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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 :

https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.everything-you-need-to-know-about-f1s-new-sprint-qualifying-format-including.1Lawf6r6Ab0y8ha0satSjx.html



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.



Russell 
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!!

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

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


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


Time for a recap of the Bahrain GP weekend!



Practice :


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


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



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

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

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



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



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

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

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



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



Qualifying :


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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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



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



Race :


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


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


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



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



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



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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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

 

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


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


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



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



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



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



Bring on Imola!


2020 Abu Dhabi GP Race Recap : Clinical, Calm and Composed in a Bull!

The finale of the F1 season gets held at the Yas Marina International Circuit, and 2020 was no exception. The circuit designed by Hermann Tilke, situated on Yas Island, is the venue for farewells and goodbyes as drivers and mechanics move on to other ventures or teams for the next season.



This year was no different with a host of changes happening in 2021. Renault F1 and Racing Point F1 would race under the names of Alpine Racing F1 and Aston Martin Racing F1 next year. The drivers who would call it a day with their current teams were - Vettel at Ferrari, Perez at Racing Point, Sainz at McLaren, Ricciardo at Renault, Magnussen at Haas, Kyvat ( probably ) at Alpha Tauri. While Vettel, Sainz and Ricciardo had their future contracts locked in, uncertainties remained over Perez, Kvyat and Albon with Magnussen taking a sabbatical from the series.


Mercedes unveiled a special livery for the weekend, featuring the name of each person who has been a part of their success. Offtrack, McLaren announced that it had sold a minority stake ( in its F1 team ) to a consortium of US-based investors including MSP Sports Capital ( valued at 185 million pounds ).


Romain Grosjean, who had suffered a life-threatening accident at the Bahrain GP was unable to recover for the season finale and Fittipaldi, the reserve driver, got another opportunity in the Haas. Hamilton's availability ( due to COVID 19 ) was still a question mark. The reigning World Champion, however, tested negative in Bahrain on Wednesday, travelled to Abu Dhabi on Thursday where he produced another negative test, thus fulfilling the protocols of the UAE government and confirming his participation of the Final GP of the year. Russell returned to Williams while Aitken got re-assigned to the Reserve Driver Role.



The battle for P2 in the Drivers' Championship wasn't over, and neither was 3rd place in the Constructors'. Bottas, who had a mediocre showing against his stand-in team-mate ( Russell ) in Sakhir, hoped for a better showing in Abu Dhabi. Verstappen's charge got brought to a halt when he crashed on the opening lap ( at the Sakhir GP ), but Bottas' poor result kept him in the hunt for 2nd in the Championship.



Racing Point, who celebrated their maiden win and double podium were on the backfoot with Perez starting at the back of the grid due to a power unit change ( over and above the allocation ). Magnussen in the Haas was another driver to suffer a similar fate. Meanwhile, Leclerc carried a three-place grid penalty for his misdemeanour at the Sakhir GP. 



So, who reigned supreme in the lights of the Yas Marina International Circuit? Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


Free Practice 1 got underway with drivers trying different setups and exploring the limits of their cars. The teams also brought in 2021 parts to gather data and understand real-world results. Mick Schumacher, the 2020 F2 Champion and Haas F1 Driver for 2021 replaced Magnussen during FP1 while Kubica got another Friday drive at Alfa Romeo, taking Giovinazzi's place. Albon suffered a spin entering the marina section while Ricciardo ground to a halt with a fuel pressure problem that ruled him out of further participation in FP1. Meanwhile, Hamilton had a brake issue and had to sit out half of the session. It was Verstappen who topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, three-hundredths clear of Bottas. Ocon was 3rd for Renault ahead of Albon, Hamilton and Stroll who completed the top 6. Perez was 7th in the other Racing Point followed by the Alpha Tauris of Kvyat and Gasly who were having a strong second half with Raikkonen, the fastest Ferrari powered car in 10th.

Leclerc split the McLarens of Sainz and Norris followed by his team-mate Vettel in the other works Ferrari. Kubica was 15th from Russell and Latifi with the Haas cars of Schumacher and Fittipaldi completing the rear of the field. Ricciardo didn't set a lap time in FP1.




Pirelli had brought in the 2021 tyres for testing to Abu Dhabi, and the drivers were obliged to run eight timed laps on those sets. Raikkonen escaped a fire at the back of the Alfa Romeo in FP2, the Finn trying his best to assist the marshalls in finding the source of the flames. Smoke was still billowing when the car got extricated near the end of the session. Russell was another driver to suffer a power unit related issue, and the Williams crew exercised extreme caution as they tried to find the source of the problem since the car was leaking current. Albon had an eventful FP2, running wide several times and having his lap times deleted, and almost had a coming together with Ocon on a DRS straight. 

Meanwhile, Gasly suffered a spin at turn one while Vettel locked up his hard tyres at the same spot. The brake issues on Haas cars didn't seem to go away with Fittipaldi locking up both his tyres. The fastest time of FP2 belonged to Bottas, the Finn three-tenths clear of his team-mate, Hamilton. Verstappen led the two Red Bulls followed by Norris in 5th. Three-thousandths of a second separated Ocon, Perez, Leclerc and Ricciardo with Stroll completing the top 10. 

Sainz was in an Alpha Tauri sandwich of Kvyat and Gasly ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel. Magnussen was the fastest Haas car in 16th followed by Giovinazzi and Russell. Fittipaldi and Latifi completed the rear of the field. 




The Red Bulls reigned supreme in FP3 with Verstappen half a second clear of his team-mate Albon. The Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon popped in a surprise with the 3rd and 4th fastest times followed by Norris and Hamilton. Stroll was 7th for Racing Point, ahead of Sainz in the other McLaren with Bottas and Perez completing the top 10. The Alpha Tauris of Kvyat and Gasly had Leclerc splitting them with Vettel another three-tenths adrift. Russell got ahead of the Alfa Romeos while Latifi was in a Haas sandwich at the back of the field. 



It seemed to be a close affair between Mercedes and Red Bull, and the battle of "fine margins" continued in the midfield.



Qualifying :


Q1 got underway with the entire field choosing the soft tyres for their first runs. Ocon decided to stay in the pits and go "out-of-sync". There was drama in the pit lane with Verstappen having to slam the brakes to avoid hitting Latifi who got released out of the box by Williams, just ahead of the Dutchman. The incident got flagged for investigation by the stewards. Verstappen suffered a flat-spot on his tyres and expressed his displeasure. Giovinazzi and Hamilton had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 20. Hamilton straddled over the kerbs and requested the team to check for floor damage. The top 6 at the end of first runs were - Bottas, Perez, Albon, Stroll, Sainz and Leclerc. 


Hamilton and Verstappen managed only the 7th and the 10th quickest times, respectively. However, Verstappen improved to 2nd with 5 minutes remaining on the clock.


Raikkonen was on the cusp of elimination with Magnussen, Fittipaldi, Russell, Latifi and Giovinazzi in the drop zone. The Red Bulls, Racing Points, Sainz and Ricciardo chose to stay in the pits while the rest of the field came out on a fresh set of soft tyres. The lap times improved with track evolution, and Hamilton ended Q1 with the quickest time, followed by Bottas and Leclerc. Verstappen, Norris and Perez completed the top 6. Giovinazzi made it into Q2, eliminating his team-mate Raikkonen with Magnussen, Russell, Fittipaldi and Latifi being the other eliminations at the end of Q1.



Tyre choice was pivotal at the start of Q2, and there was a mixture of strategies adopted by the drivers. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault sent their drivers on mediums while Alpha Tauri and Giovinazzi ( Alfa Romeo ) chose the softs. McLaren split the strategy with its drivers, Sainz choosing the mediums and Norris the softs. 


Albon and Ricciardo had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 21. Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Sainz, Verstappen and Gasly were the top 6 at the end of the first runs with Ocon, Giovinazzi, Albon, Ricciardo and Perez in the drop zone. Although Perez was to start at the back of the grid, the Mexican exited the pits to complete an installation lap on the soft tyres. 


Verstappen and Leclerc exited the pits with another set of medium tyres while the rest of the field chose softs for their final runs of Q2. Despite having fresh tyres, the majority of the drivers were unable to improve on their lap times. The top 6 at the end of Q2 changed to Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Albon, Norris and Leclerc with Ocon, Ricciardo, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Perez getting eliminated.



It was time for the top-ten-shootout, and the Alpha Tauris and Norris were on a used set of soft tyres for their first runs of Q3. A tenth and a half separated the top four drivers with Bottas on provisional pole from Verstappen, Hamilton and Albon. Sainz and Norris were 5th and 6th, followed by Stroll, Leclerc and the Alpha Tauris of Kvyat and Gasly.


Everyone was on a fresh set of soft tyres in the final minutes of Q3. Hamilton set blistering sector times and seemed to have bagged pole before Bottas relegated him to 2nd. However, a few seconds later, Verstappen crossed the finish line and pipped Bottas to pole! Norris catapulted his McLaren into 4th with Albon slotting in at P5. Sainz was 6th in the other McLaren followed by Kvyat and Stroll on row 4 and Leclerc and Gasly in row 5.




It was the first time in 2020 that a non-Mercedes car had bagged pole! Verstappen had pipped Bottas by two-hundredths and Hamilton by eight-hundredths of a second for the best starting position on Sunday. Celebrations erupted in the Red Bull garage, their months of hard work finally coming to fruition on Saturday. Verstappen had the perfect launch pad to fight for 2nd place in the Championship. Bottas was looking sharp all weekend while Hamilton was still getting back up to speed after his ten-day layoff due to COVID. Mercedes knew it wasn't going to be a leisurely Sunday evening drive. 


In a tight midfield, McLaren had a great chance of outscoring the Racing Points with their 4th and 6th place in Qualifying. Once again Red Bull didn't have both its cars in the top four but hoped to see Albon challenge the Mercedes since he would start on the faster and grippier soft tyres. 


Kvyat admitted that this was the best qualifying effort of his career as he looked to capitalize on Sunday. Stroll was Racing Point's best hope since Perez needed to carve his way through the field and needed an optimal strategy. The team was already on the backfoot in its defence for P3 in the Constructors' Championship. A stellar qualifying effort by Leclerc ensured Ferrari representation in the top 10. Gasly was 10th, and it was rare to see him getting out-qualified by his team-mate.


The biggest surprise of Qualifying was the Renaults. The duo had exceptional pace in FP3 but came up short in Qualifying. A free tyre choice, combined with a good strategy, could tip the balance in their favour. Vettel's travails continued on his farewell weekend, and the German was glad that only the race remained for his ordeal to end. Giovinazzi proved the doubters wrong by out-qualifying his more experienced team-mate Raikkonen and winning the team-mate battle for the season. Sunday was the day that mattered though. Haas and Williams remained stuck in the backmarker battle with Magnussen and Russell being the drivers on whom their hopes were riding. 



The race would be long and demanding, but it was time for one final push in 2020!



Race :


Sunday arrived, and it was time for the final race of 2020. C3, C4 and C5 were the compounds provided by Pirelli in what seemed to be a one-stop race.


Norris, Albon, Kvyat, Stroll and Gasly were the drivers inside the top 10 who started the race with their ( soft ) tyres from Q2. Those in the latter half of the field chose the mediums with Ricciardo, Perez and Magnussen opting for the hards.


The drivers took a knee in the fight against racism, stood in honour of the national anthem before handing Chase Carey, the outgoing CEO of F1 a helmet signed by all the drivers on the grid. It was then time for the formation lap, and the drivers got themselves ready for the final bout under the lights. 



The race got underway, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen, the Dutchman comfortably fending off any challenge from the Mercedes into turn one. Bottas had a slower exit out of turn one but was able to hold onto 2nd despite the pressure from Hamilton. Further down the field, Ocon was able to jump Gasly for 10th while Vettel and Raikkonen overtook their team-mates for 12th and 14th, respectively. Magnussen moved up three positions from the back of the grid, and it was an incident-free opening lap.



Verstappen wasted no time in building a gap to the Mercedes and was 1.7 seconds clear at the end of lap 1. Gasly recovered 9th from Ocon on lap two at turn 9. Verstappen set the fastest lap on lap three while Perez, who had started 19th after the engine change, got past Fittipaldi for P18. Norris was holding off Albon in the battle for 4th, and the latter quipped that Norris was overdriving and might not be able to complete the race with a single stop. 



Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Albon, Sainz, Kvyat, Stroll, Gasly and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 4. 



Perez relegated Russell to 17th ( lap 5 ) and Giovinazzi to 16th ( lap 6 ) while Renault instructed Ocon to let Ricciardo by ( for P10 ) a lap later. The battle for 4th culminated with Albon getting the better of Norris with DRS assistance. The Racing Point drivers were making overtakes on track with Stroll getting past Kvyat for 7th, and Perez completing a move on Raikkonen for 14th. Kvyat then lost 8th to team-mate Gasly while the VSC got deployed due to an incident in sector 3. Perez had ground to a halt at turn 19 ( lap 10 ), retiring from his final race with Racing Point. 



It was still early for a pit stop, but the teams decided to utilize the VSC period to pit their drivers. The Ferraris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi and Magnussen chose to stay out while the rest of the field pitted for a fresh set of hard tyres. Sainz got flagged for investigation ( post-race ) for driving unnecessarily slowly in the pitlane. The marshalls needed more time for extrication, and the VSC got changed to a full Safety Car. As the field got bunched up again, Hamilton complained about balance issues on his car. Perez and his mechanics at Racing Point were distraught, and they knew the ramifications of this retirement in the battle for 3rd in the Constructors'.



The Safety Car returned to the pits at the end of lap 13, and it was a clean getaway by Verstappen again. Raikkonen got past Magnussen for 15th while Sainz relegated Leclerc to 9th on lap 14. Giovinazzi, one of the drivers who chose to stay out, lost 12th to Ocon while Stroll got past Leclerc for 9th, only for the Monegasque to fight back and retake the position at the end of the straight. Giovinazzi continued to fall backwards with Kvyat and Raikkonen getting past the Italian in the space of 2 laps while Sainz overtook Vettel for 7th ( lap 17 ). 



Leclerc suffered a similar fate and got overtaken by Stroll, Gasly and Ocon, warning the team that he needed to pit if he wanted to salvage something from the race. He finally pitted from 12th on lap 23, for a set of hard tyres, rejoining in 19th and last. On the track, Russell got past Giovinazzi for 15th while Stroll was honing in on Vettel for 8th, but ran wide at turn 11, allowing Gasly to reduce the deficit to him instead. 



Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, Vettel, Stroll and Gasly were the top 10 at the end of lap 26. 



Leclerc began to recover the places he had lost with overtakes on Fittipaldi, Latifi and Magnussen for 18th, 17th and 16th respectively. Giovinazzi pitted on lap 29 for hard tyres, rejoining in 19th while Latifi got past Magnussen for 16th. Verstappen was lapping six-tenths quicker than the Mercedes duo and extended his lead to 7 seconds at the front. 



Stroll, who had failed to get past Vettel, now found himself defending 9th from Gasly. The defence didn't last long, and Gasly was up into 9th on lap 30. The Frenchman then closed in on Vettel and got past him for 8th, but the latter put up a dogged fight, his tyres unable to provide the levels of traction like Gasly's though. Further down the field, Magnussen lost 17th to Fittipaldi. The Haas driver finally pitted for mediums on lap 33, rejoining in last. The battle for 14th was an intense one between Russell and Leclerc, and the latter was able to get the job done on lap 35.



Hamilton reported that he had suffered a flat-spot on his tyres while Vettel finally pitted for a set of medium tyres on lap 36, rejoining in 15th behind Russell. Latifi did the same on lap 37, rejoining in 17th. The last of the drivers to pit, amongst those who had started on the hard tyres, was Ricciardo. The Australian pitted from P5, having held off Norris long enough, for a fresh set of mediums on lap 40, and rejoined in 7th. Leclerc was now on the tail of Raikkonen for 12th and had an opportunity to pass on lap 41, but Raikkonen fended off the challenge, his experience coming to the fore.



Vettel got past Russell for 14th on lap 42 while Mercedes asked Bottas to start pushing and close the gap to Verstappen in front. However, Verstappen responded with quicker laps of his own, extending his lead by another two seconds. 



Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly, Stroll and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 45. 



Leclerc got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits at turn 21 multiple times. Haas pitted both its drivers with Magnussen switching to new mediums and Fittipaldi to softs on laps 49 and 50 respectively. Giovinazzi was honing in on Russell in the battle for 15th as Albon started to catch Hamilton for the final podium position, reducing the deficit to less than 2 seconds. Ocon closed up on Stroll and got past him for P9 on the last lap.



Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and Victory at the 2020 Abu Dhabi GP. The Dutchman could have completed the "Grand Slam" but for Ricciardo to take the point for the fastest lap off him on the last lap. Bottas and Hamilton came home in 2nd and 3rd for Mercedes, followed by Albon in the other Red Bull and the McLarens of Norris and Sainz. Ricciardo, Gasly, Ocon and Stroll completed the top 10. 


Kvyat was 11th in the other Alpha Tauri, followed by Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo. The works Ferrari team could only manage 13th and 14th followed by Russell and Giovinazzi. Latifi, Magnussen and Fittipaldi were the final classified finishers. 



While Verstappen celebrated with Red Bull on parc-ferme, Hamilton and Bottas performed their customary season-ending donuts on the start-finish straight. Magnussen did the same in the final sector as the Dane returned to the pits, his last race in F1. The radio channels got flooded with emotional exchanges between teams and drivers, some bidding farewell and some thanking their mechanics for the season, vowing to return re-energized for the challenge in 2021. 



Verstappen had given it his all, but Bottas' 2nd place was enough for P2 in the Drivers' Championship. Albon did all he could in the other Red Bull, but the final decision about renewal for 2021 rests with the team. Hamilton had recovered from COVID-19 but not to full fitness, and it showed. The Mercedes duo was managing an MGU-K issue which explained their lack of pace against the Red Bull of Verstappen. Norris and Sainz' 5th and 6th place finish combined with Perez's retirement in the race allowed McLaren to jump Racing Point in the Constructors' Championship. The investigation on Sainz ended with "no action taken", and McLaren had bagged 3rd place in the Championship


Perez didn't get an ideal farewell with Racing Point, but finishing 4th in the Drivers' Championship makes his CV for 2021 stronger. It had been an eventful year for Racing Point, from its RP20 being called the "Pink Mercedes" to having 15 points docked in Constructors' Championship. Despite the penalties dished out to them, they had accomplished a lot in 2020.


Renault had another double-points weekend, and they would miss the services of Ricciardo who is McLaren bound for 2021. They were locked in an intense battle all season long, and 5th was the best they could achieve. Alpha Tauri had a strong second half and got close to outscoring Ferrari. Gasly was the star of the show and with Honda backed F2 driver Tsunoda coming in, things can only get better in 2021. 


Raikkonen had a strong end to the season, finishing the highest of the Ferrari-powered cars in the season finale. Giovinazzi out-qualified his team-mate, Raikkonen, and would be looking to produce more points-scoring finishes in 2021. It was back to the drawing board for Ferrari, the Maranello-based outfit ending the season a dismal 6th in the Constructors'. Russell carried a thank-you tribute on his helmet for Sir Frank Williams and Claire Williams and would be hoping to bring Williams further up the grid next year. His team-mate Latifi would also need to step up his performances. Magnussen said goodbye to the sport, having spent the majority of his career in the midfield, his talent never getting the recognition it deserved. It was a good learning experience ( in the final two rounds ) for Fittipaldi who would take up the role of reserve driver again in 2021.



Verstappen controlled the race from start to finish, kept it clean and reaped the rewards at the end. Hamilton and Bottas had no answer to his pace and looked second-best throughout the weekend, but they had already accomplished what they set out to achieve. Nevertheless, this win helped Verstappen and Red Bull sign off 2020 on the right note and carry the momentum into 2021.



2020 had been a tough year for the world, and the likelihood of having a sizeable F1 season seemed improbable at the onset of the pandemic in March. However, the FIA, FOM and Liberty Media planned an elaborate yet hectic calendar of 17 races and accomplished the task. Kudos to them! The sport returned to some classic tracks besides visiting venues where F1 had never raced before. Some even welcomed fans. The 2020 Season had been unique in that way. There were 78000 COVID Tests throughout the season, and the protocols set in place got followed to the T. 

 


The start of the 2021 F1 Season is less than 100 days away, and the battle will resume in March, Down Under!



Till then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

2020 Sakhir GP Race Recap : The Last became the First!

The 2020 F1 Season was drawing to a close, and two races remained from the truncated calendar. The final triple-header of the year saw two back-to-back races at the Bahrain International Circuit, with the penultimate race getting held on the outer loop of the track. The circuit, which has six variations, had never seen racing on this layout. F1 cars could complete a lap in 55 seconds with drivers applying full throttle for 75% of the lap. A marathon race of 87 laps awaited the teams and drivers where fuel management could prove pivotal. 



It had been an eventful week after the Bahrain GP which saw Romain Grosjean escape from a life-threatening crash. The FIA added a tyre wall to the repaired barriers at turn 3, which was the scene of the accident the previous weekend. Grosjean was still on the mend, and the team brought in the Reserve Driver, Pietro Fittipaldi ( grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi ) as the replacement. Fittipaldi Jr. wasn't the only rookie to take the F1 wheel, however. 



News broke out that Lewis Hamilton, the Seven-Time World Champion had tested positive for COVID-19 and would sit out the Sakhir GP weekend. Mercedes had Reserve Driver Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings, but they chose to promote their protegee George Russell into the vacant W11 seat. While Russell moved across the paddock, Williams gave Jack Aitken, their reserve driver, the chance of driving their 2020 contender. Would these replacements remain for the final race or not remained to be seen, but it was an incredible opportunity for the rookies and Russell to prove their talent and mettle in the best racing series.



Meanwhile, off track, Ferrari announced a reorganisation in their technical department for 2021 with Simone Resta, the head of the Chassis Engineering Department moving to Haas F1. Enrico Cardile was the replacement announced. Haas F1 Team announced their driver line-up for 2021 by bringing in Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher and F2 driver Nikita Mazepin. Callum Ilott, the other contender for the 2020 F2 Crown and Ferrari Academy Driver, got overlooked, unfortunately. 



Only 12 points separated Bottas from Verstappen, and with Hamilton out of the reckoning, both had an opportunity of scoring the maximum haul of points on the weekend. Was the newcomer Russell able to throw a spanner in the works? Albon, in the sister Red Bull, had two more opportunities to prove his worthiness for 2021, was he able to do his chances any good? Racing Point had an opportunity of making right the disappointments of the previous weekend. How did they fare?



Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


FP1 got underway with drivers learning the limits of the new layout while negotiating the bumps and sudden changes of direction. Traffic was another challenge due to the short duration of a lap. Norris narrowly missed hitting Perez while Leclerc ran wide at turn six and Albon suffered a spin at turn two. Gasly's Alpha Tauri's wing mirror came loose, and the Frenchman had to return to the pits cautiously. Russell's tall frame was the cause of some discomfort ( for his shoulders ) in the Mercedes, but the Briton managed to set the fastest time of FP1, a 54.5 seconds lap. 


Less than a second separated the top 10 drivers with Verstappen, Albon, Bottas, Kvyat and Gasly completing the top 6. Vettel split the Renaults of Ocon and Kvyat with Leclerc a further two-tenths adrift. The Racing Points of Stroll and Perez were 11th and 12th followed by Sainz in his McLaren. Raikkonen and Giovinazzi were the fastest Ferrari customer drivers ( in the Alfa Romeo ) while Norris had a disappointing FP1 in 16th. Magnussen, Latifi, Fittipaldi and Aitken completed the rear of the field.



Track limits got enforced at turn eight by the stewards at the start of FP2.  Several drivers had run wide in FP1, and the stewards deemed it necessary to dish out lap-time deletions for infringements. Bottas was one such driver who had a torrid time in FP2, leaving the confines of the track on multiple occasions. He even suffered from multiple lap time deletions from exceeding track limits. The flying gravel from one of his off-track excursions hit Gasly's finger which left him grimacing over the radio. Understeer became a challenge for both Red Bull drivers as they tried to push harder on their qualifying and race simulations. Vettel suffered two spins in the sessions, at turns two and five, narrowly missing a collision with Magnussen in the second incident. Leclerc, in the sister Ferrari, suffered a driveshaft failure early on in the session and was unable to rejoin in FP2. Norris went over the kerbs at turn three which damaged the floor of his McLaren. The Briton returned to the track in the latter half of the session but returned to the pits after McLaren discovered multiple issues on the out-lap. Sainz too suffered from "gear synchronisation" issues, but it was a quick fix in the garage. 


Russell topped the timesheets again with Verstappen and Perez less than two-tenths adrift. Ocon, Albon and Kvyat completed the top 6 with Stroll, Ricciardo and Gasly less than half a second shy of the fastest lap time. Sainz was 10th in his McLaren with Bottas setting only the 11th fastest time in the other Mercedes ( but on the hard tyres ). The Finn's lap times in qualifying simulations on soft tyres got deleted due to exceeding of track limits. The Alfa Romeos of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi improved to 12th and 13th with Magnussen and Latifi a second down on Russell's time. Vettel and Norris languished down in 16th and 17th ahead of rookies Fittipaldi and Aitken. Leclerc didn't set a time in FP2. 



The Friday Practice sessions were a close affair between the teams. A few tenths separated those in the midfield, and it was imperative to have a clean lap on a ( relatively ) clear track to gain the positions on offer. Bottas had a challenging Friday and needed to get the right balance for Saturday. Ferrari and McLaren had compromised running on Friday and needed to do a lot more come Free Practice 3.



Saturday arrived, and it was time for Free Practice 3. Verstappen suffered a spin at turn two while Vettel switched to a different setup for FP3. However, his run got curtailed after a trip on the kerbs and Ferrari opted to change Vettel's engine as a precautionary measure. It was Verstappen who set the fastest time of FP3, two tenths clear of Bottas. Gasly was 3rd in the Alpha Tauri with Ocon, Norris and Albon completing the top 6. Russell was 7th in the other Mercedes followed by Perez, Stroll and Sainz. 


Giovinazzi was performing well in his Alfa Romeo and set the 11th fastest time followed by Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri. It was a lucky escape for Leclerc who spun at the last turn in the final minutes of the session, en route to the 13th quickest time. Ricciardo split the Ferraris followed by Raikkonen who was more than a second slower of Verstappen's time in 16th. Magnussen, Latifi, Fittipaldi and Aitken remained at the back of the pack.



The Mercedes duo and Verstappen were the class of the field, and the battle for pole promised to be a tight affair. The fight for supremacy in the midfield too was a matter of "fine margins" going into Qualifying. The teams needed to get their calculations right to ensure that their drivers would have the best possible chance to qualify. 



Qualifying :


Fittipaldi got a grid penalty and would start at the back of the grid. The team had to make changes to his power unit elements ( new control electronics and energy store ). Nevertheless, the Brazilian took to the track at the start of Q1. Haas, Williams, Sainz and Raikkonen were the early runners in Q1 with Sainz choosing the hard tyres. The Alpha Tauris and Mercedes followed shortly with medium tyres with the rest of the field opting for softs. All cars were out on track with 10 minutes left of Q1. Norris had his lap time deleted for exceeding of track limits at turn 8.


Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Bottas, Albon and Stroll were the top 6 at the end of the first runs. Sainz was on the cusp of elimination with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Aitken, Latifi and Fittipaldi in the drop zone. It wasn't smooth sailing for Raikkonen who complained about braking issues on his first run.


The drivers came out with a fresh set of tyres ( softs ) and the lap times kept improving with track evolution. Aitken jumped to 15th, Latifi to 16th and Raikkonen to 13th. Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Sainz and Albon chose to stay put as the rest of the field tried to sure up their chances of making it into Q2. Bottas went the fastest at the end of Q1 from Verstappen and Russell. The McLaren of Norris was 4th fastest followed by Gasly and Perez. Albon had a lucky escape in the final minutes of Q1 as he ended with only the 15th quickest time. The eliminations from Q1 were Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Raikkonen and Fittipaldi. 




Q2 got underway with the Renaults, Racing Points and Albon opting to stay in the pits while the Mercedes, Ferraris and Verstappen chose the medium tyres for their first runs. Gasly exceeded track limits at turn eight and had his lap time deleted. Five-hundredths of a second separated Perez, Bottas, Sainz, Russell and Stroll ( top 5 ) with Gasly, Leclerc, Vettel, Norris and Giovinazzi in the drop zone. 


The Ferrari drivers emerged with a new set of medium tyres, but Vettel aborted his flying lap and returned to the pits. Vettel didn't have the confidence of making it into Q3 with the mediumsbut Leclerc continued and broke into the top 6. Barring the Mercedes drivers, the rest of the field chose the soft tyres. Norris made two attempts to set a representative lap time but aborted both attempts. 


Verstappen ended Q2 with the quickest time from Perez and Bottas. Sainz, Russell and Leclerc completed the top 6 with Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Norris getting knocked out.



The start of Q3 saw Gasly emerge out of the pits with a set of medium tyres while his team-mate Kvyat and the Racing Point drivers chose to stay put. The first runs were complete, and it was Verstappen on provisional pole from Leclerc and Bottas, a tenth separating the trio. Perez was 4th, splitting the Mercedes following by Ricciardo, Sainz, Stroll, Kvyat and Gasly. However, the Mercedes duo had set their lap times on used softs, and they would go quicker on their final runs.


Leclerc had set a blistering lap time, but was out of soft tyres and couldn't take further part in Q3. Bottas and Russell had tyres for two more attempts, and both didn't disappoint. They locked out the front row with five minutes left on the clock. The final minutes of Q3 saw the battle for pole intensify. 


Bottas, Russell and Verstappen were setting blistering sector times, but it was Bottas who bagged pole for the Sakhir GP. Russell was shy by two-hundredths and Verstappen by five-hundredths. Leclerc's earlier attempt was good enough for 4th with Perez and Kvyat taking up row 3. Row 4 got snapped up by Ricciardo and Sainz and five by Gasly and Stroll.



It had been a close contest for pole, but Bottas got the job done in the end. Russell put in a fine effort to be within two-hundredths of Bottas' time on his first outing. Mercedes got another front-row lockout and were the favourites for victory on race day. Verstappen would be disappointed to have missed a front row start by a small margin. No one predicted Ferrari to be on row 2 of the grid, but Leclerc accomplished the unthinkable. Sunday would be the real challenge though. Perez's performances in the Racing Point continued to impress one and all, and Kvyat produced a stellar lap to end up 6th on the grid. The midfield was tight as ever, and strategy would prove pivotal in the battle between the Renaults, McLarens, Racing Points and the Alpha Tauris. 


Albon had yet another mediocre performance on Saturday and needed to step up on Sunday whereas Vettel was still struggling with the balance of his car. The German had a free tyre choice, and the race could be a different story. Giovinazzi would be encouraged with another appearance in Q2 for Alfa Romeo, edging out Norris who looked off the pace throughout Qualifying. Magnussen was the best bet for Haas, and Latifi and Aitken would be ecstatic about edging out former World Champion Raikkonen in Qualifying. Raikkonen, on the other hand, would be looking to set things right on Sunday.



A mammoth 87 laps awaited the teams in what promised to be an exciting race under the lights of the Bahrain International Circuit. 



Race :


Pirelli provided the same sets of dry tyres from the previous weekend ( C2, C3 and C4 ) in what seemed to be a two-stop race.


Norris and McLaren decided to switch to a new power unit and started the race at the back of the grid alongside Fittipaldi. 


The Mercedes drivers were on the medium tyres from Q2 while others in the top 10 on the softs. The following drivers outside the top 10 chose the softs - Norris, Latifi, Magnussen and Fittipaldi while Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Aitken and Raikkonen opted for the mediums.


Bottas led the field away on the formation lap while Russell was slower off the line. The Briton was still learning about his loaned Mercedes and needed a good start to fend off the challenge from Verstappen. 



The five red lights went out, and it was a good start off the line for both the Mercedes cars. However, it was Russell who got the inside line at turn one and took the lead of the race! Perez and Verstappen were jostling for position, but Verstappen held onto P3. Bottas was slow out of turn two and got swamped by the trio of Verstappen, Perez and Leclerc. The quartet was racing close to each other, and there was drama at turn four. Perez got tagged at the rear by Leclerc, sending him into a spin and breaking the latter's front suspension. Verstappen, who was on the outside, tried to take avoiding action, ending up in the gravel and eventually running out of road. He collided with the barriers, retiring from the race along with Leclerc. Perez was able to continue, but pitted for mediums, rejoining in last. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Leclerc got a three-place grid drop for the next race.


Further down the field, Raikkonen suffered a spin at turn two while Norris had a mega start and was up to 10th, having started P19. 


The Safety Car got deployed to remove the stricken cars and racing didn't resume until lap 7. Russell had a clean restart while Sainz got past Bottas for 2nd, but ran wide, allowing Bottas to retake the position. Raikkonen lost 17th to Perez who then dispatched Fittipaldi and Aitken for 15th a lap later, and Norris overtook Vettel for 9th. Perez continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Giovinazzi for 13th, while Raikkonen got past Fittipaldi for P17 ( lap 9 ).


Russell started pulling away with the fastest lap ( lap 10 ) while Perez relegated Magnussen to 13th. Raikkonen got past Aitken for P16 while Perez was closing in on the battle between Vettel and Albon for 10th. It was job done for Albon on lap 12 with Vettel losing 11th to Perez on the same lap. The Mercedes duo started to pull away from the rest of the field, and Sainz had Ricciardo's company in the battle for third. 


Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Stroll, Gasly, Ocon, Norris and Albon were the top 10 at the end of lap 16. 


Magnussen got relegated to 15th by Latifi and Giovinazzi while Bottas set the fastest lap of the race. Albon and Perez got past Norris for 9th and 10th respectively, and the Briton pitted immediately after for a set of medium tyres, rejoining in 18th and last. It was 9th for Perez who got past Albon while Russell set the fastest lap of the race. 


Raikkonen pitted for hard tyres on lap 25, but it was a slow stop due to a troublesome left front tyre. Norris got past Fittipaldi for 16th, and the pit stop window was now open for those on a two-stop strategy. Giovinazzi and Magnussen pitted on lap 27 for hards and mediums respectively while Kvyat was the first from the top 10 to pit for a set of mediums. There was a slew of pit stops with Sainz and Gasly switching to the mediums ( lap 29 ) followed by Ricciardo a lap later. The undercut worked for Kvyat who jumped Ricciardo in the round of pitstops while Norris got past Aitken for P12. Vettel, the only Ferrari left in the race, pitted on lap 33 for a set of hard tyres, rejoining in 13th behind Latifi, but immediately overtaking the Canadian. Ricciardo was harrowing Kvyat for P8, but the Russian was able to fend off the challenge and set the fastest lap of the race. 


Russell, Bottas, Stroll, Ocon, Perez, Albon, Sainz, Kvyat, Ricciardo and Gasly were the top 10 at the end of lap 38. 


Ocon pitted on lap 42, switching to the hard tyres and rejoining in 10th. Stroll pitted a lap later, switching to the mediums and emerged out of the pits ahead of Ocon. However, Ocon had his tyres up to operating temperatures and regained track position with the help of DRS. He then went on to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 45 while Russell was nearing his first pit stop and got told to push by the team. Russell pitted from the lead on lap 46, putting on the hard tyres and rejoining in 2nd. He reclaimed the fastest lap time a couple of laps later as he began reducing the gap to his team-mate Bottas who was yet to pit. The Briton reported power issues which got resolved with a settings-change on the dash. 


Perez and Albon were the next to pit for hard tyres, emerging in 9th and 11th with Norris splitting the duo. The stewards issued Albon Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits multiple times ( lap 49 ). Bottas, who had tried to extend his stint on the mediums, finally pitted on lap 50 for hard tyres but had lost time to Russell, now 8 seconds adrift. Mercedes asked Russell to be careful while driving at turns 7 and 8 since it was putting a strain on the front left tyre. Gasly had to pit for the 2nd time on lap 52 for hard tyres, dropping him out of the points. Albon got past Norris for P9 on lap 53 while Kvyat pitted for the hard tyres. Gasly caught up to Vettel and overtook him for P11 on lap 55 just before the Virtual Safety Car got deployed for an incident on track.


It was Latifi who came to a halt at the exit of turn 8 with what seemed to be a mechanical issue. Norris pitted under VSC, switching to the medium tyres while Vettel and Magnussen chose the soft tyres. It was a slow stop for Vettel, the front left tyre getting stuck. Giovinazzi was another driver who ditched his hard tyres for a fresh set of mediums. The Virtual Safety Car period didn't last long, and Sainz and Ricciardo pitted just after green flag racing had resumed, switching to the mediums and hards respectively, and lost time in the process. Perez, who was managing his power unit, had closed in on his team-mate Stroll who made a mistake at turn four allowing the Mexican to take 4th. A lap later, it was Ocon who got bumped out of 3rd by Perez on the pit straight with the help of DRS. Meanwhile, at the front, Bottas was honing in on Russell, and the gap was down to 5.5 seconds. The Finn further reduced the deficit with two blistering laps on his hard tyres. 


The Virtual Safety Car got deployed again due to debris on the track. It was Aitken who had lost his front wing and pitted for a new front wing and soft tyres. The rookie had spun at the final corner and hit the orange barriers, losing his front wing in the process. The dislodged front wing was on the racing line, and there wasn't a gap big enough for the stewards to extricate the debris. The stewards decided to deploy the Safety Car and bunch up the field.



Mercedes called in their drivers for another stop, going in for the "double stack". It was a slightly slow stop for Russell who switched to the mediums, but there was chaos when Bottas drove into the box. The mechanics weren't ready with the tyres, and there was confusion with the tyres to put on; then, the left front brake overheated and caught fire while the tyre gun malfunctioned. Bottas emerged from the pits with the same set of hard tyres that he had pitted on! The Finn's 27 seconds stop had cost him track position to Perez, Ocon and Stroll, and he was down in 5th. The drama didn't end there. Mercedes discovered that they had put the wrong set of tyres on Russell's car. The Briton was driving with the tyres allocated to Bottas! He got the instruction to pit again a lap later, switched to the soft tyres, and rejoined behind Bottas. Russell, who was coasting to victory, now found himself down in 5th, all his hard work undone while Bottas had gone through a lengthy stop without switching to a new set of tyres! Mercedes had lost the initiative. Further down the field, Vettel, Raikkonen and Fittipaldi pitted for the third time, switching to the soft tyres for the final stint in the race.



The lapped cars were allowed to overtake the Safety Car and return on the lead lap, and racing resumed at the end of lap 68. Stroll almost rear-ended Ocon as Perez tried to bunch up the field. It was a great restart by Perez who led the field into turn one while Albon got past Gasly for P9. Russell wasted no time in his quest of reclaiming the top stop, getting past team-mate Bottas at turn eight in a spectacular yet clean overtake. Raikkonen and Magnussen went wheel-to-wheel for 14th, and it was job done for Raikkonen on lap 71. Magnussen got warned with a Black & White flag for exceeding track limits on multiple occasions. 



Russell relegated Stroll to 4th on lap 72 and was into 2nd with a pass on Ocon a lap later. Perez had built a gap of 3.5 seconds to Russell but was on old hard tyres. He wouldn't stand a chance against the charging Briton once he closed up and they wheel-to-wheel. The charge for victory began in full earnest as Russell set the fastest lap of the race on lap 76, bringing the gap down to 2.5 seconds. His team-mate Bottas was going the other way. His hard tyres had fallen off the cliff, and he lost positions to Sainz, Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat in the space of 2 laps. 



There was more drama on lap 78. Russell had closed the gap to Perez to 2.1 seconds when Mercedes informed him about a puncture on the rear left tyre! Russell had to pit for the 4th time, dropping him down to 15th place! The Briton didn't hold back his exasperation, all his hard work coming to nought. To add insult to injury, the stewards decided to investigate the issue of "incorrect tyres" on Russell's car after the race. 



Perez now led the race with a cushion of 8 seconds from Ocon and Stroll. Russell began his charge through the field, passing Magnussen, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Vettel in the space of 2 laps. Bottas, on the other hand, complained about his old tyres being "undrivable", but the team asked him to soldier on. Perez had extended his lead to 10 seconds and continued to pull further away while Norris got past Gasly for 9th ( lap 85 ). A lap later, Russell was back into the points, relegating Gasly to 11th. The final lap had begun, and Perez and Racing Point seemed destined to win their first-ever race. Russell got past Norris for 9th, and that would be the best he would finish with at the end of the day. 



Perez crossed the finish line to win the 2020 Sakhir GP for Racing Point! Ocon came home in 2nd for Renault and Stroll completed a double podium for Racing Point. 4th was the best that Sainz could achieve, having run in the podium positions for the early part of the race with Ricciardo ending up in 5th. Both lost time when they pitted just after the Virtual Safety Car period had ended. Albon was 6th for Red Bull followed by Kvyat in his Alpha Tauri. Bottas and Russell came home in 8th and 9th for Mercedes with Norris taking the final points-scoring position.


Gasly drove hard but ended up in 11th. Vettel was 12th for Ferrari ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen. Magnussen, Aitken and Fittipaldi were the final classified finishers.



It was a day of contrasting emotions - while Racing Point and Perez were celebrating their wina disconsolate Russell was lying on the grass at the back of the paddock, thinking about what "could have been" had there not been a mix-up in the pit lane with regards to the tyres. 



Russell had driven his heart out, led from the start, controlling the race clinically and yet coming up short. There was no doubt that he would win one day, not just a race or two, but the Championship; but that day would come on another day. Motorsports can be cruel, and some experiences are gut-wrenching. Raikkonen who suffered a fair share of bad luck in his younger days used to quip "these things happen in sport, part and parcel of racing", and this experience would make Russell stronger, mentally. Nevertheless, his performance on the weekend proves how ready he is for the sharp end of the grid. 


Lewis Hamilton's availability for Abu Dhabi hangs in the balance. The reigning World Champion faces a race against time as he tries to recover from COVID-19. If he is unable to fulfil the protocols set by the UAE government, then Russell would remain in the Mercedes seat for the final round of the 2020 season and have another shot at victory. 


Russell deserves to be in a Mercedes, full-time, sooner rather than later. He is worthy of that honour. 



Mercedes got fined 20000 Euros for their mistake with the incorrect tyres on Russell's car. The stewards decided against disqualification ( which is the rule ) and imposed a financial penalty instead. An intercom failure was to blame for the blunder that cost the team another 1-2 finish and Russell a win. Such days are rare for a team like Mercedes, but they are humans at the end of the day. An apology by the team followed shortly after.  



Bottas blew a golden chance of cementing 2nd place in the Drivers' Championship when Verstappen retired from the race. The Finn lacked motivation and looked lacklustre the entire race. He cannot afford such mediocrity if he is to pose a semblance of a challenge to Hamilton in 2021. He needs to step up his performances as the threat of losing his seat to a younger and more talented driver looms large. 



Verstappen would have been in the reckoning for victory but crashed ( no fault of his own ) on the opening lap while trying to take avoiding action. The Dutchman can still claim 2nd in the Championship and will go all out in Abu Dhabi. Albon's 6th place was uninspiring; there were shades of brilliance, but yet not good enough. If he doesn't produce something magical in Abu Dhabi, a sabbatical awaits him. 



The midfield battle has taken another dramatic turn with Racing Point and Renault's haul of points this weekend. McLaren was in damage limitation mode and would need a better outing in Abu Dhabi, needing to outscore the Racing Points by 11 points or more. Renault is still in the hunt for 3rd place, but a 22 points deficit might be too big an ask. Ocon scored the first podium of his F1 career, a stellar drive by the Frenchman who stopped only once during the race. He is getting stronger with each passing weekend, and this augurs well for Renault.



Ferrari blew their chance of a strong finish when Leclerc made contact with Perez on the opening lap leading to the Monegasque's retirement. A three-place grid penalty for Leclerc in Abu Dhabi only compounds matters. Vettel is counting down the days left with Ferrari as his season goes from bad to worse with each passing race. They need to fend off a resurgence from Alpha Tauri, or they would end the season a disappointing 7th. Alfa Romeo's mercurial performances in 2020 remain a mystery while Haas and Williams would be proud of the drives put in by their rookies Fittipaldi and Aitken. Fittipaldi would race again since Grosjean was declared unfit for participation in the season-ender at Abu Dhabi following his horrific crash. Aitken's eligibility is dependent on Hamilton's, but the Briton had a commendable outing in his first Grand Prix.



Perez and Racing Point scored their maiden win in F1. It was also the team's first-ever double podium, and a Mexican driver won again after a gap of 50 years! Perez was last and out of the reckoning at the end of lap 1, but he produced a drive full of character and skill as he made his way through the field, being in the right place at the right time when misfortune hit the Mercedes duo. He has done more than one can ask to warrant a drive in 2021, yet his career remains in limbo. The cries for a top seat grow louder; hopefully, Perez wouldn't have to wait for long. However, he can bask in the glory and the honour of being a Grand Prix winner. Stroll had another strong weekend, taking up the final podium spot, stopping only once like Ocon in the race. 



Racing Point had two eventful weekends; from suffering a Double DNF ( with Stroll getting inverted at the race restart and Perez suffering from an MGU-K failure while running in 3rd ) to scoring their first-ever win and double podium a weekend later. A complete change of fortunes for the Silverstone-based outfit. The team was short on parts to build two race cars, and parts got flown in on Thursday evening, such were the challenges faced by Racing Point! 



The final race of the season at the iconic Yas Marina Circuit beckons. Will we see a young protegee on the top step of the podium or will the seasoned campaigner make a return in time? 



Time will tell! 

2020 Bahrain GP Race Recap : Halo, the Lifesaver & Safety, the Real Winner!

The 2020 F1 Season drew to its conclusion with another triple-header, this time in the Middle-East. The Bahrain International Circuit was the venue for the first of these with the traditional Grand Prix layout. 


The weekend also saw the return of Formula 2, a feeder series lower than F1 featuring contenders like Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott, Christian Lundgaard, Yuki Tsunoda and Robert Schwartzman. 


Bahrain, the first twilight race of the year, is a power-based circuit, and Mercedes powered cars have dominated races in the past. 

Hamilton and Mercedes were the Champions of 2020, but a lot was at stake, be it for P2 in the Drivers' Championship or 3rd in the Constructors'. 


Bottas hoped to finish the remainder of 2020 on a high and carry the momentum into 2021. Ferrari was back in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors' and could leapfrog Renault with another strong result. A seat at Red Bull in 2021 was still up for grabs, and Albon had another weekend to prove his worthiness. 


How did the teams and drivers fare in the desert? Time for a quick recap of the weekend!



Practice :


Track temperatures were lower than those in April, the usual race month, so teams needed to re-learn and change their setups during the practice sessions.


Pirelli had brought in their 2021 tyre compounds for the teams to test in Practice and give feedback for further development. Running the tyre compound was optional in FP1 but mandatory in FP2. Teams opted to run aero rakes and extra sensors to gather data as well.


Roy Nissany and Kubica, the reserve drivers, got the nod to take the wheels of Williams and Alfa Romeo in FP1. Grosjean suffered a big spin at turn three and damaged his tyres in the process. Turn ten had become a handful for Bottas who suffered from lock-ups throughout the session. Verstappen was another driver to suffer from a spin, but at the final turn. 

Hamilton set the fastest time of FP1, half a second clear of his team-mate Bottas. Perez and Sainz were 3rd and 4th, within a second of Hamilton's time, but on softer tyres. The Alpa Tauri of Gasly was 5th, ahead of the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Albon. Ocon, Stoll and Ricciardo completed the top 10.

11th and 12th were the best that the works Ferrari could do in FP1 while Kubica produced a commendable effort for Alfa Romeo in 13th. Grosjean and Magnussen were 14th and 15th for Haas, ahead of Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo. Kvyat and Norris had a challenging practice with the Williams completing the rear of the field. 



The start of FP2 began with the teams trying to complete six timed laps ( as per mandate ) with the 2021 Tyre Compounds made by Pirelli. Mercedes had stated that they would utilize the remainder of the year for the development of its 2020 contender and Hamilton and Bottas did more laps than anyone else on the prototype tyres. It wasn't smooth sailing for everyone though with Gasly getting stuck behind Bottas on his flying lap, much to the former's displeasure and Verstappen having a close call with Perez. 

Leclerc had an off-track moment on the final turn but was able to continue. Albon, however, wasn't as fortunate as he ended up losing the rear of the car in the run-off at the final turn, hitting the barriers and smashing up the back of his car. It would be a long night for the mechanics to make the car track-worthy again. The session got Red Flagged to extricate the stricken RB 16. Another stoppage followed shortly after, this time due to the presence of a dog on track! 

Lewis Hamilton was the fastest at the end of FP2, three and a half tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas. Perez, Ricciardo and Gasly completed the top 6. It was 7th for Norris in his McLaren from Stroll, Kvyat and Albon. 

Ocon was 11th in the other Renault with Sainz splitting the Ferraris of Vettel and Leclerc. Giovinazzi was ahead of Magnussen and team-mate Raikkonen while Latifi finished ahead of Grosjean and Russell to complete the rear of the field. 



The teams needed to gather more data in the final practice session with Red Bull looking closer to the Mercedes in the fight for pole. The midfield battle would intensify on Saturday while Ferrari needed to find more pace to make it into the top 10. 



The final practice session ( FP3 ) before Qualifying saw Verstappen top the timesheets despite a flapping rear wing ( DRS issue ). The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas set the 2nd and 3rd fastest time respectively, the former suffering an electrical issue towards the end of the session. Albon, in the other Red Bull, was 4th with Sainz and Gasly completing the top 6. Norris, Kvyat and the two Racing Points made it into the top 10, closely followed by the two Renaults. Only two-tenths of a second separated the eight drivers. Giovinazzi split the Ferrari drivers with Russell ahead of the two Haas cars, Raikkonen and Latifi. 

Mercedes and Red Bull seemed to be locked in a battle for the front two rows with Hamilton and Verstappen having the upper hand over their team-mates. The midfield battle was close as ever, and Qualifying would be all about fine-margins. 



Qualifying :


The start of Q1 was sedate with Russell and Verstappen the only drivers on track. Russell aborted his lap after a mistake in the second sector. Everyone was out of the pits with 10 minutes remaining of Q1. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz and Perez were the top 6 at the end of the first runs with Russell, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi in the drop zone. Leclerc was the driver on the cusp of elimination; the Monegasque getting stuck in traffic on his flying lap. Barring Stroll, the rest of the field had set their representative lap times on the soft tyres. 

Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz and Ocon decided to gamble by staying in the pits while the rest of the field went out on their second runs with new soft tyres. The track was evolving, and the lap times improved for everyone. 

There was a change in the top 6 with Stroll and Albon improving to 2nd and 3rd respectively. Russell was into Q2 for Williams for the 9th time in 2020 with the 14th fastest time. Norris scraped through for McLaren in 15th, but Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Grosjean and Latifi got eliminated.



The soft tyres didn't seem to have the endurance for the race, and except for the Alpha Tauris and Russell ( who stayed in the pits ), everyone else chose the medium tyres for their first runs of Q2. As the drivers began their flying laps, Sainz suffered a spin at turn one which brought out the double yellow flags. The Spaniard was unable to get going again, and the session got Red Flagged with 9 minutes remaining on the clock. McLaren later discovered that the car had suffered a rear brake failure. The session restarted with the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers along with Perez and Norris exiting the pits on medium tyres with the rest choosing to stay put. Hamilton went the quickest with Verstappen splitting the Mercedes followed by Albon, Norris and Perez. Albon had run wide on the final turn and lost a considerable amount of time. It seemed that the Thai driver would have to go out again to sure up his chances of getting into Q3. 

Ocon was the first of the remaining drivers to head out on track for his run in Q2. Ocon set the 7th fastest time, and Red Bull deemed it necessary for Albon to head out again, this time on soft tyres. Norris followed suit. However, the chasing pack weren't able to challenge the times set by them, and the duo aborted their laps to ensure that they start the race on the medium tyres. Ricciardo produced a stellar lap to get into the top 6 while the Ferraris failed to get out of Q2.

The drivers that made it into Q3 were Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Albon, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Kvyat and Gasly. Those eliminated were Vettel, Leclerc, Stroll, Russell and Sainz.

The biggest shock was Stroll, who became the victim of an error made by the team. A tyre mix-up meant that the Canadian had set his fastest lap on a used set of medium tyres! Nevertheless, he would have a free choice on Sunday and could salvage a result. 



It was time for the final shootout, and everyone was on a fresh set of soft tyres. Hamilton carried his momentum into Q3 and was on provisional pole from Verstappen and Bottas. Perez was 4th with Ocon and Gasly completing the top 6. Albon was 7th in the other Red Bull with Norris getting ahead of Kvyat and Ricciardo ( who made an error ) at the end of the first runs. 

The drivers returned to the pits to refuel, regroup and explore the areas where they could go faster. The battle for pole resumed in the final minutes of Q3. Hamilton and Bottas were setting scorching sector times, but it was Hamilton who got the better of his team-mate again. It was a track record for the Briton with Bottas finishing 2nd, three-tenths adrift. Verstappen could only manage 3rd while Albon improved to 4th completing an all Red Bull 2nd row. It was another stellar lap by Perez which saw him qualify 5th ahead of Ricciardo who pipped his team-mate, Ocon, to 6th by two-thousands of a second! Norris split the two Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Kvyat. 



Hamilton continued his dominance in 2020 with the 98th Pole Position of his career and Mercedes bagging a front-row lockout for the 11th time this season! Bottas had struggled over the past two days and needed to produce something special to emerge victorious on race day. Verstappen did all he could to challenge the Mercedes but was unable to make it to the front row. However, he had the company of his team-mate, and Red Bull could fight on Sunday with both their cars on the sharp end of the grid.

Only four-tenths of a second separated 4th from 10th and Sunday promised to be a monumental duel between the midfield teams.

Perez continued to impress with his performances, and the audition for a 2021 seat continued. The Renault drivers had done their best on Saturday and had a great chance of bringing home a strong result for the team on Sunday. Alpha Tauri was in the thick of the midfield battle and could close the gap to Ferrari in 6th. McLaren and Racing Point should have had both cars in the top 10, but a brake failure and a tyre gaffe cost them dearly. It was a disappointing Saturday for Ferrari, but they seemed to have the pace for the race. Russell brought joy to the Williams by making it into Q2 and hoped to bag his first points of 2020. Sainz's race seemed compromised after the brake failure which had destroyed a medium set of tyres. 

Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 were off the pace the entire weekend, and their drivers seemed destined for a long Sunday evening.



Race :


C2, C3 and C4 were the tyres available for the race, and C4 ( the softest ) seemed to be lacking the endurance of completing a sizeable stint. However, Sainz had no option but to start on the soft tyres due to his brake failure in Qualifying which destroyed a set of mediums. Leclerc, Grosjean and Latifi chose to start on the hard tyres while the rest of the field opted for the mediums.


The race got underway, and it was a clean start for Hamilton. Bottas got bogged down and ended up losing places into the first couple of turns. The Finn was down to 6th with Verstappen, Perez, Albon and Ricciardo getting the better of him. Meanwhile, further down the field, Norris tangled with Gasly and Ocon and damaged his front wing. Stroll and Raikkonen ran wide at turn three while the cars fought for positions in the midfield. However, disaster struck near turn 4. Grosjean's Haas got hit by flying debris from Stroll's car when the Frenchman tried to switch lines aggressively. The switch resulted in the rear right wheel of his car making contact with the left front of Kvyat's. Grosjean was a passenger as he rammed into the guardrails at high speed, the car splitting in half and bursting into flames!


The race got Red Flagged immediately as the marshalls, and the Medical Car gathered at the scene of the accident and tried to put out the flames. Miraculously, Grosjean clambered out of the inferno as the Medical Team of Alan van de Merwe, and Dr Ian Roberts offered their assistance. Replays showed that the "survival cell" was the only thing that survived, and it was the Halo that saved Grosjean from a life-threatening head injury. He lost a boot in the process and was under a lot of duress, so had to be stretchered off. He received treatment at the medical centre before being airlifted for further tests. He received bruises and burns to his hands and knees beside a suspected broken rib. 



The cars returned to the pits, and there was collective applause in the pit lane on seeing Grosjean clamber out of his stricken car. The FIA announced a stoppage of 45 minutes as repair work got carried out. The FIA replaced the damaged guardrails with concrete blocks.



Vettel and Norris' cars underwent repairs under the watchful eyes of the FIA Technical Delegate. The Race Director announced that the session would restart at 18:35 hrs local time, after a stoppage of almost 75 minutes. The grid got reshuffled as the cars exited the pits behind the Safety Car for the formation lap. The reshuffle resulted in Bottas gaining two places before the restart. There was also a change in the tyre choices with Kvyat joining Sainz on the soft tyres and Gasly, Vettel and Magnussen switching to the hard tyres. The rest of the drivers persisted with the mediums.



It was a standing start, and as soon as the five red lights went out, Hamilton was quick off the line and got a clean getaway. Verstappen was slow off the blocks and had to fend off a challenge by Perez into turn 1. Meanwhile, Bottas tried to pressure Perez, but the Mexican held onto third. Ricciardo had a poor start and was down in 9th. The Alfa Romeo team-mates sparred at the restart, and Raikkonen suffered damage to his front wing. The Finn was up to P13 while Giovinazzi lost places and ended up in 17th. Vettel was unhappy with Leclerc for not honouring the pre-race agreement, complaining about the lack of racing room from his team-mate. 


The drivers had not completed a full lap, and the Safety Car got deployed! Stroll's Racing Point was upside down and fortunately, the Canadian was ok and crawled out of his car. Replays showed that Kvyat had tried to make an overtake, but Stroll rapidly shut the door on him, which resulted in the coming together. The incident got investigated by the stewards, and Kvyat incurred a 10 seconds time penalty. Vettel had to take avoiding action and slammed on the brakes, getting relegated to 15th in the process. Magnussen ended up hitting Vettel from behind which damaged his Haas' front wing.


Bottas' race got worse when Mercedes informed him about a slow puncture which forced him to pit on lap 5. He rejoined in 16th on the hard tyres. Magnussen pitted for a new front wing and hard tyres, rejoining in 18th and last ( lap 7 ). 


The Safety Car returned to pits at the end of lap 8, and Hamilton made another flawless start. There was a lot of racing happening behind him with Leclerc challenging Ocon for 6th, but the Frenchman put up a stoic defence. Russell got past Latifi for 13th while Sainz got his soft tyres up to temperature quickly, overtaking Ricciardo for 8th. Russell then relegated Raikkonen to 13th while Hamilton started to pull away from Verstappen at the front.  


DRS got enabled on lap 11, and Leclerc lost two positions on lap 12 to Sainz and Ricciardo. Vettel, in the other Ferrari, also went backwards with Bottas, Giovinazzi and Magnussen relegating him to 18th. Vettel communicated to the team that the car felt undrivable while Leclerc lost 9th to Gasly on lap 13. It was a race of recovery for Bottas who continued his charge up the field with an overtake on Latifi for 14th, and compatriot Raikkonen the next target. Despite a damaged front wing which was sparking on the straights, Raikkonen was able to hold off Bottas until his pit stop on lap 18. Ricciardo pitted for the hard tyres ( lap 17 ), rejoining in 18th and last. Ocon, Kvyat and Raikkonen followed suit a lap later, with Kvyat serving his ten seconds during the pit stop and Raikkonen getting a front wing change. Ocon switched to the mediums while Kvyat and Raikkonen emerged with new hard tyres. 


Ocon overtook Vettel for 14th on lap 19 while Norris switched to the medium tyres, rejoining in 10th. Hamilton and Albon also switched to the medium tyres after pitting on lap 20, rejoining in 3rd and 7th respectively. The Renault drivers were recovering the positions lost after their pit stops with Ocon getting past Magnussen and Ricciardo overtaking Giovinazzi and Latifi. Verstappen relinquished the lead on lap 21 when he pitted for the hard tyres with Perez doing likewise, rejoining in 5th. There were more pit stops on lap 21 with Russell and Giovinazzi getting a new set of hard tyres and Vettel switching to the mediums. 


Sainz had done a 22 laps stint on the soft tyres, a commendable job with regards to prolonging the life of the C4 compound. He switched to the medium tyres, rejoining in 11th behind the Renault duo. Albon got past Leclerc for 5th while Latifi pitted for medium tyres, rejoining last. Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race, reducing the gap to Hamilton to 4.5 seconds as he tried to go aggressive with his strategy ( lap 23 ). 


Gasly ( 3rd ) and Leclerc ( 6th ) were the only drivers yet to pit, and the duo was losing a lot of time. Gasly lost two places to Perez and Albon in the space of two laps while Leclerc switched to the hard tyres, rejoining in 12th. Norris overtook Bottas for 6th on lap 25 while Leclerc overtook Magnussen for 11th. Gasly finally pitted on lap 27, followed by Bottas switching to the hards and medium tyres respectively. 


Renault was contemplating a position swap between Ricciardo and Ocon when Sainz relegated Ricciardo to 7th and Ocon to 6th. Bottas, who rejoined in 14th, got past Kvyat, Russell and Magnussen and was up to 11th. Raikkonen had floor damage, and Alfa Romeo performed a position swap with Giovinazzi ( lap 29 )while Renault did the same with Ricciardo and Ocon ( lap 30 ). Vettel overtook Raikkonen for 15th while Bottas got back into the points with a pass on Leclerc. 


Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Albon, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo, Ocon, Gasly and Bottas were the top 10 on lap 34.


Verstappen, Albon and Kvyat pitted for hard tyres on lap 35, but a long stop for Verstappen hurt his strategy. Further down the field, Ocon pitted as well rejoining in 12th. Hamilton pitted a lap later, switched to the hards and extended his lead at the front. Meanwhile, Ocon got past Russell for 11th. The window for the second round of pit stops had begun with Perez and Ricciardo getting new hard tyres, and rejoining in 5th and 11th respectively. Unfortunately for Ricciardo, the undercut allowed Ocon to get past him, and the Australian had to complete an overtake on track to reclaim track position. Sainz lost 4th to Perez while Norris and Bottas pitted for the hard tyres. Albon wasted no time in relegating Sainz to 5th on lap 39, and the latter peeled into the pits for his final stop of the day. 


Further down the field, Russell and Vettel pitted for the medium and hard tyres, respectively ( lap 41 ). Leclerc, who was due for a stop, tried to fend off a challenge by Sainz but was unable to do so, losing 7th in the process and pitting immediately after for hard tyres. He got past Giovinazzi for 11th on lap 43. Magnussen was the driver going backwards and lost three places to Vettel, Latifi and Raikkonen while Norris got past Gasly for 5th. 


Verstappen pitted again on lap 47, this time for mediums. The Dutchman had a free pit stop and intended to bag the point for the fastest lap. Sainz was closing the gap to Gasly in the battle for 6th while Kvyat got past Giovinazzi for 12th and Bottas overtook Ocon for 9th. Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race on lap 49, bagging the extra point that comes with it. Gasly was losing traction out of the corners due to his worn-out tyres. The Frenchman had pitted only once, and the team wanted him to go till the end. He asked for more engine power to defend from Sainz who had closed up to his gearbox, but Gasly's defence was shortlived as Sainz got past for 6th on lap 52. 


The field was a bit spread out after that, and the only real battle was for 8th between Ricciardo and Bottas. However, disaster struck Perez on lap 54. The Racing Point driver had smoke billowing out of the back of his car, but he kept driving. Eventually, the engine gave up, and he got forced to pull to the side of the track, the rear of his car catching fire. The Safety Car got deployed as a result, and Albon got promoted to 3rd! The marshalls tried to put out the flames, and one of them ran across the track just ahead of Norris. It was heartbreak for Racing Point which suffered a double DNF, and Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer cutting a solitary figure on the pit wall. 


Mercedes informed Bottas of a "possible rear right puncture while Magnussen and Giovinazzi pitted for the soft tyres. 


Racing didn't resume, and the Safety Car peeled into the pits as Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and the 98th win of his career. Verstappen and Albon were 2nd and 3rd for Red Bull, the team completing a double podium for the first time since the Japanese GP in 2017. Norris and Sainz were 4th & 5th for McLaren followed by Gasly who continued to impress in his Alpha Tauri. P7 was the best that Ricciardo could achieve, but managed to hold off a charge from Bottas. Ocon and Leclerc bagged the final points-scoring positions. 


Kvyat and Russell finished just outside the points, the latter yet to score points in 2020. Vettel was 13th in the other Ferrari followed by Latifi and Raikkonen who was able to jump Giovinazzi and Magnussen due to their pit stops under the Safety Car.




Hamilton had won for the 4th time in Bahrain and remained in top gear going into the final two rounds of the season. Debris got lodged into Bottas' car resulting in a performance loss, and the Finn has been a victim of a lot of misfortune. He, however, remains 2nd in the Championship.  Verstappen pushed hard, but P2 was the best that he could achieve along with Albon, who inherited P3  from Perez's retirement. McLaren would be ecstatic with the result they achieved; Norris and Sainz were flawless, and the team had scored a big haul of points against their midfield rivals. Alpha Tauri outscored Ferrari, with Gasly scoring more points than Leclerc. Kvyat, in the sister car, expressed his displeasure with the penalty dished out to him. The uncertainty and late calls by cost Renault a better result, but "something is better than nothing" as the Enstone-based outfit reduces the deficit to Racing Point to 10 points. It was heartbreak for Racing Point who were so near yet so far with Perez's retirement while running in 3rd, and Stroll getting taken out at the start of the race by Kvyat. This result could prove pivotal in the fight for 3rd as McLaren surged past them and now hold a 17 point lead. 


Ferrari, a team that has enjoyed much success in Bahrain could only bag a point, a humbling experience for the most successful team on the grid. Vettel's travails with the 2020 car continued as the German failed to get past the Williams of Russell. Williams showed an improvement, but points still eluded them. Alfa Romeo was off the pace the entire weekend while Haas would have had Grosjean's crash in the back of their minds the whole race.



Everyone was relieved to see Grosjean escape with bruises and burns and no internal damage ( as per the latest update ) in what was a horrific crash. He was able to climb out of the fiery wreckage, and this was a testament to the levels of safety the sport had achieved. The incidents involving Stroll and Perez were equally heart-stopping. The Halo had saved Grosjean from a life-threatening crash, and the timely intervention by the marshalls and the FIA Medical Delegates saved him from more grievous injuries. 


The safety teams and Grosjean himself were the heroes and the real victors at the end of the day!



Racing resumes in less than a week at the same venue, on a new layout along the "Outer Loop". Hopefully, the FIA would have enough time to assess and deploy even better safety measures.

2020 Turkish GP Race Recap : Win Number 94, Title Number 7, but no stroll in the Park!

The Istanbul Park Circuit became the venue for Round 14 of the 2020 F1 Season. Turkey, which had last hosted an F1 race in 2011, made an unlikely return to the sport in the pandemic-hit season. The Hermann Tilke designed circuit was another to run in an anti-clockwise direction and had gone through a re-surfacing procedure a fortnight before the F1 weekend. The new tarmac made it an added challenge for those who had never raced here before.


The season was nearing its end, and reliability becomes a concern for teams and drivers. Allocations get exceeded leading to penalties, and Russell was one such driver to incur a power-unit grid penalty.

 

The Williams team acting team principal Simon Roberts tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the race weekend. 


Hamilton hoped to seal the Drivers' Title for the 7th time after his team bagged the Constructors' crown a fortnight earlier. The midfield battle was intense as ever while Alpha Tauri was closing in on Ferrari for 6th in the Constructors' Standings. 


Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 celebrated 500 races in F1 while it was the 300th race weekend for Red Bull Racing. 


Time for a quick recap of the Turkish GP Weekend.



Practice :


Low Temperatures with fresh tarmac that was wet from the rain overnight greeted drivers for the start of FP1 on Friday morning. The drivers found conditions to be extremely difficult, the hard compound tyres complicating matters further. The bollard at the pit entry got taken out by Leclerc which Red Flagged the session for a brief period. Turns 1 and 14 were the culprits for multiple lap times deletion as drivers tried to explore different racing lines and limits of their cars. It was a tricky and challenging Friday morning with many drivers suffering from spins and some reporting that it felt like "driving on ice". Sainz had electrical issues on his McLaren and retired with more than an hour of running left in FP1. 

The Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Albon topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 followed by Leclerc, Gasly and Vettel. Norris, who celebrated his 21st birthday, was P7 for McLaren followed by Giovinazzi, Bottas and Ocon. Latifi set the 11th fastest time in his Williams, the Canadian enjoying the slippery conditions. The Racing Point cars were 12th and 13th, followed by Grosjean and Hamilton, who was 5 seconds adrift of the fastest time of FP1. The Briton had opted to sit out the majority of FP1. It was 16th for Raikkonen, the race winner of the inaugural Turkish GP in 2005 while Magnussen was 17th in the other Haas car. Ricciardo could manage only the 18th fastest time followed by Sainz and Russell.



The drivers had persisted with the medium and hard compounds for the entirety of FP1, and it was time to test the soft tyres in FP2. Drivers hoped to find more grip with higher ambient temperatures and ( some ) track evolution ( due to the running earlier ). However, the trend of spins due to lack of grip continued in FP2. Drivers also complained about the tyre-life of soft tyres, most complaining about graining after clocking up a few miles. Nevertheless, Leclerc and Kvyat managed to do 45 and 43 rounds of the track respectively. 

Verstappen was fastest again in FP2, having gone 7 seconds faster than his best time in FP1. Leclerc was P2 in his Ferrari followed by Bottas and Hamilton. Albon was 5th in the other Red Bull, and Kvyat and Gasly made it 4 Honda-powered cars in the top 7. Vettel was 8th in the other Ferrari with Stroll making it into the top 10 with the 9th fastest time followed by Norris in the McLaren. Less than a second covered P11 from P16 with Perez leading the second half of the field from Ocon and Giovinazzi. Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen were 14th, 15th and 16th with Russell and Latifi split by the Haas cars at the back of the field. 



Friday had been a "baptism by fire" for almost all drivers. The fastest time on Friday was 4 seconds slower than the lap record set in 2005 by Juan Pablo Montoya. The track was slippery, and the lack of support races meant that it wasn't getting "rubbered in". The organisers deployed some road cars to lay extra rubber overnight, but the plan failed when the rain hit the circuit again.  


Saturday promised to be equally challenging with teams having to get their setups right in FP3 and Qualifying.  



FP3 got underway with the risk of rain at 90%, and the drivers opted for intermediate tyres. However, the grip levels were low, and Perez suffered a spin while Leclerc had a coming together with Ocon at turn 12. The rain intensified, and more drivers suffered from spins. The decision to switch to full Wet tyres didn't improve matters, and the drivers decided to return to their garages as the session timer ran down. The weather forecast for Qualifying was no different, and the teams had to make the tough call of sending their drivers out ( once the conditions improved ) or stay put to avoid incidents and possible repairs. It was a close call for Giovinazzi who brushed the barriers but escaped only with endplate damage on his front wing.

Verstappen was once again fastest at the end of FP3 with Leclerc splitting the Red Bulls in 2nd. Ocon, Norris and Vettel completed the top 6, more than 5 seconds adrift of Verstappen's time. Vettel managed to do 14 laps, the most by any driver in the session. It was a surprise to see Magnussen in 9th, the Dane splitting the Racing Point cars with his Haas. The only driver to have set his best lap on wet tyres was Ricciardo in 11th followed by Sainz and Giovinazzi. Grosjean was 15th in the other Haas with Raikkonen and Kvyat 16th and 17th respectively. The Williams duo and Hamilton did installation laps but failed to set a representative lap time.



Qualifying :


There was a drizzle in the air, and the risk of a deluge threatened overhead. The teams sent their drivers fueled for multiple laps at the start of Q1. The majority of the field opted for the wet tyres while the Red Bulls, McLarens, Ferraris, Perez and Grosjean chose the intermediates for their first runs. Albon and Grosjean wasted no time in switching to the wet tyres at the end of their out-lap. Verstappen, on the intermediate tyres, suffered a big scare down the straight as he lost the rear of his car. Ocon, Bottas, Stroll, Hamilton, Perez and Norris were the top 6 while Raikkonen got his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 1. Leclerc, Grosjean, Gasly, Russell, Latifi were in the drop zone as the rain intensified. Verstappen was on the cusp of elimination and ditched his intermediate tyres for full wets. However, the track conditions were getting tougher with each passing minute, and many drivers suffered spins. Eventually, the stewards decided to red flag Q1 until the conditions improved. Drivers also complained about visibility and condensation issues on their visors.

The downpour stopped, and the FIA deployed track sweepers to remove standing water from the track. Bernd Maylander, the Safety Car driver, did a couple of laps to recheck track conditions and the session resumed after a stoppage of 45 minutes. The two Red Bulls, Ferraris and Raikkonen were the first ones out as soon as the pitlane light went green. Raikkonen, who was second in this queue of cars, suffered a spin on the out-lap and lost track position to the Ferrari of Leclerc. Everyone was out of the pits with 5 minutes left on the clock. Leclerc ran wide at turn one on his flying lap while Grosjean got beached in the gravel at the same turn a few seconds later. The session got Red Flagged again!

There was a scramble in the garages with only three and a half minutes left when the light went green again. Kvyat was the next driver to suffer a spin but managed to carry on. Verstappen produced a stellar lap to set the fastest time at the end of Q1. Albon, Raikkonen, Vettel, Leclerc and Gasly completed the top 6. Hamilton set only the 14th quickest time but made it into Q2. Latifi went off at turn eight and got stuck in the gravel which brought out the double yellow flags. Those behind him came under investigation for ignoring the flags. 

Magnussen, Kyvat, Russell, Grosjean and Latifi got eliminated at the end of Q1.

Sainz had allegedly impeded Perez during Q1, and the stewards decided to investigate the incident.

The stewards decided to investigate all drivers who had set their fastest laps under yellow flag conditions post the end of Qualifying.  



Q2 got underway, and the McLaren drivers made a bold decision to put on intermediates while the rest of the field persisted with the wet tyres. Norris had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn six, but lap times kept improving as more rubber got laid on the track. Stroll, Albon, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen and Perez were the top 6 halfway through the session with Perez suffering from a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn 6. Vettel, Giovinazzi, Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were in the drop zone. 

The McLaren drivers switched to the wets as well while Verstappen moved to the top of the pile followed by the Mercedes duo and Albon.  The track was evolving at a rapid rate, and the drivers had fuel till the end of the session. The Chequered Flag was out to signal the end of Q2, but a lot of drivers were still improving on their final runs. 


Verstappen, Albon, Hamilton, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Bottas, Raikkonen, Perez and Ricciardo made it into Q3 while both the Ferraris, the McLarens and Gasly got eliminated from Qualifying.



It was time for the top-10 shootout and Perez and Ocon chose the intermediate tyres. Verstappen was on the charge again, going 4 seconds clear of Bottas, Albon and Hamilton. However, his place at the top got usurped by Perez, the Mexican spinning on his second flying lap though. Verstappen was quick to respond and set the overall fastest times in sectors 1 and 2. However, Red Bull made a debatable call of calling him into the pits to switch to the intermediate tyres. Stroll, Giovinazzi and the Mercedes duo were the next to switch to intermediates for the final minutes of the session. Verstappen exited the pits but got stuck behind Raikkonen who was continuing his run on the wet tyres. 

Bottas and Giovinazzi were the next to suffer from spins as the lap times kept improving. Raikkonen made a mistake on his final attempt while Perez was leading a Racing Point 1-2. Perez too made an error and couldn't improve further. Meanwhile, his team-mate found grip and bagged Pole Position! Only Verstappen remained the real challenger but failed to dethrone Stroll falling short by less than three-tenths of a second! 

It was a Racing Point 1-3 with Verstappen splitting Stroll and Perez. Albon was 4th in the other Red Bull while Ricciardo was 5th for Renault. P6 was the best that Hamilton could manage. Ocon and Raikkonen took up row 4 with Bottas and Giovinazzi completing the top 10.



Sainz incurred a three-place grid penalty for impeding Perez in Q1. The Stewards concluded that Norris hadn't slowed enough under double yellow flag conditions ( due to Latifi's incident ) and handed him a five-place grid drop. The McLaren duo would start 15th and 16th.



It was the first-ever pole position for Stroll and best-ever starting position for Perez. The team had last celebrated a pole position at the Belgium Grand Prix in 2009 ( when they were called Force India ). It was the first time that a driver, other than Hamilton and Bottas, was on pole in 2020! In a tightly contested midfield, this was Racing Point's chance to bring home a big haul of points.

A disgruntled Verstappen sat disconsolately in the pits wondering what could have been. He didn't complete his faster attempt and got stuck behind Raikkonen for two laps in the final minutes of Qualifying ( after his pit stop ). Red Bull is still the best team ( in race trim ) in changeable weather conditions, and he could turn it around come Sunday. The team was also pleased with Albon's effort who did a commendable job to qualify in 4th. 

Renault had both its cars in the top 10 and hoped to outscore Racing Point and McLaren. The Alfa Romeo Racing cars made it into Q3 for the first time this year, and another dual-points finish beckoned. It had been a challenging qualifying for the Mercedes duo, and they hoped for an incident-free race start come Sunday. Ferrari and Alpha Tauri struggled to find the right balance and were hoping for better track conditions on race day. It had been a torrid qualifying session for McLaren with both drivers copping penalties. They would need a miracle to make it into the points. The chances of a decent finish seemed bleak for the Haas and Williams drivers.



Race :


The grid got finalised only 90 minutes before the race start. Russell also incurred a five-place grid penalty for ignoring double waved yellow flags in Q1 along with three penalty points on his license. Williams had decided to start both its cars from the pitlane, and the penalty became irrelevant.  Gasly got relegated to the back of the field after Alpha Tauri requested a full PU change on Saturday night and the stewards weren't pleased with the justification provided.


There was more drama before the start of the race when Giovinazzi spun at turn two and hit the barriers. He got stuck in the gravel and got craned out of his predicament. Meanwhile, Russell hit the wall at the pit entry and limped back to the pits. Both incidents happened on the sighting laps, but fortunately, the drivers were able to start the race after some quick repair work by their mechanics. 


Pirelli had chosen the C1, C2 and C3 compounds for the racebut the track was wet at the race start, and the need for slick tyres seemed improbable. Barring the Williams drivers, everyone else chose the wet tyres.



The five red lights went out, and it was one of the slowest starts off the line as everyone battled for grip. Verstappen got bogged down, and it was a Racing Point 1-2 with Stroll leading into turn 1. Hamilton, Ricciardo and Ocon were side-by-side into turn one, and Ricciardo's tried to take avoiding action from Hamilton on the inside which resulted in him tagging his team-mate and sending him into a spin. Bottas, a couple of car lengths behind too suffered a spin and dropped down the field. The Finn suffered another spin on the opening lap ( at turn 16 ), eventually ending up in 18th. Hamilton was P3, and Vettel made up seven places at the start to go P4! Hamilton was pushing hard and missed his braking point at turn 6. The Briton had to go around the bollard, and Vettel got promoted to 3rd on the opening lap! Hamilton lost two more positions to the Red Bulls ending up in 6th at the end of the opening lap.


Ocon had flat-spotted his tyres and pitted on lap 2 for another set, rejoining in 20th. Stroll was the fastest driver on track on lap 3 with Stroll, Perez, Vettel, Verstappen, Albon, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Sainz and Magnussen completing the top 10. 


Stroll continued to bang in fastest laps as he extended his lead to 6 seconds. Meanwhile, Sainz got past Raikkonen for P8 on lap 6. Perez, who was 2nd, finally got his tyres up to working temperatures and began eating into his team-mate's lead at the front. Stroll had notified the team that the track was drying and Leclerc was the first one to switch to intermediates on lap 7, rejoining in 19th. Bottas followed suit while Hamilton became the fastest man on track on lap 8. The switch to intermediates proved right as Leclerc went about setting purple sectors. There was a slew of pit stops which followed, with Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Kvyat, Giovinazzi and Grosjean switching to the intermediate tyres a lap later. 


Stroll pitted from the lead on lap 10 for a set of intermediate tyres, rejoining in 4th while Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race. Leclerc got past Russell for P12 while Norris pitted for intermediates, rejoining in 16th. The pit lane remained a hive of activity with Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly and Ocon switching to the intermediates on lap 11. On the track, Leclerc got past Raikkonen for P10 and Grosjean overtook Ocon for P18. 


Verstappen expressed his desire to prolong his stint on wet tyres since he felt comfortable with the grip levels they had on offer. However, the team notified him of the lap times set by the majority of the field, instructing him to pit on lap 12. The Dutchman obeyed and rejoined in 3rd, jumping Vettel after his stop. Albon, the only driver on wet tyres, followed suit a lap later, rejoining in 6th. He lost a position to Hamilton in the process.


Raikkonen lost two more places to Russell and Bottas after a mistake on lap 13 while Kvyat went past Giovinazzi for P16. Giovinazzi stopped at turn nine a few seconds later with what seemed to be a mechanical issue. The stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car for the extrication of the stricken Alfa Romeo. VSC lasted for a couple of laps, and when the racing resumed, Hamilton tried to make a move on Vettel only to run wide and lose 5th to Albon ( lap 16 ). Albon then got past Vettel for 4th a few corners later. Further down the field, Bottas got past Russell for P11 only to spin and get relegated to 14th. The damp conditions seemed tricky for the Finn who was trying his best to salvage a result and prolong his challenge for the title. 


Albon was the quickest driver on track on lap 17 while Norris got past Raikkonen for P12. Verstappen had closed in on Perez and was challenging him for 2nd but ran wide and did a pirouette at high speed. He lost three positions and had to pit for a new set of intermediates after flat-spotting his tyres, rejoining in 8th after his stop. The Dutchman attracted the attention of the stewards after he seemed to have crossed the white line at pit exit. However, he escaped a penalty following an investigation post-race. Albon and Leclerc were the fastest drivers on the circuit and exchanging fastest laps ( lap 19 to 21 ).


Stroll, Perez, Albon, Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc and Magnussen were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.


Meanwhile, Bottas suffered yet another spin in sector one and was languishing in 17th. Hamilton was unable to overtake Vettel and started falling backwards while Norris relegated Russell to P12 ( lap 26 ). Norris then got past Magnussen and was into the points. Numerous drivers were complaining about the wear on intermediate tyres, and some moved away from the racing line to cool their tyres. The teams wanted to prolong the stint since the track wasn't ready for slick tyres yet. The exact moment of transitioning from the intermediates to the slicks could prove pivotal in this race. 


The Race Director enabled DRS on lap 29, and Gasly got past Raikkonen for P13. While the drivers and teams debated about the correct choice of tyres on this damp, slippery yet drying track, Leclerc decided to pit for a new set of intermediates on lap 31 rejoining in 9th. Raikkonen followed suit a lap later, but a slow stop cost him three positions, and he was down to 17th, the Finn going backwards after having started in the top 10. A mistake by Ricciardo allowed Sainz to move up to 6th, but the Australian immediately dived into the pits for a fresh set of intermediates. 


The battle at the front was hotting up with Perez reducing the deficit to Stroll to two seconds while Albon who was dropping back suffered a spin after losing traction into turn 4. Vettel and Sainz pitted for new intermediates on lap 34, but it was a slow stop for Vettel. The duo rejoined in 6th and 8th respectively. Gasly did likewise, rejoining in 16th after his pit stop. Red Bull decided to pit Albon on lap 35, the Thai driver rejoining in 6th while Magnussen retired from the race after a loose wheel ( after his stop ) brought him to a halt at the end of the pit lane.


Hamilton asked his team not to pit him as he tried to extend his stint on the old intermediates ( lap 35 ). Perez was now within DRS range of his team-mate when he got the call to pit on lap 36. Stroll rejoined in 4th, behind Verstappen who had pitted a few laps earlier due to his spin. Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Perez to take the lead of the race! Stroll started complaining about his tyres graining while Hamilton began to build a gap at the front. Further down the field, Gasly got past Russell for P14 on lap 37. 


Hamilton now had a 5 seconds lead at the front, and Norris set the fastest lap of the race on lap 39. Stroll, the driver who had led the race for more than half the race distance fell back into the clutches of the Ferrari drivers on lap 40. Vettel got past him for P4, but the Canadian tried to fight back, running wide in the process and losing 5th to Leclerc on the same lap! Raikkonen got past Russell for 15th as drivers started to hear on their radios that there could be more rain on the way!


Bottas suffered another spin at turn two while Grosjean had an off-track moment at turn 10. The Ferrari team-mate tussle on track led to Leclerc getting the better of Vettel on lap 41. There was further misery for Stroll when Albon relegated him to 7th and then Sainz to 8th in the space of two laps. Leclerc moved into the final podium position after Verstappen pitted for a new set of intermediates on lap 44 and rejoined in 7th ahead of Stroll. Albon lost 5th to Sainz who went on to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 45. 


Hamilton had started lapping the backmarkers, and it was his team-mate and title contender who fell a lap down on lap 46. Gasly then got past Bottas for P13 who pitted for another set of intermediate tyres on lap 48 and rejoined in 15th. The track was drying, but there were a lot of wet patches, but Hamilton and Perez soldiered on with their old intermediate tyres. Ricciardo and Norris went head to head, and Norris got past the Australian for P9. Ricciardo tried to fight back but ended up spinning ( lap 49 ). Verstappen had closed up on Albon in the battle for P6, and they were about to lap Raikkonen on lap 50 when the latter and Verstappen ended up spinning at turn 4. Albon was able to take avoiding action and got some respite from his sparring team-mate. Raikkonen made a third stop and stayed 15th while Grosjean retired from the race having suffered from spins and a coming together with Latifi.


Hamilton had run down his intermediate tyres, and they had turned into slicks, but there was still the threat of rain. Perez was in a similar boat as Hamilton, and Racing Point didn't want to give up track position. Meanwhile, Verstappen got past Albon for 6th, and Norris was setting blistering lap times in 9th. The McLaren driver caught up with Stroll and bagged P8 on lap 56. Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton on lap 56 for a "safety stop". The Briton was 25 seconds clear of Perez and would stay in the lead. However, he overruled the team's decision, opting to stay out!


The decision would prove to be a masterstroke as the rain stayed away and Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Turkish GP! The battle for P2 saw drama on the final lap. Perez ran wide, and Leclerc got past him only for the Mexican to challenge him at the end of the DRS straight. Leclerc missed his braking point and ran wide which allowed Perez to retake 2nd and Vettel to jump up into 3rd! The four-time world champion bagged his first podium of 2020! Leclerc came home in 4th followed by Sainz who wasn't too far behind. 6th was the best that Verstappen could achieve at the end of the day followed by his team-mate Albon and Norris, the man who had won the point for the fastest lap. Poleman Stroll was a distant 9th with Ricciardo coming home in 10th. 

Ocon finished 11th in the other Renault followed by the Alpha Tauris of Kvyat and Gasly. Bottas, Raikkonen and Russell were the final classified finishers.



Hamilton had done a stint of 50 laps on the intermediate tyres while Perez had clocked 48 laps on his. The duo had run down their tyres to the level of slicks and driven a stellar race, worthy of top honours! 



It was win number 94 for Hamilton, but more importantly, he had won the Drivers' World Championship for a record-equalling 7th time! He was as successful as the legendary Michael Schumacher! Overcome by emotions on parc-ferme, the Mercedes driver took a couple of minutes to take it all in as the other podium finishers came over to congratulate him. Vettel, a driver for whom Hamilton has utmost respect, was gracious and classy as ever in his wishes. 



He wasn't the favourite for victory, yet Hamilton emerged victorious with a strategy that was championship-worthy. Such was his dominance on the worn tyres that he lapped his team-mate who was languishing in the lower half of the field having spun six times in the race. Perez put in a contract winning performance ( for 2021 ), and there is no doubt that he has the racecraft and experience to perform well if he lands a drive with a top team. His 2nd place helped Racing Point build a lead of 5 points to McLaren in the battle for 3rd in the ConstructorsVettel rolled back the years and once again proved what he is capable of despite the odds stacked up against him. 



The hunger showed by Leclerc to push right till the end augurs well for Ferrari, and the Monegasque is a prized asset to have for the future. Ferrari, the hunted became the hunter and now lie 6 points shy of Renault in 5th! Sainz was consistent as ever, and Norris brought in a good haul of points for a team that looked down and out at the end of Qualifying on Saturday. Verstappen would be keen to understand what went wrong in conditions that he is known to excel in while Albon had a decent outing as he fights to keep his seat at Red Bull. Renault got only a point this weekend, but they should consider this as only a blip in form. Alpha Tauri had a tough weekend while Alfa Romeo needs to understand why they went backwards in the race. Haas had another disappointing Sunday while Williams remained stuck at the back of the pack.



The 2020 F1 Season has three races remaining, the last triple-header in the Middle-East, in a fortnight. The Championships are done and dusted, but there is still a lot at stake. Bottas conceded defeat this year but vowed to try and beat Hamilton in 2021. He must begin his charge from the remaining rounds of 2020 if he wishes to reach the summit; that is what a Rosberg did!



Bring on Bahrain! 

2020 Emilia Romagna GP Race Recap : Steamrolling the Competition, for the 7th Time!

The 2020 F1 Season has seen the return of some classic tracks. Imola, which was the venue for the San Marino Grand Prix up until 2006 made a return in 2020, this time under the guise of the Emilia Romagna GP. The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari is a track owned by Ferrari and one of the few circuits to run in an anti-clockwise direction. It would host a truncated F1 weekend with only one practice session on Saturday before Qualifying and the Race.  


Italy would have hosted 100 races in F1 at the end of this race besides hosting three in 2020 itself. Kudos to the country that was one of the worst-hit by the pandemic COVID-19. 


The logistical challenges associated with moving men and equipment from Portimao to Imola was the reason behind this move. 

A two-day event posed a unique challenge for the teams and drivers; they would need to compress their Qualifying and Race simulations into one session subject to reliability.

Overtaking isn't the easiest on this old school track, and race strategy could tilt the battles up and down the field.

Raikkonen was the only driver from the current grid to have driven at Imola in an F1 car.


Meanwhile, there were updates in the Drivers' Line-up for 2021. Alfa Romeo retained Raikkonen and Giovinazzi while Williams squashed all rumours by announcing that Russell and Latifi would continue with them for 2021. A podium and an unlikely win at Monza got Gasly another year at Alpha Tauri.

Alfa Romeo renewed their partnership ( as Title Sponsor ) with Sauber Engineering for another year. 



Mercedes had the chance of lifting the Constructors' Title if they outscored Red Bull by 34 pointsand Hamilton looked to extend his unassailable lead of 77 points against Bottas. Ferrari hoped for a good showing at their home track.


How did the drivers fare at this iconic circuit? Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


The solo practice session before Qualifying was a 90 minutes affair with Hamilton topping the time charts from Verstappen and Bottas. Gasly was 4th for Alpha Tauri while Leclerc bagged the 5th fastest time. The Renault drivers took up the next two spots, a second slower than Hamilton while Kvyat suffered a lock-up at turn 2, but managed to set the 8th fastest time. Albon and Stroll completed the top 10. The midfield battle was close as ever with Perez, Vettel, Grosjean and Sainz separated by half a second. Sainz and Norris set their best times on medium tyres, the latter having an incident with Magnussen while contending for track position. The Dane also had a run across the grass, but the car suffered no harm. Norris split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen while Magnussen split the Williams of Russell and Latifi. A brake-by-wire issue compromised Latifi's session. 




Qualifying :

There was more learning to be done by the drivers during Qualifying, and Q1 saw a fair bit of traffic on track. 13 cars exited the pits at the start of Q1 with all drivers hoping to do multiple runs. Hamilton hit the kerb on his flying lap and asked the team to check for damage. The lap times kept dropping as the track evolved with more rubber getting laid. Ricciardo was the only driver yet to set a banker lap with ten minutes left on the clock. Verstappen, Leclerc, Hamilton, Gasly, Kvyat and Norris were the top 6 with Latifi, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo in the drop zone. Bottas, along with Albon, had his lap time deleted due to exceeding of track limits at turn 9. Ricciardo finally set a banker lap with the 11th quickest time.

Verstappen, Gasly, Leclerc, Kvyat stayed put and didn't come out for the final minutes of Q1. Magnussen ran wide at the last corner and lost the chance of making it into Q2; Giovinazzi suffered a similar fate with a mistakes laden lap. Russell put in a stellar effort to go 14th while Stroll made it into Q2 by the skin of his teeth. Bottas went the quickest at the end of Q1 from Hamilton and Verstappen. Leclerc, Gasly and Norris completed the top 6 and those eliminated included Grosjean, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Latifi and Giovinazzi. 




Q2 got underway with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull opting for the medium tyres and the rest of the field the softs. Verstappen reported a loss of power and returned to the pits. The team quickly wheeled him into the garage to check for issues, and the culprit was a faulty spark plug. The replacement procedure required a minimum of 15 minutes, but the Red Bull mechanics tried to beat the clock in full earnest. 

Meanwhile, on track, Bottas still had the best time from Hamilton and Gasly with Ricciardo, Norris and Perez slotting in behind the trio. The medium tyres weren't suiting Albon who was in the elimination zone and suffered a spin to add insult to injury. Stroll, Russell, Vettel and Verstappen were others under threat of elimination.

Everyone switched to the soft tyres for the final run of Q2 with Verstappen still stuck in the pits. Kudos to the mechanics who beat the clock and managed to get him out in time to put in a lap. The Dutchman emerged with the medium tyres, pushed hard and didn't disappoint as he set the 6th fastest time safely getting into Q3. He would start the race on medium tyres, just like the Mercedes duo who backed out of their final flying laps ( on softs ).

Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Alpha Tauri had both their cars into Q3 along with the Renault of Ricciardo and Ferrari of Leclerc. Perez missed out on Q3 by a hundredth of a second while Stroll who had set a lap time worthy of qualification had exceeded track limits which resulted in the deletion of his time. Ocon, Vettel and Russell were the others eliminated at the end of Q2.



It was time for the final shootout ( Q3 ), and Renault released Ricciardo straight into the path of Verstappen, much to his displeasure. Hamilton stepped up and was on provisional pole at the end of the first run with Bottas only three-hundredths of a second adrift, the Mercedes duo one second clear of Verstappen in 3rd. Gasly was a commendable 4th from Leclerc and Norris with Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz and Albon completing the top 10 going into the final minutes of Qualifying.

It was time to put on another set of soft tyres to battle for the best spots on the grid for race day! Hamilton and Bottas were neck and neck with Hamilton going purple in sector one and Bottas in sector two. However, Bottas managed to find almost a tenth throughout the lap and snatched pole position from Hamilton! Verstappen came home in 3rd, half a second adrift. It was a stellar performance on a Saturday by Gasly who put his Alpha Tauri on row 2 for Sunday. Ricciardo and Albon took up row 3, followed by Leclerc and Kvyat. An all McLaren row 5 completed the top 10 starters for the Emilia Romagna GP. P4 to P10 were separated by half a second, a close affair indeed!



Bottas managed to dig deep and get the pole, maintaining the momentum from Q1 and Q2. He would have the best position to start his race from and hoped to reduce the deficit to Hamilton in the championship. It was the 74th front-row lockout for the Mercedes cars. Verstappen wasn't far behind, and Red Bull had a comparable race pace to fight for victory. Alpha Tauri had the measure of its midfield rivals and hoped to maximize their results come Sunday while Ricciardo showed his consistency with yet another 5th place in Qualifying. It would have been ideal to have both cars in the top 10, but Ferrari would be impressed with what Leclerc had achieved with an underperforming car. McLaren and Racing Point would be disappointed with their performances, but the latter has a free tyre choice for Sunday and could salvage some points with a more optimal strategy. Vettel was a lowly 14th, behind Russell in a Williams, his final months at Ferrari seemed to be coming to a tumultuous end. Haas and Alfa Romeo came up short but would have the chance of turning it around on the day that matters. 



Race :


Mercedes replaced the seat on Hamilton's car while mechanics were frantically working on Gasly's car on the grid. 

C2, C3 and C4 were the available compounds for the race, and except Giovinazzi, all others outside the top 10 were on medium tyres. The drivers hoped to finish the race on a one-stop strategy. 

Bottas suffered a lock-up on the formation lap, causing a small flat-spot on his front left tyre.


The five red lights illuminated and the race got underway. It was a clean start for Bottas, but Hamilton came under pressure from Verstappen and Ricciardo. Verstappen moved up into 2nd while Ricciardo slotted in behind Hamilton, having made two positions at the start. Vettel made contact with Magnussen, and the Dane got spun around with Vettel suffering damage to his endplate. The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards deemed it as a racing incident. The Alfa Romeo drivers were the biggest movers with Giovinazzi up by six positions and Raikkonen four. The midfield was tight, and Ocon shut the door on Stroll causing the latter to lose a big part of his front wing. The Canadian had to pit at the end of the opening lap for a new front wing and switched to the hard tyres. 


The trio at the front slowly started to pull away from the rest of the field with Hamilton and Bottas trading fastest laps. Sainz got past Norris with the help of DRS for P9 on lap 6. Hamilton was now in DRS range and pressurizing Verstappen for P2. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on the 8th lap while Alpha Tauri asked Gasly to return to the pits as they had a terminal issue, and would retire the car. The coolant leak in the radiator was the culprit, and the Frenchman had a dismal end to the race after a brilliant Saturday. Grosjean got past Latifi for P16 and pitted for hard tyres on lap 10. Giovinazzi also switched to the hard tyres, rejoining in 17th. Bottas put in another fastest lap on lap 12 while Russell was the next driver to switch to the hard tyres, rejoining in 16th ahead of Giovinazzi. Hamilton reported that his right front tyre was degrading at a rapid rate while Leclerc, Ocon and Norris pitted on lap 14 with Leclerc switching to the hard tyres and the others switching to the mediums. The story of pit stops continued with Ricciardo, Albon and Kvyat pitting a lap later for hard tyres, covering themselves from any undercuts. Ricciardo exited the pits just in front of Leclerc who went in too hot, locked up his tyres and almost rear-ended Ricciardo. 


Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Vettel, Raikkonen, Latifi, Magnussen and Ricciardo were the top 10 at the end of lap 17.


Kvyat and Albon contended for 12th, the duo making contact, but Albon held on. Sainz pitted for the medium tyres and rejoined in 13th ( lap 18 ) while Verstappen switched to the hard tyres, rejoining the race in 3rd ( lap 19 ). The Mercedes pit crew were ready for Bottas on lap 20 who switched to the hard tyres, conceding the lead to Hamilton. Hamilton went on to set the fastest time, requesting the team not to pit him and the team reiterating that they were extending his stint. Bottas was losing performance after he suffered floor damage on the 2nd lap from debris on the track. A part of Vettel's endplate had got lodged into the bargeboards on the left. Hamilton was setting blistering lap times as Verstappen slowly closed in on Bottas getting within DRS range. The team asked Hamilton if he would be able to extend his stint by ten more laps and the response was in affirmative.

There was a train forming up behind Magnussen with Ricciardo, Leclerc, Albon, Kvyat and Sainz on fresher tyres. 


Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Vettel, Raikkonen, Latifi, Magnussen, Ricciardo and Leclerc were the top 10 on lap 27, but the order was to change soon. Ricciardo got past Magnussen for 8th on lap 28 while Leclerc followed suit despite some dogged defending by Magnussen. Perez pitted for hard tyres and rejoined in 7th, having jumped six positionsthe others getting stuck behind a slower Magnussen. Disaster struck when Ocon pulled to the side of the track with what seemed to be a clutch issue ( lap 29 ). Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race, and the stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to clear the stricken Renault. The VSC period allowed Hamilton to pit for a fresh set of hard tyres, the Briton losing only 17 seconds against the usual 27. Stroll also took the opportunity to switch to medium tyres, rejoining in last. Bottas relinquished the lead of the race, the Finn undone by the timing of the VSC. Latifi pitted on lap 36, switching to the hard tyres and rejoining in 15th while Stroll got past Magnussen for P17. 


Vettel and Raikkonen were the only drivers yet to make a pit stop, having extended their stint on the medium tyres to 37 laps. They hadn't lost any performance as they set competitive lap times in 4th and 5th. Meanwhile, at the front, Red Bull informed Verstappen that they were losing time behind Bottas and he needed to try an overtake. The Dutchman was pushing hard, and his opportunity came when Bottas made a mistake at the penultimate corner. Verstappen tried to get past with the use of DRS, but Bottas fended off the challenge. Vettel finally pitted on lap 40 for hard tyres, but the right front and left rear tyres got stuck, resulting in a slow pit of 13.1 seconds! The German rejoined in 14th, the hopes of a strong finish in the points now gone. 


Bottas made another mistake, running wide in the middle of Rivazza corner, which allowed Verstappen to close upon him, the Dutchman getting past into 2nd on lap 43. Further down the field, Vettel began his recovery with an overtake on Giovinazzi for 13th. Magnussen felt unwell, reporting that he was getting a headache due to the upshifts on his Haas. The team asked him if he would like to retire, but he retorted that it was his job.  


Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 49 while Raikkonen finally pitted after completing a mammoth stint of 49 laps on the medium tyres. He switched to the soft tyres, rejoining in 12th behind Russell, having jumped Vettel. Magnussen pitted as well, retiring from the race due to health issues.


There was drama on lap 51. Timing screens showed Bottas back into 2nd, and on track, Verstappen was on the gravel with what seemed to be rear right tyre delamination. The Dutchman was unable to get unstuck, and was out of the race! Mercedes were 1-2 and firm favourites to lift the Constructors' crown at the end of the race. The stewards decided to deploy the Safety Car while replays showed that something had broken ( without warning ) on the rear of Verstappen's car. The Safety Car deployment brought about a slew of pit stops with those pitting switching to the soft tyres. Perez who was up into 3rd, but the team decided to switch him to soft tyres which relegated him to 7th. Ricciardo who chose not to pit ( along with Leclerc and Albon ) now had the final podium position. Hamilton and Bottas pitted as well, the race now a shootout to the finish. Russell was in 10th, having moved up places due to cars around him pitting, and looked set to bag the first point of his F1 career. Disaster struck on lap 53 when he, trying to build temperature into his tyres, lost control of his car and hit the barriers at Acque Minerale during the Safety Car period! It was race over for the Briton, who was distraught and sat down by the side of the track, unwilling to interact with the track marshalls. The crash led to the extension of the Safety Car period. Meanwhile, Stroll failed to brake in time, hitting the front jack man during his pit stop. Thankfully, the medical centre declared the mechanic fit and fine. 



Racing resumed at the end of lap 57, and it was a clean getaway for Hamilton. Bottas suffered excessive wheelspin but was able to hold onto 2nd comfortably. Kvyat was the big mover at the restart, getting past Perez, Albon and Leclerc! The Russian in his Alpha Tauri was up into P4 and hunting down Ricciardo for that final podium position. Perez relegated Albon to 7th who made an uncharacteristic error and got spun around. Sainz took avoiding action, and Albon was out of the points in 15th. Grosjean tried to pressurize Latifi for 11th, but the Canadian held on. Leclerc was able to bring his hard tyres up to operating temperatures and held off a challenge from Perez for P5. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 60 while Albon switched to the soft tyres due to vibrations on his flat-spotted hard tyres. Hamilton extended his lead at the front by pumping in fastest lap after fastest lap.



He took the Chequered Flag and the victory at the Emilia Romagna GP. Bottas came home in 2nd to complete another Mercedes 1-2, crowning them the Constructors' Champion for 2020! 


Renault celebrated another podium with Ricciardo with Kvyat producing a stellar drive for 4th in his Alpha Tauri. P5 was the best Leclerc could do for the works Ferrari team while Perez came home in 6th, the chance of a possible podium missed. Sainz and Norris ensured that both McLarens scored points in 7th and 8th while Alfa Romeo scored their first double-points finish in 9th and 10th with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. 


It was "so near yet so far" for Latifi who was 11th for Williams from Grosjean and Vettel whose botched pit stop cost him a points-finish. Grosjean got a 5 seconds time penalty for exceeding track limits and was demoted to 14th, behind Stroll but ahead of Albon who was the final classified finisher. 



Mercedes was the first team to win seven consecutive Constructors' Championships! They accomplished it at a circuit owned by Ferrari, the previous record holders.


Hamilton scored the 93rd win of his F1 career, extending his lead at the top. Verstappen was out of the race, and Bottas only had a mathematical possibility of winning the Drivers' Title in 2020. 


Ricciardo's second podium of the year helped Renault to 3rd in the Constructors' Championship, one point clear of McLaren and Racing Point tied on 134 points apiece. The Enstone based outfit was improving with each race, and they would have had an even better finish had Ocon not retired due to a mechanical failure. Alpha Tauri could have been on the podium had both its cars finished the race, but their 4th place finish with Kvyat was a great result nonetheless. Leclerc did the best he could for the works Ferrari team while Vettel suffered from step-motherly treatment yet again. Racing Point justified their move of pitting Perez again under Safety Car while McLaren was the only midfield team to have both cars finish in the points. 


Kimi Raikkonen was the "Driver of the Day", having made up nine places from where he started besides completing an unthinkable stint of 49 laps on the medium tyres. His team-mate Giovinazzi maintained his 100% record of making up places on the opening lap and was 10th, having made up ten places himself. Alfa Romeo would be pleased with their performances, the incentive of contract renewals doing wonders for both its drivers. A points-finish still eluded Russell who made an uncharacteristic error and would learn from his crash. Haas would want to end this season as soon as possible to start afresh next year.



The European leg comes to an end, and there are four fly-away events to bring the 2020 season to a close. COVID-19 threatens to put the continent of Europe into lockdown again due to the onset of a second wave. Hopefully, F1 would be able to march on in the face of this adversity. 



The Turkish GP beckons in a fortnight and Hamilton could be Champion for the 7th time! Can the inevitable be delayed?? The chances seem bleak.

2020 Portuguese GP Race Recap : Records are meant to be broken!

 2020 is the year of new races and new tracks in F1. Portimao, a town in the Algarve Region of Southern Portugal became the host for the Portuguese Grand Prix. The country returned to the F1 stage after a 24 years hiatus, this time at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve!


The circuit had never hosted an F1 race before, and the new entrant promised drivers and fans a "roller-coaster" experience thanks to its multiple gradient changes and high-speed turns. The Portuguese GP also saw the return of the Paddock Club, the hospitality experience offered by the sport to its high-flying guests. 


Drivers and teams were excited for the challenge that lay before them after the completion of their Thursday track walks.


Off-track, news broke out that Haas F1 would not be continuing with Grosjean and Magnussen in 2021 and Stroll had tested positive for COVID-19 post the Eifel GP weekend, but had recovered in time and deemed fit to race in Portugal. Meanwhile, Racing Point retained Hulkenberg as a Reserve / Backup driver in case of an emergency.


Hamilton could become the most successful driver in the history of the sport if he clinched another victory. Bottas had to ensure a clean, flawless and trouble-free weekend if he wanted to sustain his fight for the title. Ferrari got new diffuser upgrades with the hope of getting back into the top six ( in Qualifying ) consistently.



Time for a recap of the weekend!



Practice :


Free Practice 1 got underway with cloudy skies. FP1 would see teams and drivers do track induction runs, learning the limits of their car with the optimum racing lines and braking points. It was quite a slippery surface, and several drivers suffered spins or had off-track moments. Bottas set the fastest time of FP1, three-tenths clear of Hamilton and Verstappen. Leclerc split the Red Bull drivers while Sainz was P6 in his McLarenPerez was P7 with Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Gasly completing the top 10. A mechanic issue for Gasly cut short his FP1. Vettel was 11th in the other Ferrari, a second slower than his team-mate. Norris and Kvyat were 12th and 13th in the sister McLaren and Alpha-Tauri while Magnussen set the 14th fastest time in his Haas. Stroll could only manage P15 followed closely by Giovinazzi and Grosjean. Ocon split the two Williams at the back, his session cut short due to a Power-Unit issue. 



Pirelli decided to run their new prototype tyres in Free Practice 2 and what followed was an incident-packed session. Verstappen and Stroll had a coming together at turn 1, the contact causing both to retire from the session. Stroll was on back-to-back flying laps when Verstappen had started one of his own. The incident attracted the attention of the stewards, but no driver incurred any penalty. 

Grosjean had a run across the gravel while Perez, Sainz and Kvyat suffered spins. Vettel had to take avoiding action from rear-ending Latifi on his timed lap before suffering a spin at turn 14 himself. Drivers complained about the lack of grip in FP2 as well with more drama unfolding halfway into the session. Gasly lost power and stopped by the side of the track; soon enough the back of his Alpha Tauri was ablaze, and the session was red-flagged for the safe extrication of his car. Bottas set the fastest lap of the session again, half a second clear of Verstappen and Norris. 

Leclerc was P4, the only other driver within a second of Bottas' time. Sainz split the Ferraris to make it both McLarens in the top six. It was 7th for Gasly at the end of FP2 with Hamilton managing only the 8th fastest time. Ocon and Albon completed the top 10. Russell put in a stonking lap in his Williams to go P11 ahead of Perez and Ricciardo. Latifi was 14th in the other Williams with Raikkonen being the fastest customer Ferrari car ahead of Magnussen and Kvyat. The rear of the field got completed by Grosjean, Stroll and Giovinazzi. 



It had been an eventful Friday for the teams. The track remained a challenge, and the drivers needed to make the most of FP3  to ensure the best possible setup for Qualifying and Race. Mercedes remained the team to beat with Ferrari showing a marked improvement. It looked like Red Bull was the only challenger for victory with Racing Point having the measure of Renault and McLaren in the midfield battle.



Bottas edged out Hamilton in Free Practice 3 with Verstappen slotting in in third, less than two-tenths down on medium tyres. Gasly split the Red Bulls while Leclerc finished in the top 6 despite a spin. The midfield battle raged on with Sainz, Perez, Norris and Ocon separated by less than half a second. Only eight-tenths of a second covered the lower half of the field with Kvyat almost matching Vettel's time in 12th. Kimi Raikkonen was 13th for Alfa Romeo with Ricciardo managing 14th; the Australian struggling from DRS malfunction. Lock-ups were a common occurrence and Russell flat-spotted a set of soft tyres en route to the 15th fastest time while Stroll languished in 16th. Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi and Grosjean completed the rear of the field. 

The session got cut short after a drain cover came loose at turn 14 under Vettel's car. The FIA decided to inspect all the drainage covers to ensure safety before going into Qualifying. 



Track Limits was another challenge for drivers with several lap time deletions throughout the three practice sessions, and it seemed that drivers would need multiple runs on a single set of tyres to extract the optimal lap time.



Qualifying :


Qualifying got delayed by 35 minutes as track repairs got carried out under the watchful eyes of the FIA Stewards. 

Everyone chose the soft tyres at the start of Q1, and there was enough fuel on board for multiple attempts. Verstappen ran wide at his first attempt but was able to set the 2nd fastest time, marginally behind the Mercedes duo. Perez, Leclerc and Gasly completed the top 6 with Grosjean, Raikkonen, Russell, Magnussen and Latifi in the elimination zone. The top 5 and Ricciardo opted to not run again in Q1. Raikkonen improved to 15th, and Giovinazzi got knocked out of Q1. Russell was on a great lap and pipped Raikkonen to 15th and made it into Q2! 

Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi got eliminated while Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Gasly, Perez and Leclerc were the top 6 at the end of Q1.



Mercedes and Ferrari opted for the medium tyres at the start of Q2 while the rest of the field chose softs. Ocon stayed put choosing to go "out of sync" with the rest. Traffic became an issue for a few drivers as they battled for track position. Hamilton was one such driver to have his lap compromised. The top 6 after the first runs were Bottas, Perez, Norris, Verstappen, Gasly and Albon with Hamilton, Sainz, Vettel, Leclerc and Ocon in the drop zone. Vettel improved to 10th while Leclerc got up to 6th with his multiple runs. Hamilton suffered a lock-up and set the 2nd fastest time, albeit with compromised tyres. The top 6 now changed to Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz and Norris while Ocon, Stroll, Kvyat, Vettel and Russell were looking at elimination. 

Everyone was out again with less than three minutes left on the clock, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers opting for medium tyres once more.  Russell improved to 14th, but Vettel wasn't able to go faster and ended up in 15th! In the dying minutes of the session, Ricciardo lost control at turn 11 and ended up in the gravel, his rear wing making contact with the barriers. He managed to keep the car going and limped back to the pits. Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz and Norris were the top 6 at the end of Q2 with Ocon, Stroll, Kvyat, Russell and Vettel bowing out of Qualifying.



Gasly stayed in the pits at the start of Q3 with Albon switching to medium tyres. The rest of the field ( bar Ricciardo ) came out on soft tyres for the final shootout. Bottas was on provisional pole, four-hundredths of a second clear of Hamilton with Verstappen a tenth further adrift. Leclerc was 4th for Ferrari from Perez, Albon, Norris and Sainz. Gasly joined the rest for their final runs while Ricciardo stayed put in the pits as Renault went about a rear-wing swap. He wasn't able to take part in Q3 and would start P10. The Mercedes drivers were out on medium tyres for their final run as well with Hamilton exiting the pits half a minute earlier than Bottas. The duo had fuel for a couple of runs and Hamilton went the fastest with less than two minutes left on the clock. Bottas snatched it back, but Hamilton had another flying lap still. 

The Briton extracted the maximum out of his tyres and snatched pole, a tenth clear of Bottas! Verstappen pushed hard but was unable to get close to the Mercedes. P4 got bagged by Leclerc in the Ferrari while Perez and Albon completed row 3 of the grid. It was an all-McLaren 4th row with Gasly and Ricciardo completing the top 10 for the start of the race. 



Hamilton had aced it when it mattered, bagging the 97th pole position of his career along the way. Bottas had led all the practice sessions leading into Qualifying but come up short again. Verstappen remained the "best of the rest" while Leclerc had put in a stellar drive to give Ferrari a fighting chance on Sunday. The midfield battle was tight as ever with Racing Point, Renault and McLaren. Russell finally made it into Q2 in 2020 and hoped for his first points finish while Vettel would face a long afternoon come Sunday. Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 seemed destined to remain backmarkers.

Perez had impeded Gasly in Q3 and picked up a reprimand for the same.



Race :


C1, C2 and C3 were the tyre options provided by Pirelli for the race. Raikkonen was the only driver outside the top 10 to choose the soft tyres while Magnussen did the same with the hard tyres. The rest of the drivers in the latter half started with the medium tyres.


The skies were overcast, and there was rain forecasted during the race. A drizzle hit the circuit just before the formation lap, and the drivers did their best to bring their tyres up to temperatures for the race start. 


The race got underway, and Hamilton had a clean start off the line. Bottas and Verstappen went wheel to wheel with the latter momentarily getting past. However, Bottas gathered himself and retook P2 a couple of corners later. Verstappen was all over the place and missed his braking points a couple of times allowing Perez to close in on him. Perez tried a move around the outside, but the Dutchman tagged the rear left tyre of Perez's car sending him into a spin. The Mexican limped back to the pits for a front wing change, new tyres and the incident got flagged for investigation. The stewards deemed it as "no action necessary" a few laps later.


There was plenty of action happening throughout the field with Bottas getting past Hamilton who seemed to be going slower than usual. Sainz went wheel to wheel with Verstappen and got past. He was then up into second with a move on Hamilton! Norris relegated Verstappen to P5 while Raikkonen had made up nine places on the opening lap and pressurizing Leclerc for P6. 


The drivers who had started on the soft tyres had their tyres in the operating temperatures and making up places in the early stages of the race. 


Sainz got past Bottas to take the lead of the race on the 2nd lap while Raikkonen overtook Leclerc for P6 in a three-way battle. He briefly got past Verstappen only for the latter to recover his position a corner later. Albon lost two places to Stroll and Ocon, getting relegated to P12. Sainz was pulling away in the lead and set the fastest lap of the race while Albon got past Ocon for P11.


Those on the medium tyres were now getting back into the game and Bottas set the fastest lap on lap 5. Verstappen retook P4 from Norris while Bottas caught up and got past Sainz to reclaim the lead. The track was dry again, and Leclerc was past Ricciardo for P7 while Hamilton relegated Sainz to 3rd, and Kvyat overtook Latifi for 17th a lap later. 


More overtakes followed in the next few laps with Verstappen getting past Sainz for P3, Leclerc overtaking Raikkonen for P6 ( lap 8 ) and then Norris for 5th ( lap 9 ). Raikkonen was falling back into the clutches of the faster cars with Ricciardo and Gasly relegating him to 9th while Kvyat got past Grosjean for P16.


Bottas set the fastest lap of the race while Stroll received a Black and White flag for exceeding track limits. Verstappen came on the radio and communicated to his team that the front left tyre was running out of life. Gasly overtook Ricciardo for 7th while Raikkonen lost 9th to Stroll on lap 11. Leclerc retook 4th from Sainz a lap later, and Raikkonen decided to ditch the soft tyres for a fresh set of mediums, rejoining in last. 


Meanwhile, battles continued up and down the field with Vettel relegating Giovinazzi to 14th, Gasly getting past Norris for 6th and Stroll overtaking Ricciardo for 8th. 


Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Ricciardo and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 14.


Ricciardo pitted on lap 15 and switched to the medium tyres, rejoining in 19th. Russell overtook Giovinazzi for 12th while Perez began his charge up the field with a pass on Grosjean for 15th. The battle for P5 was hotting up between Sainz and Gasly while Stroll was contending with Norris for 7th. Stroll got into the slip-stream on the pit straight and with DRS assistance tried to get past Norris. However, he missed his braking point, going over the kerbs and trying an impractical move on the outside at turn 1. He failed to leave a car's width, and the duo made contact with Stroll spinning around. Both suffered floor and front wing damage and had to return to the pits for repairs ( lap 18 ). They switched to the hard tyres, and the incident got investigated by the stewards. Stroll got a five seconds time penalty for his misdemeanour. 


Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton was honing in on Bottas, and the lead changed hands on lap 19! He quickly got out of DRS range and started to build a gap at the front.


Albon pitted on lap 20 for a set of medium tyres, rejoining in 18th. Gasly got past Sainz for 5th while Perez overtook Kvyat for P11. The Mexican was back into the points with a move on Giovinazzi a lap later. Verstappen pitted on lap 24 for medium tyres and rejoined in 6th. Hamilton was pulling away at the front and set the fastest lap of the race on lap 25. There was a slew of pit stops over the next couple of laps with Latifi, Grosjean, Kvyat and Vettel switching to the hard tyres and Sainz switching to the mediums. Ricciardo and Raikkonen got past Magnussen, relegating him to 12th while Gasly and Giovinazzi pitted for the medium and hard tyres, respectively. 


Hamilton set another fastest lap on lap 30 and was now leading Bottas by almost 8 seconds. Grosjean was the next driver to receive a Black and White flag for exceeding track limits, and the stewards didn't shy away from dishing out a 5 seconds time penalty to Stroll for repeating the same infringement for the fourth time. Ricciardo got past Gasly for 8th while Giovinazzi and Grosjean went wheel-to-wheel for P16, but the Italian didn't relent. His team-mate Raikkonen put up a stoic defence for 10th while fending off Sainz while Magnussen pitted on lap 33 after losing 12th to Albon. He rejoined in 18th with a fresh set of medium tyres.


Bottas reported about a warning on his dash to cool the car while Sainz finally got past Raikkonen for P10 on lap 34. The duo had displayed sensational wheel-to-wheel racing. Perez and Ocon showcased a version of their own as they battled for P5 which Perez finally bagged on lap 35. Leclerc pitted from 3rd for a set of hard tyres, rejoining in 4th while Stroll switched to the soft tyres ( lap 36 ). Grosjean overtook Kvyat for 16th while Latifi held onto P18 while defending from Magnussen. Russell pitted for hard tyres and rejoined in 14th only to lose it to Giovinazzi a few corners later. 


Hamilton was happy with the health of his tyres, but the team called him into the pits on lap 41 to switch to the hard tyres. Bottas who was due for a stop on the next lap requested for the soft tyres, but the request got denied. Grosjean was the next driver to get a 5 seconds time penalty for exceeding track limits, and McLaren informed Norris about a slow puncture on his car. He switched to a set of medium tyres on lap 45, rejoining in 17th. Kvyat got flagged for investigation for ignoring blue flags while Hamilton set the fastest lap on lap 45. Gasly overtook Ricciardo for 7th while Perez made his second stop of the race, rejoining in 6th with a set of soft tyres. 


Bottas was having difficulty getting his hard tyres up to temperature, and Verstappen was slowly closing in on him. Albon pitted again on lap 48, this time for soft tyres, rejoining in 12th while Sainz got past Ricciardo for P8. Ocon was the only driver who hadn't pitted and was still setting competitive lap times on the worn set of mediums. Bottas finally got his tyres working for him and set the fastest time on lap 49. Russell got past Giovinazzi for P13 on lap 51 while Vettel who was closing in on Raikkonen for the final points-scoring position suffered a massive lock-up causing flat spots on his hard tyres. The extensive damage on Stroll's car from his contact earlier forced the team to retire the car on lap 54 while Ocon finally pitted for a set of soft tyres, rejoining in 8th. 


Kvyat got a 5 seconds time penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times while Vettel got past Raikkonen for P10 on lap 55. The infringements caused by the drivers with regards to track limits didn't end with Norris getting served a Black and White flag this time. He, however, managed to get past Giovinazzi for P14. Hamilton retook the point for the fastest lap while Kvyat pitted for the soft tyres, serving his penalty during the pit stop and rejoining in 19th ( lap 57 ). Hamilton reported that he was suffering from cramps on his right leg ( lap 58 ), having to lift off multiple times to ease off the pressure on his leg. However, that didn't stop him from lapping Perez, who was running in 5th on lap 59. Norris relegated Russell to 14th while McLaren informed Sainz about some light rain in the pit lane.


Hamilton's blistering pace continued with two more fastest laps while the battle for 5th was hotting up between Perez and Gasly. Bout one went to Perez who gave no quarters and shut the door on Gasly into turn 1. A lap later, on 65, Gasly tried a move on the outside of Perez. He succeeded and was up into P5. The defence put up by Perez didn't go down well with the stewards who initiated an investigation, handing him another reprimand on the weekend post-race. He was now one reprimand away from copping a ten-place grid penalty. The Mexican had lost performance in his soft tyres and was falling back into the clutches of Sainz. He got relegated to 7th on the final lap.



Hamilton took the chequered flag and the 92nd win of his career to become the most successful driver in the history of the sport having surpassed the great Michael Schumacher. Bottas came home in 2nd, 25.5 seconds adrift of his team-mate to complete another 1-2 finish for Mercedes. It was Verstappen who was 3rd again, having suffered some hiccups at the start. Leclerc drove a stellar race to come home in 4th, having aced his race strategy, the updates working well for him.


Alpha Tauri had a strong weekend with Gasly in 5th while 6th was the best Sainz could accomplish having led the race for a few laps at the start. A brilliant recovery drive from Perez after his first lap contact with Verstappen saw him come home in 7th while Ocon finished ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel who completed the top 10.


Raikkonen finished just outside the points in 11th, a shame after having made up ten places on the opening lap thanks to his monster start. The Iceman once again showed that there was no substitute for experience. He was impeccable, both in attack and defence and the "Driver of the Day" for me. Albon had a tough race, getting bogged down at the start and then running a compromised strategy to produce yet another lacklustre performance in 12th. The damage sustained from contact with Stroll meant that Norris couldn't do better than 13th while Russell came home in 14th, his first point in F1 eluding him. Giovinazzi was 15th in the other Alfa Romeo followed by the Haas drivers, Latifi and Kvyat who completed the classified finishers. 



Hamilton had dominated once he took the lead from Bottas. The Finn had no answer and is now 77 points behind in a Championship which seems done and dusted. Hamilton had lapped everyone up until 5th, an occurrence rarely seen in F1. Mercedes has one hand on the Constructors' Championship with another 1-2 finish. Verstappen had lapped his team-mate Albon in the race, something that doesn't augur well for the latter. Red Bull needs both its drivers to be fighting at the sharp end of the field, and it remains to be seen whether Albon would stay or leave at the end of 2020. 



The upgrades brought in by Ferrari seemed to work well for Leclerc, but the travails that Vettel faces in 2020 don't seem to go away. Renault failed to score more points than rivals Racing Point and McLaren despite having both cars in the top 10. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo are improving with each race, and Raikkonen deserved to be in points for the performance he had put in on Sunday. Williams and Haas had another disappointing weekend and need to keep working hard if they want to offload the tag of "backmarkers".



Round 13 of the 2020 F1 Season will take place in Imola, known as the home circuit of Ferrari in the Emilia-Romagna region. The teams face an added challenge with the weekend being only a two-day event ( thanks to logistical challenges ) consisting of only one practice session. It will be interesting to see how the teams complete their qualifying and race simulation programs on a truncated weekend.



Hamilton is on track to match Schumacher's record of 7 World Championships, and if he renews his contract at Mercedes ( which should be a no-brainer ), will be favourite to lift the title again in 2021. 



The thought of a driver breaking Schumacher's record of 91 race victories was a far fetched one, but as the famous saying goes, "Records are meant to be broken!"


On to Imola!

2020 Eifel GP Race Recap : Hamilton, emulating the Legend himself!

Germany has given a lot to the world of F1 - Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in F1, Sebastian Vettel, a four-time World Champion besides Nico Rosberg who beat Hamilton in a tightly contested title battle in 2016. Who can forget the contributions of drivers such as Ralf Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg, Andre Lotterer and Wolfgang von Trips! 

Hockenheimring and Nurburgring were venues loved by the purists of the sport. The exclusion of the German GP from the 2020 F1 calendar was a shock to one and all. However, the onset of the pandemic COVID-19 brought about the rescheduling of the calendar with Nurburgring making an unlikely return after seven years. The legendary circuit would host what got known as "The Eifel GP". 


  The pandemic hit the  F1  paddock again, this time two members of the  Mercedes AMG F1  team testing positive. One test was inconclusive while four other team members weren't allowed to take any part for the rest of the weekend. Six replacements got called in by the team.


While Kimi Raikkonen would become the most experienced driver in the sport on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton was chasing his 91st victory to equal the number of wins of Michael Schumacher. 

There was a lot of excitement and hype around the appearance of Mick Schumacher in FP1, Ferrari Academy Driver and Michael Schumacher's son; the German slated to take the wheel of the Alfa Romeo C39. His academy mate Callum Ilott would get a chance to drive the 2020 Haas car, giving Ferrari an idea of the capabilities of the duo. 


Nurburgring, like its older brother the Nordschleife, is a fast-flowing yet unforgiving circuit with changeable weather conditions. The majority of the field had never raced here in an F1 car which made the challenge even more daunting!


How did the teams and the driver fare at the Eifel GP? Time for a quick recap!


Practice :

It wasn't the best time of the year to host an F1 race at Nurburgring. The 24 hours Nurburgring, the GT endurance event held a fortnight before the F1 weekend suffered from stoppages due to rain, and the signs of F1 suffering a similar fate seemed ominous.

Bad weather hit both the practice sessions on Friday with a heavy mist/fog settling over the circuit and its vicinity. Intermittent rainfall compounded matters, and the FIA delayed the start of the sessions multiple times. The medical helicopter wasn't able to fly due to the conditions prevalent over the track and the route to the nearest medical facility or hospital ( Koblensk ). As a result, running on Friday had to be called off, and the fans were left disappointed. 

Schumacher Jr. and Ilott would need to wait for another day at another circuit to prove their F1 worthiness.

The cancellation of running on Friday meant that Free Practice on Saturday would be a busy affair for all teams. They would need to manage the tyre allocations to avoid jeopardizing the sets available for the race ( in the event of inclement weather ). 



Clear skies greeted the teams on Saturday morning and what followed was a busy Free Practice 3. Racing Point had a difficult start to the day with Stroll reported as being unwell. Stroll's unavailability left them with Perez alone for FP3 and the need for calling in a replacement urgently.

Thankfully, Nico Hulkenberg made himself available and drove down to Nurburgring at short notice.

George Russell went sliding across the grass while Vettel and Latifi suffered a spin at the last chicane. The track temperatures were low due to the chilly weather around, and Hamilton had a couple of lock-ups while Norris needed something to keep his hands warm in the cockpit. 

Bottas set the fastest time of FP3, a tenth clear of his team-mate Hamilton. Ferrari got upgrades to the track, and both cars were in the top 6, split by Verstappen. Norris was P7 for McLaren while Perez set the 8th fastest time in the lone Racing Point. Albon and Gasly completed the top 10. Ocon, Kvyat and Sainz finished just outside the top 10 in a closely contested midfield while Raikkonen was 14th for Alfa Romeo. The Haas drivers were 15th and 16th with Russell getting the better of Giovinazzi and Latifi.


The lack of data due to no running on Friday meant that all teams would need to adopt an aggressive approach to Qualifying. However, there seemed to be no threat to the Mercedes at the top with Bottas enjoying a cleaner session than Hamilton. 



Qualifying :

Racing Point officially announced Hulkenberg as Stroll's replacement for the weekend, the German driving the RP20 for the first time at Nurburgring in Qualifying. Hulkenberg needed to use Q1 for learning the limits of his car and wasn't likely to make it into Q2 which would compromise the chances of a strong weekend for Racing Point. The team had this driver pairing for the first time since 2016. 



Q1 got underway with Russell and Perez opting for medium tyres while the rest of the field chose softs. Russell ditched his medium tyres after a sighting lap and switched to the softs as well. Gasly came to an abrupt stop outside his pit-box when a tyre warmer blanket got stuck to the left front tyre. Thankfully, the mechanics dislodged it in time. Kevin Magnussen had his lap time deleted due to exceeding of track limits at turn 4. 

Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Leclerc, Albon and Ricciardo were the top 6 after the first runs with Magnussen, Raikkonen, Latifi, Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg in the drop zone. Many drivers had fuel for another run, and the track was evolving as more rubber got laid. Latifi improved to 13th before returning to pits. Barring the top 3, the rest of the field headed out again in the final five minutes of Q1. Grosjean set a quick lap only to have it deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4.  

Norris and Ricciardo got into the top 6 while Magnussen and Giovinazzi were into the top 16. Grosjean's lap time deletion cost him dearly as he failed to make it into Q2. Russell, Latifi, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg were the other eliminations.

Raikkonen would be disappointed to be on the last row of the grid for his record-breaking 323rd race start. Hulkenberg's predicament came as no surprise, the German doing his best with the limited running he got.

Giovinazzi made his first Q2 appearance of 2020, the Italian beating his more experienced team-mate as he fights for a racing seat in 2021.



The top teams had a tough decision to make at the start of Q2 and Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault ( with Ricciardo ) decided to roll the dice, sending their drivers out on medium tyres. Kvyat meanwhile, exited the pits with a used set of soft tyres for his first run. Verstappen, Hamilton, Albon, Norris, Ocon and Sainz were the top 6 at the end of the first runs with Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Kvyat and Gasly in the drop zone. The top 6 were separated by a second while Bottas, Leclerc and Ricciardo were on the cusp of elimination, their decision to use the medium tyres not bringing the desired result. 

The Ferrari cars were carrying extra fuel onboard nevertheless, and both drivers decided to do another flying lap. However, they were unable to improve, eventually returning to the pits for a fresh set of tyres. 

All drivers ( barring Albon ) were out on the soft tyres for the final minutes of Q2, Bottas trying to improve after a mediocre first attempt. Kvyat and Vettel fought over track position on their out-laps. The lap times improved thanks to "track evolution" and Hamilton set the fastest time of Q2, ahead of Verstappen and Bottas. Ricciardo and Leclerc improved to 4th and 5th while Albon got into Q3 with the 6th fastest time. Perez, Sainz and Ocon completed the top 10.

Vettel failed to make it into Q3 despite having the upgrades; the German would, however, have a free tyre choice come Sunday. Both the Alpha Tauri drivers got eliminated along with Giovinazzi and Magnussen at the end of Q2.



The final shootout got underway ( Q3 ) with everyone barring Perez exiting the pits to set banker laps. Verstappen drew first blood, going six hundredths clear of Bottas' best effort. Hamilton could only manage third on his banker lap, another two-hundredths adrift. Perez was out of sync with the rest of the field and set only one representative lap time.

Albon set the 4th fastest time from Leclerc and Perez followed by Renault powered cars of Ocon, Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo. 

The battle for pole position was hotting up with the contenders on fresh tyres as the clock ran down. Everyone was improving on their final runs and Hamilton was the first to cross the line in what seemed to be another pole position for the Briton. However, Bottas had other ideas and pipped his team-mate to pole! Verstappen was on a quick lap as well, but a mediocre third sector relegated him to the second row. A stunning lap by Leclerc catapulted him to 4th in his Ferrari. Albon was a commendable 5th from Ricciardo and Ocon. Norris, Perez and Sainz completed the top 10. 



Mercedes completed another front-row lockout despite the limited running on the weekend. Bottas had the best platform to fight for victory on Sunday and was going through a mini-resurgence. Hamilton would leave no stone unturned to make things right on Sunday while Verstappen knew he had a car which had the speed to fight for a win on race day. Albon ensured that his team-mate was not alone in the fight at the front. The upgrades brought in by Ferrari were doing wonders on the race track, and Leclerc hoped to capitalize on the opportunity. Vettel had a disappointing Qualifying but had the experience and talent to turn it around at his home race. Renault and McLaren had the chance of scoring more points than Racing Point in the Constructors' Championship. Alpha Tauri hoped to make it into the points scoring positions after a challenging day in Qualifying. Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams seemed destined to remain backmarkers in the race.



Race :

McLaren changed the Power Unit on Norris' car on Saturday night, and it was within his allocation for the season. 

Pirelli chose the C2, C3 and C4 tyre compounds for the weekend and even though it was cloudy, the rain stayed away for the race start.


Vettel, Gasly, Kvyat and Grosjean chose the medium tyres while the rest of the drivers outside the top 10 were on the softs.


The race got underway, and Hamilton had a quicker getaway compared to that of Bottas. The Briton braked late and went wide at turn one, sending Bottas even wider. The latter didn't relent and kept his foot down into turn two, retaking the lead. Meanwhile, Verstappen came under intense pressure from Ricciardo but managed to hold onto third. It was a poor start for Albon who was down in 6th. Further down the field, Grosjean had lost four positions while Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg were up into P11 and P17 respectively. 


Magnussen got past Gasly for P13 on ( lap 2 ) while Bottas pulled away from Hamilton, opening up a gap of 1.5 seconds. He then went on to set a series of fastest laps, pushing hard on the soft tyres. The trio at the front was pulling away while there was a train forming behind the Ferrari of Leclerc. Ricciardo was searching for a way past him, but the Monegasque positioned his car well on the track. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on the 7th lap while Gasly went wheel-to-wheel with Magnussen for 13th but failed to get past.


McLaren informed Sainz that there was a prediction of light rain while Albon who had suffered a flat-spot on his left front tyre due to a lockup on the opening lap pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres on lap 8. He rejoined last after a slow stop with the front left tyre. On the track, Ricciardo got the job done, relegating Leclerc to 5th on lap 9. Norris came under pressure from Perez who tried an enthusiastic move at turn three only to back off later ( lap 10 ). 


Leclerc, having flat-spotted his tyres from a mistake at turn one on lap 6, pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres, rejoining in 19th. Raikkonen followed suit rejoining in 20th and last. Gasly got past Magnussen for 10th while Vettel who was chasing Giovinazzi got spun around after he tried to take avoiding action from rear-ending the latter's car. His tyres got flat-spots as well, compromising his race strategy. The German pitted at the end of the lap for hard tyres, rejoining in 18th. Russell, in his Williams, switched to the medium tyres. 


The lead at the front changed hands on lap 13! Bottas missed his braking point, had a massive lockup at turn one which allowed Hamilton to close up and muscle past him for the lead. The Finn had flat-spotted his tyres and needed to pit early to avoid compromising his race further. There was more drama at the back of the field. Vettel, Russell and Raikkonen were racing each other when Russell tried to get past Vettel at the turn one. The German held on, but Russell became vulnerable to an overtake from Raikkonen. Raikkonen to avoid hitting Vettel locked up his front tyre, losing the rear of his car and hitting the side of Russell's car when he tried to correct the slide; this sent Russell into a spin, the Briton suffering a puncture and rear suspension failure. The Stewards flagged the incident for investigation. 


Bottas, unable to manage the flat spots on his tyres, pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres on lap 14, rejoining in 4th behind Ricciardo. Albon got past Magnussen for P12 while Gasly overtook Giovinazzi for 9th. Meanwhile, Leclerc relegated Grosjean to 17th. Magnussen and Latifi pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres while Bottas began his recovery drive with an overtake on Ricciardo for 3rd on lap 15. Giovinazzi pitted for medium tyres, rejoining in 15th while the Virtual Safety Car got deployed after Russell rolled to a stop at one of the run-off areas. Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo pitted under VSC, switching to the medium tyres with Verstappen having jumped Bottas after the first round of stops.


The Virtual Safety Car period was a brief one, and Kvyat ran onto the grass on turn 14, which compromised him into the final turn. Albon got past him for P10, but cut back across, ripping the front wing off the Russian's car. Kvyat now needed to complete an entire lap without his front wing, rapidly losing positions in the process. He switched to the hard tyres and a new front wing.


Disaster struck on lap 18. Bottas reported a loss of power and lost two places to Norris and Perez as he tried to arrest the issue with some changes in the settings. The problem seemed terminal, and the Finn returned to the pits and into retirement on lap 19. It was a Power Unit failure. Meanwhile, Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 20 while Leclerc got past Hulkenberg for P10.


Raikkonen got a ten-second time penalty for his incident with Russell earlier which the Finn served when he pitted for the second time in the race.

Hamilton, Verstappen, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly, Albon and Leclerc were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.


The battle for 8th was hotting up with Albon trying to get past Gasly. The Frenchman put up a stoic defence causing Albon to lock up his tyres ( again ) at turn one. He suffered a flat spot on his second set of tyres and relayed to the team that the Alpha Tauri drivers were racing too hard with him. Ricciardo got past Ocon on lap 23 in what seemed to be a Renault going slow on track. Ocon had suffered a mechanical issue and limped back to the pits to retire from the race. Albon's mistake of taking out Kvyat's front wing got him a five-second time penalty which he wasn't able to serve as a stray stone had gotten into the exhaust of his car leading him to retire from the race on lap 25. 


The powertrain issues continued to haunt other drivers, this time Norris reporting a loss of power ( lap 26 ), an issue which kept getting worse. McLaren discovered a sensor issue on the car and tried to guide Norris through some changes to the settings. The problem was worsening, and Norris got the instructions to manage it for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, Leclerc got past Gasly for 7th ( lap 28 ). 


Perez and Sainz pitted for a set of medium tyres on lap 29, rejoining in 7th and 9th respectively. Grosjean pitted for hard tyres, rejoining in 15th. Norris was due for his pit stop and switched to a fresh set of mediums on lap 30 while Hulkenberg followed suit a lap later. Perez got past Norris for 5th on lap 31 while Alpha Tauri called Gasly in to switch him to the medium tyres as well. Ferrari informed Leclerc that they were changing to "Plan C" while Hulkenberg overtook Latifi for 13th. Latifi lost another position to Grosjean a lap later while Norris was struggling with his issues as Sainz relegated him to 7th. Perez was now putting pressure on Leclerc for 4th and got past him just before the DRS Detection zone before the start-finish straight, but Leclerc fought back and reclaimed his position. Gasly overtook Magnussen for 11th while Latifi pitted for mediums, rejoining in 15th ( lap 35 ). Leclerc's defence didn't last long as Perez got past him before turn 13 on lap 36. 


Hamilton reported issues of graining on his tyres while Leclerc and Magnussen ditched their existing sets for a new set of medium tyres. Giovinazzi who was doing a stellar job for Alfa Romeo in 7th pitted for another set of medium tyres on lap 38, rejoining in 13th. Meanwhile, Raikkonen lost three places in the span of two laps to Leclerc, Gasly and Hulkenberg as he tried to prolong his stint. Vettel suffered a similar fate to Raikkonen, the duo now out of the points-scoring positions. Vettel was also suffering from a flat spot on his hard tyres and switched to the soft tyres for his final stint on lap 43. Perez in 4th was honing in on Ricciardo, lap by lap, hoping to challenge him in the final stages of the race. 


There was another twist on lap 44. Norris was unable to manage his sensor issue and came to a halt on the run-off area at turn 6 with smoke billowing out of the rear of his car. The Race Director decided to deploy the Safety Car! 


Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen all pitted under the Safety Car for a fresh set of soft tyres which would last them till the end of the race. Perez also switched to the same compound a lap later. The ten lapped cars were allowed to overtake and get back on the lead lap as the Safety Car did a few more laps around the track. 


Racing resumed on lap 50, and it was a clean getaway for Hamilton. Verstappen got bogged down and came under pressure from Ricciardo, but managed to stay ahead. Grosjean, who hadn't pitted under Safety Car lost two places to Gasly and Hulkenberg while Leclerc got relegated to 7th by Gasly on lap 51. Hamilton set the fastest laps of the race ( back to back ) as he extended his lead at the front. DRS got enabled on lap 53, and Latifi lost 12th to Vettel and 13th to Raikkonen. Vettel was on the cusp of scoring points when he got past Magnussen on lap 55, the duo banging wheels in what was a feisty duel on track. Magnussen failed to fend off Raikkonen as well, getting relegated to 13th. 


Hamilton set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap only to have it robbed off him by Verstappen on the final lap.


Nevertheless, no one could deny him the chance of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of wins in F1. The Briton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Eifel GP, scoring the 91st win of his F1 career! Verstappen came home in 2nd, a few seconds adrift, and it was Ricciardo who took the final podium place, Renault returning to the podium for the first time since 2011! Perez was 4th for Racing Point, Sainz and Gasly completed the top 6. Leclerc was pleased with another strong showing for Ferrari in 7th while Hulkenberg finished a commendable 8th in the other Racing Point. It was the first points-scoring finish for Grosjean in 9th while Giovinazzi produced a stellar drive in his Alfa Romeo, fending off a late charge from Vettel to bag the final point. Vettel, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Latifi and Kvyat were the other classified finishers.



Hamilton and Verstappen were a class apart today. The duo would have lapped everyone up to P3 had there not been a Safety Car period. Bottas suffered another blow to his title aspirations with his Power Unit failure and needed to cover a deficit of 69 points in the upcoming rounds. Verstappen closed in on Bottas for P2 in the Championship, and it seems that this fight will go on till the end of the season. Ricciardo's hard work with Renault finally paid off, and the Australian would be hoping to do even better in the upcoming rounds. Perez did the best he could for Racing Point, but Hulkenberg, the "Driver of the Day", accomplished an unthinkable finish having spent less than 24 hours in the cockpit of the RP20 at Nurburgring. The German surely deserves a seat in the sport! Grosjean and Giovinazzi drove exceptionally well for their teams, and these drives will go a long way in improving their reputations within the paddock. 



Mercedes had a bitter-sweet race with a chance of another one-two finish gone but extended their lead in the Constructors' Championship thanks to one Red Bull failing to finish the race due to mechanical issues. Renault was the 7th Constructor to score a podium finish in 2020; 2012 was the last time the sport had the same statistic. However, they lost points with Ocon's retirement. Racing Point would be pleased with the way their fortunes changed, especially with the finish Hulkenberg achieved, stepping in for Stroll who was unless. In a tightly contested midfield, McLaren would be ruing the retirement suffered by one of its cars. The double points-finish allowed Racing Point to jump to third in the Constructors' Championship. Ferrari's upgrades seem to be working, and the team would be hoping for better weekends in the upcoming races. Alpha Tauri capitalized on the slip-ups by the competitors while Haas and Alfa Romeo enjoyed a points-scoring weekend. Williams remains the only team yet to score a point in 2020.


Kimi Raikkonen completed 323 race starts, granting him the record of the "most experienced driver in F1." The Iceman keeps racing and doing what he loves.



Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher's record of race wins and was gifted a race-worn helmet ( from 2012 ) of Schumacher by Michael's son Mick Schumacher at parc-ferme. He could now become the most successful driver in the history of the sport with his next win. 



The teams head to Portugal in a fortnight, to a track that has never hosted an F1 race before. One can only speculate the surprises in store for the contenders for the crown. 

Bring on Portimao!!