And then there were six. The final stretch to decide a champion is upon us. Six races over eight weeks. Lewis vs Max. Mercedes vs Red Bull. Time to brace the family for Crofty and his Sky Sports cohorts yelling in the living room throughout the weekend. Netflix must be licking their chops. This F1 season has been great theatre to date and the final act is guaranteed to have more plot twists than a season finale of ……..Dallas? (I feel like I’m dating myself a little with that reference, but has anyone done it better?).
So how is this going to shake out? As I type, Max is sitting with a scant 6 point lead over Lewis, but the pace of the Mercedes at the last round in Turkey looked ominous. Seeing that this is now my 40th year of being an unapologetic F1 junkie, I’m going to dip into my memory of championships past, and predict the future for you, the Bulseyeview reader.
Austin – Lewis has dominated the US round at the bumpy Circuit of the America’s, winning five of eight races, and he will do so again next Sunday in front of a full house. More importantly, this new free flowing, stress free Bottas, coming off a feel good win in Turkey, will hold Max at bay and bring home a 1-2 for Toto’s boys. Max will be best of the rest and finish on the bottom step of the podium in 3rd. (Lewis fast lap)
Points – Lewis 282.5 – Max 277.5
Note – the last time we had half points awarded in a race during a championship, Niki Lauda defeated Alain Prost in 1984, 72 – 71.5, due to the Monaco GP being called early because of extremely wet conditions.
Mexico – There is something about the Honda engine at 7,300 ft above sea level and Max on a circuit without a lot of rubber on the racing line that makes for an unbeatable combination. Max strikes back with a resounding win to swing the championship back in his favor. Perez, urged on by the boisterous home crowd, beats Bottas and follows Lewis home in 3rd. The Ferrari boys have a P5-P6 weekend to close the gap to McLaren. (Max fast lap)
Points – Max 303.5 – Lewis 299.5
Brazil – It wouldn’t be Brazil without chaos, so heading into turn 1, Lewis from p2 on the grid goes for a gap up the inside and Max turns in on the Mercedes. Lewis makes contact with his right front to the left rear of Max, sending the Red Bull into a spin. Lewis continues in p1, Max remarkably doesn’t get collected by the rest of the field and rejoins in the back. Lewis incurs a 5sec penalty for his troubles. It’s looking like a Mercedes 1 -2 until with 10 laps to go the skies open into a downpour. Bottas immediately spins off. Lewis ignores a call to come in for intermediates and does a two minute lap. Out of nowhere, Carlos Sainz emerges through the spay and wins his first race. Lewis recovers to p6, Max winds up p7. (Lando fast lap)
Points – Max – 309.5 – Lewis 307.5
Qatar – The Losail GP in Qatar will be run under the lights on a high downforce, 16 turn track prone to having sand storms. F1 has never raced here before, but this feels like a Red Bull type circuit with low grip and many slow to medium speed corners. Lewis will be brilliant, but Max will control the pace and take the win on a circuit that is almost impossible to pass on. Leclerc will be a surprise 3rd place for Ferrari, giving the Scuderia the constructors lead over McLaren. (Lewis fast lap)
Points: Max – 334.5 – Lewis 326.5
Saudi Arabia – The Saudi street track is being worked on 24/7 to be completed in time for the Dec 3-5 weekend, but sadly, it will be discovered that the tarmac wasn’t finished properly and the F1 cars will tear the circuit to bits by Saturday FP3. Think Dallas GP ‘84. Race control will do everything in their power to make the race happen, but after 12 cars crash during a delayed Sunday morning qualifying attempt, the race will be cancelled.
Points: Max – 334.5 – Lewis 326.5
Abu Dhabi – So here we are, down to the final race to decide if Max will win a first title or Lewis will claim a record 8th world title. The Yas Marina circuit has undergone a much needed facelift, opening up a few corners to make it a quicker track. This favors Mercedes, and Hamilton and Bottas lock out the front row of the grid. Max will start P3. If they finish in this order, Lewis will be champion. If Max can overtake Bottas, he will win the title by 1 point! This is amazing. As the lights go out, they get through T1 somewhat conservatively and fall into line as they qualified, Lewis, Bottas, Max. It’s looking like the tires are holding up well so it’s going to be a 1 stopper. Red Bull blink first and attempt to undercut Bottas near mid distance. Mercedes cover the following lap and keep the Red Bull at bay, just. Now Max will have to pass Bottas on the track to take the title. Hamilton has checked out. Max can get close, but the dirty air hurts his tires and the Mercedes has a HP advantage in the two DRS zones. With 5 laps to go this is starting to feel like 2010 all over again when Alonso in the Ferrari couldn’t find a way past Vitaly Petrov in the Renault, handing the title to Vettel. Max keeps the pressure on, but Bottas is resisting. Will this go down as Bottas’s finest drive as a Mercedes driver? The short answer, NO. On the very last lap, Bottas runs wide in the second to last right hander, allowing Max to flick to the right and make a lunge in the final corner. Bottas closes the door and the two collide. It looks like a blatant move. Bottas is out on the spot. After what seems like an eternity, Max renters the track minus a left front wheel. The injured Red Bull is crabbing and sparking as Max sees the waving checkered flag. Max is 200 yards from the finish line and a world title when suddenly, the orange McLaren of Lando Norris accelerates beautifully off the last corner. To complicate matters, Sergio Perez is tucked under his rear wing trying to take the position. In a blur, Lando veers left and passes Max just before the line. Perez hears the radio at the last second and slams the brakes to keep behind Max. It’s pure confusion for a few seconds until it sinks in. Lucky Lewis is champion again. In the commentary booth, Crofty has lost the plot completely and DiResta is resorting to unintelligible Scottish slang. For Max, it’s heartbreak. He quickly unbuckles himself just over start finish and starts sprinting down the side of the live track back to the final corner to find Bottas. The fine folks at Liberty Media and Netflix are beyond ecstatic. On the pit wall stand, Horner is exchanging heated words with Toto. Jos Verstappen and Helmut Marko are seen passing behind them on a scooter heading towards the scene of the crime both clutching what appear to be large socket wrenches. It’s pure pandemonium as Hamilton brings his winning car into parc ferme. The Brits in the grandstand across from the pits are going wild. The Dutch army are chucking beers. Lewis can’t get out of his car as he’s overcome with emotion………… (Lewis fast lap)
Points: Lewis 352.5 – Max 349.5
In the weeks following this insane finish to the ‘21 season, the FIA assumed the role of judge and jury and doled out some draconian penalties.
-For being judged to have intentionally taken out Max in Abu Dhabi, Bottas is fined $3m and is suspended for the first 3 rounds of the ‘22 championship. Interestingly, new Alfa-Sauber team owner, Michael Andretti, drafts in his new Indycar driver, Romain Grosjean, to partner American rookie Colton Herta while the Finn serves his suspension.
-For running down a live track to confront Bottas, Max is fined $2m and is placed on triple probation. Nobody really knows what triple probation is but it sounds serious. For throwing punches directed at Bottas, Max is stripped of his 3rd place race points, thus giving Lewis a comfortable 352.5 to 334.5 final points tally.
-It was confirmed by eye witnesses that local Yas Marina security officials were able to thwart Jos Verstappen and Dr Marko’s attempt to assault Valtteri Bottas, but local police requested to hold them over for questioning over the following days. Somewhat mysteriously, presumably orchestrated by the top boss, Dietrich Mateschitz, the Verstappens and other RBR top officials reportedly arrived at a local airfield on Sunday night and departed on an unidentified jet to an unidentified location.
-Lost in the shuffle, Lando’s last lap gift of second place gives McLaren a 1 point edge over Ferrari for 3rd in the constructors championship. Zak Brown is later spotted shirtless in the garage slamming Heinekens and chest bumping startled engineers.
-On a personal note, after Netfilx air Drive to Survive Season 4 in March ‘22, being an F1 fan becomes all the rage, particularly in blue state America. It takes a little prodding, but I decide to come out of the closet and tell the world my big secret. Immediately, I find myself the man of the hour at cocktail parties and Sunday bbq’s. Suddenly everyone from the mailman to the soccer moms at the park have an opinion on Danny Ric’s shortcomings in the McLaren For the first time in my life, admitting that I’m a racing junkie doesn’t give the public the impression that I spend my Sundays tanking beers in a lazy boy chair watching Nascar for 5 hours. It’s a little strange, but I enjoy my time in the sun.