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

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



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



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


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


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



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



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



Practice :


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


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


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




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

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


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

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



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



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


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


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



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



Qualifying :


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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




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


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


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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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



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



Race :


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



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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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




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


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



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




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



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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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




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



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



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

2021 Monaco GP Race Recap : A Bullish Performance & the Tables Turn!

F1, the Pinnacle of Motorsport, has produced some iconic races throughout its history. Many circuits of the world vie for a place on the F1 calendar. Some bow out to make way for new venues in countries that have never hosted a race before. However, certain tracks gain legendary status, and the most iconic of them all is Monaco!



Monaco is a race that tops the list for every team and driver. The Principality, home to many on the F1 grid, returned after two years, the pandemic COVID-19 hindering its participation in 2020. It is also the most prestigious race on the calendar, with celebrities and billionaires flocking to various parties and events held over the weekend. The street circuit also has a unique schedule for the race weekend, with practice sessions held on Thursdays and Fridays being a "day of rest".



To add more glitter to the already glamorous Monaco GP, designer Louis Vuitton had created a bespoke trophy housed in an elegant trophy trunk, besides announcing a multi-year partnership with the Grand Prix!



There was no lull in the world of F1 leading up to Monaco, and right after the strategy masterclass of Hamilton and Mercedes in Spain, Pirrelli invited Red Bull, Alfa Romeo and Alpine for a 2-day test in Barcelona to try their prototype 18" tyres ( regulation change for 2022 ).


 

Citing COVID-19 restrictions in the country, the Turkish GP got removed from the 2021 calendar. Subsequently, the French GP got preponed by a week, and Austria got to host races on two back-to-back weekends like in 2020.



McLaren unveiled a special Gulf Livery for the Monaco GP weekend, offering a tribute to the McLaren F1 GTR ( which sported similar colours ) at Le Mans in the 1990s. Lando Norris also extended his association with McLaren with a new multi-year contract alongside Ricciardo. 


Williams Racing was celebrating a milestone of 750 races in F1 on the Monaco GP weekend.



Monaco, being a street circuit, tests the reliability and focus of man and machine. The margin for error is minimal, and the track is riddled with barriers and walls throughout. Track position is all that matters, as seen in the battle for victory between Hamilton and Verstappen in 2019. The Briton positioned his car and fended off the challenge for the win despite having tyres that had worn out completely. The track's narrow nature leaves drivers with limited overtaking opportunities, Nouvelle Chicane being one of them. Balance, and not straight-line speed, is the recipe for success in the streets of Monaco. 



So how did the teams fare through the tight and twisty turns of Monaco? Who took top honours at the most prestigious event on the calendar?


Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


FP1 got underway under sunny skies on Thursday morning.

Fernando Alonso hit the wall at the final turn early in the session and damaged his front wing. He had another off-track moment at turn one. Raikkonen was another to miss his braking going into turn one. Ferrari had an eventful FP1 with Sainz hitting the wall at the Swimming Pool Complex and Leclerc suffering from gearbox issues which ended his participation. However, teammate Sainz managed to split the Red Bulls of Perez and Verstappen at the end of the session, followed by Gasly, Hamilton and Bottas. Norris was 7th in his McLaren, with Vettel, Tsunoda and Raikkonen completing the top 10.


Stroll was 11th in the other Aston Martin, from Giovinazzi and Alonso. It was an impressive performance by Latifi in his Williams, the Canadian setting the 14th quickest time. Meanwhile, Ricciardo could only manage 15th, followed by Ocon and the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher. Russell was 19th in the other Williams, with Leclerc last, thanks to his gearbox gremlins. 



Ferrari changed the gearbox on Leclerc's car, and the Monegasque was ready for the start of FP2. While Leclerc managed to avoid the barriers at Rascasse, Tsunoda gave his Alpha Tauri a whack at the Swimming Pool Complex. Schumacher's session ended prematurely after the German clipped the wall at Massenet, puncturing the right rear tyre of his Haas. The session was subsequently red-flagged, and the FIA decided against resuming FP2. Ferrari was the biggest surprise of FP2, with Leclerc leading Sainz at the top, almost four-tenths clear of Hamilton in 3rd. Verstappen was 4th for Red Bull, followed by Bottas and Norris. Gasly continued to impress in his Alpa Tauri with the 7th quickest time, from Perez, Giovinazzi and Vettel, who completed the top 10. 


Raikkonen was 11th in the other Alfa Romeo, with Stroll splitting the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P13. It was yet another challenging session for Ricciardo in P15, followed by the Williams of Russell and Latifi. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher along with Tsunoda completed the rear of the field.




Ferrari turned out to be the surprise package from the two practice sessions. The race pace of the Scuderia was also comparable with the table-toppers Mercedes. Red Bull was in the mix as well, with Perez seemingly more settled in his new drive. The midfield battle seemed to be an even tighter affair, with Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo joining McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin to be the best amongst the rest.   




The track was damp on Saturday morning, but the conditions improved at the start of FP3. There were two Red Flags in the sessionwith Latifi destroying his Williams at the Swimming Pool Complex and Schumacher wrecking his Haas at Casino Square. Mercedes struggled to find the right balance, with Hamilton and Bottas having off-track moments, while Norris narrowly avoided an incident with ex-teammate Sainz at Rascasse. Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP3 from Sainz and Leclerc. Bottas was 4th for Mercedes, followed by Perez and Norris. Hamilton's best attempt got him P7, with Raikkonen, Gasly and Vettel completing the top 10, one second slower than Verstappen's attempt. 


Giovinazzi was 11th in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Stroll and Ricciardo. Alonso split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin in 15th, while Russell and Latifi managed to go quicker than Tsunoda and Ocon in 17th and 18th, respectively. 


There had been 32 lap time deletions in FP3, a rarity considering the narrow nature of the circuit.



Qualifying promised to be a closely contested affair, and Mercedes seemed to be on the back foot after a very long time.



Qualifying :


Schumacher's shunt in FP3 denied him the chance of competing in Qualifying, and Haas had to change the gearbox on his stricken car as well. 


Mercedes made some last-minute setup changes on Bottas' car before the start of Qualifying.



There was a 30% chance of rain in Qualifying, and the teams decided to send their drivers out as soon as Q1 went green. Vettel was the last to join the other 19 drivers as they went about setting a series of flying laps. Everyone chose the soft tyres, and the grip levels increased with each passing minute. Raikkonen locked up his tyres at turn one but managed to continue without any drama.


Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc, Bottas, Stroll and Norris were the top 6, with Latifi, Russell, Mazepin, Vettel and Schumacher in the drop zone with 9 minutes remaining of Q1. 


The order at the front changed again, with Bottas and Leclerc finding more lap time. While some drivers chose to continue on their current set of soft tyres, those lower down the order switched to fresh tyres for the final minutes of Q1.


In a closely contested midfield, Tsunoda, Alonso, Latifi, Mazepin and Schumacher ( who didn't participate ) failed to make it into Q2, and Bottas, Verstappen and Leclerc topped the timesheets at the end of Q1.



Monaco, a street circuit, is low on abrasion, so soft tyres was the obvious choice for all the drivers competing in Q2. Only four-tenths separated the top 5 drivers midway through Q2. Verstappen went the quickest from Sainz and Norris, while Ocon, Raikkonen, Gasly, Russell and Ricciardo were facing elimination before the final runs of Q2. 


Stroll brushed the wall but managed to continue his final flying lap of the session. Q2 came to an end, and only a second separated the top 13 drivers. Ocon, Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen and Russell got eliminated at the end of Q2, while Leclerc, Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Hamilton, Gasly, Perez, Vettel and Giovinazzi got through to Q3. 




Q3 got underway with the threat of rain lurking around the circuit vicinity. The drivers were fueled for multiple runs again, except for Norris, who decided to go out-of-sync with the rest. Leclerc was on provisional pole, two-tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas, followed by Sainz and Norris. Hamilton, despite his best efforts, managed only the 7th quickest time. The drivers returned to the pits and put on a new set of soft tyres for the grand finale of Qualifying. 


Mistakes by Verstappen and Hamilton forced them to ditch their first flying lap attempts ( on the final runs ), while Perez got stuck behind Ocon in the last sector. The drivers still had another opportunity to set things right, and the trio of Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz went about setting blistering sector times as the clock ran down in Q3. 


However, there was drama with 18 seconds left of Q3. Leclerc clipped the Armco barrier coming out of the Swimming Pool Complex, breaking the front right wishbone of his Ferrari. The Monegasque was a passenger as he went over the kerbs and hit the barriers heavily, bringing out the red flags and subsequently ending the session!

The incident was a repeat of Latifi's ( 2021 ) and Verstappen's ( 2018 ) accidents from FP3. The accident wrecked the chances of all others challenging for pole position.


Leclerc bagged pole position in a bizarre turn of events from Verstappen and Bottas. 

Sainz was 4th and Norris 5th with three-tenths separating the top 5. A stellar lap by Gasly got him P6 while Hamilton ended up in 7th, seven-tenths adrift. Vettel qualified 8th with row 5 getting taken up by Perez and Giovinazzi.



Initial checks on Leclerc's stricken Ferrari suggested that there was no damage to the gearbox. However, the final decision was on race day, and if Ferrari chose a gearbox change, Leclerc would suffer a five-place grid drop.



Leclerc was the first Monegasque, after Louis Chiron in 1936, to get pole position in Monaco. As a tribute to Chiron, who had won the Grand Prix in 1931, Leclerc was also sporting a special helmet. It was Ferrari's first pole position since Mexico 2019. Ferrari was still lacking outright pace but was on par with the leaders in terms of aerodynamic capabilities. Sainz rued the missed opportunity ( for pole position ) but had a great chance to fight for a podium on Sunday. 


Verstappen was frustrated at being denied a chance for pole position since he believed he would have aced it on his final run. Nevertheless, the Dutchman was on the front row while his championship rival was down in 7th. Perez, his teammate, got compromised with traffic on his final run and faced a challenging Sunday afternoon.


Bottas was Mercedes' best hope on race day, with Hamilton struggling with balance issues throughout the weekend. The Finn, like Verstappen, had a great chance of reducing the deficit to Hamilton in the Championship battle. As for Hamilton, the priority was to come out unscathed on the opening lap and use an aggressive strategy to make up positions to limit the blow from his title contenders. Norris and Gasly produced stellar drives and had the opportunity of bringing home sizeable points haul for their respective teams. Ricciardo's struggles to get it right at McLaren continued while Tsunoda was still finding his feet as a rookie. 


Vettel was quickly settling into life at Aston Martin, and his appearance in Q3 proved that the German hadn't lost his edge yet. Stroll had a mercurial Saturday, and getting into the points on Sunday was a tough ask. It was Alfa Romeo's first Q3 appearance in 2021 with Giovinazzi. The Italian led the intra-team battle in Qualifying and was gaining confidence with each passing race. 


Alpine had been on the back foot all weekend, but Ocon managed to start P11. However, Alonso's Qualifying performance was a disappointment. Williams and Haas' aerodynamic deficiencies came to the fore in Qualifying, and they seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack.



Track position was all that mattered in Monaco, with many races turning out as processions. Race Strategy was one aspect that could turn the battle in a driver's favour, and there had been no shortage of drama with this in the past. A one-stop strategy seemed the best bet for an optimum race.




Race :


Seventy-Eight laps awaited the 20 drivers competing for victory at the Monaco GP. All eyes were on Leclerc and Ferrari, where the team reaffirmed that the gearbox was fit for the race, allowing him to keep pole position.



It was time for drivers to leave for their sighting laps, and Leclerc exited the pits only to discover that the shifts weren't working correctly! The team immediately asked him to return to the garage as they tried to address the issue. The warning signal got sounded, and Ferrari was still working on Leclerc's car, which confirmed that Leclerc would be unable to start from pole position. 



Ferrari discovered a driveshaft failure ( left side ) a few minutes later, a terminal issue. Leclerc would not start the race! A chance for victory and glory at his home race, gone!



C3, C4 and C5 were the tyres available for the race, and those outside the top 10 adopted different strategies. While Stroll and Tsunoda started on the hard tyres, Ocon, Mazepin, and Schumacher chose the softs. The Williams drivers, Ricciardo, Alonso and Raikkonen, cited the mediums as the better tyre for the race start.



The cars rolled out for their formation lap, and Raikkonen stopped at the final corner. Thankfully, he got going, but Verstappen had to wait in his grid slot longer than he had planned. 



The five red lights went out, and Bottas had a better getaway than Verstappen. The Dutchman, however, cut across to block his path and lead into turn one. Sainz slotted into 3rd, followed by Norris and Gasly. Giovinazzi got up to 9th, while Raikkonen and Alonso were up into 12th and 14th, respectively. Schumacher got past Mazepin for P18 at the hairpin with an opportunistic move.



The drivers began to settle into a rhythm, and Verstappen was the fastest man on track. Meanwhile, his teammate Perez started pressuring Vettel for 7th. Bottas, Verstappen and Norris traded fastest laps, with Perez joining the party a few laps later.



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



The field started to spread out, and Mazepin got served a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits on lap 14. The pit window for the soft tyre runners was nearing, and Red Bull asked Verstappen about the state of his tyres. The Dutchman reiterated that his tyres were ok, but Bottas complained to Mercedes about losing performance on his left front. Norris was the next driver to get a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits at turn 10, while Hamilton started to close the gap to Gasly for P5. The battle between the Haas cars continued, and Mazepin got the better of Schumacher on lap 30.



Hamilton was the first of the front runners to pit for hard tyres on lap 30 and rejoined in 8th. Bottas, Norris and Gasly followed suit a lap later, but Bottas got stuck in the pits. The Mercedes crew were unable to remove the right front tyre. Multiple attempts were made with different wheel guns to yank out the troublesome tyre but to no avail. It was a cross-threaded nut that wrecked Bottas' race. The Finn's race met a premature end.



His teammate Hamilton failed to jump Gasly after the round of pitstops, and the Briton sounded frustrated. Vettel was the next to pit on lap 32 for hard tyres. He exited the pits and ended up side-by-side with Gasly, managing to rebuff the challenge and hold onto 5th. Hamilton was livid with the team for having lost another position ( to Vettel ). He believed he had life left on his soft tyres and could have extended his first stint like those around him. 



Russell was the next to pit for hard tyres, rejoining in 16th ( lap 33 ), with Sainz doing the same and staying 3rd. Perez, meanwhile, had moved up to 2nd and was setting blistering lap times on his worn-out soft tyres. The Mexican was going faster than those behind him, and the possibility of making positions with the overcut seemed possible. Giovinazzi ditched his soft tyres for a fresh set of hards on lap 34, rejoining in 12th.



On lap 35, Verstappen peeled into the pits for his only stop. The Dutchman had a drama-free tyre swap and rejoined in 2nd with a fresh set of hards. Perez, now in the lead, continued to go faster than the rest of the field, and Mercedes informed Hamilton that they were under the threat of losing another place to Perez. It was job done for Perez on lap 36, with the Mexican pitting for hard tyres and comfortably jumping Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton to take 4th.



Meanwhile, at the back of the field, Ricciardo and Mazepin also switched to the hard tyres. Ricciardo was the first of those on the alternate strategy to make a pit stop. Ocon was another driver to pit on lap 38, with Alpine taking a more aggressive approach and putting him on medium tyres. The Frenchman rejoined in 10th. 



Sainz started to close the gap to Verstappen at the front, and the deficit was down to 3.5 seconds on lap 41. Meanwhile, the stewards served a Black and White Flag to Schumacher for exceeding track limits. Raikkonen, another driver who started the race on medium tyres, pitted on lap 44 and rejoined in 12th, just ahead of Ricciardo. Alfa Romeo was relieved to have not delayed the call, or else Raikkonen could have lost a position. While Latifi pitted for hard tyres in his Williams, Alpine decided to go aggressive with Alonso, switching him to the soft tyres with 32 laps remaining.



Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 50.



Sainz continued to close in on Verstappen, with the gap reducing to 2.5 seconds. Ricciardo, stuck behind Raikkonen in 12th, had an embarrassing moment when teammate Norris lapped him on lap 53. However, all was not well in the other McLaren, and Norris complained about the car being undrivable on the hard tyres ( lap 58 ). Stroll, who had started the race on the hard tyres, finally pitted on lap 59 for softs and rejoined in 8th. The battles for P3 and P9 were hotting up, with Perez closing in on Norris and Giovinazzi pressuring Ocon while being lapped by the leaders. The FIA flagged Stroll for failing to keep to the right of the pit lane line while exiting the pits after his stop, but replays showed that he hadn't breached the limit, and it invited "no further action".



Raikkonen, in clear air, had caught up to Ocon and Giovinazzi in the battle for P9, while Perez was within the DRS range of Norris. Tsunoda, the other driver to start the race on hard tyres, was the last driver to pit for a fresh set of soft tyres and rejoined in 16th ( lap 67 ). The rookie then set the fastest lap of the race.



Hamilton, who was stuck in 7th behind Gasly and unable to make inroads, had built a gap large enough to Stroll behind and allow a free stop. Mercedes called him in on lap 69, and the Briton set the fastest lap of the race besides smashing the track record set a couple of laps earlier by Tsunoda. 



Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 73.



Norris responded to the pressure by Perez and opened up a 2 seconds gap. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits ( lap 77 ).



Tennis Champion Serena Williams had the privilege of waving the Chequered Flag as the race ended.



Verstappen claimed top honours at the Monaco GP! Sainz came home in 2nd for Ferrari, followed by Norris, who fended off a late challenge by Perez to take up the final podium spot.



Perez put in a stellar drive for Red Bull in 4th, followed by Vettel, who had his best finish for Aston Martin in 5th. A mature drive by Gasly got the Frenchman 6th, followed by Hamilton in 7th, who relinquished his lead in the Championship. Stroll was 8th in the other Aston Martin, followed by another train of cars fighting for P9. Ocon managed to hold onto 9th from Giovinazzi, who took the final points-scoring position in his Alfa Romeo.



Raikkonen pressed hard but finished in 11th, just outside the points, closely followed by Ricciardo and Alonso. Russell and Latifi were 14th and 15th for Williams, followed by Tsunoda, Mazepin and Schumacher, who completed the classified finishers.




The entire paddock felt sad about Leclerc and his inability to start the race due to the mechanical issue. It was a case of "what could have been" and robbed us of a battle between two very talented racers. Sainz, his teammate, gave Ferrari some consolation with a fine second place. It had been a trying time for the Italian marquee, but their season was on the mend, it seemed.



Verstappen, on the other hand, made the most of the opportunity. Perez, who had qualified a lowly 9th, produced a stellar drive to end up 4th, giving Red Bull a memorable Sunday and turning the tables in the title battle. Verstappen now leads Hamilton by 4 points, while a point separates Red Bull and Mercedes at the top. 


Bottas' wretched luck continued, and the Finn, despite being the "lead Mercedes", got denied a good result, leaving him further adrift from the top. Hamilton had a humbling experience, a strategic error by the team costing him positions and points in the race. The result served as a wake-up call and Toto Wolff, the boss, vowed to diagnose what went wrong ( personally ) and set things right. 


While Ricciardo continued to find his feet at McLaren, his teammate Norris bagged his second podium of the season. It is never a pleasant sight to get lapped by your teammate, and Ricciardo needed to spend more time in the simulator to understand and iron out the issues he faced in his car. As for Norris, his third-place finish helped McLaren stay 3rd in the Constructors' standings. The battle for third in the Constructors' was turning into a two-horse race between McLaren and Ferrari.



A double-points finish helped Aston Martin jump Alpha Tauri. Vettel had his best finish for the team, and his 5th place also earned him the "Driver of the Day" title. Stroll's alternate strategy to start on hard tyres paid dividends as the Canadian went deep into the race and made up places after his pitstop. Gasly continued to impress in the Alpha Tauri, while Tsunoda's first experience in Monaco was a baptism by fire. The Italian outfit is locked in an intense battle with Aston Martin and Alpine in the lower half of the midfield and cannot afford any slip-ups in the remaining races. 



Alpine went aggressive with both its cars and, although it helped Ocon score a couple of points for the team, Alonso was too far back to make an impact. The team's performances have been mercurial so far, and they are going backwards this year. Giovinazzi produced a fine drive to take 10th and bagged the first points of the season for the team. The Italian was performing well on Saturday and finally came good on race day too! Raikkonen, his teammate, came close to opening his account for the season too. The Finn, however, had trouble with his drinks bottle pipe which got undone and was leaking throughout the race. Alfa Romeo was improving with each passing race, and if the trend continued, they could join the likes of Alpha Tauri and Alpine in the battle for 7th in the Constructors'. 


Williams and Haas had a tough weekend, but thankfully all four drivers completed the race. Mazepin outperformed Schumacher for the first time this season and showed that the Russian was settling into life in F1. 




Verstappen and Red Bull landed a big blow to Hamilton and Mercedes in Monaco. It was a great response after the strategic bungle in Catalunya. Hamilton and Mercedes now become the chasers, a position they haven't been in a long time.



On a day when the Silver Arrows missed the mark, and the Prancing Horse faltered, the Bulls charged through to victory and tipped the scales in their favour!



Baku beckons in a fortnight, and it could change all over again! The battle for supremacy in 2021 is well and truly on!


2021 Spanish GP Race Recap : Strategy is King in the Clash of the Centurions!

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the home of the Spanish GP, has been a regular feature on the F1 calendar. The circuit returned to its original hosting date in May ( 1st week ) in 2021. It completed the first of double-headers of the European leg, the track hosting an F1 race just a weekend after entertaining bikes from the Moto GP world. 



The Hamilton-Verstappen and Mercedes-Red Bull tussles promised to be a feature throughout 2021, and fans hoped to see these giants exchange blows in Spain again. It was Red Bull who struck the first blow before the start of the race weekend. Honda, the engine supplier for Red Bull, leaves the sport at the end of 2021. Red Bull has taken steps since the winter break to become a full-works team, adding powertrain manufacturing and development besides chassis designing. Their quest to strengthen the powertrain department led them to poach another five senior members from the Mercedes HPP team in the week leading into the Spanish GP. It will be interesting to see how big a difference these moves would make.



Ferrari and McLaren, like the leaders, also had a strong start in the battle for 3rd in the Constructors. The two most iconic teams in F1 hoped to continue their journey of returning to the sharp end of the grid, bringing back the glory years of the 1990s and the 2000s.




Circuit de Catalunya is a track that can amplify weaknesses in a car if any. Overtaking opportunities aren't many, which meant that strategies would play a part in the race. 

The circuit organisers had revamped the off-camber turn 10 for a more streamlined one for 2021, so there were reservations about grip levels on the new asphalt. The FIA also introduced a new procedure of rejoining the track ( after passing two bollards ) for those who exceeded track limits at turns one and two.



So who took the Chequered Flag and victory on Sunday in Catalunya? 


Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


Robert Kubica got the opportunity to participate in FP1 for Alfa Romeo. This time, it was Kimi Raikkonen who sat out of FP1. Williams did the same with George Russell, reserve driver Roy Nissany stepping in for FP1 duty. Nikita Mazepin suffered a spin and had a trip through the gravel early on in the session, while Vettel lost a piece of his front wing while going over the kerbs at turn seven. The new turn 10 claimed its first victim in Kubica, who got spun around and beached in the gravel. The Polish driver didn't take further part in the session and brought out the red flags. 


Bottas topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 and could have gone faster had it not been for a Ferrari getting in the crosshairs on his flying lap ( with soft tyres ). Verstappen was three-hundredths shy of Bottas' time with Hamilton a further tenth adrift. Only half a second separated the top 6, with Norris setting the 4th quickest time, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Gasly was 7th in his Alpha Tauri while Perez separated the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll in 9th.


Tsunoda set the 11th quickest time in the other Alpha Tauri while Ocon was the faster of the two Alpines in P12. Giovinazzi continued to impress in the Alfa Romeo with 13th, while Ricciardo and Alonso managed 14th and 15th. Four-tenths separated Nissany from Latifi in P17, while Kubica split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin.




The kerbs at the circuit are unforgiving, as experienced by Sainz, Tsunoda and Verstappen, who suffered bodywork damage or electronic hiccups during FP2. Meanwhile, in the pits, Raikkonen averted Mazepin, who got released out of the garage into his path. The Finn overtook the Russian at the pit exit, not too pleased with the incident. It was Hamilton who set the quickest time of FP2 from Bottas and Leclerc. The Alpine cars had a productive FP2, with Ocon and Alonso going 4th and 5th fastest, followed by the Alpha Tauris of Gasly and Tsunoda. Sainz was 8th in the other Ferrari, followed by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez. 


Vettel managed 11th in the Aston Martin, while Norris and Giovinazzi led the team-mate battle at McLaren and Alfa Romeo in 12th and 13th. Stroll was 14th in the other Aston Martin, followed by Ricciardo and Raikkonen, who were more than a second slower than Hamilton's time. The Williams of Russell and Latifi 17th and 18th, followed by the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin.




Mercedes ruled the roost at the end of Friday, but Red Bull wasn't far behind in race simulation pace. Perez was struggling to find his feet, and that remained a cause for concern at Red Bull. Ferrari and Alpine also had a productive Friday. Aston Martin had brought in upgrades, and they were bullish about their chances of making it into Q3 on Saturday. The presence of support races meant that track would evolve as more rubber got laid, making Qualifying a closely contested affair.




The Alpine drivers opted for new exhaust units ( out of the allocation of eight ) on Saturday. FP3 got underway with the Ferraris topping the timesheets early on in the session. Norris had a trip across the gravel at turn ten while Raikkonen suffered a rear right puncture after a kerb camera got undone from its housing. 


Verstappen went the quickest, more than two-tenths clear of Hamilton at the end of FP3. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz managed to bag 3rd and 4th ahead of Bottas. Gasly split the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo in 7th while Raikkonen jumped into the top 10 ( 9th ) in his Alfa Romeo, ahead of Perez. 


The Alpines of Alonso and Ocon were P11 and P13, with Tsunoda splitting the duo in his Alpha Tauri. Stroll was 14th for Aston Martin, followed by Russell, Giovinazzi and Stroll's teammate Vettel. Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin completed the rear of the field.



Less than a second separated the top 13 drivers at the end of FP3. Clean air and a clear track would prove pivotal come Qualifying.



Qualifying :


Qualifying got delayed by 10 minutes due to barrier work repair at turn nine caused by a crash from one of the support races. 



The lights went green for the start of Q1, and the Williams and Haas cars were the first ones out on track. The others followed suit a few minutes later. Everyone barring the Mercedes drivers ( on mediums ), chose the soft tyres. Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz, Hamilton and Ricciardo were the top 6 at the end of the first runs, with Raikkonen, Stroll, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin being in the drop zone. The left rearview mirror on Latifi's car cracked when his Williams went over the kerbs at turn nine, while Norris, who was on a quick lap, got held up by Mazepin and other cars in the final sector. The incident got flagged for investigation post-session.  


Perez improved to 4th in the final minutes of Q1. The top 8 eight drivers, except for Hamilton, decided to stay put in the pits while the rest sparred for a place in Q2. The lap times improved with the track getting rubbered in, and the top 6 changed to Norris, Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Gasly and Perez. Less than eight-tenths of a second separated the top 16 as Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Latifi and Mazepin got eliminated at the end of Q1.




The Ferraris, Alpines, Ricciardo and Russell decided to stay put, while Giovinazzi and the rest exited the pits at the start of Q2. Giovinazzi chose the medium tyres to set a banker lap, while the other drivers opted for the softs. Russell decided to stay longer, going out of sync with the rest.


Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Norris, Sainz and Leclerc were the top 6 with Ocon, Perez, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell facing elimination after the first runs. Verstappen was half a second clear at the front while two-tenths separated P5 from P13. Ocon reported about understeer on his car and asked the team for changes in car balance.


Russell finally emerged from the pits for his one run of Q2 and set the 14th quickest time. 


While Verstappen stayed in the pits for the final minutes of Q2, others emerged with a set of soft tyres. Hamilton was on scrubbed tyres while Bottas on new ones. The duo went faster and reduced the deficit to Verstappen to only two-tenths. Sainz, Perez, Norris, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Ocon and Alonso went through to Q3 with Stroll, Gasly, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell getting eliminated.




It was time for the battle for pole position, and the final ten drivers came out to set their banker laps of Q3. Perez, unfortunately, suffered a spin at turn 13, which briefly brought out the yellow flags and left the Red Bull driver with a compromised session. He limped back to the pits, unable to set a lap time on his first run.


Hamilton was on a flying lap when the incident occurred but avoided the yellow flags in the final sector. He was on provisional pole, three-hundredths clear of Verstappen with Bottas another tenth adrift. Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Norris were separated by four-tenths with Alonso down in 9th and Perez yet to post a time.


The final minutes of Q3 were frenetic as Verstappen jostled for clear air and track position, overtaking Perez, Ocon and the Ferrari cars on his out-lap. Ricciardo got held up, missed the flag and was unable to do his final run of Q3.


Hamilton went quicker in sector one but failed to improve in sectors two and three. Bottas and Verstappen didn't improve on their final runs either. Perez, in the other Red Bull, could only manage 8th.



Hamilton took pole position for the race on Sunday from Verstappen and Bottas. Leclerc produced yet another stellar lap to put his Ferrari on the 2nd row of the grid in 4th. Row 3 got taken up by Ocon and Sainz, while Ricciardo and Perez occupied row 4. Norris and Alonso completed the top 10.




Hamilton had achieved a century of pole positions, a feat unthinkable for anyone in the sport. The Briton produced a stonking lap when it mattered and eyed his 98th win on Sunday. Verstappen and Red Bull weren't far behind in 2nd, but like in the past, they had only one car on the sharp end of the grid to fight the two Mercedes. Perez had a long Sunday afternoon in front of him, while Bottas, in 3rd, hoped to make the most from starting on the cleaner side of the grid. Ferrari's pace from the practice sessions was genuine, and the team had the opportunity for a possible podium or a good haul of points on Sunday. Ocon produced a stellar lap in his Alpine and would lead the charge for them on Sunday. McLaren's tactical error with Ricciardo cost them dearly on Saturday, but Sunday was what counted, and they hoped to turn things around for both Ricciardo and Norris.



Aston Martin had hopes of making it into Q3 with the upgrades they brought in for the weekend. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Alpha Tauri failed to impress as well, with Tsunoda being the big casualty from Q1. While Giovinazzi continued to be the leader on Saturday for Alfa Romeo, Raikkonen couldn't break out of Q1, the dirty air from Latifi's car unsettling him on his final run. Russell, meanwhile, continued to extract the maximum out of Williams while Schumacher got better with each passing weekend.


Mazepin 
had caused a lot of grief to other drivers over Friday and Saturday and got penalised for impeding Norris in Q1. The Russian got one penalty point on his super licence along with a three-place grid drop, which had no implications since he had qualified 20th and last.




Race :


The skies were overcast, and drivers spotted drops of rain on their way to the grid. The clouds slowly pushed away, and the risk of rain dropped to 20%. A two-stops strategy was optimal, but the paddock was abuzz with talks that some drivers would attempt a one-stopper.


C1, C2 and C3 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, and Raikkonen was the only driver to start on the mediums. 


The drivers pulled into their grid slots for the race start, but Gasly overshot his spot, getting flagged for investigation four laps later. The Frenchman would then get a five seconds time penalty for this infringement.




The race got underway, and Hamilton and Verstappen had great starts off the line. However, Verstappen hit the apex at turn one, taking the lead and compromising Hamilton's corner exit, who got had to take avoiding action from hitting the Dutchman. Bottas, who had followed Hamilton into the first couple of turns, got overtaken by Leclerc on the outside. Further down the field, Perez, Ricciardo and Schumacher made up two positions each, while Raikkonen was up by three. Verstappen, meanwhile, had extended his lead to 1.5 seconds at the end of the opening lap. 



Verstappen and Hamilton were setting blistering lap times, and the duo was pulling away from the rest of the field. Tsunoda, who had a disappointing Qualifying, began his recovery drive by overtakes on Russell and Schumacher, moving up to P16 by lap 5. However, disaster struck the rookie on lap 8 when his Alpa Tauri ground to a halt at turn 10. It turned out to be an engine issue, and the stewards had to deploy a Safety Car for the safe extrication of the vehicle. Meanwhile, Russell had overtaken Schumacher for P16.



The Safety Car got deployed, and Giovinazzi pitted for a fresh set of medium tyres. The Italian was stationary for 35 seconds, which is an eternity in the world of F1, before rejoining the race in P19. He had a big gap to bridge to the other cars. The stop looked like a disaster with mechanics running around with multiple tyres. However, replays showed that on timely inspection by a mechanic, there was a puncture on the front left, resulting in the entire set getting changed as per the FIA directive. Williams decided to do a double stack, switching both its drivers to the medium tyres. Russell had issues on his right rear tyre, and it was a slower stop for the Briton. The Safety Car period didn't last long, and racing resumed on lap 11. 



Verstappen had a clean getaway, but a wobble for Hamilton on the final turn denied him the opportunity of contesting for the lead. Russell and Latifi relegated Mazepin to P18, while Stroll got past Alonso for 10th. Russell then got past Schumacher for P15, and Alonso got a track limits violation at turn 2 ( lap 12 ).



DRS got enabled at lap 13, and Latifi dispatched Schumacher for 15th, two laps later. Sainz pressured Ocon for P7, but the Frenchman held on. Mazepin lost another position to Giovinazzi ( P18 ), while Ferrari told Sainz that they were switching to "Plan C". Meanwhile, his teammate Leclerc got shifted to "Plan B". 



Verstappen and Hamilton were lapping a lot quicker than the rest of the field, and blisters started appearing on the rear right tyres of both their cars. Gasly pitted for the medium tyres on lap 19, serving his time penalty during the stop, and rejoining in 19th and last. 



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



Alonso and Vettel pitted for medium tyres on lap 22, rejoining in 17th and 19th, respectively. Vettel's slower stop of 4 seconds costed the German track position to Gasly. The German got past him a lap later, though. While Sainz and Stroll pitted for the medium tyres on lap 23, Alonso overtook Mazepin for P16. The first round of pit stops continued for the teams, with Bottas, Norris and Ocon pitting for the medium tyres on lap 24. Bottas rejoined in 6th, having seen that the undercut was working for others in the race. Schumacher pitted for the medium tyres on lap 25, rejoining in 18th.



The battle at the front was hotting up with Hamilton catching Verstappen and now only half a second behind the Dutchman. A miscommunication between Verstappen and his race engineer led him to stop for new tyres, sooner than he was supposed to. The crew got delayed on putting the front and rear left tyres, and it was a 4.2 seconds stop. Verstappen rejoined in 5th but quickly got past Perez, who made way without any hesitation. Ironically, Mercedes and Hamilton didn't follow suit and decided to go longer. Ricciardo pitted for the medium tyres, rejoining in 8th ( lap 26 ).



Sainz got past Giovinazzi for P10, while Hamilton, who had caught up to backmarker Mazepin, couldn't get past. The Haas driver's antics frustrated Toto Wolff, Mercedes Team Principal, and he contacted the FIA to make his displeasure known. Ricciardo got past Russell for P7, while Perez and Latifi pitted for medium tyres, rejoining in 7th and 17th, respectively. Alonso reported power loss, and Alpine acknowledged that they were managing an issue. Raikkonen, who had taken the alternate strategy and yet to make a stop, got relegated to 6th by Ricciardo.



Hamilton finally pitted on lap 29, switching to the mediums and rejoining in 2nd, 6 seconds adrift of Verstappen. Leclerc and Russell also followed suit on the same lap, rejoining in P4 and P16, respectively. Both Alfa Romeo drivers were going backwards, with Giovinazzi losing two places to Alonso and Vettel, falling back to P14, and Raikkonen getting overtaken by Perez for P6. The duo then lost a position each to Sainz and Gasly on lap 31.



At the front, Hamilton was the fastest man on track, eating into Verstappen's lead and bringing the gap down to 2.5 seconds. The Briton was back in DRS range on lap 34, and the battle for victory was well and truly alive! Meanwhile, Raikkonen, who was in a tyre management phase, fell back to 10th after getting overtaken by Ocon and Norris. The Finn finally pitted on lap 39 for soft tyres, rejoining in 17th. He was on a one-stop strategy. Vettel, in his Aston Martin, followed suit on lap 40, rejoining in 17th behind Raikkonen. 



On the track, Perez was pressuring Ricciardo for P5, but the latter held the fort. The pit stop window for those on a two-stop strategy was now open, and Stroll and Giovinazzi were the first to switch to soft tyres, rejoining in 14th and 18th, respectively ( lap 41 ). Race Control issued a warning to Ricciardo for weaving on the pit straight, while Perez, who was chasing him down, ran wide and fell back by 1.5 seconds. 



Hamilton had closed up on Verstappen but was unable to get side-by-side and challenge for the lead. Mercedes made a bold decision and called Hamilton into the pits on lap 42, switching him to another set of medium tyres! Hamilton rejoined the race in 3rd, behind Bottas, and had to reduce the deficit to Verstappen, who decided to nurse his tyres to the end. And so the charge began for Hamilton and Mercedes, their quest for victory!



Hamilton went about setting blistering lap times again while Perez got past Ricciardo for P5. Ricciardo and Sainz pitted for the soft tyres on lap 47, rejoining in P8 and P9. A slow switch on the right rear tyres cost Gasly time in his pit stop, the Frenchman rejoining in 16th on lap 49. Ex-teammates Sainz and Norris got reunited on track, with the former bagging P8 on lap 51. Norris, trying to defend his position, got caught weaving, and Race Control served him a Black and White flag. The McLaren switched to a new set of soft tyres, rejoining in 11th, a lap later. 



Meanwhile, Hamilton had caught up to Bottas, and the team informed Bottas not to hold Hamilton up since he was on a different strategy. The Finn didn't seem too keen on relinquishing track position but left a gap big enough for Hamilton to complete an overtake on him at turn 10 ( lap 53 ). Further down the field, Ricciardo got past Ocon for P6, with Sainz relegating the Frenchman by another position. Mercedes decided to pit Bottas on lap 54, switching him to the soft tyres. He rejoined in 4th, behind Leclerc.  



Gasly got past Vettel for P14, while Hamilton and Bottas traded fastest laps on their new soft tyres. Bottas was back into P3 with a move on Leclerc on lap 57, the Monegasque putting up a weak fight. Meanwhile, Norris got past Alonso for P9. The gap at the front kept reducing, and Hamilton said that he might run out of grip towards the end. The team responded by saying that Verstappen was in a worse situation than him. Perez and Leclerc pitted for soft tyres on lap 59, rejoining in 3rd and 4th, respectively.



Hamilton was now within DRS deployment of Verstappen and was closing in on the pit straight. Verstappen took to the right, trying to break the tow and spewing pieces of discarded rubber onto Hamilton. The Briton had more traction and grip and took the lead on lap 60, overtaking Verstappen on the outside into turn one. 



Further down the field, Rusell lost three positions to Stroll, Raikkonen and Gasly while pressuring Alonso for P10. There was a train of cars forming up behind Alonso, whose tyres were on last legs. 


Meanwhile, Red Bull knew that their chances of victory were done and dusted. The team pitted Verstappen for soft tyres to grab the extra point for the fastest lap of the race ( lap 61 ). Bottas, who was also closing in on Verstappen before his stop, was still 5 seconds adrift when the latter rejoined the track in 2nd. Bottas also got stuck in the train of cars behind Alonso as he tried to lap the quintet of Alonso, Stroll, Raikkonen, Gasly and Vettel. 



Stroll attempted a pass on Alonso on lap 62 but was unable to brake in time, going wide into the run-off area and not rejoining as per the protocol set by the FIA. The Canadian backed off to let Alonso through, followed by Bottas, who was lapping him, only to have Raikkonen pressure him a couple of corners later. Raikkonen himself was under pressure from Gasly, who relegated him to 13th in the latter half of the lap. The incident between Stroll and Alonso got flagged for investigation, but the stewards deemed it a racing incident post-race. It was job done for Stroll a lap later, and Alonso's tyres fell off the cliff as he rapidly lost two more positions to Gasly and Raikkonen. Alonso finally pitted for new soft tyres, rejoining in P17.



Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race on lap 63, thus bagging the extra point on offer. The battle for the final point-scoring position wasn't over yet. Gasly got the better of Stroll on lap 64 and had Ocon, who was 12 seconds ahead, in his sights. Ocon, like Raikkonen, had adopted a one-stop strategy.




Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and the Win at the Spanish GP. Verstappen came home in 2nd, having tried his best, followed by Bottas in 3rd in the other Mercedes. Another strong performance saw Leclerc finish in 4th for Ferrari, followed by Perez and Ricciardo. Sainz was 7th in the other Ferrari, followed by Norris in 8th. The cushion of 12 seconds disappeared for Ocon, who just managed to hold off Gasly in the race to the line for 9th. Gasly completed the top 10, scoring a point for Alpha Tauri.



Stroll was 11th for Aston Martin, followed by Raikkonen in his Alfa Romeo. P13 was the best that Vettel could achieve, followed by Russell and Giovinazzi, who was unlucky at the start of the race. Latifi was 16th in the other Williams, fending off a late challenge by Alonso in 17th. The Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin completed the classified finishers.




It was Win Number 98 for Hamilton and the 50th Podium for Bottas in his time at Mercedes. The trio of Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas shared the podium at the Spanish GP for the 4th consecutive season. Mercedes was able to outsmart Red Bull once again. It was a repeat of the 2019 Hungarian GP. Should Red Bull have pitted Verstappen a lap after Hamilton? Could he have kept the lead on rejoining? It was a hard nut to crack. Spain wasn't the easiest of tracks to overtake on, considering its aero sensitive characteristics. Track position was more important for Red Bull, but tyre life caused their undoing. The absence of the second car in the battle at the top left Red Bull with a handicap again. These issues need addressing. The curse of poor results from the 2nd car at Red Bull never seems to go away, even with a Perez at the wheel. It is back to the drawing board for the Milton Keynes outfit. Bottas has scored half of Hamilton's tally in 2021 to date. The Finn needs to step up his game if he wants to stake a claim on the title. The Drivers' Title is quickly becoming a two-horse race between Hamilton and Verstappen.



Ferrari outscored McLaren with stellar drives from Leclerc and Sainz. Only 5 points separate McLaren from Ferrari, and this battle also promises to go down to the wire. Ocon holding off Gasly at the end was pivotal in the Constructors' battle for Alpine. Stopping only once was a bold call to make, and it paid dividends ( for Ocon ). Alonso wasn't as fortunate in the other Alpine, with reliability issues costing him positions in the race. Alpha Tauri had another breakdown with Tsunoda but was able to salvage a point through Gasly. Every point matters. 



Aston Martin came close to scoring a point with Stroll, only to be pipped by Gasly with three laps left. Vettel, too, failed to impress. The new regulations are wrecking the team's chances, and some desperate steps are needed for fortunes to change. Raikkonen was the last driver to pit in the first round of pit stops and spent most of his race in tyre management. If the team had adopted a more aggressive approach, they could have scored their first points of 2021. Giovinazzi, on the other hand, got undone by poor strategic calls, something that Alfa Romeo need to iron out. He has been delivering the goods on Saturday, but unfortunate incidents are costing him and the team on race day. Williams has been strong on Saturdays but keeps falling backwards on Sundays with both its drivers. The chances of the team scoring a point seem bleak. While Schumacher continues to grow as an F1 racer, Mazepin remains the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons, finding new drivers and personnel to displease every weekend. The Russian had a clean race, so that is a positive, but the pace deficit to Schumacher remains. Haas' performances don't augur well for their future.




While Hamilton completed a century of Poles in Spain, Verstappen completed 100 race starts with Red Bull! In the Clash of these Centurions, Race Strategy chose the Victor! 




The drivers will lock horns again, in two weeks, at the most glamorous race on the calendar! It is time for the Monaco GP in the Principality!


Track position will be paramount, considering the narrow nature of the oldest street circuit on the calendar. The honour of winning at Monaco is unmatched, something which few have experienced from the current grid.




So who will reign supreme in the streets of Monaco? We shall know soon enough! 

2021 Portuguese GP Race Recap : Hammering through the Challenges!

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



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



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


The changes were as under :

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

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

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

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



More details on the official website :

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



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


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


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



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




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



Time for a quick recap of the Portuguese GP weekend!




Practice :


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


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


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


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




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


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


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




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




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


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




Qualifying :


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



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


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


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


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




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


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


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




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


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


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




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



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





Race :


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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



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

Time for a recap of the Emilia Romagna GP weekend!



Practice :


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


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



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


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



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



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


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


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



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




Qualifying :


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

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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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




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


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



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


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



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


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


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



Race :


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


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


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



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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



We can't wait for Portimao!!

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

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


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


Time for a recap of the Bahrain GP weekend!



Practice :


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


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



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

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

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



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



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

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

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



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



Qualifying :


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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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



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



Race :


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


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


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



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



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



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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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

 

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


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


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



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



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



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



Bring on Imola!


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

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


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


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


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



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



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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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


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


Time for an assessment before the bout begins!



Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


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


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



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


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


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


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



McLaren F1 Team :


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


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


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


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



Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :


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


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


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



Alpine Racing F1 Team :


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


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


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



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :


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


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


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


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



Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :


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


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



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :


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


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



Haas F1 Team :


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


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


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



Williams Racing F1 Team :


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


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



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


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


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


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



Bring on 2021!

2020 F1 Season Review - Still they Rise, for the Seventh Time!

Formula 1 celebrated its 70th Anniversary in 2020. The pinnacle of motorsport had elaborate plans for the 2020 season with a record 22 races in 22 different countries, promising a memorable experience for the fans. Vietnam and Zandvoort were the newest entrants with the season kicking off in March and ending in November. 


However, the news of a new virus called COVID-19 threatened to put the schedule in disarray. The new virus eventually became a pandemic and hit some in the F1 fraternity on the Australian GP weekend. The start of the season got postponed, and soon enough, the world went into a state of lockdown. 13 races got subsequently cancelled.


The pandemic intensified, and there were doubts about whether the season would get underway, but the FOM had worked hard to ensure a sizeable season. The revised calendar got announced, featuring 17 races, majority of which were in Europe. Many venues hosted two race weekends, and there were double-headers and triple-headers in the revised calendar. It was a hectic schedule for the teams and their members. Classic tracks like Nurburgring, Imola and Istanbul got added while Mugello and Portimao ( Portugal ) hosted an F1 Grand Prix for the first time. A couple of races saw fans ( in limited attendance ), but the FOM ensured that fan engagement was at its best throughout the season.


How did the teams and drivers fare in this season like no other? Time for a recap!



Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Mercedes, the kings of the Turbo Era, were untouchable in 2020 too. The team sported an "All Black Livery" to support their fight against racism with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas leading the charge. There were some challenges along the way, but none caused concern as Hamilton romped to his 7th World Title. Hamilton broke the record for the maximum number of poles and victories with 11 wins and three podiums in 2020. The only blip he suffered was when he contracted COVID-19 and missed the Sakhir GP weekend. George Russell, his replacement, was winner elect but for some misfortune that left him languishing down in 9th. Valtteri Bottas began his challenge in 2020 on the right note with a win in Austria. However, he had no answer to Hamilton, who found a new gear every time Bottas tried to bridge the deficit. His second win was at Russia besides eight podium finishes. The Finn ended the season second best, once again and would need to dig deeper to give Hamilton a semblance of a challenge.

Mercedes were relentless in their quest for the 7th title and amassed 573 points, comfortably clear of Red Bull in 2nd. 

Hamilton is yet to renew his contract for 2021, and this remains a concern for Mercedes. 



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing has been going from strength to strength after switching to Honda Power. The power unit was one of their biggest forte in 2020. Max Verstappen had a brilliant 2020, taking the fight to the Mercedes duo. The Dutchman won 2 races ( 70th Anniversary GP and Abu Dhabi ) and was on the podium on nine other occasions. Albon, meanwhile, managed only two podium finishes in Tuscany and Bahrain. Verstappen finished the season 3rd in the standings while Albon was 7th having scored less than half of Verstappen's haul. 

The absence of both their drivers at the sharp end of the grid ( regularly ) cost Red Bull dearly. There were a few gremlins and a couple of incidents which cost the team and drivers points, but Red Bull was the only challenger to Mercedes all season long. 

Red Bull finished the season with 319 points, well off the leaders Mercedes. 2021 is the final year for Honda and where Red Bull goes for their power unit needs will be interesting. The arrival of Sergio Perez to partner Verstappen for 2021 will help the team bring home consistent results.

 


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren has been on a resurgence since the past couple of seasons. The partnership of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr has augured well for the Woking-based outfit. The team was involved in an intense midfield battle throughout the 2020 season but emerged victorious thanks to its excellent chassis and parts reliability. They ended the season 3rd in the Constructors' Championship with 202 points, seven clear of Racing Point in 4th. 

Sainz won the intra-team battle. The Spaniard secured a podium ( 2nd ) in Monza besides 11 points finishes. Norris scored the first podium of his career at the opening race in Austria and finished in the points on 12 occasions. Sainz finished the season tied on points ( but ahead ) with Albon in 6th while Norris was 9th. 

Despite having a long term contract with McLaren, Sainz decided to switch to Ferrari to replace Vettel. Time will tell if it was the right decision or not. As for McLaren, they were delighted to have landed the services of Ricciardo for 2021 besides switching to Mercedes power. 2020 has given them the perfect launchpad to push for the sharp end of the grid in 2021.



Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point began its charge in 2020 by retaining its driver pairing in Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. While all was calm in the driver lineup, Racing Point's 2020 challenger, RP20 attracted the attention of one and all at the pre-season tests. The car had a striking resemblance to the Championship winning 2019 Mercedes and got named the "Pink Mercedes". The competition wasn't pleased with the designs and data getting shared between the Mercedes works team and its customer and a protest got lodged against Racing Point over the legality of its brake duct design. Subsequently, the team got fined 400,000 Euros besides the docking of 15 Constructors' Points before the 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone. 

Nevertheless, they had their best season in F1 finishing 4th with 195 points in a hotly contested midfield. They were only 7 points shy of McLaren in 3rd and got relegated to 4th after a disappointing final race.

Perez had a strong start to the season but contracted COVID-19 before the British GP ruling him out of the double-header. Nico Hulkenberg got the call to replace Perez but didn't start the race due to a mechanical issue on his RP20. He got another shot at it a week later and finished a commendable 7th. 

Lance Stroll also caught the virus at the Eifel GP weekend, and Hulkenberg got called in again, coming home in 8th. 

Perez was a revelation in 2020 having finished 4th in the Drivers' Standings with 125 points to his name. The Mexican helped the team register their first win at the Sakhir GP with great racecraft. He also secured 2nd at Turkey besides points finishes in 11 other races. 

Perez had a contract till 2022, but the team decided to replace him with Vettel for 2021. The Mexican was without a drive until Red Bull came calling after the season ended. 

Stroll, his team-mate, also bagged two 3rd place finishes in Monza and Sakhir, but five retirements along the way cost him valuable points. The Canadian finished the season in 11th, tied with Gasly on 75 points. 

The team undergoes a makeover for 2021, becoming Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team, and with a four-time World Champion in Vettel coming in, the sky is the limit!



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault has been an integral part of F1 for many years. The French marque returned to being a full works team in 2016 and have striven to return to winning ways in the Turbo era. The fight has been uphill with little to celebrate along the way. Daniel Ricciardo got a new team-mate in Esteban Ocon for 2020. The Frenchman who was the reserve driver for Mercedes in 2019 made a return to F1. 

Renault was involved in an intense midfield battle which saw them finish 5th in the Constructors' Standings, but they had moments to cheer about in 2020. 

Ricciardo scored two 3rd place finishes at Nurburgring and Imola while Ocon came home in 2nd at the Sakhir GP. Ricciardo was the more consistent of the two team-mates with points finishes in 12 ( other ) races to Ocon's 9. The Australian finished the season in 5th with 119 points while Ocon managed 62 and 12th place. The team suffered retirements at pivotal moments in the season, costing it the chance to finish higher in the Constructors'. 

Reliability remains the biggest chink in Renault's armour. They would be disappointed about losing to a customer team in McLaren.

Despite the improvements seen in 2020, Ricciardo announced that he would switch to McLaren for 2021. Fernando Alonso, the Double World Champion who had retired in 2018 ( apparently ) makes a return with a two-year contract. The absence of a customer team in 2021 will pose an added challenge. Renault will become Alpine Racing F1 ( named after the brand's racing division ). Hopefully, the future is bright and blue!



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

The Ferrari works team had an interesting 2020. It wasn't smooth sailing between the new team-mates ( Vettel and Leclerc ) in 2019, but fans hoped to see one of them take the fight to Hamilton for the title in 2020. Ferrari worked hard over the winter to improve the downforce on their car. They had the most powerful engine on the grid which came under the scanner due to a dodgy fuel flow sensor. The FIA findings forced Ferrari to dial down the engine power. The result was devastating, and all Ferrari powered cars suffered from a lack of straight-line speed. 

There was more drama over the winter when an announcement broke out that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving the team at the end of the season with Carlos Sainz taking his place. Vettel later revealed that the team did not attempt to renew his contract, an experience that left him with a sour taste. The lack of trust set the tone for Vettel's season as the four-time World Champion struggled with multiple issues ( balance ) on his car. The 3rd place in Turkey was his best finish besides points finishes in 6 other races. He ended the season a lowly 13th with a mere 33 points to his name. 

Leclerc, on the other hand, yielded better results with two podiums in Austria and Silverstone. The Monegasque scored points in 8 more races, but the team failed to score a win for the first time since 2014. Leclerc finished the season in 8th with 98 points.

"Oh, how the mighty have fallen" is synonymous with Ferrari's performance in 2020. Change is needed at multiple levels to stem the downturn, and 2021 is where the journey begins.



Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Red Bull's B-team, formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso got a new name for 2020. Named after Red Bull's fashion line, the Italian outfit got rechristened as Scuderia Alpha Tauri. 

The team had one of its best seasons in the sport. 

Pierre Gasly led the charge with an unlike victory at Monza, amassing 75 points and bagging 10th place in the Drivers' Standings. He scored points finishes in 9 other races while his team-mate Daniil Kvyat was able to bag only 32 points. Kvyat's best finish was 4th at Imola with points finishes in six more races. 

Alpha Tauri finished the season in 7th in the Constructors' Standings, only 24 points shy of the mighty Scuderia Ferrari. Honda Power was one of the reasons for its success in 2020. The Red Bull and Honda Protegee Yuki Tsunoda landed a drive alongside Gasly for 2021 and the only way forward is upwards for Alpha Tauri. 



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo Racing had a great 2019 and hoped for an even better showing in 2020. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi renewed their partnership with Robert Kubica joining them from Williams as a reserve driver. However, like the Ferrari works team, Alfa Romeo too struggled with straight-line speed, unable to replicate their successes from 2019. They finished 8th in the Constructors' Championship with their drivers scoring 4 points apiece. Raikkonen's best finish was 9th at Mugello and Imola while Giovinazzi bagged 9th place at the season-opener in Austria and 10th in Nurburgring and Imola. Giovinazzi won the intra-team battle in Qualifying, but Raikkonen was more consistent on race day. 

Some race strategies adopted by the team were questionable and cost them more points finishes. 

The goal for 2021 would be to bridge the points gap to Alpha Tauri and build a car to counter the lack of outright speed from the Ferrari Power Unit.



Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 persisted with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for the 2020 season, a decision that attracted mixed reactions from the fans and experts. The Ferrari-powered Haas cars had a torrid 2020, the lack of straight-line speed combined with braking issues costing them dear in close racing. The team managed to score only 3 points over the year with Grojean's 9th place finish at the Eifel GP and Magnussen's 10th at Hungaroring. Gene Haas, the team owner, re-considered Haas' commitment to the sport citing its poor run over the recent years. However, the team decided to persist with this venture until 2025. 

Grosjean had a near-death experience when he collided with the barriers at the start of the Bahrain GP, emerging from a rising inferno, an image which became the flag-bearer for safety in the sport. The Frenchman who eventually won the intra-team battle was unfit for the final two rounds of the season. Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi, got the nod to take his seat. 17th was the best that Fittipaldi Jr could manage at the Sakhir GP. 

Haas needed to bring a change if they were to better their results in 2021, and announced an all-new driver lineup with Mick Schumacher ( Michael Schumacher's son ) teaming up with Nikita Mazepin ( F2 Driver ) for 2021. Returning to more points-scoring finishes is a priority, and it was time to choose youth over experience. 



Williams Racing F1 Team :

Williams began its 2021 campaign with George Russell and rookie Nicolas Latifi with the hopes of reducing the deficit to the rest of the field. However, 2020 was another challenging year for the team. They failed to score a point despite coming close on a few occasions. The recurring costs and the challenges associated with running a team became too big a mountain for the Williams family to scale and Williams Racing got sold to a US-based investment firm Dorilton Capital in August. 

Russell had the rare opportunity of racing at Sakhir GP with Mercedes when Hamilton contracted COVID-19, but an unfortunate incident robbed him of what would have been a famous victory. Jack Aitken, the reserve driver, also got the opportunity to race and finished a commendable 16th. Russell's best finish was 11th at the Tuscan GP while Nicolas Latifi bagged three 11th place finishes in Austria, Italy and Emilia Romagna. The Canadian had an impressive debut year with Williams and will be pivotal in the team's plans to return to higher finishes in 2021.

The talented pairing in Russell and Latifi combined with the financial influx of new owners should make 2021 a different story for the Grove-based outfit. 



2020 was a memorable year for the sport despite the challenges that it posed. Fans got treated to great races throughout the year, and there was a lot done by the sport to improve fan engagement. 


Hopefully, 2021 would feature the full calendar with tracks opening their doors to fans again!


Mercedes and Hamilton were flawless in defence of their respective titles. Winning it for the 7th time was no easy feat, and it highlighted how the hunger for success never dies. Records got broken, and there will be more mountains to climb in 2021. Hamilton is now the most successful driver in the history of F1. Is he the "Greatest of all time?" is a discussion for another time.


The contenders for the titles in 2021 have work to do over the winter break, but for now, Hamilton and Mercedes keep rising.


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

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



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


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


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



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



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



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



Practice :


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

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




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

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

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




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



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



Qualifying :


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


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


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



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


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


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



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


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




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


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


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


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



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



Race :


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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


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


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


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



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



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

 


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



Till then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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

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



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



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



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



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



Time for a quick recap!



Practice :


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


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



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


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



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



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


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



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



Qualifying :


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


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


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




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


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


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



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


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


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



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


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



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



Race :


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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


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



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



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


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


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



Time will tell!