Categories
2021 Racing Season

F1 ’21 Recap!

Seeing that it’s already Jan 10, 2022, I think I’ve had enough time to process the final lap at Abu Dhabi on Dec 12, and I’m ready to comment on what was truly a remarkable season in so many ways.  But before discussing the Hollywood like ending that still has social media abuzz, I need to give thanks to the following for keeping me enthralled over 22 weekends during these bizarre times that we live in:

 

ESPN- Yes, I have many gripes with the direction of “The Sports Leader” these days, but their move, brokered by Liberty Media, to give us the Sky Sports feed has been a gift from the Gods.  Sure, Crofty’s broadcasting style in the commentary booth may not be for everyone, but the total presentation that we get week in and week out is superior to anything I’ve ever seen. Sorry Varsha, Hobbs and John Bisignano, you guys have been moved to #2.   

 

Mothers Car Care Products- Two and a half hours of add free coverage of a race is bonkers!  Do you remember cutting away from a great Schumacher-Hakkinen dice every 15 minutes to watch an ad for the Chia Pet or a local pizza parlor on Speed Channel in the 5:15 am west coast slot?  I’d resort to talking to myself and slapping my face just to survive the lulls in the action.  Having the privilege to watch a race unfold without interruption is a beautiful thing.  Mothers may be contributing to the demise of the planet by manufacturing and selling large quantities of hazardous chemicals, but by virtue of giving us ad free F1 races, they move back to carbon neutrality in my opinion.  Every serious fan in the US should go out and give someone the gift of Mothers car wax today.

 

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton- It’s not everyday that you get to witness two competitors in sport take their craft to the next level and go toe to toe for an entire season, but we were just treated to watching the master in his prime fight the much younger, fully developed heir to his throne to essentially a draw.  Seriously, this is the stuff of legend that we humans have been enthralled with since the beginning of time.  In F1 lore, it’s extremely rare to have two drivers in different teams separate from the pack and have at it.  Senna vs Prost ‘90, Schumacher vs Hakkinen ‘98,  and Schumacher vs Alonso ‘06 are a few that come to mind, but I feel like Max and Lewis took the fight into a whole different realm this year.  I’ve said it many times that we were tragically robbed of the Senna vs Schumacher showdown that was brewing in ‘94, but I almost feel like this battle makes up for it.  Thank you and I hope for more in the years to come.  Don’t retire Lewis, Hollywood can wait!

 

And finally, I’d like to give thanks to……. Michael Masi.  Yes, even our beleaguered race director gets a shout out for giving us the gift of entertainment. (I can hear people slamming their phones down in anger.)  I can’t recall a season where the race director had to make more judgment calls and I certainly can’t say that I agree with all of the decisions handed down over the year, but if you put the three Abu Dhabi end of race scenarios that were available to Masi up on my TV screen and told me to pick one, I would have gone with the last lap shootout as well.  Finishing under yellow would have been a complete letdown.  Stopping the race for 25 minutes and then holding a brand new 5 lap GP on reds would have been amazing, but lord knows what would have happened when the lights went out.  Keep in mind, Max held the tie breaker if neither car finished so you can bet your Dutch baby pancakes that Max would have sent it immediately and more fireworks (and thus more race control decisions) would have been likely.  You can say that the one lap shootout with Max on reds while Lewis was sitting on 43-lap-old hards was unfair, but who says sports is always fair?  Max caught a lucky break and still had to pass a 7-time champion in a Mercedes on the road without the aid of DRS.  If anything, Lewis should have been thinking about defending the inside at turn 5.  Had he done so, with his insane Mercedes straight line speed, he likely could have held Max at bay to turn 10 and then made the car Alonso-style wide to bring it home in front.  I doubt that Lewis would ever admit it, but I’ll bet he’d like to have that last lap back.  Regardless of the outcome, Masi’s call had me on my knees yelling at the top of my lungs for the entire lap and about 15 minutes after the race had ended.  It was a brilliant way to end a brilliant season and I love seeing people bitching about a last lap pass to decide a championship.  

 

Here’s a Netflix pitch: take all the footage of Masi and race control over the season and make a two hour intense documentary climaxing with “The Decision”.  

Toto: “No No Mikey that is not right!”  

Masi: “Toto, we went motor racing.”

 

There were so many moments that made this season special that I could write a blog post as lengthy as a Tolstoy novel, but I realize that our collective capacity to concentrate has been wiped out by devices and my wife is starting to give me the look that brings upon feelings of guilt, so here is what I can pull out of my foggy brain after some deep meditation it in the woods:

 

Bahrain – This shit is on!  The opening race in Bahrain was proof that Max indeed could finally bring the fight to Lewis.  Mercedes gained Lewis track position into the final stint, but Max had newer rubber and was able to track the Mercedes down with a couple of laps remaining.  Rather than waiting for the DRS zone, Max made a late lunge around the outside of turn 4 and Lewis ran him wide and out of road.  Max had to back out of it and it was game 1 to Lewis.

 

San Marino – Lewis catches his big break.  After being forcefully passed by Max into the first corner, Lewis later skidded off the wet circuit into Tosa, where he damaged his wing, lost a lap, but miraculously was able to escape a huge sand trap and rejoin the fold.  Moments later, a red flag was brought out for a massive Bottas/Russell clash, and by the letter of the law, Lewis was able to get back on the lead lap, repair his car, and restart 9th.  Hamilton being Hamilton, he finished 2nd to Max.

 

Monaco – Heartbreak for Leclerc.  After stunning the paddock with a lap good enough for pole, Leclerc went for one more flyer that came to an abrupt end with the car waded up against the armco at the exit of the swimming pool complex.  This brought out the red flag, thus ending the session and handing pole to the Monegasque Ferrari driver.  The pressure was on the Scuderia mechanics to salvage the gearbox and rebuild the car piece by piece overnight, but their work was all for naught as the SF21 failed to complete the installation lap the next day.

 

Baku – Max looked set for a well deserved win until his left rear blew out at 200mph on the front straight with 5 laps to go.  The race was red flagged and restarted with Perez on pole and Lewis in second.  Uncharacteristically, Lewis selected the wrong brake mode button on the grid before the lights went out and had no brakes when he made his move to pass Perez into T1.  Out of the chaos emerged Perez for a well deserved win. (Interesting fact- Baku and Monza were the only races that neither Lewis or Max scored points)

 

Silverstone – A wild first lap between our two rivals ended with Max sliding backwards into the barriers at Copse at a high rate of speed.  Right from the start, Lewis looked to be on a mission in front of the home fans and when Max attempted to close the door into Copse, Hamilton kept his nose in it and punted the Red Bull.  Fortunately for Lewis, there was no significant damage to the car.  Race Control handed down a 10 second penalty for causing a collision, setting the stage for another Hamilton classic, as he clawed into a large Leclerc lead, passing the Ferrari a few laps from the checkered for the win.

 

Hungary – A week later, Bottas played the role of villain as he caused a first lap crash on the rain soaked track that took both Red Bulls and Norris out of contention.  Mercedes then completely botched Hamilton’s tire strategy, restarting him on slicks by himself while the rest of the field queued up in the pitlane on inters.  Unbelievably, once Hamilton boxed for tires, Ocon was the leader followed by Vettel.  Hamilton was carving massive amounts of time on the leaders and looked like a win was in the cards until he encountered Ocon’s teammate, one Fernando Alonso, who heroically kept the Mercedes at bay for 12 laps thus gifting the win to Ocon.  Alonso’s enthusiasm in parc ferme after the race for the team win was possibly my feel good moment of the year.  

 

Spa – Extreme wet weather led to a farcical 2 lap GP behind the pace car, awarding ½ points to the field.  Noteworthy was George Russell, who put in a blinding lap in the wet on Sat to qualify P2 behind Max.  This was the moment when you knew Russell was getting the Mercedes drive.

 

Zandvoort – The first annual Max, Max, Supermax GP didn’t disappoint with the Dutch army roaring through a haze of orange smoke while techno was blaring over the PA.  Max was unbeatable on the roller coaster circuit in the dunes and cemented his place in Dutch sporting history.

 

Monza – More fireworks between our rivals after Max made an over optimistic lunge around the outside of Hamilton into the T1-2 chicane and Lewis closed the door, leading to a frightening looking tangle with Red Bull coming to a rest on top of the Mercedes.  Danny Ric was unexpectedly on form in the McLaren and took the win, giving us yet another incredible feel good moment.

 

Russia – Lando Norris was on pole and looked like he was going to treat us to another improbable win until the skies opened up with a few laps to go.  Lando made the incredibly bold move to override the McLaren management’s call to box for inters and attempted to bring the car home on slicks.  Sadly, the gamble failed miserably.  Had he pulled it off, it would have been a drive for the ages so good on Lando for having a go.  

 

Austin – Max pulled out an impressive win on a track that Lewis has dominated, but what blew me away was the crowd size and rabid support on US soil.  This Netflix effect is a real thing!  As a lifelong junky who once basically shared a grandstand with my dad, his buddy, and five other dudes for the Friday morning free practice at the ‘90 Phoenix GP, this is still hard to adjust to.  Think about that for a second:  Senna, Prost, Piquet, Mansell, V12’s, V10’s, V8’s, Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell.  Jesus these poor people have no idea what they missed.  Have you ever seen those reaction YouTube clips where a guy listens to a song for the first time and goes a little nuts with excitement?  My dream is to park a few new fans in the seats next to me at the last corner of the Phoenix circuit and film their reactions the first time Senna nails the V12 Honda or Prost drops the hammer on the V12 Ferrari.  You may have cardiac arrest or a group hug or spontaneous breakdancing.  (Yes I’m still living in the past!)

 

Brazil – After looking like Max had a firm grasp on the championship by virtue of sweeping the USA-Mexico doubleheader, Mercedes rolled out a secret weapon that suddenly made Lewis unbeatable for the rest of the year.  What the hell did they discover?  After an assortment of penalties incurred throughout the weekend, Lewis started 10th but was still able to overhaul the Red Bull and take the victory after a spirited dice (and controversial no-call from race control) with Max.  The whole weekend was a Hamilton masterclass.

 

Saudi Arabia – The new street track constructed just days before the event was scheduled to take place looked wild on paper, but “wild” was replaced with straight up madness once they took to the track.  TV doesn’t do speed justice, but seeing 165mph corners against concrete walls with sparks showering behind the car was a spectacle that had me cringing more than a few times.  And then they raced and sure enough, it was part rugby scrum, part wonder as Hamilton and Max pushed their cars into another zone.  (Here is another Nexflix Doc – Jeddah, The Night Lewis and Max Left The Conscious World and Drove With The Gods).

 

Abu Dhabi – We know how this story ends.  Early no call favors Lewis, Max catches a huge break with the Latifi crash when it seemed that all hope was lost, leading to The Decision, followed by The Pass (and defense – don’t forget, Lewis had a big run into 10) and finally, Pandemonium.  

 

Damn, I’m exhausted just replaying all of this in my head.  Forget Netflix, I need to sit down to a proper 4 hour Duke vhs videotape review of the season narrated by the one and only Sir Peter Ustinov.  This is just too good! 

And finally, as they like to do in the Nascar and Indycar broadcasts, let’s do a Sunoco run through the field and heap praise or spew insults as I see fit.  (BTW, I still cringe every time I hear a pit announcer say, “And so and so has 4 new tires and is full of Sunoco fuel.)

 

Mercedes – Toto’s team is still undefeated as a constructor since the hybrid rules were introduced in 2014, so well done getting to 8 straight.  I think it’s safe to say this run makes them the best team in the sport’s 71 year history.  I felt that the Verstappen-Red Bull was probably the best combo over the full 22 races, but the car that Mercedes brought to Brazil and the subsequent final races was unbeatable.  Hamilton was amazing as always, and even though he lost the title, I almost feel like seeing how he performed under pressure against Max gives him even more respect.  Bottas showed his usual qualifying pace, but was not very productive on Sundays and was also cursed with the standard #2 driver bad luck.  (interesting fact – In their five seasons as teammates, Lewis had 50 wins and 42 poles to Bottas’s 10 wins and 20 poles)

 

Red Bull – RBR gave Max a car to fight the Mercedes and he delivered.  I wasn’t sure how he would handle the pressures of a title fight, but he now seems poised to add many more trophies to the family case.  (In case you are wondering, father Jos had 2 podiums in his career).  It’s scary to think that he’s only 24 and is already this complete.  That said, he certainly made it difficult for race control this season with his forceful driving when Hamilton was involved.  The instances where he forces himself up the inside to the apex and misses the racing line by a mile are a gray zone that will need to get sorted out.  But I can’t take anything away from Super Max, he’s amazing in that high rake Red Bull chassis.  Checo was the latest driver tossed into the RBR fire and while he won a race and won hearts with his awesome defense of Hamilton in the finale, let’s be honest here, he’s not in the same game as Max.  Maybe a year in the sim and new regulations will help close the gap, but I don’t think so.  (Is there a text chain with Perez, Albon, Gasly and Kvyat bitching about RBR?)

 

Ferrari – The Scuderia rebounded from a dismal 6th last year to finish a respectable 3rd this year.  Leclerc showed his speed with poles in Monaco and Baku, and nearly held on to win at Silverstone, but he was somewhat overshadowed by his newcomer teammate, Carlos Sainz, who ended up finishing 5th in the championship.  I think on their best days Leclerc is the quicker driver, but Sainz is rock solid and Leclerc may have lost some of his Max-like stature within the team.  Both drivers really pushed the car to the limit (and then some) and if Ferrari can get the new regs right, they have a formidable lineup.  

 

McLaren – Lando Norris continues to grow by leaps and bounds and this year he staked his claim as the teams number 1 driver for the future.  Danny Ric had his moment in the sun with the fabulous drive in Italy, but was often alarmingly slow in qualifying compared to his younger teammate.  If this form continues into next year, Zak Brown may have to take a look who is available. (How about an Aussie swap to Piastri, and Danny Ric joins O’Ward and Rosenqvist in the McLaren Indycar team? D Ric is made for America!)   

 

Alpine – Ocon got a win, Alonso got a podium, but it still has to be disheartening for the French factory squad not to be able to fight with McLaren and Ferrari.  Alonso took a little time getting back up to speed, but showed that he still has amazing race craft and that never say die attitude.  Ocon had days where he looks like he belongs in that young elite group of drivers, but the Frenchman suffered a bizarre early summer slump where he suddenly found himself at the back of the mid-pack for four consecutive races.  A chassis change seemed to rectify the issue and he finished strongly.  (Interesting fact, Alonso and Ocon tied 11-11 in qualifying, and 9-9 in classified finishes.)

 

AlphaTauri – Our little friends formally named Minardi continued to impress in ‘21.  Gasly was mighty impressive, especially in qualifying, with a 6.36 average grid position, but often struggled to keep the Ferrari’s and McLaren’s at bay in the race.  Yuki Tsonuda came out of the gate looking like the next Senna with a P2 in the first qualifying session of the year, and then sadly, resorted to looking like a rookie out of his depth for the next 20 races. But never fear, he did finish an impressive 4th in the season finale so look out ‘22. (That P2 in Q1 really did give me a moment where I thought the Japanese Senna had arrived. I have text messages out there to prove it.  Damn!!)

 

Aston Martin – There was a slight change to the aerodynamic regs for the start of ‘21 that hampered the lower rake cars such as the Mercedes and it’s clone, the Aston.  While we know how Merc quickly recovered, Team Stroll really struggled and dropped from 4th in ‘20 to 7th in ‘21.  Vettel is a great guy but his time as a top flight driver is over.  Sadly, his one moment in the sun, finishing 2nd in Hungary, was taken away after the car was found to have an insufficient fuel level to provide a sample.  (I’d like to see that explained after a race to a young AJ Foyt).  Lance Stroll was all but MIA in ‘21, finishing just ahead of Tsunoda in 13th.

 

Williams – In the year that Sir Frank Williams passed, it was nice to see George Russell, aka Mr. Saturday, put in some stellar qualifying efforts to keep the Williams name in the news.  Qualifying 2nd at Spa and 3rd at Sochi in the wet were reminders that George will be a force in a Mercedes.  Latifi, to his credit, seemed to close the gap to Russell and managed to outqualify him in Brazil.  More importantly, Latifi will now forever be known as the guy who crashed in the closing stages of Abu Dhabi, igniting a controversy that may lead to the modern equivalent of the 18th century Anglo-Dutch wars.  (I’m predicting the term “Getting Latified” becomes part of the racing lexicon in the years to come.  Example- Oscar Piastri post race interview in 2026:  “Yeah it’s a tough break.  I mean it looked like the win was ours until we got Latified there at the end.”)

 

Alfa Romeo – I feel like this team is almost invisible.  Kimi cruised around and called it quits.  Giovanazzi was driving for his F1 life and put in some really impressive qualifying performances in the second half of the season, but was often screwed over by the team due to poor strategy calls.

 

Haas – And then there was Haas.  The US owned, Russian funded team eschewed development in ‘21 in the name of survival for ‘22.  To complicate matters, they brought in two rookie drivers intent on showing the world their worth.  This resulted in Mick Schumacher leading the field with a season long crash damage bill reported to be $5.4m while Mazepin was aptly nicknamed, Mazespin.  Schumacher did outqualify Mazespin 20-2 and was likely given a pass within the paddock knowing the caliber of equipment he was working with.  Better luck next year. (Top 5 crash bill leaders:  Schumi Jr, Leclerc, Verstappen, Latifi, Bottas)

Well there you have it.  I can’t wait for it to all start again in two short months. 

Categories
2021 Racing Season

F1 Down To The Wire

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

 

The Fallout

 

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.

Categories
2021 Racing Season

F1 2021

The 2021 season is upon us so it’s time to explore what awaits when the lights go out in Bahrain.  Will Hamilton drive off into the desert night and immediately stamp his authority on the championship, or is Max about to make this season one for the ages?  If the recent three day test in Bahrain is anything to go by, 2021 could be amazing.  Like any of the previous 40 years in which I’ve been a genuine card carrying hard core F1 fan, intrigue abounds up and down the grid.  Other than a proposed 10% reduction in downforce to the floor area in an attempt to slow the cars from achieving what seems like Mach 1 at corner entry, the ‘21 machines will be mostly updated versions of their 2020 designs.  Historically during times of stability in the rulebook often comes closer competition.  Yes, I recognize that we have a Mercedes problem, but I always approach March full of optimism.  Here then is a look at each team on the grid based on their 2020 finishing order.

 

Mercedes:  Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and Mercedes hybrid powered cars winning F1 world titles, so I feel pretty certain that Lewis Hamilton will become the first 8-time champion in the illustrious history of the sport that began crowning a drivers champion in 1950.  It may not be the easy Sunday cruise that we’ve become accustomed to, but Lewis has been lobbying for more competition over the years, so his wishes may just come true.  Mercedes are just one of three teams bringing back the same driver lineup, so I’m not expecting any change in the pecking order.  Bottas is quick, but Lewis is slightly quicker and is superior when it comes to tire management and dealing with adverse conditions.  I see no reason why this duo won’t do the business of winning an 8th straight constructors title, but the elephant in the room will be the subject of drivers for ‘22.  George Russell is clearly lurking in the background after his stellar stand in performance for a Covid stricken Hamilton, so could this be the final hurrah for Lewis after prolonged off season contract negotiations only resulted in a one year deal?  Or will this be the last chance for Bottas to drive for arguably the greatest team ever assembled?  As the season progresses, if either driver is struggling, the calls for Russell will escalate which may just prove to be the undoing of this seemingly unbreakable juggernaut.  One can only hope!  For my money, I say cast them both aside and start ‘22 fresh with Max and Russell.  

(Quiz #1 – True or False:  Mercedes has more F1 wins than Williams.)

 

Red Bull:  Will this be the year that RBR produces a car that gives Max a fighting chance right out of the box?  Max was clearly the ‘21 “Battle In The Sand” testing champion, so we’ll see if it translates to early wins.  It’s become standard practice for the Mercedes factory to outclass the RBR factory over the winter, causing RBR to spend the year playing catch up.  Credit to RBR, they do a nice job of clawing back a few tenths over the course of a season, but it’s not a recipe to defeat Lewis Hamilton.  It must be so frustrating for Max, who I still firmly believe is in the all-time great class.  That said, I would love to see how Max would cope with the pressure that comes with fighting for a title.  Pressure can do funny things to people and Max seems like the fiery type, so it would make for a great human psychological study.  On the other side of the garage, a very interesting experiment is about to take place.  In the hope of bolstering Max’s chances to fight Mercedes, RBR have brought in Sergio Perez, a true master of the art of tire management, to essentially run a close 4th place and keep the undercut/overcut game in play for an entire race.  Perez is an excellent driver, but having only three days total in the car and then being told to stay within a few seconds of Max and the Mercs is a tall order.  I’m predicting that Checo adapts better than the previous two RBR academy drivers who were thrown into the fire and couldn’t take the heat, but I’m thinking his Sundays will be spent trying to keep the likes of Leclerc, Danny Ric, Alonso and Vettel at bay rather than finding a way past Bottas.  I hope he proves me wrong. 

(Quiz #2 – Who has more wins, Max or Gerhard Berger?)

 

McLaren:  I’m not sure why this iconic team seemed to hit rock bottom after their Honda engine fiasco, but credit to Zak Brown for righting the ship and bringing them back to the front of the grid.  Flush with an injection of cash from American based MSP Sports Capital, McLaren are the only team undergoing an engine manufacture change heading into the season as they reunite with Mercedes, so it will be fascinating to see how the McLaren-Mercedes-Ricciardo partnership comes together.  On paper it sounds like a podium threat.  For Ricciardo, it’s likely his final chance to show the world that he’s a title contender.   The move from Red Bull to Renault didn’t pan out, so it will be interesting to see if the move to McLaren is a step up or a lateral move.  I’ll be rooting for more McLaren-Mercedes magic, such as we witnessed in ‘98 & ‘99 when Mika Hakkinen won back to back titles.  Paired with Danny Ric will be Lando Norris entering year three, all with McLaren.  I feel like this is the year that Lando needs to show he’s a primetime player.  He definitely improved last year in comparison to then teammate Carlos Sainz, winning the qualifying battle 9-8 and scoring 97pts vs 105pts for Sainz.  But if Lando is to be considered a big contract guy in the coming years, he needs to assert himself and make life miserable for Danny Ric.  I’m seeing both cars making it to Q3 on a regular basis and fighting for the F1.5 title.  

(Quiz #3 – Who has the most starts in a McLaren F1 car?)

 

Aston Martin:  Talk about an amazing transformation.  Just a few months ago this very team had a pink car, a terrible name and a lead driver named Checo.  Now as they roll up their garage doors and reveal a car in a lovely shade of British racing green, they are known as Aston Martin Racing and are led by a driver with 53 wins and 4 world titles.  Does it get more Posh? Poor Otmar Szafnauer was replaced by James Bond and Tom Brady in launching the AMR21 that Lawrence Stroll hopes will make him a legitimate player in the exclusive F1 owners club.  Whatever the name, this is an excellent racing team and this is their first opportunity in years to show what they are capable of.  The question mark I have surrounds the strength of their driver pairing.  A happy Vettel is a quick Vettel, but he loses interest quickly when things don’t go his way and the unforced mistakes start piling up quickly.  Lance has proven that he’s a legitimate professional racing driver, but my guess is if the team principals were to hold a driver draft like you see in other professional sports, he would be picked in the bottom 6 of the 20 driver field.  I think a best case scenario is they find a setup that allows Vettel to chase 4th place finishes in the loaded midfield while Lance consistently comes home in the top ten and they retain 4th in the constructors championship.

(Quiz #4 –  Who had more podiums in 2020, Vettel or Stroll?) 

 

Alpine:  Similar to Racing Point, the Renault team have gone through a rebranding and are now calling themselves Alpine, bringing to mind some incredibly cool rally cars and Le Mans prototypes from the ‘60’s and 70’s.  Also returning to the team is the living legend, the only man to win a title for Renault, the one and only Ferando Alonso Diaz!  Will the 40 year old Alonso, two years removed from driving F1 cars, still be able to deliver the goods? My dream is for a mid-pack battle royal featuring Alonso, Leclerc, Danny Ric, Vettel and Sainz.  For Esteban Ocon, this will be the defining season of his young career.  Matched with Perez at Force India, he looked like a potential future world champion.  However, racing alongside Danny Ric last year at Renault after 1 season out of the cockpit, he looked very ordinary.  We know that Alonso historically has destroyed his teammates, so this will be Ocon’s big chance.  Succeed and he can be a national hero driving for the national team, fail and the calls for Pierre Gasly will be coming.  Overseeing this Gallic affair is none other than Davide Brivio, the man who oversaw Suzuki’s shock run to the MotoGP world title this past season.  It’s a very interesting personnel move that will be worth watching, as I imagine it takes a strong personality to keep that crew in line.  Flavio must be chuckling in a haze of cigarette smoke in his yacht somewhere off the coast of Portofino.  

(Quiz #5 – Name Alan Prost’s Renault teammate for the 1983 season) 

 

Ferrari:  For the sake of sport, let’s hope Ferrari doesn’t have a repeat of last season’s abhorrent 6th in the constructors championship.  Not only did they look like they were towing a parachute down the straights, the car also looked like a handful to drive.  It took all of Leclerc’s brilliance just to finish 8th in the points.  So what can we expect with the predecessor to the SF1000?  I think anything less than 3rd in the constructors championship has to be considered a failure considering the budget and strength of drivers.  On the subject of drivers, it will be fascinating to see if Sainz will be asked to play the Irvine, Rubens, Massa role in support of Leclerc.  It’s a formula that has worked well for the Scuderia in the past so Carlos may only have a handful of races to prove he’s a contender before being asked to take one for the team.   If this package doesn’t work, wow, I would love to be a fly on the wall in the offices of Maranello.  In the name of Gilles Villeneuve, risolvere immediatamente il problema! 

(Quiz #6 – Who has more wins for Ferrari: Massa or Rubens?)

 

Alpha Tauri:  It was pretty cool to see Helmut Marko’s infamous F1 driver finishing school win a race and legitimately join the midfield in ‘20.  Keep in mind, this is the same team that was once Minardi.  With Pierre Gasly returning they now find themselves in a bit of a conundrum.  It’s been well chronicled how he performed poorly alongside Max at the big brother Red Bull team, but he’s been amazing since returning to the junior squad.  So good that this small Italian based team won the Italian GP and finished just 24 points shy of Ferrari!  So what to do with Gasly?  I guess the answer will come from how well Perez performs and how well their juniors fare in F2 this year.  In keeping with tradition though, Marko fired Daniel Kvyat for about the 3rd time and is bringing in Honda protég Yuki Tsunoda.  Anyone who has been a follower of this blog dating back to the early days should have an idea of the reverence bestowed upon the Japanese F1 driver.  If you are just stumbling upon this site due to a Google search gone awry, welcome.  Nakajima, Katayama, Sato, Takagi, Kobayashi are names that occupy a special place in my pantheon of motorsports heroes.  I would like nothing more than to witness a Japanese driver win the world title. For Tsunoda in his rookie campaign, my goals are simply to keep it on the black stuff and beat the Williams, Alfa and Haas cars.  He only has four seasons of single seat racing under his belt, yet Trevor Carlin called him an expert at managing his rubber and a mega overtaker.  One final odd note is how full of praise Franz Tost has been about his new driver.  I was thinking this may have something to do with Red Bull negotiating to purchase the Honda powerplant IP, but maybe Tsunoda is The Chosen One?

(Quiz #7 – Who was Vettel’s Toro Rosso teammate in 2008)

 

Alfa Romeo:  On paper I love the idea of Kimi driving a Ferrari powered Alfa Romeo for eternity, but this team barely made a ripple on the championship last year, and I don’t see things changing much this year.  Alfa, as well as Haas, are basically Ferrari satellite teams so it’s odd that Kimi and Giovanazzi are back for a third year together, especially as Ferrari has F2 winners Callum Iliott and Robert Schwartzman on their payroll.  But like the other teams at the bottom of the grid, ‘21 is all about survival and starting fresh in ‘22 with a new car and budget cap.  

(Quiz #8 – Name the Alfa Romeo drivers in the 1981 Long Beach GP)

 

Haas:  I have to admit, seeing Team USA, the pride of Kannapolis, North Carolina, unveil their car in the colors of the Russian flag felt like some sort of prank.  Somewhere Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave.  But in the name of survival, it appears that owner Gene Haas has essentially handed over the team to Dmitry Mazepin, father of rookie driver Nikita, for the near term.  If anything, it will be exciting to watch Gunther Steiner try to manage two rookie drivers with a shit car.  I personally think that it would have made more sense to pair Schumacher with Kimi at Alfa and Giovanazzi with Mazepin at Haas (or should we just start calling the team Mazepin?), but this is Ferrari management at work after all.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Mick fares.  Unlike Russell and Leclerc, who won the F3 and F2 titles in succession, Mick achieved his two crowns over a 4 year period.  What does this mean?  In my opinion it shows that Mick may not possess his fathers brilliant car control and ability to whip anything into shape, but he does possess the Schumacher work ethic and determination that should lead to a successful career.  

(Quiz #9 – Name the two drivers not named Magnussen or Grosjean to start a race for Haas?)

 

Williams: At the bottom of the list is Williams, an iconic team with a great young driver, looking to find their way back to respectability.  Similar to McLaren, Williams found a US based investor in Dorilton Capital to purchase a majority stake in the team, setting the Grove based squad up for survival in the short term.  What this means remains to be seen, but it’s sort of sad to think that this day finally arrived for Sir Frank, who founded the team in 1977 with Patrick Head and went on to win 9 constructors and 7 drivers titles.  My hope is that Dorilton are a bunch of cocky Wall Street guys who really want to win, or they are just holding this investment with the goal of flipping to a VW or Porsche down the road for a nice profit.  Williams went 1-2 at my first ever GP, the ‘81 Long Beach Grand Prix, and I hope to see more wins in the future.   

(Interesting Fact:  No driver has won 2 world titles in a Williams.  Quiz #10:  Can you name the 7 previous champions?)

 

Random Thoughts:

 

Covid Watch:  It wouldn’t be 2021 without a Covid watch.  By my account, the following drivers have publicly stated that they have tested positive for Covid- Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Norris, Stroll and Gasly.  If my understanding of the virus is correct, they should be good to go.  Who will be next?  Does anyone remember back to the beginning of this mess when Helmut Marko was advocating for all Red Bull drivers to hold a camp to become infected?  Camp Covid!  It seemed insane but maybe he was on to something.  Nico Hulkenberg better keep his cell close and the jet fueled up.

 

Liberty Media keep talking about their desire to add more races in America, but while that seems like far-fetched talk, they are adding races in the racing crazed Middle East.  Less government red tape perhaps? I was reminded today that the penultimate round of the championship is a night street race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  It looks to be another Tilke special with the claim that it will be the fastest street track in the world.  I can see the title being decided when Max tries a lunge up the dusty inside of Hamilton and takes them both off.   At least we have Portimao back as a Covid filler!  

 

Will we get close to the 23 races scheduled on the calendar?  I’d be happy with a euro-centric repeat of last season’s schedule.  My hope is that we do see Zandvoort, Canada, Suzuka, Austin, and Sao Paulo back.  Please keep the Silverstone double header!

 

I mentioned the idea of a driver draft above, so I’m going to hold a quick draft.  I saw the ESPN F1 guys do this last year so it’s not a novel concept, but it’s just fun.  Here’s the story:  I’m a bitcoin billionaire many times over, I’m starting an F1 team with unlimited resources and I can hire any driver on the grid to drive my cars for this season.   Here are my picks:

 

Hamilton

Verstappen

Leclerc

Ricciardo

Alonso

Russell

Perez

Sainz

Vettel

Bottas

Gasly

Norris

Ocon

Kimi

Schumacher

Stroll

Tsunoda

Giovanazzi

Latifi

Mazepin

 

So, there you have it.  It’s going to be a great year even if we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and Mercedes are simply too good.  This is F1 after all.  Where else do you get sport, soap opera, and an engineering arms race all thrown together on a global scale? F1 is a never ending saga and ‘21 will be another chapter in this fascinating story.  Go Yuki!

 

 Here are the answers to the quiz:

#1 -True (Merc 115, Williams 114)

#2 -Tie (10 each)

#3 -DCoulthard (150)

#4 -Stroll (2-1)

#5 -E. Cheever

#6 -Massa (11-9)

#7 -S. Bourdais

#8 -Andretti, Giacomelli

#9 -Guiterrez, P. Fittipaldi

#10 -JV, Hill, Prost, Nige, Piquet, Keke, Jones