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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiitos Kimi! Wishing you a happy retirement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a quick recap of the race weekend!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

The Frenchman got let off with a formal warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abu Dhabi will be memorable yet painful for some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a quick recap!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a recap of the Brazilian GP!

Friday Practice :

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday Practice :

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


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

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

F1 Sprint :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time will reveal all!

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

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

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

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

Time for a recap of the Mexican GP weekend!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An intriguing race awaited the teams and drivers.

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a recap of the US GP weekend!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Italian GP Race Recap : Fearless Honey Badger at the Temple of Speed!

The Italian GP, held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, was the final race of the first triple-header of the 2021 F1 Season. The fastest track on the F1 Calendar, the circuit is famously called the "Temple of Speed". Being the last race of the European leg before the fly-aways, Monza has produced some unexpected and exciting races in the past.

Variante Ascari, Curva Grande, the Lesmos, the Variantes and the Parabolica ( which got rechristened to Curva Alboreto ) make this circuit a must visit.

Like Zandvoort, which was full of Dutch fans in orange, Monza is the home of the Ferrari faithful, also known as the Tifosi, who come dressed in Scuderia red. It was also the home race for Alfa Romeo, the title sponsor for Sauber F1 and Alpha Tauri F1.

Leading up to the Grand Prix weekend, many teams confirmed their lineups for 2022.

With Raikkonen retiring from the sport, Valtteri Bottas took his place at Alfa Romeo with a multi-year contract. As for the seat vacated at Mercedes, George Russell got the promotion, while Alpha Tauri retained the services of Pierre Gasly and Tsunoda. A struggle ensued between Red Bull and Mercedes to get one of their academy drivers into the Williams seat. Finally, it was Albon who got hired for 2022, alongside Latifi, much to the chagrin of Mercedes. The former F1 driver got another chance to prove his mettle, denying ex-F2 and current FE Champion Nyck De Vries an F1 appearance.

Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo announced that Kubica would race instead of Raikkonen in Monza after the Finn failed to recover from COVID-19 in time. 

Monza was the second race at which the FIA decided to sample the new format for a race weekend after Silverstone.

While Friday would have one Practice Session followed by Qualifying, the latter would decide the grid for the F1 Sprint ( lasting 100 km or 18 laps ), which would get held on Saturday after a practice session in the morning. The results from the F1 Sprint would make up the starting grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The winner of the Sprint would get 3 points, second and third would get two and one points respectively. There would be no podium celebrations after the F1 Sprint. If a driver failed to finish the Sprint due to an accidentthe teams could change parts ( different spec allowed ) for the Grand Prix. The intriguing aspect of the weekend was that all 20 drivers would have a free tyre choice at the start of both the F1 Sprint and the Grand Prix. 

Verstappen led Hamilton by 3 points but had struggled in the previous races at Monza. Did Hamilton manage to overturn the deficit and retake the lead in the Championship? Mercedes and Red Bull also faced the dilemma of the unavoidable "engine penalty" ( if they opted for a 4th unit ) and whether it would be prudent to take the hit at Monza.

Ferrari hoped for a strong showing in front of its Tifosi, while Gasly hoped to repeat the feat from 2020 at Alpha Tauri's home race.

How did the weekend unfold for all the teams and drivers? Time for a recap of the Italian GP!

Friday Practice :

Friday Practice got underway, and the drivers set about finding the limits of the track. While Hamilton missed the braking point at the 2nd Variante, Norris had to negotiate the markers at the runoff at turn one. Track limits got enforced at turn 11, and there were several lap time deletions. Slip-streaming played a pivotal role at Monza, and as the drivers switched to Qualifying simulations in the latter half of the session, track position became equally vital. As a result, many drivers got caught up in traffic on their low-fuel runs.

Hamilton topped the timesheets at the end of Practice, with Verstappen splitting the two Mercedes cars in P2. Bottas was 3rd in the other Mercedes, followed by Stroll, Gasly and Vettel. The fastest Ferrari-powered car was Sainz in P7, with Alonso, Ricciardo and Perez going a second slower than Hamilton's best attempt.

Leclerc was P11 in the other Ferrari, ahead of Norris in the McLaren. Tsunoda and Ocon split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Kubica in P14 and P15, respectively. The Williams of Russell and Latifi and the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher completed the back of the field.

Qualifying :

Mercedes decided to give Bottas a new power unit ( his 4th ), which meant that he would start the race on Sunday from the back of the grid. The penalty didn't affect Bottas' chances for a better starting position for the F1 Sprint, though.

The Alpines decided to stay put as the rest of the field emerged from pits at the start of Q1. Softs were the tyre of choice for everyone. Leclerc reported issues about "engine braking", following which Ferrari asked him to return to the pits. Verstappen was on a flying lap when he got impeded by the Aston Martin and Alpine cars at the 2nd Variante. The Dutchman made his displeasure known over team radio.

Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Gasly, Giovinazzi and Norris were the top 6, with Tsunoda, Leclerc, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination at the end of the first runs.

Norris improved to P3 but had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. Gasly, on his 2nd attempt, got impeded by the Ferraris at Ascari.

Lap times kept improving with track evolution, and Verstappen, Sainz and Leclerc broke into the top 6 with five minutes remaining of Q1. The trio, along with Gasly, decided to stay put in the final minute of Q1 as the rest of the field headed out for their last attempts.

There was traffic at Parabolica as the drivers jostled for a tow down the main straight. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Verstappen, Sainz and Giovinazzi were the top 6 at the end of Q1. Tsunoda seemed to have made it into Q2, having eliminated Russell, but the rookie had exceeded track limits at turn 11 at the start of his final lap. Subsequently, his lap time got deleted. As a result, Russell got promoted to P15, while Tsunoda got eliminated with Latifi, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin.

The Ferrari mechanics removed the engine cover on Leclerc's car and carried out extensive checks before Q2 got underway.

All 15 drivers were out on track at the start of Q2 with soft tyres. Leclerc's complaints about engine braking didn't cease, while Alonso missed his braking into turn one. The Spaniard went over the sausage kerbs and ended up in Perez's path. 

Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Ricciardo, Gasly and Verstappen were the top 6, with Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Russell and Alonso in the drop zone halfway through Q2. 

The clock ran down, and a train of cars emerged from their garages for their final runs of Q2. The ensuing melee in the pit lane almost caused Vettel's Aston Martin to collide with Hamilton's Mercedes. Thankfully, barring a few disgruntled radio communications, there was no damage suffered by anyone. Nevertheless, the incident got flagged for investigation post-session. 

The Mercedes duo stuck to used soft tyres while the rest chose fresh sets. The following drivers made it to Q3 - Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Leclerc and Perez. 

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

Giovinazzi had tyres fit only for a single run in Q3, while Perez chose the used softs for his first run. Hamilton set the quickest time at the end of the first representative laps, a hundredth clear of Verstappen and Norris. Less than a second separated the top 10 going into the final minutes of Q3. 

On their final runs, Verstappen failed to improve in sectors 1 and 2. Bottas was the quickest in the first two sectors, while Ricciardo went purple in the third. Bottas went P1, and Hamilton, a few car lengths behind, failed to beat the Finn. Less than a hundredth of a second separated the Mercedes duo. 

Verstappen held on to P3, followed by the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo. Only three-hundredths separated P3 from P5! Gasly was P6 for Alpha Tauri, followed by the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc. Row 5 got completed by Perez and Giovinazzi.

Bottas got the "Speed King" / Fastest Qualifier award and hoped to bag the three points from the F1 Sprint. Although the Finn would start the Grand Prix from the back of the field, his pace in the F1 Sprint would help indicate what he could achieve on Sunday. Hamilton and Mercedes had the measure of Verstappen and Red Bull, as evident from the practice session and Qualifying. A tow from Perez helped Verstappen set a competitive lap on his first run from Q3. The Red Bull driver was in damage limitation mode, and every little detail was precious for his title aspirations. 

McLaren looked strong at Ferrari's home race, and all was not well in the latter's camp. Giovinazzi was the star of Qualifying with a Q3 appearance in his Alfa Romeo at his home race. The Italian was fighting for a drive for 2022 and had stepped up his game. As for Gasly and Alpha Tauri, the Frenchman produced another stellar performance to qualify in the top 6 for the 11th time in 14 races!

Post-session, Aston Martin and Alpine got fined 5000 Euros each for their misdemeanours in Q2. While Aston Martin made the mistake of releasing Vettel into Hamilton's path, an employee of Alpine got caught operating in an unsafe manner in the pit lane, according to the stewards.

Saturday Practice :

It was a challenging Saturday morning for Scuderia Ferrari. While Leclerc felt "unwell" and requested a return to the pits before the session ended, Sainz lost control of his car at Ascari and wrecked the front. The Spaniard was winded and had to visit the medical centre for preliminary checks. The Ferrari mechanics faced a race against time to get the car ready for the F1 Sprint. Meanwhile, on the track, Schumacher and Hamilton took to the runoff at the 2nd Variante while Ricciardo missed his braking at turn one. 

Hamilton topped the timesheets from Bottas and Verstappen. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by Ocon and the Alfa Romeos of Kubica and Giovinazzi. Alonso, Gasly and Norris completed the top 10.

The Ferrari of Leclerc led the lower half of the field, followed by Ricciardo and the Williams of Latifi and Russell. Tsunoda was P15, while the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel split the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher in P17 and P18, respectively. The crash for Sainz left him with the slowest time of FP2.

F1 Sprint :

The sun was shining, and 18 laps separated the drivers from Pole Position at the Italian Grand Prix. All drivers had a free tyre choice. The McLarens opted for used soft tyres while others in the top 10 persisted with the mediums. In the latter half of the field, the Alpine drivers and Tsunoda were on new soft tyres while the Aston Martin duo chose a used set of softs. With a mixed tyre choice across the field, the F1 Sprint promised to be an exciting affair.

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Bottas. Hamilton suffered excessive wheelspin and got bogged down off the line. The Briton got overtaken by Verstappen, Ricciardo and Gasly as he tried to weave and defend from those behind him. Going into turn one, Norris had the inside line, and he also managed to get past Hamilton. Meanwhile, at turn one, Gasly clipped the back of Ricciardo's McLaren, which resulted in front-wing damage. Going into the Curva Grande, the front wing gave way, getting stuck under the car. Gasly was a mere passenger as his Alpha Tauri hurtled into the barriers and the advertisement boards. Hamilton inherited P5.

Further down the field, Tsunoda tapped Kubica at the 2nd Variante, sending the Alfa Romeo driver into a spin. Thankfully, Kubica managed to rejoin the race. However, the Safety Car got deployed to extricate Gasly's stricken Alpha Tauri. Tsunoda pitted for a new front wing and soft tyres, rejoining in P19 and last. Meanwhile, Mazepin had gained five places and was up into P15.

Racing resumed on lap 4, and once again, Bottas had a clean getaway. Vettel sparred with Alonso for P11, and despite the initial success, the latter regained the position from Vettel. Meanwhile, Russell got past Schumacher for P16, while Tsunoda overtook Kubica for P18. 

Bottas was the fastest man on track, while Russell relegated Mazepin to P16 on lap 6. Hamilton couldn't get closer to Norris for an overtake and seemed destined to finish the Sprint in P5. Meanwhile, Tsunoda continued his recovery up the field with overtakes on both Haas cars.

The battle for P9 was hotting up with Perez challenging Stroll. Perez missed the braking at turn one and went over the sausage kerbs. Although the overtake wasn't legitimate, the Mexican refused to return the position until Ascari.  The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards relented after hearing Red Bull's defence over the pit communications. Perez did eventually complete a legitimate overtake for P9.

Bottas took the Chequered Flag and victory in the F1 Sprint, followed by Verstappen and Ricciardo. Norris was P4 in the other McLaren, having fended off a challenge by Hamilton all race long. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz were P6 and P7, followed by Giovinazzi, Perez and Stroll, who completed the top 10.

Vettel split the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P12, while Latifi and Russell were P14 and P15 for Williams. P16 was the best that Tsunoda could manage, with Kubica splitting the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher in P18.

While Bottas got the 3 points for finishing P1 in the F1 Sprint, the Finn would start the Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to his engine penalty. Ever since it got announced that the Finn would leave Mercedes at the end of the year, Bottas had stepped up his performances and looked certain for a strong finish on Sunday. As for Hamilton, the tables had turned. Hamilton should have won the Sprint if he had made a better start, but he found himself languishing in P4 and a further 5 points adrift from Verstappen in the Championship. The reigning World Champion looked distraught and didn't believe he had the pace to win the Grand Prix. 

Verstappen inherited Pole Position for the race besides bagging 2 World Championship points from the Sprint. It was Red Bull's first Pole Position at Monza since 2013 and Honda's first since 1991! Verstappen looked competitive in race trim and became the favourite to win the Grand Prix on Sunday. As for Perez, P8 wasn't the ideal starting position, and he prayed for an incident-free first lap if he wished to offer any assistance to Verstappen in the fight against Hamilton. 

Ricciardo, Norris and McLaren were the stars of the F1 Sprint. After a disappointing display in the Netherlands, the Woking-based outfit produced a befitting response in the F1 Sprint. Ricciardo was back on the front row and had a golden opportunity to bag his first podium with McLaren. Norris' consistency had paid dividends in the past, and his calibre came to the fore as he defended his position from Hamilton. Sunday was the big day, and McLaren needed to reduce the deficit to Ferrari in the fight for P3 in the Constructors.

Despite the hiccups and the incidents, the Ferrari drivers managed to qualify in the top 6 at the team's home race. It hadn't been a good showing for the Italian marquee in the past here, but they hoped to turn it around with a strong showing on race day. Giovinazzi, in his Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo, equalled his best qualifying position in P7. The team's hopes for a points-finish banked on Giovinazzi, who was quickly turning into a team leader. As for Kubica, the reserve driver who stepped in for Raikkonen, it would be a long afternoon at the back of the pack.

The Aston Martins and the Alpine cars were inseparable in the F1 Sprint. Although Aston Martin had faded away in the battle for P5 in the Constructors, it had a great chance to recover lost ground. Mercedes power gave Aston Martin the edge on the power-hungry circuit, but Alpine had also gotten upgrades of its own. Race Strategy would play a pivotal role in this battle. Williams seemed to be struggling with balance issues, and a points-finish seemed unlikely. After getting announced as a Mercedes driver for 2022, Russell seemed distracted and off the pace. The Briton hoped for a better showing on Sunday after getting out-qualified by teammate Latifi.

Alpha Tauri suffered the biggest hit from the F1 Sprint. Gasly, their best hope, crashed on the opening lap, leaving him at the back of the pack for the start of the Grand Prix.  Meanwhile, Tsunoda had only managed P15 in yet another disappointing display. The team couldn't afford a points-less Sunday at its home race. Gasly, the winner from last year, looked gutted as he believed he had the pace to finish on the podium in both the F1 Sprint and the Grand PrixHaas F1 had a better showing in the F1 Sprint, but breaking into the top 10 was still a far-fetched idea. 

Race :

C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, and Pirelli predicted a one-stop strategy. 

Alpha Tauri replaced the Power Unit and Energy Store on Gasly's car, making it a pit lane start for the Frenchman. Meanwhile, a problem got detected on teammate Tsunoda's car, and the mechanics wheeled it back to the pits. The Japanese driver failed to join the cars on the formation lap, and the problem was terminal. Tsunoda wouldn't start the race!

Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly and Kubica chose the hard tyres while the rest of the field stuck with the mediums for the race start. The Aston Martin duo was on a used set of mediums, however. 

The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Ricciardo in P2 had an equally good start off the line and challenged Verstappen for the lead. The Australian succeeded and was leading the Italian Grand Prix for McLaren! Hamilton managed to jump Norris into P3 and sparred with Verstappen going into 2nd Variante. The duo banged wheels, and Hamilton went over the kerbs, losing momentum and P3 to Norris.

Further down the field, Giovinazzi overtook Sainz and was challenging Leclerc for P5. Both Leclerc and Giovinazzi missed their braking into turn three, and Giovinazzi got tagged by Sainz on rejoining the track. The Italian suffered a spin and hit the wall, damaging the front and the floor on his Alfa Romeo. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Giovinazzi got a five-second time penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. Meanwhile, Stroll muscled his way past teammate Vettel, the latter losing momentum in the Lesmos and yielding positions to the Alpine drivers and Latifi. 

Bottas had made his way up to P15, and the stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to clear the gravel and debris off the racing line. Giovinazzi pitted for hard tyres and a new front wing, rejoining in P19.

The Virtual Safety Car period ended on lap 4, and Verstappen had closed within a second of Ricciardo at the front. Meanwhile, Bottas got past Kubica for P14 and then overtook Russell for P13 ( lap 6 ). Gasly returned to the pits and retired from the race on lap 5. Both Alpha Tauri drivers were out of the race!

Ricciardo, Verstappen, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Stroll, Alonso and Ocon were top 10 at the end of lap 7.

Latifi relegated Ocon to P11, while Perez challenged Sainz for P6. Despite a dogged defence by Sainz, Perez managed to get past on lap 9. Bottas continued his charge up the field with overtakes on Vettel and Ocon, moving up to P11. Meanwhile, Hamilton challenged Norris for P3, but the Briton managed to fend off his more experienced countryman. 

Bottas was into the points-scoring positions with a pass on Latifi on lap 13, while McLaren informed Ricciardo that they were sticking to "Plan A". The battle for P12 was hotting up, and Ocon failed to give Vettel enough space while defending his position. As a result, Vettel got pushed onto the gravel, and the duo banged wheels at the 2nd Variante. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Ocon got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track. 

Both Ricciardo and Verstappen reported that they were losing grip on the rear tyres. Alonso was the next to get relegated by Bottas, the Finn bagging P9 on lap 17. Mercedes informed Bottas that he was setting similar lap times as the race leaders. 

Ricciardo, Verstappen, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Stroll, Bottas and Alonso were in the top 10 at the end of lap 20.

Verstappen suffered a lock-up at the first chicane and reiterated the lack of grip on his worn tyres ( lap 21 ). Meanwhile, Bottas overtook Stroll for P8 on lap 22.

The pit stop window for those on the medium tyres had opened, and race leader Ricciardo pitted on lap 22. Red Bull informed Verstappen to do the opposite of Ricciardo, hoping to jump the McLaren driver with the overcut. Ricciardo switched to the hards and rejoined in P7. A lap later, Verstappen dived into the pits for his switch to the hard tyres, but an issue on the right front wheel left him stationary for 11.1 seconds! The Dutchman rejoined the race in P10, under threat of losing positions to both Norris and Hamilton. Latifi also switched to hard tyres and rejoined in P14.

Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Norris and took the lead of the race on lap 24! Norris pitted immediately after, switched to the hards and rejoined in P8. Ricciardo and Verstappen made their way through the field with overtakes on Sainz and Alonso for P4 and P9, respectively ( lap 25 ). Despite his blistering laps, Verstappen couldn't prevent Norris from jumping him after the pit stops. The Dutchman trailed the McLaren driver by only a second and was closing in on an overtake.

Interestingly, Mercedes decided to cut Hamilton's stint on the hard tyres and pitted him on lap 26. The Briton switched to the mediums, and as he exited the pits, he got released into the Norris-Verstappen sandwich. While Norris went unchallenged into turn one, Hamilton defended from Verstappen. Verstappen didn't relent in his challenge and was almost side-by-side with Hamilton into the 2nd chicane. The Dutchman tried to squeeze his Red Bull into an ever-reducing gap and clipped the sausage kerb at the 2nd turn. The resulting hit sent him airborne, the rear wheel going up and over the rear wing of the Mercedes. The Red Bull then went over Hamilton's TV Pod and the HALO, which protected Hamilton from a severe impact. The cars got beached in the gravel, and both were out of the race! Verstappen and Hamilton ( thankfully )walked away from the accident, and the incident got flagged for investigation post-race.

The Safety Car had to be deployed by the Stewards for the safe extrication of the two cars. While Stroll and Alonso had pitted on lap 26, switching to the hards, those yet to make a switch utilized the Safety Car period for their stops. Leclerc, Perez, Sainz and Bottas pitted under the Safety Car on lap 27. While the Ferraris and Perez switched to the hard tyres, Bottas opted for the mediums. Ocon, Russell, Kubica and Vettel ( 2nd stop ) were the next pit stoppers, with Ocon and Russell choosing the hards and Kubica and Vettel the mediums.

Ricciardo, Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell and Latifi were the top 10 at the end of lap 28.

Racing resumed on lap 31, and it was a clean getaway for Ricciardo. Leclerc came under pressure from Norris in the fight for P2, and the duo banged wheels at turn one. However, Norris managed to grab P2. Meanwhile, Bottas went wheel-to-wheel with Sainz for P5, but the Ferrari driver defended his position. Further down the field, Giovinazzi got past Schumacher for P14. Schumacher initially had a coming together with Vettel at turn one and then got spun around after Mazepin hit the rear of his car at the 2nd Variante. Mazepin got a five-second time penalty for causing the collision.

Bottas got past Sainz for P5 while Ocon pushed Latifi out of the points on lap 32. Perez pressured Leclerc for P3 but going into the 2nd Variante, the Mexican went over the kerbs, gaining an advantage and refused to hand the position back to Leclerc. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Perez got a five-second time penalty for his illegal overtake. 

Leclerc was falling backwards and fell into the clutches of Bottas on the next lap. The Monegasque defended his position, but Bottas got the better of him on lap 34. Bottas was the quickest man on track, lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the leaders.

Mazepin missed his braking into turn one and had to go through the markers in the runoff area, which allowed Schumacher to retake P15 ( lap 39 ). McLaren told Ricciardo to push and use all the grip available on the hard tyres. Norris was keen on challenging his teammate for the race lead, but McLaren asked him to hold the fort. Meanwhile, in the battle for P3, Bottas challenged Perez into the 2nd Variante, but Perez reclaimed the position with the switchback.

The Virtual Safety Car got deployed after Mazepin suffered a mechanical failure and stopped at Ascari. Racing resumed on lap 45, and Vettel overtook Kubica for P12. 

Ricciardo, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Russell and Ocon were the top 10 on lap 46. 

Perez reported that vibrations were increasing on his hard tyres while Giovinazzi got past his teammate Kubica for P13 on lap 49. Stroll got flagged for investigation for not slowing down under Yellow Flag conditions. The Canadian got let off with a warning for his misdemeanour. 

Ricciardo set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap and claimed victory at the Italian Grand Prix. Norris came home in 2nd to complete a McLaren 1-2! Perez was P3 but fell back to P5 after getting the five seconds added to his race time. Bottas got promoted to the podium in P3, while Leclerc got P4 for Ferrari. His teammate Sainz was P6, followed by the Aston Martin of Stroll. Russell split the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P9.

Latifi was P11 in the other Williams, with Vettel in P12. The Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Kubica were P13 and P14, while Schumacher in P15 completed the classification.

Ricciardo returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since the Monaco GP in 2018 ( 1204 days ). The 2012 Brazilian GP was the last time that McLaren had won a race. It had been 4109 days since McLaren's previous 1-2 at the Canadian GP in 2010. McLaren was the first team to achieve a 1-2 finish in the 2021 Season. 

The result helped them jump Ferrari in the Constructor standings. More than P3 and the 13.5 point lead, they had finished 1-2 at their arch-rival's home race! It was more than just a victory. As for Ricciardo, he silenced the doubters, showing that he could still win racesThe Australian pounced on the opportunity and produced a flawless performance to victory, also setting the fastest lap. Norris, his teammate, was mature enough to adhere to team instructions and not challenge for the win, which could have compromised both drivers. The Briton closed the gap to Bottas for P3 in the Drivers' Championship. McLaren had produced a strong showing throughout 2021, and a win was the icing on the cake!

After starting from the back of the grid, Bottas charged through the pack to end up on the podium. The Finn ensured that Mercedes outscored Red Bull on the weekend, increasing their buffer to 18 points. Bottas had transformed into another driver after being released from Mercedes for 2022. He looked free from obligations, racing for himself and producing a stellar drive.

Perez and Red Bull got caught out by the illegal overtake on Leclerc. The Mexican looked strong in race trim but managed only P5, leaving Red Bull further adrift in the Constructors. Qualifying remained his biggest weakness, and Red Bull needed him to improve if they hoped to win the title in 2021.

Ferrari produced a strong showing at its home race. Leclerc, consistent as ever, finished a commendable P4 while Sainz, after his mistake on Saturday morning, compensated with a P6 finish. The Spaniard was lucky to get away with minimal damage after contact with Giovinazzi on the opening lap. Despite the double-points haul, Ferrari got outscored by McLaren and faced an uphill task to overturn the deficit. Nevertheless, the Tifosi witnessed a better Sunday than the one in 2019. 

Aston Martin, with its 007 liveries from the James Bond series, bagged P7 with Stroll. Unfortunately, Vettel could only manage P12 and finished outside the points. While Vettel lost four positions on the opening lap, the German failed to make inroads due to collisions with Ocon and Schumacher. As for Stroll, the six points helped Aston Martin outscore Alpha Tauri and Alpine in the Constructors Championship. They remained 7th, 25 points shy of Alpha Tauri.

Alonso and Ocon finished in the points again for Alpine. While Alonso had an uneventful race in P8, Ocon sparred with the likes of Latifi and Vettel over the final points-scoring position. The three points helped Alpine extend their lead over Alpha Tauri to 11 points, further cementing their hold on P5 in the Constructors.

Mr Saturday turned into Mr Sunday! Russell, after the disappointments of Qualifying and the F1 Sprint, recovered to bag P9 for Williams. His teammate Latifi fought hard but finished P11, just outside the points. It had been a tough weekend for Williams, but thanks to Russell, they managed to capitalize on the mistakes made by those in front. They extended their lead to 19 points over Alfa Romeo in the battle for P8. The deficit looked unassailable for Alfa Romeo.

The triple-header was a story of missed opportunities for Alfa Romeo. While Giovinazzi produced yet another stellar performance in the F1 Sprint to start P7, his mistake on the opening lap damaged his car. The Italian struggled throughout the race to extract performance, and P13 was the best he could manage. It was yet another weekend of what could have been. Kubica, his teammate, finished P14, having intense battles with Vettel in the latter half of the race. The absence of Raikkonen due to COVID badly hurt the team's chances over the last two weekends. Alfa Romeo had lost a chunk of points throughout the year, sometimes to unfortunate incidents on track, sometimes to driver errors but more often than not to strategic calls. 

Haas F1 had another lacklustre weekend. While Mazepin retired due to a mechanical failure, Schumacher finished P15 and last. A public apology for rear-ending Schumacher followed post-race ( from Mazepin ), but overall, it was a disappointing display. It seemed highly unlikely that Haas would score in 2021.

Alpha Tauri was one of the biggest losers from the weekend. While Tsunoda failed to start the race due to mechanical issues, Gasly, too, returned to the pits with similar problems. It wasn't the showing that Alpha Tauri had hoped for at its home race, especially after Gasly's win last year. Nevertheless, they had the resources to turn it around in the upcoming rounds.

Hamilton and Verstappen, the title contenders, had an unpleasant accident, which ended their races, maintaining the status quo in the Championship. Verstappen still led Hamilton by 5 points in the Championship. The accident, however, became the talking point for both the media and the fans. After going through the footage and assessing the facts and defences presented by the drivers and their representatives, the stewards ruled that Verstappen was at fault for trying to pass Hamilton despite seeing the gap disappear at turn two. The Dutchman got a three-place grid drop and two penalty points on his super-licence for his dangerous manoeuvre. Verstappen also faced heat from a particular set of media and fans for not checking on Hamilton's wellbeing and simply walking away from the accident. 

As for Hamilton, it was a lucky escape, thanks to the HALO Safety Device, which protected him from getting a grievous injury after Verstappen's Red Bull went over the TV Pod and the cockpit of his car. Hamilton, however, suffered a sprain to his neck after Verstappen's right rear-wheel brushed the top of his helmet. 

The jury remained in disagreement with the stewards' verdict. While Hamilton sympathizers believed that Verstappen shouldn't have attacked the corner knowing that the former had the right of way, the other side demanded more racing room from Hamilton rather than sticking to a line that a driver would conventionally take in the absence of another car. 

Strategically, Verstappen with the hards would have had more tyre life than Hamilton ( on mediums ) towards the end of the race and could have attempted an overtake then. The Dutchman would have been seething inside his helmet after losing his shot at victory due to Red Bull's slow pit stop. He looked like a man on a mission as he cut his way through slower cars up until the incident. Seeing Hamilton emerge from the pits ahead of him would have added to the desperation, and Verstappen decided to risk the overtake at the first opportunity itself. The decision proved to be a disastrous one. With Hamilton shutting the door and Verstappen persisting with his line, the latter went over the dreaded sausage kerbs and airborne into Hamilton's path. 

As for Hamilton, the Briton didn't want to yield track position since his car was not comfortable sitting in the dirty air of another. More importantly, it was his title rival that Hamilton was sparring with coming out of the pit lane. Going into turn one, he was ahead and then followed his racing line into turn two. The Briton didn't expect Verstappen to not relent in his challenge and the door shut on the latter. The rest is history. Both drivers blamed the other for their predicament. The verdict was out, and it stood, satisfactory or not.

Over the years, the sport has witnessed iconic fights for the Championship. This incident between Verstappen and Hamilton, like the one in Silverstone, will change the dynamics of the title fight. It won't be the last time that Hamilton and Verstappen tussle or have a coming together this year. However, the one who shows more maturity and foresight will emerge Champion at the end of the year.

The next Grand Prix is a fortnight away, and everyone will get a chance to recover, regroup and return reenergized. The title battle will rage on in Russia, but in Italy, the F1 world celebrated the triumph of Ricciardo, Norris and McLaren! 

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who reigned supreme on the shores of the North Sea? 

Time for a recap of the Dutch GP!

Practice :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualifying :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the countdown to the Italian GP begin!