Along came that dreaded time of year for F1 fans.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
That’s right. For the 4th Round in the 2021 season, F1 returned to a track that fits each one of my categories on what makes a good track except for overtaking opportunities. Every time we’ve come here, overtakes have been quite the rare occurrence, with teams developing their race strategies around keeping track position. So I, along with most likely you, got ready for a dull race.
What we got instead was so much better.
The War For The Lead
Lewis Hamilton takes Round 1. Max Verstappen takes Round 2. Lewis takes Round 3.
Who snatches up Round 4?
That’s what we wondered as the cars approached their grid slots just before the start of the race. Lewis started in front after getting his astounding 100th pole position the day before. Max started in 2nd, with Valtteri Bottas in 3rd and Charles Leclerc in 4th. Since we know that Barcelona is allergic to overtakes, whoever led into the first corner had a good chance of winning the race.
The five lights all went dark as the cars launched off the line. Lewis got a great start off the line, but Max was literally all over the back of that Mercedes. He tucked in behind Lewis to get a bit of a tow down the main straight, and then pulled out alongside, looking for a move into Turn 1.
“There’s not enough space, no way he’s going for that!”
In typical Max Verstappen fashion, he sent it up the inside of Turn 1, forcing Lewis to back out of the battle, giving him the lead. How they didn’t touch is beyond me, I’m just in shock that Max went for that move, and pulled it off!
Our friend Valtteri didn’t have the best of luck on the start. Charles Leclerc sized up a move into Turn 1, but unlike Max, he isn’t fighting for a world championship. So he backed out of it, and followed Valtteri into Turn 3. Knowing the effect of dirty air in Turn 3, Charles pulled out to the left of Valtteri, and with all that clean air in front of him, swung around the outside of the Merc and took 3rd place. And held it.
Give him a car that can fight well at the top, and Charles will challenge for the title.
Max did a good job controlling the race out in first place. He would protect his tires near the start of the lap, but once the DRS zones came up, he would pick up the pace. This kept Lewis close, but not close enough to use the DRS that is so coveted around this track.
We approach the pitstop phase, and Red Bull strike first by bringing Max in on new Mediums. The textbook reaction would be having Lewis come in the lap after, to protect his position.
But Mercedes doesn’t race by the textbook.
They kept Lewis out there on his Softs for an extra 4 laps, and then brought him in for Mediums. This way, he could have that bit of extra grip to battle Max. He left the pits, closed the gap to Max, and again, didn’t really make any progress. I mean, he was within 2 seconds, the problem was getting into DRS range. He was the faster car, but it is just so hard to overtake around Barcelona. So Mercedes did something insane.
They pit Lewis.
AND RED BULL DID NOT REACT.
The moment Max did not come in the lap after Lewis pit for his new tires, you and I both knew what was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. And if you’ve watched F1 for a bit, chances are you were instantly reminded of Hungary 2019, (which if you haven’t seen, watch the highlights here). We’ll get to that in a second.
On very fresh Mediums, and 22 seconds behind Max, Lewis had one job to do.
Hunt him down.
Lap after lap, he closed the gap to Max. 1.7 seconds. 1.7 seconds. 1.6 seconds. 1.8 seconds. And Max knew he was coming too. When his engineer told him where he could find an extra tenth or two during the lap, Max went on a rant about how he is literally holding off Lewis Hamilton, and a tenth does not matter when the guy is coming at you at 1.7 seconds a lap.
You gotta love it.
As Lewis got closer, he had to get around his teammate Valtteri. Mercedes, thinking about the race win, instructed Valtteri not to hold Lewis up, and to let him through when he gets close.
Valtteri did not want to play that game.
When Lewis got within a second of him, you’d expect him to move as if it was a blue flag. He didn’t. He continued to drive as if Lewis was not there. Lewis definitely figured this out, because he went for a send down the inside of his teammate at the newly made Turn 10. He got through, but the funny thing is, Valtteri did not make it easy for him. Sure, he didn’t aggressively defend for his position, but he definitely didn’t hand it to him. I don’t have any complaints about it though, I like to see drivers battling on track as opposed to teams, but if Valtteri held up Lewis any longer, there would certainly be some fun internal discussions at Mercedes.
The moment we knew was coming eventually arrived, as Lewis got within 1 second of Max. Max tried to pick up the pace, to keep him out of DRS range like he did earlier, but the grip of fresher tires is a formidable force. Lewis was within 7 tenths of a second on the main straight, DRS wide open, coming for that Red Bull. Max weaved side to side on the straight, trying everything to break that tow, but Lewis caught him, went around the outside, and took the lead to win the race, and a well deserved Driver of the Day.
Both drivers deserved the win. They both made no mistakes, and did everything their teams asked of them. In the end, strategy was the deciding variable, and Mercedes did everything right in that department, as opposed to Red Bull.
WHICH WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT.
On a track where overtaking is difficult, Max Verstappen was leading the race. Lewis, in 2nd, after already doing 1 stop, pits a second time in hopes of catching Max. And near the end of the race he does, taking the lead and the win.
If it sounds familiar, it should, because not only did this happen on Sunday, but the EXACT SAME THING WENT DOWN IN HUNGARY 2019.
I mean, they say fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Clearly the shame is on Red Bull, because Max’s engineer literally said this could be like Hungary 2019, a few laps before history repeated itself. Not only did they remember their mistake two years ago, they didn’t do anything to prevent it. This is honestly a contender for the “What were you thinking?” award I give out at the end of each Race Review.
The only other way Red Bull could’ve won that race was by having Sergio Perez close to Lewis to prevent that from happening. But Checo’s pace wasn’t there today, so Mercedes had all the cards.
Right now, it looks like both titles are in Mercedes’ favor, even though Max is giving it his all. There’s only one way I think Max and Red Bull can turn that around, which I’ll cover in a different post. For now though, they have a lot of work to do to keep themselves in this fight.
“Michael! Blue Flags! Michael, this guy makes us lose the position.”
-Toto Wolff to Race Director Michael Masi, Spanish Grand Prix 2021
We don’t hear Toto speak often. We also don’t hear team principals radio to the FIA either.
After Nikita Mazepin failed to yield to Blue Flags yet again, Toto told Michael what he thought. Team principals do this all the time, the part that makes this special is that F1 is deciding to show it to us.
That’s all, I just want to hear FIA to team radio more often. I’m sure you do too.
Ferrari Finds Footing
2020 was one of the worst seasons for the Scuderia to date. After a suspicious engine regulation change to prevent cheating, Ferrari’s performance in a straight line tanked, among other things. Thus, the disaster that was the SF1000 was born. They finished sixth in the Constructor’s Championship last year, and were hoping to make some serious performance gains for this season.
Gotta say, I’m impressed.
Charles finished in P4, almost P3, after giving Valtteri a headache for the earlier parts of the race. Carlos Sainz finished P7, holding off Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris. Ferrari have truly built a car that can come close to the front again, but they have one more obstacle in their path.
Did Ricciardo Figure Out The Car?
You and I both know that Daniel Ricciardo is one of the best drivers on the grid. They call him one of the latest of the late brakers for a reason. After leaving Red Bull for Renault (now Alpine) in 2019, he struggled with the car. But once 2020 came around, he was able to consistently deliver for the team, managing high points finishes and two podiums that year. For 2021, he made the change to McLaren, and the start to his season has been slower than we expected.
It’s not easy changing teams. Trying to extract max performance from a completely different car is really difficult, and it can take a while. The question is, how long will it take for Daniel?
I think that after today, something definitely clicked for Dany Ric, and he should show major signs of improvement in the coming races. So as a McLaren fan, this is definitely something I want to see.
“What were you thinking?”
It didn’t happen during the race, but it shocked me so much, I had to give it this award.
“You always say late, it’s… I… Literally I’m in the entry, you know?!”
“I cannot ******* believe this car!”
Both of these quotes belong to the AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda. The first one was him telling off his engineer, while the second one was his disappointment in the AT02. And if he wants to keep his seat, there are some things he has to learn.
There is no universe where as a rookie, you can call out your team’s car and insult your engineer on live tv in front of millions of people, and get away with it. You have to first prove your worth to the team before you can make comments like that. Yuki has not done that yet.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with being upset about the car you’re driving nor is there anything wrong with getting frustrated with your engineer. However, when, where, and how you express those feelings is crucial. Yuki did all three of those things wrong. For all of us to see. And Red Bull is not the team you want to upset, it’s already hard enough to survive as a driver in that organization.
Yuki’s a skilled driver. He has lots of potential. But there’s a reason the saying “think before you speak” is so important. If he wants to keep his reputation, and his seat on the team, he needs to learn from it. Because if he doesn’t, and he keeps trashing the team in front of us, I, along with AlphaTauri, would be happy to see Alex Albon or Daniil Kvyat take his place.
For a race, it was good. And for a Spanish Grand Prix, it was incredible. We had fun watching it, and it added depth to more stories we had going into the weekend, stories that we both want to see play out.
What did you think of the race? Are Red Bull’s title hopes shrinking? Is Daniel Ricciardo returning to his true form? And will Yuki Tsunoda learn to calm down? Tell me what you think by shooting me an email or sending me a message here, because you know I love hearing from you!
I’ve been Miles Stewart, and I’ll see you in the next one, take care!