2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

  • Mercedes’ Pace
  • Midfield Stalemate
  • Wrong and right strategies
  • Bottas, oh Bottas
  • Mazepin vs Schumi vs Latifi
  • An idea for F1

Mercedes’ Pace

If it wasn’t apparent already, this race might have just shown how well oiled the Mercedes F1 team is. It all starts with the car. It’s fundamentally better than the Red Bull this season. It’s definitely more powerful, seems more driveable and switched on in race trim compared to the Red Bull. In terms of raw pace, the Bull may be just a smidge ahead, however it’s the whole package that counts. Pair the Mercedes with the capable hands of Lewis Hamilton and you’ve got a winning formula which has proven near-impossible to beat in the hybrid era so far.

The closest challenge so far was Ferrari in 2017-18, but even then it was clear after the offset of each season that Mercedes was not going to be beaten that easily, massively outdeveloping and outsmarting their prancing rivals in both seasons.

All of this leaves Vettel as the only non-Mercedes driver to have led the F1 WDC in the hybrid era. This fact still astonishes me.

Midfield Stalemate

The biggest surprise in Portugal was Alpine, putting in a strong performance in the race to finish in P7 and P8, picking up valuable constructors points after Raikkonen went out of the race with a broken front wing after contact with his teammate at the beginning of lap 2 and Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin, Giovinazzi and Russell all failing to put up any meaningful challenge further ahead. Tsunoda in particular had a complete off-day and Stroll didn’t seem to be as sharp as usual either.

However, the pecking order was otherwise generally quite clear, the McLaren in the hands on Norris very capable of leading the midfield pack comfortably with Leclerc in the #1 Ferrari not far behind. Alpha Tauri continue to be 50% unimpressive and 50% bad, Aston Martin quite disappointing and Russell clearly slower than the rest in a slower car in ordinary conditions.

Wrong and right strategies

Stroll getting past Vettel on lap 60 and both Alpines getting past Sainz relatively easily really drew a clear line between the wrong and right strategies for the race. Both Sainz and Vettel started on the softs and put on fresh mediums with 2/3 of the race yet to go. It does sometimes make me question how wrong strategists who do nothing but analyse relevant data all day can get their decisions. No matter how low the degredation is, no rational thinker would think that’s a good idea. Is an engineering degree really necessary for a job that requires nothing but logic?

Bottas, oh Bottas

The curious case of Valtteri Bottas. He’s sometimes spectacular, mostly not. It’s clear he lacks the raw talent of his teammate or the absolute dedication and bite of his predecessor, but really it’s just becoming too clear that he’s not bringing much to the dominant team of the hybrid era. He hasn’t been able to shine in any of the seasons he has been at the team.

If I had to make the decision, I would go for a less amicable solution for the team and put another driver in the car for 2022. For me, however, that driver wouldn’t be George Russell. In the current roster, I would aim to poach Verstappen from Red Bull or pull Vettel up to the big sister seat. Verstappen vs. Hamilton would just be spectacular to watch, but seeing as Verstappen is bound to Red Bull with a long-term contract, Vettel would, in my opinion, be the next best decision for the team. Not only does he have the best relationship with Hamilton, but in a top car which is developed properly throughout a season, he can really shine. Also with his age, Mercedes, like with Hamilton, wouldn’t need to give him a very long contract. This would give them even more time to find the right drivers to put in their seats.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I stand by it as the solution which makes the most sense with the current situation in F1. GR isn’t going anywhere, and I still have the feeling that most other talents are unproven to pick anyone else for the top seat.

Mazepin vs Schumi vs Latifi

It’s no secret that Mazepin isn’t really that good, especially compared to his teammate. But it seems nobody has put any thought into the reasons why.

While Schumacher was putting huge pressure on Latifi, forcing him to crack in the faster Williams ahead, Mazepin was holding up race leader Perez and getting scolded for it whilst being a full minute behind his own teammate. What makes Schumacher so much better?

Apart from having arguably the best F1 driver in history as a dad and a racing family behind him, he has the full support of the Ferrari Academy. Being one of their drivers, he naturally has full access to their simulator and older F1 cars, which he makes full use of, having tested the 2018 Ferrari recently and spending a lot of time developing his skills on the sim.

These are resources which are crucial to a developing driver, resources that can make a massive difference on development trajectories and at the end of the day they are increasing the gap between the 2 Haas rookies on track. Money of course can buy a seat in F1, but it can’t buy talent or the support of a powerhouse like Ferrari. While Mazepin did get to test with Mercedes, apparently having gone through a lot of laps and scenarios with the best run team in F1, he seemingly hasn’t been able to put any of that knowledge to practice.

Another case of disappointment is Latifi. Just the fact that he got done by Schumacher in the Haas towards the end of the race, and is regularly in Russels’ back pocket should be evidence enough that he’s also not quite right for F1. To top it off, Latifi is already 25, going on for 26 in June. He’s no young talent any more. He has had over a year in F1 to develop, yet I’ve seen nothing.

An idea for F1

Getting a seat in F1 is already near-impossible. Having 2 occupied by, frankly, average sunday drivers when there are plenty of other great talents looking to get in makes it a bigger issue rooted deep in the whole concept of the sport. While karting is starting to become more accessible to more people, seats at the pinnacle will always be hard to reach. It’s a topic that has been discussed many times, it’s the way Formula 1 has always been.

An idea to help mitigate the issue would be to have a “baseline” team run directly by the FIA, and have the team field 2 or 4 cars. This team occupies different drivers every season, so no retaining any drivers beyond the first season. If the F2 champion doesn’t get a drive in F1, he would automatically join the “FIA Team”. If he does get a drive, the “FIA Team” should consider every performance metric available to determine the next best talent to fill the seats. This way, champions and talents alike get to showcase their skills to the world, making them even more attractive to other teams or other top motorsport categories. The fact that drivers aren’t retained would also allow a greater number of talented drivers to get an opportunity to drive in F1 and fulfil dreams to those who deserve it.

Best, worst, luckiest & unluckiest

Best – Hamilton: Easy to say but he didn’t put a foot wrong and was able to get past his rivals very effectively and do what Bottas couldn’t.

Worst – Tsunoda: Apart from Mazepin, Tsunoda was the obvious choice. The rookie pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth in a mistake-ridden performance. Bottas’ defence and inability to set a FL on fresh softs compared to RB on used softs gets an honorable mention.

Luckiest – Nobody: But for the fun of it, Mazepin for getting to the end of the race without spinning, because that’s what everyone wants to hear.

Unluckiest – Raikkonen: Unfortunate incident which forced him to retire early in lap 2.

2021 Italian GP (Imola)

Another race, more talking points. This season is getting more interesting, and I have chosen my highlights to write about after the 2021 Imola GP.

  • Hamiltons’ Fortune
  • Red Bulls’ Contrasting Races
  • Williams’ Pace
  • Vettels’ Misfortunes
  • The Midfield Order
  • The best, worst, luckiest and unluckiest

Hamiltons’ Fortune

Lewis Hamilton has for the last few years been one of the more “fortunate” drivers on the grid when it comes to incidents and how he profits from them. This still seems to be the case today. While chasing through the backmarkers, trying to get in reach of Verstappen to fight for the lead, he went off the dry line on his slicks when overtaking Russell and lost the car, ending up in the gravel and stopping just before the wall on the outside of turn 7. He seemingly tried to get his rears spinning to get the car pointing in the right direction, but instead went straight on into the wall and broke his front wing after failing to do so. This seemed costly, as he would have to pit and would lose a great bunch of positions. It seemed hope was lost for a podium finish and damage limitation was on.

Instead, just at the right moment, Russell and Bottas came together in a spectacular collision and caused a red flag, effectively acting as a stopgap to Hamiltons’ losses, effectively gifting him a chance to recuperate from a lap down to Verstappen, to starting P8 with a neutralised grid. His overtakes were efficient and clean, and he made quick work of the midfield runners with his W12, showing off the potential of the 2021 Mercedes by picking up the fastest lap on the way. He, therefore, holds on to his championship lead by 1 point, the fastest lap making up the difference between him and Max Verstappen.

Red Bulls’ Contrasting Races

There is no denying that Verstappen is an incredible driver. He was the class of the field today, jumping Hamilton and Perez at the start and never looking back after the first corner, beating Hamilton off track in what I believe is a questionable move considering they were side by side. Either way, he mastered the conditions and absolutely lived up to the hype surrounding the car and driver package Red Bull has fielded this season to bring the car home over 20 seconds ahead of Hamilton. He had a tricky red flag restart after almost losing the car completely, but his brilliant car control prevented him from any embarrassment and at the end of the day it was a race to remember for Verstappen.

Perez, on the other hand, had a race to forget. After his brilliant outing in Bahrain, and having outqualified his teammate to start P2 on the grid, the pressure and expectations to deliver were high. It seems some of it got to him, as he suffered 2 noteworthy mistakes on his way to a largely unimpressive P12 finish. While it is still early in the season and conditions at Imola were very tricky for drivers, a seasoned veteran with so much experience under his belt should stand out under the circumstances. I expect better from him in Portugal.

Williams’ Pace

Williams had an unusually strong outing this weekend, until they stopped racing. It seemed both drivers were very comfortable with the car in qualifying, both putting in great performances got get into Q2, and in Russells’ case, even knocking on the door of Q3 with a lap worthy of P12.

Even in the changing conditions, it seemed Williams was in it to fight for points against supposedly faster rivals. Early on, however, Latifi drifted into Mazepin, taking himself out of the race after recovering from a mistake going into T12. Later on in the race, Russell brought out the red flags after going for an optimistic and very risky move off the racing line on the outside of Bottas’ struggling Mercedes into T1. The resulting crash was spectacular, and thankfully neither of the drivers were hurt. Russell might have thought he had a good shot at a point or 2, however, in Formula 1 and such risky conditions where there is only 1 dry line, it only takes 1 small wrong move to mess up a whole race.

Vettels’ Misfortunes

If one positive can be picked out this weekend for Vettel, it’s that he still remains the only non-Mercedes driver to have led the WDC in the hybrid era. Other than that, it was yet another unspectacular weekend from the German driver. He managed to improve his qualifying pace relative to his teammate, albeit on a shorter track, but in terms of pace he’s still clearly not quite there yet in the mid-midfield battle, only managing P13 and still 2 or 3 tenths off of his new rivals.

His second race with Aston Martin started off as bad as it gets, a brake issue forcing him to start from the pitlane. Vettel is a man of great experience, and in the Red Bull I have no doubt we’d see a repeat of his masterclass in Abu Dhabi 2012. However, in the Aston Martin he struggled to climb the order. Really the only notable moment he had in the race, apart from his retirement towards the end, was the curious decision to go on the medium tyres long before anyone else. It seemed hopeless, as if he or Aston Martin had already given up on the race result and decided to risk everything on the alternative strategy. Of course, it backfired badly. Vettel lost a bunch of time for the first few laps of his stint. Eventually, he did briefly exchange fastest laps with the leaders, but that was shortlived as the rest of his race was plagued by gearbox sync issues, which eventually got worse and led to said retirement.

While people might say he looked more comfortable this weekend and it’s all coming slowly, he really seems hampered by the lack of track position in the tight midfield. If only he had waited for that Red Bull seat…

Can things get any better for Vettel at Aston Martin? How much can they still improve? And how patient is Lawrence Stroll to see results after speaking so highly of him before the season started?

The midfield order

To take anything away from a race in changing conditions is difficult, especially when trying to figure out how the midfield is shaping up. It would seem McLaren, specifically Lando Norris and the Ferraris are the class of the midfield at the moment, however Alpha Tauri is yet to have a clean race, and Aston Martin is seemingly lost at the moment with possibly huge potential (See Mercedes). Danny Ric, Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Aston Martin, Alpha Tauri and George Russell seem to be the contenders for the bigger “mid-midfield“ battle, the upcoming races will paint a clearer picture of who’s where in terms of raw pace and how the teams and drivers are developing and adapting.

I don’t expect Haas to compete for anything this season, nor does Haas. It seemed both Schumacher and Mazepin could keep their noses (Mostly) clear and gather some valuable experience on track. Whether the drivers can make a big enough difference to overcome a 2 lap deficit to the leaders is highly unlikely, but we should be able to see improvements relative to each other. So far, Schumacher seems to have the upper hand in the backmarker battle, which in my eyes includes Latifi as well, despite having a noticeably better car.

The best, worst, luckiest and unluckiest

Best – Verstappen: Brilliant dominating race, no other real stand out performers. Honorable mentions go to Lando Norris/Charles Leclerc.

Worst – Mazepin: Didn’t cause a crash unlike 2 other drivers, but just very unspectacular and finished a mile behind his teammate.

Luckiest – Hamilton: Very fortunate to get out of the gravel trap when he did, and the red flag timing was impeccable, allowing his team to repair the damage to his front wing.

Unluckiest – Vettel: What can a man do to catch a break. Started in the pitlane, got a seemingly randomly timed stop/go penalty a third of the way through the race AFTER pitting and building up heat in the slicks in tough conditions, to then suffer gearbox sync issues and retire just a couple of laps before the end.

2021 Bahrain GP

F1 is back! My Introduction.

The wait is over, we are under way again! There are some exciting new developments for this season to follow in the first few races, and with the first race weekend behind us, I have made my notes and chosen topics to touch on.

Who am I? I’m an average 22 year old guy, I live in Switzerland and I have been a Formula 1 fan as far back as I can remember. I have dreamed of getting more into F1 for the last couple of years, with the ultimate goal of actually making it into the sport as an analyst or commentator of sorts, however unlikely it may be. My next step after this blog will be to start a YouTube channel when the time is right, considering I get enough of a following who would be interested in more in-depth, interactive discussions.

I hope I can keep everyone who reads this informed, entertained, and active. This is my first entry, I know there is room for improvement so I would love feedback on what you like, dislike, what you’d like to see more (or less) of, and general tips on how I can improve. I already have a few ideas, and I want to work on becoming a genuine alternative source of information and entertainment for you. I currently plan on doing these weekly, with any further entries and topics as my schedule allows. The wording and thoughts are all my own, written in my style. I like to provoke discussions with my own thoughts on certain topics and outcomes, so expect to see controversial opinions early on in the season, for example:

As early as the 2018 Spanish GP, I predicted Mercedes would develop to be untouchable and Ferrari to fall behind Red Bull, denying Vettel his 5th title, no matter if he had a perfect season or not. My opinion was not shared by the vast majority of the F1 community on a certain popular website 🙂

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy reading my first of (hopefully) many entries in this blog.

Top 2

Starting from the top, the Bahrain GP really made clear who is going to be competing for the WDC this season. While Verstappen seems to have a more tamed and collected car this season, evidenced by his near-perfect qualifying lap, Hamilton was noticeably struggling in comparison, his small mistakes happening due to instability in the rear of the Mercedes, making up most of the difference.

The race was a similar story. It was clear from the get-go that Verstappen had more than enough pace to keep the silver arrow of Lewis Hamilton behind comfortably. An issue with Verstappens’ differential kept the curtains on the true potential of the Red Bull, however, with Max vocal about his struggles with traction out of turns 1 and 2. This made for an exciting tactical battle, with Mercedes able to keep up and trying to force Red Bulls’ hand in the first round of pit stops, pulling in Hamilton for a new set of hard tyres relatively early on. Red Bull decided not to cover Hamilton immediately, committing to their own strategy and waiting another 4 laps before making their move.

The second round of pit stops is where the battle really got interesting. Hamilton again pitted for another new set of hards to go to the end of the race 28 laps from the end. Verstappen, on the other hand, did a full 22 laps on his mediums, after which he pitted for new hards 17 laps from the end, coming out 8 seconds behind Lewis. The Red Bull on fresher tyres clearly had a huge pace advantage over the Mercedes, and 7 laps from the end, Max was already all over Lewis’ gearbox.

The fight that followed really highlighted the brilliance of Lewis Hamilton, putting in an (almost) Vettel 2018-esque performance to keep the Red Bull of Max behind. Max did briefly pass Lewis, but due to the pass being completed off track and Red Bull themselves having complained about Lewis abusing that particular part of the track, Max let him back past on the back straight to avoid getting penalised. Following Lewis from this point on was only ruining his tyres more. After Max made a mistake, locking up slightly and going wide into turn 13, the challenge was all but gone, giving Lewis enough breathing room to bring the car home in P1.

This is an indicator for the rest of the season. The winner will likely be determined by individual performances, with races like Bahrain being key to total victory. The first blow goes to Hamilton, and I am really looking forward to the other 22!

Battle of the constructors (Bottas vs Perez)

After careful consideration, Red Bull brought in former Racing Point (Now Aston Martin) driver Sergio Perez in place of the struggling Alex Albon to help mount a proper constructors challenge on Mercedes. The first signs after Bahrain seem to indicate this was a brilliant move by Red Bull. With Perez running into technical issues on the formation lap, his car switching off completely, it looked like it was all over before he even started. Luckily, he managed to get the engine fired up again with the KERS system, but due to the issue leaving him stranded in sector 3 when everyone had lined up, he had to start from the pit lane. This would put him in a familiar position, last on the grid. Perez methodically cut through the field to end a brilliant comeback drive in P5, noticeably becoming more and more familiar with the Red Bull underneath him each lap.

This will put Bottas under pressure to perform in future races. Considering Perez gets a clean qualifying run and doesn’t run into technical issues in the race, Bottas has a real challenge on his hands to not only protect Lewis, but also the constructors’ title and his own seat at Mercedes. This is a breath of fresh air, seeing two constructors go at it again with comparable cars and drivers! That makes the battle over the whole season extra spicy!

The huge midfield question mark

The midfield battle this season is looking very unpredictable, with more questions than answers after Bahrain. We saw a strong McLaren, a resurgent Ferrari and the improved forces of Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri. Alpine and Aston Martin both seemed to have had a difficult race, but they can easily get involved considering their main drivers become accustomed to the machinery at hand.

Pierre Gasly was unfortunate not to be in the mix, losing his front wing early on and seemingly picking up floor damage, severely hampering his pace. Yuki Tsunoda, however, showed us a glimpse of what we can expect from the midfield this season, which is exciting racing that will be determined by smart tactics and brilliant individual drives. We also surprisingly saw George Russell driving at a decent pace, a nice surprise knowing he’s ready to battle and potentially even challenge for points this season in the Williams!

Only time will tell how the teams and young drivers will develop, but the season is long and it seems everyone is ready to pounce and challenge every little mistake, making this potentially even more exciting than the brilliant midfield battle last season.

It’s imperative to touch on one key challenger in the midfield, possibly the most hyped of them all – Aston Martin. Throughout the preseason, expectations were sky-high for the return of the legendary name. Their technical partnership with Mercedes from last year was carried over to the new team, with it also the low rake concept with which the silver arrows dominated last season. This season, due to the new regulations concerning the rear half of the floor, the low rake concept has been disadvantaged a great amount. So much so, that their CEO openly complained about it in an interview. The lack of pace will make their season feel much longer than it is. It closes up so many strategy options, and Stroll and Vettel will need to bring their A-game week in week out if they want to maximise the points return for the team because every point will count in this super tight midfield.

Vettel’s debut wasn’t a brilliant one, either. From being knocked out in Q1 after Mazepins’ mishap, due to start 18th, to being handed 3 penalty points on his license and a 3 place grid penalty for not reacting enough to yellow flags in qualifying, pushing him to the back of the grid, to running into the back of the Alpine of Ocon after being overtaken for 13th position later on in the race, gathering another 2 penalty points for a total of 5. That’s a long read and a long list of things to go wrong in 1 weekend. It seemed nothing went as expected after he was also passed by Russell in the Williams in the closing stages of the race. The pace just wasn’t there. Whether this is a one-off, just a bad strategy, is hard to say. Vettel is clearly yet to settle down in the car, and the rear end is not as strong as promised, in most part due to the new regulations. He certainly won’t want a repeat of Bahrain, as enough comments are going around on him being “washed up”, although there is little doubt he still has a lot to bring to the team. Vettel now has the chance to prove he’s still up there with the best, even if the car underneath isn’t.

The backmarkers of 2021

Bahrain also cleared up who is expected to run at the back this season. There are 3 drivers, namely Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin. Haas decided to shift all development focus to 2022, hoping to fully compromise 2021 for a huge improvement next year with the new regulations. Famously, they also decided to take on 2 rookie drivers for this season, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Schumacher, legend Michael Schumachers’ son, had a relatively quiet and unimpressive debut with his only TV highlight of note being his spin coming out of turn 2.

Mazepin, on the other hand, was being ridiculed all weekend after spinning a few times during different sessions, most notably qualifying. The F1 community is not holding back, making it clear who their villain is. He spun out and crashed out of turn 2 in the first lap of the race, bringing out the safety car and ending his debut a lot quicker than he would’ve wanted. It’s fair to say expectations are very low for the Haas team this season, and in my opinion, both rookies should just focus on driving clean races without silly mistakes to gain experience in F1 machinery. If they can do that, they will get up to speed sooner than they know and can potentially run into Latifi, who is also in a notoriously slow car, albeit slightly improved from last year, evidenced by Russells’ result.

The difference between Russell and Latifi was made clear in the Bahrain GP if it wasn’t clear already. While Russell can challenge a weaker midfield team or driver for position, Latifi is involved in the battle far behind with Haas. Expectations are low, but while the Haas drivers have little pressure on them, Latifi is naturally fighting for a seat next season. There are so many talented drivers who would gladly take his 1-of-20 seat, so the pressure is high and noticeable improvements need to come thick and fast from the Canadian driver.

Conclusion 1/23

All in all, after testing, it was clear that Red Bull was the team to beat, with Mercedes coming up just behind and McLaren being the class of the midfield. Ferrari surprised us most with their much-improved pace and a double points finish, but with a balancing act needed between further developing this seasons’ car and using resources for the new regulations coming next year, it is yet to be seen how they will develop. Unfortunately Gasly, Alonso and Vettel had issues or made mistakes, so expect even hotter fights in the upcoming races involving these main drivers! The battle upfront in the next races could also solidify the favourite for the championship, and the top 2 teams will have an even tougher time deciding where to pour their development resources. This season is turning out to be the most exciting in years, and the outcome cannot clearly be predicted after race 1. Imola will be very exciting, and I’m looking forward to touching on further topics after the first Italian GP of 2021!