History repeats itself! F1 2021 Season Review: Spain
A bold strategy was the talking point of the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix!
The 2021 Spanish Grand Prix has been and gone, and it was a very familiar series of events that unfolded during this nail-biting fight for the win. Was it Hamilton or Verstappen that emerged on top? Stay tuned to find out...
Before we take a look at the events of today's race, let's take a step back in time and look at what happened in yesterday's qualifying session.
Q1 for the Spanish Grand Prix saw Alpha Tauri rookie, Yuki Tsunoda, miss out on the second qualifying session by just seven-thousandths of a second, in what was a tough weekend for the Italian outfit. Tsunoda, in an interview with Sky Sports, innocently questioned the difference between his and Gasly's car, which he later apologised for after it became a talking point of the day. Kimi Raikkonen would start alongside Tsunoda in 17th place, followed by Mick Schumacher in 18th, Nicolas Latifi in 19th and Nikita Mazepin in 20th. Mazepin was also handed a three place grid drop (which made no difference to his starting position) and one point on his racing license for holding up Norris on a fast lap.
Q2 was a very close session among those eliminated, with Lance Stroll missing out on a spot in the top 10 by just 0.008 seconds, while Pierre Gasly missed out by just 0.016 seconds - splitting the Aston Martins as Vettel put his car in 13th place. Antonio Giovinazzi did a good job to outqualify teammate, Raikkonen, while Russell set the slowest time in Q2 to put his car in 15th place.
The third and final session in qualifying saw Lewis Hamilton take his 100th pole position, beating championship rival, Max Verstappen by just 0.036 seconds. Valtteri Bottas put the second Mercedes in third place, a top three that is becoming very familiar to fans at the moment. Charles Leclerc put a great performance in for Ferrari, putting his SF21 in fourth place on the grid, ahead of Ocon, who split the Ferraris with another impressive performance for Alpine in fifth. Behind Sainz in sixth was Daniel Ricciardo, who out-qualified teammate in a slightly disappointing qualifying for the Woking-based team.
Sergio Perez would start in a disappointing eighth place after suffering a spin on his first run of Q3, with the other McLaren of Lando Norris would start in ninth, followed by Fernando Alonso in tenth. Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let's move on to the race!
As the five red lights went out for the fourth race of the 2021 season, it was Max Verstappen that got the better initial launch over pole-man, Lewis Hamilton. However, the Red Bull driver spent too long on the limiter, which allowed Hamilton to pull away in the second phase of the launch. Verstappen then moved over to the left and tucked into Hamilton's slipstream, before pulling out and alongside Hamilton in the Turn 1 braking zone. Verstappen took the inside and used all of the track, forcing the Mercedes driver to take evasive action and drop down to second on the run up to the long right-hander that is Turn 3.
Behind them, Leclerc started to apply pressure on Bottas as they launched off the line, though the Finn was able to pull away when tucking into his teammate's slipstream. Bottas didn't take an ideal line around the long Turn 3 right-hander, giving Leclerc the perfect opportunity to slingshot around the outside and into third place - an opportunity that the Monégasque was quick to take.
Fast-forward to lap 8, and Tsunoda brings out the safety car after a power unit failure brought his AT02 to a halt on the exit of the newly-formatted Turn 10 hairpin. Giovinazzi would pit under the safety car in an attempt to capitalise, but would suffer a really slow stop when the front-left mechanic realised that the tyre had deflated after leaving the blanket - a frustrating situation for the Italian. Gasly is also handed a 5-second time penalty for overshooting his grid box at the start of the race. The safety car pits on lap 10.
Lap 19 sees Gasly be the first of the drivers to stop under green-flag conditions, where he served his five-second penalty and fitted a set of Medium tyres. The field then starts to respond to the opening of the pit window, with Alonso and Vettel pitting for Mediums on lap 22, Sainz pitting for Mediums on lap 23, and with Bottas and Norris fitting the same compound on lap 24.
Hamilton starts attacking Verstappen for the lead on lap 24, and gets within DRS range of the Dutchman, before Red Bull opt to pit him in order to retain the lead. Verstappen has a slow stop of 4.2 seconds (a rare mistake from the Red Bull pit crew) and this gives Hamilton the perfect opportunity to pit and emerge ahead of his rival. However, the Briton reports that his tyres are okay and that he would like to go long into the race.
Verstappen emerges from the pits in fourth place, with Sainz and Ricciardo being the cars between himself and Hamilton. It looked as if Mercedes were hoping for Ricciardo and Sainz to hold up the Red Bull driver, which was immediately ruined when Ricciardo pitted for a set of Mediums on lap 26.
Verstappen then sets some quick laps that puts himself within Hamilton's 22-second pit window, guaranteeing a re-take of the lead when the 7-time world champion makes his pit stop.
A new F1 radio graphic is then showcased on lap 26 when Hamilton is held up in traffic by Mazepin and we hear Toto Wolff himself speaking to race control. This is an insight into F1 that I never considered, but was a really fascinating introduction that I hope makes a return at future races!
By lap 27, Verstappen was 2.5 seconds clear of Hamilton's pit window, and it looked like a Safety Car would be the only thing that would save the Mercedes driver from being passed by Verstappen. Hamilton pits on lap 28 for a set of Mediums, and Leclerc follows him in to fit the same compound; promoting Verstappen to the lead of the race.
Hamilton starts pushing again, and by lap 34 of 66, the Briton is within the one-second DRS window of Verstappen. Hamilton continues to attack, but isn't able to make his way past and pits on lap 43 for a fresh set of Medium tyres. This puts Red Bull in the exact same situation they were in at the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2019, where Hamilton pitted with around 20 laps to go in the race and had to chase Verstappen for the lead of the race.
If Verstappen were to pit on lap 44 for a set of Medium tyres, he would have lost track position as a result of the undercut, and possibly not had the opportunity to re-overtake the Mercedes. Red Bull chose to keep Verstappen out - like they did at Hungary in 2019. Hamilton emerged in third place (behind Bottas) and had 23 laps to make up a 22 second gap.
Meanwhile, on lap 50, Daniel Ricciardo opts for a similar strategy and pits for a new set of Medium tyres. He leaves the pitlane in eighth place - behind his teammate - and McLaren order Norris to let the Australian through. This ends up being a good decision from the papaya-coloured team as a storming Sainz on fresh tyres makes his way past Norris a lap later on lap 50.
On lap 52, Hamilton catches up to Bottas, and Mercedes make it clear that he "shouldn't make it hard for him to pass," though the Finn decided to ignore these orders and fight for position. There were plenty of opportunities for Hamilton to be let through (starting at Turn 4), though Hamilton had to make a dive down the inside of a defending Bottas at Turn 10 to take second place. The chase was then on for Hamilton to take the win.
Bottas then pits on lap 54 for a fresh set of Soft tyres to try and go for the fastest lap. Leclerc and Perez also make the same decision.
The number 44 driver started to catch Verstappen by around 1.2 seconds a lap, consistently, as the leader's tyres started to wear considerably. By lap 59, the gap was reduced to just 1.5 seconds, before he entered DRS range on lap 60 and made a move around the outside at Turn 1. Hamilton immediately started to pull away, and Verstappen pitted on lap 61, also going for the fastest lap.
Meanwhile, a tense battle for the final points position occurs behind, with Alonso defending with everything he has for tenth place. On lap 61, Stroll makes a move around the outside of Alonso at Turn 1, but they bump wheels and the Aston Martin driver is forced to take the escape road. Stroll was then put under investigation for not correctly re-joining the circuit.
Stroll successfully makes the same move stick on lap 62, and Alonso is immediately compromised, being passed by Gasly at Turn 2 and Raikkonen at Turn 3. Gasly then makes a move around the outside of Stroll at Turn 1 on lap 3 to steal the final point, in a weekend that was damage limitation for Alpha Tauri.
3 laps later, Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line to win his fifth consecutive Spanish Grand Prix, with Verstappen finishing in second (and with the fastest lap) and Bottas in third. Leclerc finished fourth at the end of the race in an excellent display for Ferrari, while Perez had a decent performance to finish fifth. You can find the full race results in the Tweet below:
Overall, I would rate the Spanish Grand Prix a 7.5 out of 10. While there was certainly a great battle for the win between Hamilton and Verstappen, it was a shame we didn't see a lot of action throughout the rest of the field - but it was still a good race overall. What did you think of the Spanish Grand Prix? Let us know in the comments below.
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