mediocre result from either driver.

Russell's mistake on his final attempt of Q2 cost him a place in the top 10. The Briton rued the missed opportunity and qualified a disappointing P13. However, it was Sunday that mattered, and he hoped to make amends on race day. P16 was the best that Latifi could achieve in the other Williams. The Canadian faced a long Sunday afternoon. 

Schumacher had hoped for damp conditions, and like his father, produced a stellar lap to qualify P14 in a Haas. It was Schumacher's first Q2 appearance, an achievement after having started at the back row of the grid for the majority of the season. Race day posed a different challenge, and Schumacher didn't seem to have the pace to sustain P14. As for Mazepin, it was a baptism by fire. The Russian had off-track excursions, spins and lap time deletions which left him in P20 and last.  

Despite showing promise all weekend, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen could only manage P18 and P19, respectively. The duo suffered from several lap time deletions as neither got the optimal setup. A good race strategy was the only hope to salvage something from the weekend.

Race :

McLaren opted for a new ICE, Turbo and MGU-H for Ricciardo, which relegated him to the back of the grid alongside Sainz. 

C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyres available for the race, but track conditions were more suitable for the intermediates after rain hit the circuit on Sunday morning.

The cars headed out for the formation lap, and Alpha Tauri informed Gasly that conditions would stay the same for the whole race. 

The race got underway, and after an initial stutter, it was a clean getaway for Bottas. Verstappen tried to challenge Bottas but had to relent at turn one. Gasly got sandwiched at turn one with Perez on the inside and Alonso on the outside. Alonso tried an opportunistic overtake and got hit by Gasly, which sent him into a spin and dropped him to P17. The incident got investigated, and Gasly got a five seconds time penalty. 

Further down the field, Hamilton made a cautious start in P10. The Alfa Romeo duo of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen was up to P12 and P13, respectively, with Ricciardo in P16. A spin for Latifi relegated him to P20. Russell got past Schumacher for P14, while Perez was up to P4.

Hamilton began his charge up the field with an overtake on Vettel for P9. Alonso got past Sainz for P16 but then hit Schumacher, which sent the latter into a spin ( at turn 4 ). The incident got investigated, and Alonso got a five seconds time penalty. Bottas was the quickest man on track and extended his lead to 1.6 seconds.

Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Tsunoda, Hamilton and Vettel were the top 10 at the end of lap 5.

The teams instructed their drivers to cool the intermediate tyres by going over damp patches on the circuit. Meanwhile, Sainz relegated Russell to P15 on lap 6. Hamilton honed in on Tsunoda and pressured him for P7, but the rookie rebuffed Hamilton's challenge. Sainz got past Giovinazzi and Raikkonen to move up to P12, while Hamilton finally overtook Tsunoda for P7 on lap 8. 

Further down the field, Latifi got past Schumacher for P19, while Ocon got relegated to P12 by Sainz ( lap 9 ). Hamilton, in clear air, began to push and closed up on Stroll, completing an easy overtake on the Aston Martin driver for P6. He then relegated Norris to P6 on lap 11. The Briton was now setting blistering lap times and reducing the deficit to Gasly rapidly.

At the front, Bottas informed Mercedes that the circuit was still damp and the track wasn't drying up despite the water getting dispersed by the 20 cars. The battle for P10 was hotting up with Sainz pressuring Vettel. The Spaniard got past on lap 14, but the duo banged wheels. Meanwhile, Gasly, struggling with graining on his intermediate tyres, put up a weak defence against Hamilton on lap 15. Hamilton was now P5. 

Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Hamilton, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Tsunoda and Sainz were the top 10 on lap 16.

Verstappen and Bottas exchanged the fastest laps while Sainz got past Tsunoda for P9. McLaren asked Norris about grip levels, and the Briton quipped that his intermediates were now turning into slicks ( lap 21 ). Meanwhile, Ricciardo affirmed that he would be much quicker if McLaren pitted him. The team adhered to the request, and the Australian switched to a new set of intermediates on lap 22, rejoining in P18. 

Tsunoda suffered a spin at turn nine and got relegated to P13 ( lap 23 ). Leclerc was the quickest man on track as Gasly reported light rain at turn nine. Bottas was now 2.5 seconds clear off Verstappen in the lead. Sainz informed Ferrari that a one-stop strategy looked optimal for the race. 

Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc, Perez, Hamilton, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Sainz and Vettel were the top 10 on lap 29.

Bottas reported light rain from turns six to twelve. Meanwhile, Alonso pitted for a fresh set of intermediates on lap 31 and rejoined in P18. Hamilton had closed upon Perez in the battle for P4 and got wheel-to-wheel with him going into the final turn. Perez almost got pushed into the pit lane entry while defending his position but put up a dogged defence, holding on to P4. Meanwhile, Ricciardo got past Latifi and Russell for P15. Norris pitted for new intermediates on lap 35 and rejoined in P9.

More drivers began to pit for a fresh set of intermediates, and Tsunoda, Russell, and Verstappen made the switch on lap 36. Lap 37 saw Sainz, Mazepin and Vettel pit. Sainz had a slow stop of 8.1 seconds after the team held him up to avoid an unsafe release ( into Mazepin's path ). Vettel, meanwhile, took the bold decision of switching to slick tyres. The German took a used set of mediums and tip-toed his way out of the pits. It, however, turned out to be the incorrect decision as Vettel struggled to keep his Aston Martin on the track, rapidly falling backwards. He returned to the pits after just one lap to switch back to the intermediates. 

Bottas and Perez pitted for a fresh set of intermediates on lap 38, with Raikkonen following suit on 39. Hamilton, now in clear air, began to push in P2. Meanwhile, Gasly and Stroll pitted for intermediates on lap 40, rejoining in P6 and P11, respectively. 

Leclerc, in the lead, contemplated going till the end of the race without pitting. Ferrari acknowledged his request but continued their discussions on the pit wall. Further down the field, Giovinazzi and Schumacher also pitted for new intermediates on lap 41. 

The Mercedes pit crew were ready in the pits for Hamilton, but the Briton went against the instructions on lap 42. He believed he could manage the current set of tyres until the end of the race. At the front, Bottas was catching Leclerc, who locked up and ran wide, reducing his lead to 2 seconds. Verstappen reported steering wheel issues on lap 44, while Sainz got past Ocon for P8. Bottas reclaimed the lead on lap 46, and immediately after, Leclerc pitted for new intermediates and rejoined in P4. Sainz was setting blistering lap times in clear air.

Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Gasly, Norris, Sainz, Ocon and Stroll were the top 10 on lap 50. 

Hamilton and Mercedes had been in intense discussion, and it became evident that Hamilton wasn't able to bridge the gap to Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc and Perez had begun to eat into his lead. Mercedes informed Hamilton that if he delayed pitting, then he would lose more positions. The Briton finally relented on lap 51 and rejoined in P5. Meanwhile, on the track, Perez got past Leclerc for P3 ( lap 52 ).

On asking his position on the track, Mercedes informed Hamilton that he was in P5. Hamilton made his displeasure known and questioned the team about not listening to his assessment of the tyres. The Briton closed up on Leclerc on lap 53 and suddenly lost grip! He had entered the graining phase of his new tyres and ended up losing 3 seconds on a single lap. Gasly and Norris, who had pitted earlier than Hamilton, were past that graining phase and began to pressure the latter into an error.

The battle for P9 saw Stroll emerge victorious over Ocon. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on lap 57 and took the point that came with it. Further down the field, Ricciardo got relegated to P13 by the Alfa Romeo duo of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. 

Bottas took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Turkish GP! Verstappen came home in 2nd, with Perez 3rd to complete a double podium finish for Red Bull. P4 was the best that Leclerc could manage for Ferrari, followed by a dejected Hamilton in P5. The Briton fended off the challenge by Gasly and Norris, who finished P6 and P7, respectively. Sainz, Stroll and Ocon completed the top 10.

The Alfa Romeo duo of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen were P11 and P12, followed by Ricciardo in the other McLaren. Tsunoda finished P14, with Alonso splitting the Williams of Russell and Latifi in P16. Vettel, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the classification, all 20 drivers finishing the Grand Prix.

It had been a long wait for Bottas, who hadn't won a race since the 2020 Russian GP. However, it was an assured display of racecraft by the Finn in changeable weather conditions. More importantly, he got the point for the fastest lap as well. The win cemented his hold on P3 in the Drivers' standings. As for Hamilton, it was a long post-race debrief as he questioned Mercedes' decision to switch him to new tyres in the final laps. He believed he would have held on to P3 ( on old tyres ) and further limited the dent caused to his title challenge by Verstappen. Hamilton had the pace to finish second best if not win, had the weather not played spoilsport. This result could prove pivotal in the title fight with Verstappen. In the Constructors standings, Mercedes outscored Red Bull by three points and extended their lead to 36.

Red Bull had a strong showing at a circuit where they looked to be struggling. The special livery gave the team a memorable weekend as they scored a double podium finish. Verstappen's P2 allowed him to retake the lead in the Drivers' Championship. The Dutchman led Hamilton by six points, having driven a measured race with minimal risks taken. As for Perez, the Mexican earned brownie points with his staunch defence against relentless pressure by Hamilton. The podium finish was also a confidence booster after many mediocre and under-performing race weekends. 

Leclerc and Sainz produced stellar drivers to give Ferrari a big haul of 16 points. While Leclerc tried to risk it all for a win, Sainz made the right calls along with opportunistic overtakes to charge through the field. Sainz also got awarded the "Driver of the Day". Eventually, Leclerc finished P4 and Sainz a commendable P8 to reduce the deficit to McLaren to only 7.5 points. Ferrari had looked competitive all weekend, and they capitalized on the opportunity.

Gasly's P6 finish and 8 points helped Alpha Tauri outscore Alpine and reduce the gap to 12 points in the Constructors. The coming together with Alonso on the opening lap got him a time penalty which seemed harsh. Nevertheless, the Frenchman recovered to produce a strong result. He came close to overtaking Hamilton in the final laps of the race. As for Tsunoda, a mistake on lap 23 bumped him out of the points, and the rookie never recovered from thereon. It was an opportunity missed for Tsunoda after having qualified in the top 10. 

Norris was McLaren's best hope for Sunday, and the Briton finished in P7, bringing home 6 points. As for his teammate Ricciardo, it was a tough day at the office. The Australian struggled with his rear brakes and pitted for fresh tyres too early. He eventually fell backwards to finish a lowly P13 and end a disappointing display. McLaren hadn't looked competitive all weekend and took a hit to the buffer they had built on Ferrari in the Constructors.

A strategic blunder with Vettel cost Aston Martin a double-points finish. The German ended his race in P18, ahead of the Haas cars, while his teammate Stroll, after numerous battles, managed P9. Aston Martin's deficit to Alpha Tauri increased further after another lacklustre weekend. The team needed change, and quickly if they were to salvage anything better than P7 in the Constructors.

Alpine, like Aston Martin, had a tough weekend. Ocon finished in P10 and got Alpine a point. He was the only driver who didn't pit for the entirety of the race. Had the Chequered Flag not been waved on lap 58, Ocon would have lost P10 to Giovinazzi, who on fresher tyres, and caught up to him and finished only seven-tenths adrift. A collision on the first lap, followed by a time penalty for sending Schumacher into a spin, destroyed Alonso's race. The Spaniard had the pace to finish the race in the top 6 but failed to recover from the incidents. He finished in P16. Alpine needed to forget this weekend as soon as possible.

It was yet another race on the cusp of points for Alfa Romeo. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen finished in P11 and P12, respectively, and were inseparable throughout the race. While Alfa Romeo tried a position swap between the duo, Raikkonen didn't close enough to enforce team orders. With the season nearing its end, Alfa Romeo would get limited opportunities for more points finishes and looked destined to finish P9 in the Championship.

Russell finished P14 while Latifi, despite his spin, recovered to P16. These results were the best that Williams duo could manage from a challenging weekend. As for Haas F1, after his heroics on Saturday, it was no secret that Schumacher would struggle to hold his own against quicker cars around him. Unfortunately, the incident with Alonso robbed him of a fighting chance on one of his best weekends. Mazepin finished P20, and last and Haas F1 was yet to score a point in 2021.

It is a see-saw battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, with the latter taking the lead after the Russian GP. The strategy call by Mercedes could prove to be one of the pivotal moments in this season's fight for supremacy. The next race is trans-Atlantic at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Would we see another twist, or would the status quo remain? Time would reveal all.

However, the crown of the Turkish GP belonged to Valtteri Bottas, the Flawless Finn in the Turkish rain!

2021 Russian GP Race Recap : A Centurion in the Hammer-ing Rain!

The European Leg of the 2021 F1 Season was over, and the teams headed north to Russia for the first "fly-away" event. The Sochi Autodrom, venue for the Russian GP, was the fourth-longest track on the F1 Calendar. Designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, the circuit is close to the Olympic Park, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

Leading up to the Grand Prix, Aston Martin announced an unchanged line-up of Vettel and Stroll for 2022. Haas F1 Team did likewise with Mazepin and Schumacher. Raikkonen had recovered from COVID-19 and was fit to race for Alfa Romeo.

Meanwhile, Honda revealed that Verstappen had used an upgraded version of the "Energy Store" since Belgium. 

The FOM announced the inclusion of the Miami Grand Prix in the 2022 calendar. 

Mercedes knew that Hamilton needed the maximum haul of points from the weekend to retake the lead in the Championship. His teammate Bottas had been the better driver in Russia, and the question remained whether he would adhere to team orders ( if the need arose ). Mercedes remained the only Constructor to have won every race in Russia. As for Verstappen, Red Bull opted for a new Power Unit on his car, which meant that he would start the race from the back of the grid.

Ferrari, like Red Bull, decided to give Leclerc a new ( and upgraded ) Power Unit. He would also start at the back of the back. Ferrari's arch-rivals McLaren had the chance of further cementing their hold on P3 in the Constructors.

Rains had lashed the city all week, and the weather threatened to play havoc on Saturday too.

How did the teams and drivers fare at the Russian GP? Time for a recap!

Practice :

FP1 got underway, and clear skies greeted the drivers. The run-off area at turn 2 proved indispensable, with Giovinazzi missing his braking point and Gasly taking the escape road. Meanwhile, Norris suffered a spin and damaged his front wing while making his way into the pits. 

Bottas topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, two-tenths clear of Hamilton and Verstappen. Leclerc was P4 for Ferrari, followed by Vettel, Gasly and Sainz, who were more than a second off the paceP8 was the best that Norris could manage in his McLaren, while Perez and Alonso completed the top 10.

Ocon was P11 in the other Alpine, followed by Stroll in P12. Ricciardo split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in P14, while Tsunoda was P16 in the other Alpha Tauri. The Williams of Russell and Latifi were P17 and P18, followed by the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher.

With the weather threatening the schedule for Saturday, the drivers pushed to complete their Race and Qualifying simulations in FP2. A spin at turn 8 resulted in Giovinazzi hitting the barriers, which damaged the rear of his Alfa Romeo. The Italian tried to limp back to the pits until the team advised him to do otherwise. The session subsequently got Red Flagged. Leclerc, too, suffered a spin at turn eight but managed to avoid hitting the barriers. Verstappen, meanwhile, complained to Red Bull about the lack of straight-line speed. His title rival Hamilton had an incident in the pit lane as he failed to stop in the pit box and knocked over the front-jack man. Thankfully, the mechanic escaped unhurt. 

Both Hamilton and Vettel took to the run-off area at turn 7, while Ricciardo's FP2 got compromised after McLaren discovered an issue with the Power Unit. Turn 2 claimed another victim in Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman went over the sausage kerbs near the end of FP2 and lost the front wing. 

Bottas was the quickest driver again, less than four-hundredths clear off Hamilton. Gasly was P3 for Alpha Tauri, followed by Norris, Ocon and Verstappen. Sainz set the 7th quickest time, with Alonso, Vettel and Leclerc completing the top 10.

P11 was the best that Perez could manage in the other Red Bull, with Russell splitting the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in P13. Stroll was P15 for Alpine, followed by Latifi, Ricciardo and Tsunoda. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher completed the back of the pack.

It was advantage-Mercedes going into Saturday, and the pace advantage to Red Bull on the two long straights was substantial. Bottas reigned supreme on Friday and was the favourite to come out on top in Qualifying too.

Rain pelted down on Saturday morning, flooding the support race paddock. As a result, both F2 and F3 races got postponed. Citing no improvement in the conditions, the FIA decided to cancel Free Practice 3. Michael Masi, the Race Director, believed that the rain would reduce in intensity and not hinder Qualifying.

Qualifying :

As predicted, the rain ceased, and Qualifying got the green light from the FIA.

Williams announced that Latifi would start the race from the back of the grid after taking a new Power Unit. 

The track was quite damp from the rains, which meant that this would be the first wet Qualifying in Sochi. 

Barring Alonso ( who chose the wets ), everyone else exited the pits with intermediate tyres for the start of Q1. All drivers had fuel for multiple runs, and Alpine informed Ocon that there would be no more rain until the end of Q1. Verstappen, destined to start from the back of the grid, returned to the pits after one sighting lap. Giovinazzi lost the rear of his Alfa Romeo and got spun around. It was a narrow miss for Leclerc, who was following the Italian around the circuit. 

Halfway through Q1, Hamilton, Bottas, Stroll, Gasly, Sainz & Norris were the top six. Giovinazzi, Alonso, Mazepin, Schumacher and Verstappen were facing elimination. Meanwhile, Alonso returned to the pits to switch to intermediates as lap times improved with increasing grip levels.

Perez suffered a spin at turn two while Stroll complained about getting impeded by Ricciardo. The incident got reported to the stewards, and McLaren got away with a formal warning for not informing Ricciardo.

Hamilton, Bottas, Perez, Vettel, Norris and Gasly were the top 6 at the end of Q1. Raikkonen, Schumacher, Giovinazzi, Mazepin and Verstappen got eliminated.

Intermediates were the tyre of choice again for the start of Q2, and drivers had enough fuel for multiple runs. Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Ocon, Gasly and Vettel were the top six at the end of the first runs. Alonso and Stroll, who were in the drop zone, improved to P4 and P5, respectively. Some drivers returned to the pits for another set of intermediates, but the Williams duo continued with used ones. Russell improved to set the 11th quickest time. The Briton had the opportunity of going even faster on his final run.

Hamilton, Bottas, Alonso, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Stroll, Ricciardo, Russell and Sainz were through to Q3. Vettel, Gasly, Tsunoda, Latifi and Leclerc got knocked out. While Gasly was livid with the result, Vettel couldn't hide his frustration after missing out on Q3 by five hundredths of a second.

It was time to battle for pole position as Q3 got underway. The Alpine drivers, Russell and Sainz, were on used intermediates for their first runs of Q1. As the drivers headed onto the track, a dry line began to appear on the circuit. Russell asked Williams to get the dry tyres ready. Despite the appearance of a dry racing line, the drivers chose to set a representative lap time on their first attempts.

Hamilton was on top of the timesheets from Norris and Bottas with Alonso in P4. Russell was the first driver to switch to the soft tyres, with others following suit shortly after. The aim was to set two timed laps in the remaining minutes of Q3. 

However, disaster struck Hamilton as he was entering the pits for the switch to dry tyres. The Briton lost control of his Mercedes and hit the wall, damaging the front wing. The mechanics had to remove the broken front wing and ready another with the identical spec. Bottas had also entered the pits by then and was waiting for his turn. Eventually, the mechanics had to push Hamilton out of the pit box to change Bottas' tyres and then return to service Hamilton's car. The resulting delay left the Mercedes duo with time for only one flying lap.

Meanwhile, on track, Sainz and Norris exchanged purple sectors. Norris was the quickest in sectors two and three and snatched Pole Position. Sainz set the 2nd fastest time, half a second adrift. Russell, on his third timed lap, went 3rd quickest! The focus now shifted to the Mercedes duo. While Bottas failed to improve, Hamilton suffered a spin tapping the barriers with the rear of his Mercedes. Nevertheless, the Briton's time on the intermediates got him P4 in Qualifying. 

Row three got occupied by Ricciardo and Alonso, while Bottas and Stroll were on four. Perez and Ocon completed the top 10. 

McLaren, Ferrari and Williams had qualified as the top three on the grid for the first time since the 2003 European GP. 

Norris bagged his first pole position of F1. The Briton was a master of changeable conditions and made the most of the opportunity presented to him. As for teammate Ricciardo, P5 gave McLaren a great chance of outscoring rivals Ferrari in the battle for P3. However, Ferrari wasn't going down without a fight. Sainz, too, bagged a front row start and, despite being on the "dirty side", hoped to challenge for the lead. His teammate Leclerc had his work cut out from the back of the grid. 

Mr Saturday ( Russell ) was another star performer on Saturday. The Briton bumped his Williams up to P3, which presented him with another points-finish on Sunday. Since his move to Mercedes got announced ( for 2022 ), Russell had out-qualified Hamilton twice in the past three races. Latifi faced a more challenging race with the engine penalty that put him at the back of the grid with Leclerc and Verstappen.

Hamilton and Mercedes blew a great chance of bagging the front row for the race. A rare mistake by Hamilton cost both him and Bottas a second attempt on the soft tyres. With Verstappen starting 20th and last, Hamilton needed to capitalize on both Saturday and Sunday. While Saturday was a humbling experience, the result on race day mattered. Having qualified in the top 6 for every Russian GP, Bottas was disappointed with P7. The Finn got denied a fight for pole position thanks to Hamilton's mistake in the pits. Nevertheless, he hoped to continue his run of success in Russia.

Alpine had a productive Qualifying with both its drivers in the top 10. Alonso, the more experienced of the two, made it into the top 6. Despite being the quicker one on Friday, Ocon could only manage P10. With both Alpha Tauris in the bottom half of the field, Alpine had a great chance of extending their lead over Alpha Tauri in the fight for P5. 

Stroll and Vettel qualified P8 and P11, respectively, for Aston Martin. Although Vettel narrowly missed a Q3 appearance, he had the pace to break into the top 10. With the Mercedes engine and a strong race strategy, Aston Martin had the means of securing a double-points finish. The priority was to reduce the deficit to Alpha Tauri in the quest for P6 in the Championship. 

It was another lacklustre performance by Perez for Red Bull. The Mexican could only manage P9, well off the pace of the Mercedes cars. His Qualifying struggles had no end in sight. With Verstappen having to charge through the field to break into the top 6, the likelihood of Red Bull outscoring Mercedes seemed bleak. 

The Alpha Tauri drivers were the biggest disappointments from Qualifying. Gasly was livid after he believed he got impeded on one of his runs. The Frenchman had been more consistent of the two, but the lack of Honda power down the straights presented a challenge to finish in the top 10 on Sunday. As for Tsunoda, the rookie was out-qualified by his teammate again and needed to do better on race day. 

Raikkonen and Giovinazzi managed P14 and P16, respectively. It wasn't smooth sailing for Giovinazzi, who suffered a spin in Qualifying, while Raikkonen complained about a lack of grip. The duo faced an uphill task of breaking into the top 10 with faster cars around them. Alfa Romeo was going backwards and needed to stem the tide. Schumacher split the Alfa Romeos in P15, while Mazepin qualified P17 for his home race. Haas F1 had been backmarkers in the earlier races, and anything else seemed unlikely. 

Race :

After a compromised Qualifying that saw him finish in P7, Mercedes decided to change the Power Unit on Bottas' car, which dropped him back to P17. Experts believed it to be a tactical move by Mercedes to hamper Verstappen's progress through the race. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo changed the gearbox on Giovinazzi's car, but even with the grid penalty, the Italian stayed P16. 

C3, C4 and C5 were the dry tyres available for the race. The conditions were overcast, but the rain stayed away for the start of the race. 

Alonso, Perez, Gasly, Bottas, Giovinazzi, Leclerc and Verstappen chose the hard tyres while the rest were on mediums. 

McLaren informed Norris to stick to "Plan A" on the Formation Lap, while Verstappen reported Battery Drain issues. Thankfully, a change in the settings addressed the problem.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for everyone. Norris led the pack, but the drivers behind were lining up for a tow. Sainz got past Norris but locked up at turn two. Thankfully, the Spaniard made the corner and took the lead of the race! Alonso, however, had to use the run-off and go around the bollards before rejoining. Russell maintained P3 but Hamilton was the biggest loser as he got swamped at turn 2. The Briton was down to P7. Further down the field, Raikkonen was up to P10, Leclerc up to P12 and Mazepin P13. Bottas and Verstappen were more cautious in P15 and P18, respectively. Tsunoda, like Alonso, took to the run-off at turn two but hit the bollard and ended up P20. 

While Stroll inherited P4, Ricciardo got past Alonso for P5. Verstappen began his charge up the field with an overtake on Schumacher for P17 on lap 2. Schumacher then got relegated to P19 by Giovinazzi. The battle for P6 was hotting up, and Hamilton got past Alonso on lap 2. 

Perez was the quickest on lap 4. The Haas cars continued to lose positions, with Mazepin conceding positions to Bottas and Verstappen and Schumacher losing P19 to Tsunoda. 

DRS train was forming up behind Russell, who was running in P3. The Williams driver had the best straight-line speed, and Stroll, Ricciardo and Hamilton struggled to overtake him. Bottas was the quickest man on track ( lap 5 ) before Sainz took the honour away, a lap later.

Hamilton was now 10 seconds behind Sainz, his race getting compromised with each lap. Meanwhile, Verstappen closed up on Bottas and got past him. The Finn didn't fight for his position, although many expected more from him. Ferrari informed Sainz about extending Plan A by three more laps, while McLaren told Ricciardo about considering Plan B. 

Giovinazzi pressured Latifi for P17, but the Canadian rebuffed the challenge. Verstappen relegated Gasly to P14 on lap 8. At the front, Norris had closed in on Sainz and was within DRS range.

The battle for P11 was hotting up, and Leclerc pressured Vettel on lap 10. Meanwhile, Verstappen had closed in on the pair and looked to capitalize with an overtake at turn 3. Leclerc shut the door on Verstappen aggressively, and it was a close shave for the latter with the wall. However, a couple of corners later, a mistake by Leclerc allowed Verstappen to claim P12. On lap 11, Norris challenged Sainz for the lead, but the latter held on. Meanwhile, Giovinazzi finally got past Latifi for P17 on lap 11.

Sainz, Norris, Russell, Stroll, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Perez, Alonso, Ocon and Raikkonen were the top 10 at the end of lap 12.

Stroll was the first driver to pit for hard tyres on lap 13. The Canadian rejoined in P15. Meanwhile, on the track, Norris took the lead of the race by overtaking Sainz. Further down the field, Giovinazzi got past Mazepin for P16.

Russell was the next driver to switch to the hard tyres on lap 14. The Briton rejoined in P14, ahead of Stroll, but Stroll overtook him, proving that the undercut was paying dividends. Meanwhile, Verstappen got past Vettel for P9, and then, the German lost another position to Leclerc on lap 14.

Sainz switched to the hard tyres on lap 15, rejoining in P13 ahead of Stroll. The Spaniard, however, lost time in the pits due to a problematic rear left tyre. Stroll was the fastest man on track on lap 15.

Ocon and Raikkonen pitted for hard tyres on lap 16, rejoining in P15 and P16, respectively. Verstappen had moved up to P6 and was only 8 seconds behind Hamilton. The Dutchman then set a series of fastest laps, going 1.3 seconds quicker than Hamilton on every attempt. 

Norris, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Perez, Alonso, Verstappen, Leclerc, Vettel, Gasly and Bottas were the top 10 at the end of lap 19. 

Mercedes informed Bottas that a top 5 finish was possible, while Hamilton, stuck behind Ricciardo, asked the team to get ready to undercut the latter. At the back of the pack, Schumacher pitted for hard tyres on lap 21.

Ricciardo pitted for hard tyres on lap 23, but a slow stop wrecked his race. The Australian rejoined P14, behind Ocon. Replays showed that the "minimum reaction time" rule led to confusion in the pits. Ricciardo, however, wasted no time in getting past Ocon for P13. The McLaren driver then set the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, Raikkonen overtook Giovinazzi for P15.

Verstappen's charge through the field began to falter as the Dutchman complained to Red Bull about losing tyre performance. Hamilton, now in clear air after Ricciardo's stop, began to stretch his gap to Verstappen. Ferrari informed Sainz that they were looking at a P5 finish, much to the Spaniard's displeasure. 

Norris, Hamilton, Perez, Alonso, Verstappen, Leclerc, Vettel, Gasly, Bottas and Sainz were the top 10 at the end of lap 26.

Hamilton pitted on lap 27, and Verstappen followed suit. While Hamilton switched to the hard tyres, Verstappen took the mediums, the duo rejoining in P9 and P12, respectively. Vettel also switched to the hard tyres on the same lap. Meanwhile, Sainz got past Bottas for P6, and Verstappen overtook Russell for P11. 

At the front, Norris had been setting consistent lap times, and McLaren asked him about extending his first stint. The Briton got asked to push, suggesting that he was due to pit. Norris pitted on lap 29, switched to the hards and rejoined in P4. Bottas also pitted on the same lap and rejoined in 16th after switching to the mediums.

Verstappen was the quickest man on track on lap 29 as Vettel got past Giovinazzi for P14. Ferrari informed Sainz that his tyres were in optimal condition and he could push until the end of the race. However, the Spaniard lost P6 to Hamilton on lap 30, who then got past Gasly for P5 later. Hamilton was the quickest as Ricciardo got past Stroll for P8. Further down the field, Bottas relegated Giovinazzi to P16. 

Stroll lost P9 to Verstappen on lap 32, while Schumacher got past teammate Mazepin for P19. It got revealed that Schumacher was nursing an issue on his Haas, which had become terminal. The German driver retired on lap 33. Hamilton was catching Norris and was within 5 seconds of the McLaren driver. Meanwhile, Gasly pitted for the mediums and rejoined in P16 ( lap 34 ). 

Norris started to carve his way to the front with a move on Leclerc for P3 on lap 34. A lap later, Hamilton did the same, relegating Leclerc to P5. The Monegasque finally made his mandatory pit stop and switched to the mediums on lap 36. He rejoined in P13, just ahead of Bottas. Perez and Alonso followed suit a lap later, and Norris retook the lead of the race. It was a slow stop for Perez ( 8.9 seconds ) due to a problematic rear right tyre. The Mexican lost track position to Sainz and Ricciardo and rejoined just ahead of Verstappen. 

Giovinazzi pitted for mediums on lap 37 and rejoined in P18. Hamilton was less than 2 seconds adrift and was honing in on Norris for the race lead. Alonso got past Verstappen for P6 as he was on fresher tyres. Meanwhile, Leclerc overtook Vettel for P12, and Ferrari informed him about rain hitting the track near the end of the race. Hamilton and Norris were exchanging the fastest laps as the latter tried to maintain his lead.

Leclerc continued his charge up the field with overtakes on Raikkonen and Ocon and moved into the points scoring positions. Perez challenged Ricciardo for P4, but the latter defended his position. Leclerc bagged P9 from Russell on lap 42, while Raikkonen sparred with Ocon for P11 but failed. As a result, he got compromised, and Vettel got past him on lap 44. 

Russell reported spots of rain at turn 10 ( lap 44 ). Meanwhile, Perez finally got past Ricciardo for P4, Vettel overtook Ocon for P11, and Leclerc relegated Stroll to P9 ( lap 45 ). Mercedes informed Hamilton that the risk of rain was increasing. 

Lap 46 saw a drizzle hitting the circuit, and the track started to get slippery. Sainz asked Ferrari to get the intermediate tyres ready, while Russell got pushed out of the points by Vettel.

Norris made a mistake at turn 5, which allowed Hamilton to close upon him. The McLaren driver opened up a gap again to Hamilton a few corners later. Meanwhile, Perez got past Sainz for P3, and in the battle for P9, Stroll cut across teammate Vettel. The Aston Martin duo banged wheels with Stroll's front wing clipping Vettel's rear tyre on the corner exit. Thankfully, both drivers continued without any damage. Further down the field, Raikkonen lost two places to Bottas and Gasly as the track conditions worsened.

Bottas, Russell, Raikkonen and Mazepin pitted for intermediates on lap 49 as DRS zones got disabled. Conditions were worsening steadily. Mercedes asked Hamilton to pit, but the latter refused. Verstappen, Sainz and Ricciardo also switched to the intermediates on lap 49 while Norris and Hamilton continued to defy team orders and continued on the slicks. Norris wanted to weather the conditions until the end. Meanwhile, Ricciardo got past Ocon for P10, and Alonso relegated Perez to P4 on lap 50.

Hamilton finally adhered to the team's requests and switched to the intermediates on lap 50, staying in P2. Norris again relayed his decision to stay on slicks despite being notified of Hamilton's pit stop. Further down the field, Stroll, who was on the dry tyres, suffered a spin, making contact with the barriers. The Canadian managed to rejoin the race. Meanwhile, Perez retook P3 from Alonso while Bottas got past Ocon for P11.

The drivers on intermediate tyres were now going seconds faster than those on the dry tyres. Mercedes informed Hamilton that if Norris chose against pitting for intermediates, then he would be in trouble. The rain was intensifying, and Norris went wide again. Hamilton gained 15 seconds in the first sector itself, and Norris couldn't bring his McLaren to a stop at turn five. Hamilton took the lead of the race! Norris made the wrong call and now had to tiptoe his way to the pits. 

Further down the field, a host of overtakes was taking place by those on the intermediate tyres. Verstappen made it up to P3 and looked destined to inherit P2 with Norris pitting. Norris finally pitted on lap 52 for intermediates and rejoined in P7. However, it wasn't an easy entry into the pits. The Briton slid off on the pit entry and cut the white line twice. The incident got flagged for investigation, but thankfully, Norris got away with a reprimand. Meanwhile, Verstappen and Sainz were into podium positions, with Alonso and Perez pitting ahead of them. To add insult to injury, Raikkonen got past Norris for P7, but the Briton fought back to retake the position on the final lap.

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Russian Grand Prix. It was his career's 100th victory, the first F1 driver to achieve such a feat. Verstappen took an unthinkable P2 after having started P20 and last. Sainz was P3 for Ferrari, followed by Ricciardo and Bottas. Alonso was P6 for Alpine, while P7 was the best that Norris could manage at the end. Raikkonen achieved his best finish of 2021 with P8 for Alfa Romeo, while Perez and Russell completed the top 10.

The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel finished just outside the points, followed by Gasly and Ocon. Leclerc was P15 in the other Ferrari, followed by Giovinazzi, Tsunoda and Mazepin, who completed the classified finishers.

Hamilton was relieved to win again, and more importantly, retook the lead in the Championship. He now led Verstappen by 2 points. Hamilton had his team to thank for the decision to switch to the intermediates at the opportune time. As for Bottas, it was a lacklustre display up until rain hit the circuit. The Finn powered through the field to finish a commendable P5. Mercedes outscored Red Bull and extended its lead to 33 points. They finally had built a buffer on their rivals, but they could have scored more had it not been for the drama in Qualifying.

Few would have bet on Verstappen to finish in the top 5, let alone a podium! The Dutchman was in damage limitation mode, and bagging the second-best result at a Mercedes dominated circuit made it a memorable Sunday. Although he relinquished the lead in the Championship, Verstappen trailed Hamilton by two points. It could have been much worse, but he had the weather to thank! As for Perez, the Mexican had a mercurial performance. A slow pit stop jeopardized his race, but he fought back with overtakes on track. He was on course for P3 before the rain hit the circuit. His decision to delay his switch to intermediates cost him several positions. Eventually, Perez finished in P9. Red Bull lost a chunk of points in what was a bitter-sweet day. 

Sainz led the race but later fell out of podium contention. The Spaniard desired more and his efforts paid off with a perfectly timed stop under changeable weather conditions. It was an afternoon full of wheel-to-wheel battles for Leclerc, who muscled his way up to P9 up until the weather playing spoilsport. Like Norris, the Monegasque chose to stick to dry tyres, suffered a spin and ended the race, a disappointing P15. Ferrari's deficit to McLaren increased by four to 17.5 points in the Constructors'. 

Norris, the winner elect, had everything going his way until the rain arrived. The McLaren driver had managed his race well and rebuffed the pressure from Hamilton with aplomb. However, his inexperience and incorrect decision making robbed him of victory in the end. Despite several messages from McLaren, Norris refused to pit and soldier on in ever-increasing slippery conditions. The Briton was so confident that he silenced his race engineer even after knowing that Hamilton had switched to intermediates like the majority behind them. Eventually, the track became too wet, and Norris fell backwards at a rapid rate. It was a hard pill to swallow, but Norris learnt an important lesson. The F1 world comforted the McLaren driver, reminding him that he too would become a Grand Prix winner one day. The team should have exercised more authority in their communications, with instructions to comply. The only consolation for Norris was that he got an extra point for the fastest lap and adjudged the "Driver of the Day". As for Ricciardo, confusion with the minimum reaction time cost him track position to his immediate rivals. The Australian charged back up the field, capitalizing with a well-timed stop at the end to finish P4. The 19 points haul allowed McLaren to open up a 17.5 points gap to Ferrari in the Constructors. It was a missed opportunity for McLaren to score back to back victories.

Alonso's racecraft and experience came to the fore for Alpine. The Double World Champion bagged P6 and 8 points for Alpine, which allowed the team to extend their lead over Alpha Tauri to 19 points in the battle for P5 in the Constructors. Ocon had a lacklustre day at the office, falling backwards and eventually finishing a lowly P14. 

Raikkonen, the oldest racer on the grid, made the early call to switch to intermediates, and the move paid dividends as the Finn bagged his best finish of 2021 in P8. Before the drama of the final laps, Raikkonen made positions at the race start and was in contention for points finish. It was a stellar drive after missing two races due to COVID-19. The Finn proved that he still had the competitive edge at the twilight of his career. As for Giovinazzi, the Italian lost radio contact with the team on lap one. He also suffered some damage on the opening lap but continued to fight. Considering the challenges faced in changeable conditions, P16 was commendable. Raikkonen's P8 fetched Alfa Romeo 4 points, which reduced the deficit to Williams to 16. In the battle for P8 in the Constructors', Alfa Romeo had to keep chipping away and needed both drivers in the top 10 in the upcoming races.

George Russell, after his heroics in Qualifying, fell backwards in the race. The Briton finished P10, bringing home one point for Williams. Latifi's race ended with retirement on lap 48. Although Williams has a 16 point cushion to Alfa Romeo, they need to keep pushing till the end of the season. 

It was a disappointing display by Aston Martin. Stroll and Vettel finished P11 and P12, but their coming together on lap 48 grabbed the attention of the media and fans. Lance Stroll was in contention for a points-finish until he ran out of grip. Meanwhile, Vettel was carving his way through the field but got caught out by the rain at the end. To add insult to injury, Stroll got ten seconds added to his race time and two penalty points on his license for hitting Gasly late in the raceIt was yet another point-less weekend for Aston Martin. They now trailed Alpine by 43 points, P6 they only realistic target in the Constructors.

Gasly finished P13, while Tsunoda was P16 for Alpha Tauri. The team was going through a lean season and falling away from Alpine. Tsunoda's lacklustre displays remained a worry. As for Gasly, the Frenchman struggled throughout the weekend. The lack of Honda power down the straights cost the team dearly. They needed a response in Turkey. 

Haas F1 remained backmarkers. While Schumacher retired on lap 33 due to a mechanical issue, Mazepin was P18 and last at his home race. It was best for Haas F1 to shift focus to 2022.

The final result at Russian GP proved that there was no substitute for experience. Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen made the correct strategic calls. The younger generation chose the more daring option, which backfired spectacularly. The biggest loser was Norris, the McLaren driver distraught after the race and trying to present a brave face. His day of supremacy would come, but it was just not today.

As for Hamilton, it took some time, but the century of wins had finally arrived! The Mercedes driver hadn't won a race since July, and the result brought his title challenge back on track. 

With only two points separating the contenders for the crown, the Turkish GP promised to be another humdinger of a race. 

However, today, it was time to celebrate Hamilton, the F1 Centurion!

2021 Portuguese GP Race Recap : Hammering through the Challenges!

The 2021 F1 Season kicked off in Bahrain, followed by the Emilia Romagna GP held at Imola three weeks later. Only a point separated Hamilton from Verstappen at the top of the standings ( after two races ), while Mercedes were seven points clear of Red Bull. 

Round 3 of the Championship got held at Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, Portugal. Portimao made its debut on the F1 calendar for the first time in 2020 and is the first race of the first double-header of 2021. The circuit with its undulations and off-camber corners made racing a challenge for drivers in 2020, becoming an instant hit with the fans. The overtaking opportunities were many despite the grip levels being one of the lowest on the calendar.

While the teams made the journey from Imola to Portimao, the world was abuzz with news of the dawn of a new format of racing in F1. The FOM ( with the approval of all teams ) decided to give three race weekends a new look, beginning with Silverstone and Monza. 

The changes were as under :

1) Friday would feature Free Practice 1 followed by Qualifying in the afternoon. Qualifying would follow the standard format and decide the grid for Sprint Qualifying ( Sprint Race ) that would take place on Saturday afternoon.

2) Saturday would feature Free Practice 2 in the morning, followed by Sprint Qualifying.

Sprint Qualifying, also known as Sprint Race ( unofficially ), will be a race spanning 100 km with a time duration of 30 minutes approximately. Depending on circuit length, the race would average out at 20 / 21 laps. Pit stops would be optional. The results of Sprint Qualifying would determine the grid for the race on Sunday. The top 3 finishers from Sprint Qualifying would get points ( 3, 2 and 1 ).

3) Parc Ferme conditions imposition would happen after both practice sessions.

More details on the official website :

The new format attracted mixed reactions from the fans, and it will be interesting to see whether the FOM achieve the desired results from the three trial race weekends. 

In other developments, Turkey got announced as the replacement for the Canadian Grand Prix ( this year ), while Miami would host a Grand Prix from the 2022 season. Red Bull roped in the services of Ben Hodgkinson, who was previously technical head of Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains, appointing him as technical director.

Russell issued an apology following his coming together with Bottas at the Emilia Romagna GP, a crash that cost both teams an excess of 2 million pounds in replacement parts. 

The entire F1 paddock gathered for a moment of silence to honour Martin Shepherd, an employee of Haas F1 who had also handled logistics in the past for Mercedes Petronas AMG. The Briton had met with a motorcycle accident in July 2019, resulting in multiple injuries and trauma to his brain. He breathed his last on 20th April, gone at the tender age of 25. Haas carried his name on the nose of both its cars as a tribute.

Hamilton would hit a century of pole positions if he came out on top on Saturday. Were Verstappen and Red Bull able to turn the tide and take the lead in the Championship, or did Hamilton and Mercedes ace it on race day? Bottas needed to get his title challenge back on track, and despite his strong showing in Portimao, the Finn finished second-best in 2020. Was he able to reduce the deficit to the early chargers?

Time for a quick recap of the Portuguese GP weekend!

Practice :

Alfa Romeo announced the 2020 F2 Runner-up Callum Illot as their Reserve Driver for the season, and the Briton got the chance to participate in Free Practice 1, replacing Antonio Giovinazzi. 

The driver-step on Sainz's car got dislodged at the exit of the Pit Lane at the start of FP1. The lack of grip on the circuit caused many drivers to run wide at various corners, resulting in a host of lap time deletions ( 35 in total ).

Hamilton complained about the lack of balance, with the team acknowledging that it was surface temperature related. Vettel mistakenly stopped in McLaren's garage, while Verstappen complained about vibrations from a fresh set of soft tyres on his Red Bull. It was Bottas who topped the timesheets, two-hundredths clear of Verstappen and Perez. Leclerc was 4th for Ferrari, followed by Hamilton and Gasly. 7th quickest for Russell proved that Williams was getting better with each passing day. Norris was the fastest McLaren in 8th, with Sainz and Ocon in 9th and 10th going a second slower than Bottas' time. 

Stroll was 11th quickest, followed by Ricciardo and Tsunoda. Alonso managed 14th in the other Alpine, the Spaniard's representative lap time set with the hard tyres. The Aston Martin of Vettel split the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Illot in 16th, while Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin brought up the rear of the field. It was a productive FP1 for Illot, the reserve driver going 2.4 seconds than rookie Mazepin.

The start of FP2 got delayed due to a loose drain cover at turn 11. Verstappen suffered from a brake-by-wire failure early on in the session, while Latifi had an off-track excursion at turns 7 and 8. There were 30 lap time deletions in FP2, with drivers still struggling to find the limits of their cars. Mazepin's baptism by fire continued as he struggled to find his braking points and then got in the way of Perez, who was on a flying lap with soft tyres. His teammate Schumacher suffered from an engine issue but was able to continue after a change in the settings instructed by his engineer. 

Hamilton was the quickest at the end of FP2, with Verstappen and Bottas a tenth and three-tenths off his pace, respectively. The Alpine cars of Alonso and Ocon split the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc, only two-tenths separating the quartet. Ricciardo and Stroll were 8th and 9th, more than half a second shy of Hamilton's time, while Perez completed the top 10 in the other Red Bull. 

The fastest Alpha Tauri was Gasly in 11th, followed by Norris in the second McLaren. Russell was 13th for Williams, over a second slower than Hamilton's lap time.  Tsunoda was 14th, Vettel 15th, followed by the Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin remained at the back of the pack.

Friday running suggested that Mercedes had found the optimum balance and looked competitive over one lap. However, it was Red Bull who exhibited better race pace. Ferrari and Alpine continued their resurgence, but in hotly contested midfield with a few tenths separating several drivers, anything could happen on Qualifying day. There were a total of 65 lap time deletions on Friday. Track limits were something that the teams and drivers needed to be wary of in Qualifying.

FP3 got underway with the track temperature being 10 degrees cooler than that from Friday. While Alonso had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits, Norris suffered a spin, briefly bringing out the yellow flags in sector three. Raikkonen did a complete 360 at turn 8, managing to keep his Alfa Romeo on track, but Mazepin failed to control his Haas and had a trip over the gravel. Seven different teams made up the top 10, with Verstappen topping the charts, more than two-tenths clear of Hamilton, Bottas and Perez. Ocon was 5th for Alpine, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Norris, Gasly and Raikkonen completed the top 10. 

The Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda bagged 11th, while Ricciardo set the 12th quickest time, a second slower than Verstappen. Giovinazzi was 13th in the other Alfa Romeo, while Alonso's P14 wasn't indicative of his actual pace. The Spaniard, like Stroll and Vettel, set this representative lap time on the medium tyres. Schumacher was 15th for Haas, while Russell split the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel in 17th. Latifi and Mazepin remained two seconds off the pace in P19 and P20.

Qualifying :

Mercedes mechanics worked frantically on Bottas' car to get it ready for QualifyingMcLaren, on the other hand, had to address an ECU issue on Norris' vehicle.

Q1 got underway with the McLaren drivers opting for medium tyres, while the rest, the softs. The drivers were fueled for multiple runs, gaining time as rubber got laid on the track. Hamilton, Leclerc, Mazepin and Raikkonen suffered from lap time deletions for exceeding track limits. 

Bottas, Sainz, Perez, Verstappen, Alonso and Ocon were the top 6 while Russell, Schumacher, Latifi, Mazepin and Hamilton were in the drop zone, with nine minutes remaining. Hamilton improved to 5th, while Perez made a trip through the gravel trap at turn 4.

Sainz, Verstappen and Perez decided to stay put while the rest of the field emerged with soft tyres in the final minutes of Q1. 

Bottas, Norris, Hamilton, Ocon, Sainz and Perez became the top 6 at the end of Q1 with Ricciardo, Stroll, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated.

The start of Q2 saw drivers adopting different tyre strategies. The Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, Alfa Romeo drivers and Russell chose the medium tyres at the start of Q2 while the rest opted for the softs. Once again, drivers had fuel for multiple runs. Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Ocon, Perez and Vettel were the top 6 with Russell, Tsunoda, Sainz, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in the drop zone halfway through the session. 

Ocon, Verstappen and Perez decided to not run again in Q2, while except Leclerc, everyone else switched to the soft tyres. The lap times kept improving with track evolution, and at the end of Q2, the following drivers went through to Q3 - Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Ocon, Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Vettel and Gasly.

Russell, Giovinazzi, Alonso, Tsunoda and Raikkonen got eliminated.

It was time for the top-ten shootout, and barring Vettel, the rest emerged from the pits on soft tyres for their first runs of Q3. Verstappen was pushing hard on his first attempt and exceeded track limits at turn 4, resulting in a lap time deletion. Bottas was seven thousandths clear of Hamilton at the top, followed by Perez half a second adrift in 3rd at the end of the first runs. While Norris split the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in 5th, Gasly and Ocon got the better of Vettel, who did a solitary run, out of sync with the rest of the front runners. Verstappen would get only one shot in the final minutes of Q3.

The Mercedes duo believed that they had more pace on the medium tyres, opting for those in their final run for pole position. The others persisted with the soft tyres. Verstappen kept pushing but could only manage P3, ending up four-tenths off of Bottas' first attempt. The Dutchman wasn't pleased with the way other drivers hampered his run on the flying lap. He made his displeasure known over team radio. Sainz improved to 5th, while Ocon went 6th fastest, despite hitting the kerbs. The battle for pole was now between Bottas and Hamilton, and neither improved on their final runs. Bottas grabbed pole position, seven-thousandths clear of Hamilton from his run earlier. Verstappen hung onto 3rd, with teammate Perez slotting into P4. 

Sainz was 5th for Ferrari, with Ocon bagging 6th. Row 4 got occupied by Norris and Leclerc while Gasly and Vettel completed row 5.

Bottas finally stepped up on Saturday, pipping Hamilton by the slightest of margins. However, Sunday is what mattered for the Finn. Hamilton's pace on the medium tyres based on the data from Q2 was eye-opening. The upgrades brought in by Mercedes were bringing home the desired results. Red Bull had both its cars right behind Mercedes, but Verstappen rued the missed opportunity for pole position. A stellar qualifying lap by Sainz gave Ferrari the best launchpad for a good race result, while Alpine and McLaren were on the backfoot by having only a car each in the top 10. Vettel had a resurgence of sorts and hoped for a decent points haul on Sunday.

produced a stellar performance for Williams, narrowly missing an appearance in Q3. Free tyre choice for the race coupled with a good strategy could help them score their first points of 2021. Giovinazzi managed to outqualify his more experienced teammate in Raikkonen, the latter making back-to-back mistakes on his flying laps. Tsunoda and Alonso had never raced in Portimao, and the duo had work to do on race day. Ricciardo had a disappointing showing in Qualifying, with McLaren being in damage limitation mode this weekend. Stroll, like Ricciardo, had a disappointing day at the office and needed to set things right on race day. The travails for Haas F1 continued.

Race :

Pirelli provided C1, C2 and C3 compounds for the race. Raikkonen and Stroll chose the softs while the rest chose the mediums, outside the top 10.

The five lights went out, and it was a clean start by Bottas. Verstappen got the tow from Bottas and pressured Hamilton into turn 1, but the Briton held onto P2. Perez lost 4th to Sainz while Norris got past Ocon for 6th. Raikkonen was up two positions at the end of lap one and challenging his teammate Giovinazzi on the start-finish straight. The Finn got distracted while making a settings change and rear-ended the other Alfa Romeo, damaging the front wing, which got lodged under his car. Raikkonen was a passenger into turn one as he limped through the gravel and into retirement. The resulting debris on track forced the stewards to deploy the Safety Car.  

The Safety Car pulled into the pits at the end of lap 6. Bottas had a clean getaway but delayed his restart, which allowed Verstappen to get into Hamilton's tow and past him for 2nd. Perez and Norris got past Sainz before Norris took 5th from Perez. The Mexican was once again on the back foot on the restart, which compromised his race. He reported to the team that Norris had completed an illegal overtake and requested them to report it to the race stewards. Further down the field, Russell lost three places and was down in 14th, while Stroll got past Tsunoda for 15th.

Bottas was the fastest man on track but unable to shake off Verstappen. Schumacher got past teammate Mazepin for 18th while Stroll relegated Russell to 15th. DRS got enabled on lap nine as Hamilton went the quickest and started to reduce the deficit to Verstappen. A rare error by Verstappen at turn 14 put him out of DRS, allowing Hamilton to close upon him and get past into turn one on lap 12. The Dutchman complained about the lack of straight-line speed, calling himself "a sitting duck".

Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Leclerc, Ocon, Gasly and Vettel were the top 10 at the end of lap 13. 

Tsunoda got a warning for exceeding track limits at turn one before getting past Russell for P15 ( lap 14 ). Perez got past Norris for 4th ( lap 15 ), while Hamilton got within the DRS range of Bottas. The Briton then missed his braking point at turn 13, putting him outside DRS detection, which gave Bottas some respite at the front on lap 17. Vettel lost 10th to Ricciardo on lap 18 while the battle for the lead started hotting up again. 

Hamilton had a better exit out of the final corner on lap 20, and with the assistance of DRS, took the lead of the Grand Prix! 

Sainz was the first of the front runners to pit for a set of medium tyres on lap 22, rejoining in 15th. Tsunoda followed suit a lap later, opting for hard tyres and rejoining in P19. Norris, Ocon, Vettel and Giovinazzi were the next to pit on lap 23, with Ocon and Giovinazzi opting for the hards and Vettel and Norris choosing the softs. 

Hamilton complained about tyre wear but extended his lead to 2 seconds at the front. Gasly and Latifi pitted on lap 25 for the medium and hard tyres, respectively. Meanwhile, on track, Vettel got past Schumacher for 14th. Hard tyres were the tyres of choice for Leclerc, who rejoined in 10th after his pit stop on lap 26. Ocon got past Russell for 12th, while Hamilton was the fastest man on track again. Russell lost another position to Vettel, getting relegated to 14th on lap 28. The Williams driver complained to the team that the car was undrivable. He pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in 18th on lap 29. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Alonso, Stroll, Norris, Sainz, Leclerc were the top 10 at the end of lap 33.

Schumacher lost two positions to Latifi and Russell after his switch to the hard tyres on lap 34. Ocon got past Gasly for P11 while the time for the top three to have their mandatory pit stops neared. The undercut had worked for those who had pitted earlier, and Red Bull was the first to call Verstappen in on lap 36. The Dutchman switched to hard tyres, rejoining in 4th behind his teammate Perez. It was a 2.3 seconds stop by the team. Mercedes instructed Bottas to push as they pitted a lap later to cover off the undercut. The pit stop was slower by a second, and when Bottas emerged from the pits, Verstappen was agonisingly close to overtaking him. Verstappen had his tyres up to temperature, while Bottas needed a few corners to do the same. Bottas gave too much throttle at the exit of turn 4, losing momentum out of the corner, which allowed Verstappen to get side-by-side and go past him at turn 5. Verstappen had bagged P2 for Red Bull!

Hamilton pitted on lap 38 and had a drama-free pitstop, switching to hard tyres and emerging comfortably ahead of Verstappen. Leclerc had caught up to Sainz, who was in a tyre management phase, and Ferrari decided to swap positions at turn 5. Meanwhile, at the front, Perez, who was leading the race, reported vibrations on his 43 laps old mediums. Stroll switched to the medium tyres after pitting on lap 41, while Alonso chose the hards a lap later, rejoining in 11th. Ricciardo, another driver who had a long first stint, pitted on lap 43 for hard tyres, but the Australian had missed the marker in the pit box leading to a slow stop of 4.8 seconds. He rejoined in 10th.

Hamilton started to eat into Perez's lead and was the fastest man on track. Sainz was struggling with his medium tyres and fell back into the clutches of Ocon. The Spaniard was able to rebuff the challenge for P7. Bottas had gotten his hard tyres into the operating range and was closing down the gap to Verstappen. Toto Wolff, the Mercedes Team Principal, encouraged him to keep pushing. The Finn reduced the deficit to Verstappen to 2 seconds.

The battle for P7 intensified, and Ocon finally got the job done on lap 44. Red Bull notified Perez that they wanted him to extend "Plan A" by another ten laps. The Mexican's plans almost took a hit when he closed up on Mazepin to lap him. The Russian rookie didn't oblige with the blue flags, and Perez suffered from a lock-up to avoid hitting the Haas car. The FIA flagged the incident for investigation, and Mazepin got a 5 seconds time penalty. Hamilton and Bottas continued to trade fast laps as the duo honed in on the Red Bull drivers. 

Ricciardo relegated Gasly to 10th on lap 49 while Hamilton was now only 1.8 seconds behind Perez. The Briton, on his fresher tyres, made light work of Perez and retook the lead on lap 51. Alonso was setting competitive lap times further down the field in his Alpine and got past Ricciardo for P9. Perez finally pitted on lap 52, swapping to a used set of soft tyres for his final stint. 

The battle for P10 was hotting up, with Ricciardo going backwards and falling into the hands of Gasly. Gasly requested Alpha Tauri to give him more power if they wanted the final points-scoring position. Meanwhile, Bottas, who had reduced the gap to Verstappen, started losing time as he lapped the backmarkers. He then lost more time on the next lap in clear air and reported power loss over team radio. Mercedes investigated the issue, and it was due to a faulty exhaust temperature sensor. 

Giovinazzi got past Vettel for P12 on lap 56, while Perez was the fastest man on track. Alonso continued his charge up the field and caught up to Sainz in the battle for P8. It was job done for the former double World Champion on lap 58. At the back of the pack, Latifi was fending off a challenge by Schumacher for P17. The Aston Martin cars were sparring for 13th, and Stroll got past Vettel on lap 60. The battle for P17 was relentless as Schumacher stayed in the DRS range. However, a mistake by Latifi at turn 3 allowed the German to get ahead on lap 63. 

The point for the fastest lap rested with Perez, and since Bottas had given up on challenging Verstappen for 2nd, Mercedes decided to pit him on lap 64 to regain the point. It was a free stop for Bottas, and he retained 3rd. Red Bull did the same with Verstappen a lap later, switching him to the soft tyres like Bottas. It was a record-equalling stop of 1.9 seconds. Mercedes informed Hamilton about the two pit stops behind him, but he decided against adopting the same strategy.

Sainz lost performance on his worn-out medium tyres and lost two positions to Ricciardo and Ocon, dropping out of the points on the final lap. Bottas was the fastest driver on track, and it seemed like Mercedes had succeeded in its plans. However, Verstappen went even quicker to give himself and Red Bull the extra point for the fastest lap. However, replays showed that Verstappen had exceeded track limits at turn 14, which resulted in his lap time getting deleted. 

Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and his 97th Career Victory! It was also his 50th consecutive points finish. Verstappen came home in 2nd for Red Bull, with Bottas finishing in 3rd with the extra point for the fastest lap.

Perez had his best finish with Red Bull in 4th, followed by Norris in his McLaren. Leclerc was 6th for Ferrari, closely followed by the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso. An eventful weekend for Ricciardo saw him finish 9th, ahead of Gasly, who completed the top 10.

Sainz finished 11th in the other Ferrari, having gone backwards from his starting position of 5th, followed by Giovinazzi in the solitary Alfa Romeo. Vettel got past Stroll on the last lap, thanks to another mistake by Mazepin, which compromised Stroll. Vettel and Stroll finished 13th and 14th, respectively, for Aston Martin. 15th was the best that Tsunoda could manage after racing for the first time in Portugal, followed by Russell and Schumacher. Latifi was 18th in the other Williams, with Mazepin finishing in 19th and last, 72 seconds behind his teammate Schumacher ( after applying the time penalty ).

It hadn't been smooth sailing for Hamilton. Verstappen was the favourite for pole position but failed on Saturday. Hamilton then got relegated to 3rd at the Safety Car restart and had to fight his way to victory by scintillating overtakes on Verstappen and Bottas. The Briton proved why he is a seven-time World Champion. Verstappen and Red Bull huffed and puffed but fell short on race day. 

There are days in a Championship when a driver has an opportunity to show his team the calibre he possesses and the hunger he has for victories and success. Bottas had that opportunity in Portugal and failed to capitalise on it. The faulty exhaust sensor also cost him a shot at 2nd in the race, causing further damage to his title aspirations. He has limited time to turn things around and hasn't won in the past 19 races. Perez is slowly getting to grips with life at Red Bull and would be pivotal, not just in the upcoming races but also in the title battle. The Mexican put in a commendable stint of 53 laps on the medium tyres, the longest by any driver in the race. 

McLaren didn't have high expectations from the Portuguese GP, but they would be glad about a double-points finish, something their competitor Ferrari wasn't able to achieve. Norris sits 3rd in the Championship, having made a good start in 2021, but Ricciardo is yet to find his feet. Leclerc was efficient in Portugal, but a strategy howler cost Sainz and Ferrari dearly. The Italian marquee must iron out these mistakes if they yearn to be the third-best team on the grid. Alpine had a bitter-sweet Saturday, but its drivers more than made up for it on Sunday. Ocon and Alonso's double-points finish promoted them to 5th in the Constructors' Championship. Alpha Tauri, thanks to Gasly, didn't leave Portugal empty-handed. They are locked in an intense battle with Alpine and Aston Martin and need Tsunoda to step up as well.

Aston Martin continues to struggle with the new regulations, and despite Vettel's heroics on Saturday, they left Portimao with both cars outside the points. Giovinazzi carried the burdens of Alfa Romeo single-handedly after a rare mistake by Raikkonen at the end of the opening lap. Thankfully, for the Italian, he didn't suffer damage from the contact, but it had been a weekend full of struggles for the team. Alfa Romeo won the right to review Raikkonen's penalty from Imola ( previous race ), but the decision got upheld, and they are yet to score a point in 2021. Russell has been brilliant on Saturdays but fades away in races. Despite qualifying 11th, the Williams driver kept falling backwards, complaining that the car was undrivable, something that the team needs to address at the earliest. Schumacher's calibre in wheel-to-wheel racing was on full display, and the F2 Champion came out on top against Latifi. He is slowly coming up to speed, and this augurs well for Haas F1. Mazepin failed to have an incident-free race, and the penalty for ignoring blue flags added to his woes. The concerns surrounding his racing ethics remain, but he has the team's backing for now.

The F1 circus now travels east, to Barcelona, for the Catalunya GP, which will complete the first double-header of the season. The track, which has played host to pre-season tests and races every year, is one of the most challenging on the calendar, amplifying weaknesses, if any, in a car. Only 8 points separate Hamilton and Verstappen in the standings, and it could soon become a two-horse race.

Who will reign supreme in Spain? We shall know next weekend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a recap of the Emilia Romagna GP weekend!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can't wait for Portimao!!