Lando podium. McLaren podium. Rain at Imola. Another corker of a race. Thank you F1 for another stellar weekend.
Qualifying was one of the best dry quali’s I’ve ever seen with excitement throughout the field. In Q2, all 15 cars were separated by just 0.877 seconds and these close times carried on in Q3, meaning that if you made one little mistake you could find yourself right down the bottom of the order (*cough* Bottas *cough*). The rain that fell just before the start of the race led to absolute chaos, with tricky conditions affecting all drivers particularly during the first half of the race. Let’s drive straight into some talking points (apologies for the long article, there was a lot to discuss here).
Hamilton & Verstappen Outclassing their No.2s
This weekend really proved why Hamilton and Verstappen are the main title contenders this season, as both completely outclassed their no.2 equivalents and had very strong weekends. Let’s start with Verstappen, who had a messy(ish) qualifying but absolutely made up for it in the race. One small mistake in qualifying put him 3rd on the grid, but he was still only 0.087 seconds behind Hamilton on pole. Verstappen himself said he messed up, however in the changeable conditions in the race he looked unstoppable. He got a blistering start in P3 (actually starting in 2nd gear to get better traction in the wet) and made a statement move past Hamilton going into turn 1. From then on (apart from a hairy moment on the restart on lap 35) Verstappen never put a foot wrong and had the race completely under control. In these conditions, Max simply excels and usually has a strong weekend.
Compare that to his teammate Perez. He actually had a decent qualifying and outqualified Verstappen, to both my joy and surprise. However, Perez struggled in the race and made quite a few costly mistakes. He spun under the safety car on lap 6 and lost two places but decided that it was okay to overtake two cars to regain his 4th position (it’s not, overtaking under the safety car is never okay). This gained him a 10 second time penalty, but despite this he still ended up in 4th place at the restart after the red flag. However, he had another spin that pushed him back to P14 and from there he couldn’t really do much, finishing in P12. A day to forget for Sergio, but he’ll take positives from his qualifying and hopefully he can get a grip on that car soon as we’d love to see Sergio doing well.
Let’s move on to Mercedes, where Toto definitely had a weekend to forget. Hamilton had an excellent qualifying session and was looking strong in the race. He was applying pressure to Verstappen and was closing in on him. I don’t think Hamilton would have ever got past Verstappen, as it seemed like he was just managing the gap out front, but Hamilton still looked good. Until… until we found on lap 31 that Lewis Hamilton is human, making a mistake lapping Russell and ending up beaching his car in the gravel. For most drivers, this would have been race over and 0 points for the weekend. But this is where Lewis showed why he is a 7-time world champion.
Hamilton actually drove his car into the barrier, so his wheels were on the tarmac and he could gain traction to slowly reverse back onto the track. For all the Hamilton bashers out there, yes it is okay to reverse onto the track as long as it’s safe to do so- and it was. Now, I admit Hamilton got lucky with the red flag, otherwise he would have been stuck in P9 and a lap behind Verstappen, basically ruining his chances of scoring some good points. Yet, the red flag did happen and (again for all you Hamilton bashers) the standard procedure after a red flag is that cars can unlap themselves, so everyone is on the same lap and this is what happened. It’s just funny how people only complain about a rule when it affects Lewis, but people just hate the guy who’s in front. This is where Lewis’ skill and mindset came in.
Instead of just giving up and accepting he lost a load of points; Hamilton was able to reset his mind during the red flag and accept that he made the mistake. This meant that he was a man on a mission, producing some stunning overtakes on his way from P9 to P2 on the grid. Hamilton was given the opportunity to make amends for his mistake, and he took it firmly by both hands, now leading Verstappen by one point in the championship after gaining fastest lap. All things considering, it was a mightily impressive recovery drive from Hamilton and has kept him close in the title battle.
Now Bottas… where do we start with him? He had a pretty disastrous qualifying, starting in P8 in a Mercedes whilst his teammate was on pole. And things didn’t get much better in the race. He dropped back to P10 at the start and was hovering around the back end of the points, driving in P9 just before his crash on lap 32. For the record, I don’t think Bottas was at fault at all for the crash. It was a racing incident, but if you have to pin the blame on someone, then you’d say Russell got spooked and put a wheel on the grass, which caused him to spin into Bottas. It’s great that both drivers are okay and I think their reactions after the crash shows how fiery and passionate both drivers are. However, the fact Bottas was in P9 and was going to be overtaken by a Williams is appalling, and he really needs to up his game if he’s going to keep that Mercedes seat next year. Conditions were a bit different, but Hamilton was able to overtake from P9 and made he was up to P2; so why wasn’t Bottas able to make up any places? We’ve seen this before from Bottas and my word does he need to improve, or else his time at Mercedes is in the bin.
McLaren vs Ferrari- A Historic Rivalry is Back
First of all let me just repeat the title of this article: LANDOOOOOOOOOOO. Wasn’t it fantastic to see a McLaren and Lando Norris back up on the podium? He had some serious pace all weekend and really sent us McLaren fans on a rollercoaster of emotions. I leapt up from my chair in qualifying when he crossed the line in P2; only to sink back down again when his lap time got deleted. However, his race pace was phenomenal and he had a fantastic drive with a great eye for strategy. Staring in P3 at the restart, it was actually Lando who mentioned about starting on the softs (watch McLaren Unboxed on YouTube for some great insight) and this played straight into his hands. He was able to get past Leclerc at the restart, meaning he could manage the gap to Leclerc and although Hamilton was able to get through, Lando was still able to grab a podium spot.
Danny Ric came home in P6, after a great bit of sportsmanship letting his teammate past in the early stages of the race. I think we need to give Danny some time because we saw this when he moved to Renault; it took him a while to adapt to the car but when he did, he was able to send it left, right and centre. Him and Lando are going to be a great partnership for McLaren this year and both will score them some consistent points.
And let’s not forget Ferrari; where on Earth did this pace come from? Their engine upgrade is seemingly working miracles and both Ferraris finished a deserved 4th and 5th. Despite many trips to the gravel, Sainz still finished 5th and Leclerc had a very strong race- starting and finishing in 4th position. With McLaren and Ferrari covering all positions from 3rd- 6th, it’s looking likely that it’ll be these two teams battling it out for 3rd place in the championship this season. A historic rivalry is back with the two teams looking much stronger than their 2020 counterparts.
AlphaTauri look quick, but they really need to sort out their strategy if they’re going to make any attempt for 3rd place in the Constructors’: why was Gasly left out on full wets for so long at the start of the race? If they can sort these little mistakes out, don’t count out AlphaTauri to take some decent points away from both McLaren and Ferrari.
|Pierre Gasly on his full wets @Michael Bedard|
Confusing Track Limits are Back Again
*Sigh* We are once again talking about track limits. Why do the FIA make them so complicated and confusing? You can’t go over the white line after the turn 14/15 chicane: but it’s the red line at the exit of turn 9. Oh, and just to make it worse we’re gonna change them mid-way through the weekend again. Nice one FIA. It worsens the spectacle for all the fans and ruins moments such as Lando’s amazing qualifying laps. I understand that track limits have to exist, but the FIA need to make them much clearer so the drivers understand where the limits are and so us fans can understand what’s in and what’s out of the limits.
Elsewhere on the grid, Aston Martin and Alpine had a pretty quiet weekend with both teams looking to have taken a step back from their 2020 cars. And the wallets of the new owners of Williams aren’t going to be happy either, with both cars sustaining huge damage in their crashes. Williams look like they’ve made some steady improvement and actually looked set to score a few points before Russell’s crash. I think it won’t be long before Williams finally get a point.
And let’s not forget F1’s three rookies who struggled during this race. It will be a huge learning curve for all three of them, with this being their first experience of a wet/dry race and they will have learnt a lot from this weekend. Does anyone have the number for Mick’s race engineer by the way? His calming presence when he spoke to Mick after he crashed under the safety car, telling him everything is going to be okay, is what we all need to hear after a tough year under numerous lockdowns. Can’t wait to listen to more of Mick’s engineer and I actually really hope Mick has a chance to prove his talent; although Haas do look like they’re going to finish last every race.
|Thank you Gary Gannon (Mick's engineer)|
Next up we have our first double header- what I’m naming the Iberian double header of Portugal and Spain. They should be two decent races before we have one of the main events of the F1 calendar: the Monaco Grand Prix.