Author Archives: Jason Rodgers

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: Hamilton Wins as Title Battle Enters Warfare

After yesterday’s dramatic qualifying session, where Max Verstappen threw away an almost certain pole position lap with a crash at the final corner, the scene was set for a tense penultimate race of this incredible 2021 championship battle.

It was of course his title rival, Lewis Hamilton, who profited to take pole ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, with Verstappen looking to strike back from third and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari looking to disrupt the party from a superb fourth.

The Start

After a chaotic Formula 2 sprint race earlier on in the day, where a scary startline crash between Theo Pourchaire and Enzo Fittipaldi led to both drivers visiting hospital and lengthy red flag delays, many were fearful for a chaotic start to the Grand Prix.

Fortunately this start was incident-free as the top four retained their places, despite a strong attack on Leclerc’s fourth place by the Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

The race then settled into a calm early rhythm, the top three nose-to-tail, with Leclerc and Perez battling for fourth well ahead of Lando Norris, best of the rest in sixth.

Hamilton controls the initial race start as Perez and Leclerc fight for fourth (Source: Red Bull Racing)

Early Safety Car Adds Strategy Dilemma

With the race going along quite smoothly, it was inevitable that the already infamous Turn 22 would soon catch a victim and Mick Schumacher’s Haas was the unfortunate culprit on Lap 10.

The two Mercedes, Leclerc and Perez immediately took the chance to pit. However Verstappen’s Red Bull decided to stay out and gain track position, albeit with a pit stop still to make.

Hamilton and Bottas remained P2 and P3 behind the Dutchman after the stops, with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, who also chose not to stop, rounding out the top five. Leclerc was now sixth, ahead of Pierre Gasly (who was yet to pit) and Perez in eighth.

Mick Schumacher thankfully walks away from his scary Turn 22 shunt (Source: Motorsport Images)

Red Flag Adds Controversy

With the barrier repairs taking considerable time, the red flag was displayed by the FIA to allow them to ensure they proceed safely.

However being able to change tyres during a red flag meant that Red Bull’s decision to stay out paid immediate dividends, as Verstappen could now effectively take a “free pit stop” and take the lead.

After the repairs were completed, the newly reformed grid took a new standing start with this time Red Bull ahead of Mercedes.

A restart inevitably meant a chance for Hamilton and Verstappen to go wheel-to-wheel again (Source: Red Bull Racing)

The Start (Part 2)

So on Lap 15, the race effectively started again and would only last a few more corners before chaos reigned again.

Verstappen didn’t get the best launch, allowing Hamilton to get alongside and seemingly ahead into Turn 1, before the Red Bull came in late on the brakes and was squeezed off the track by the Mercedes.

Behind them however, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc got together, causing the other Red Bull to spin across the track onto the path of all the oncoming cars. As George Russell’s Williams slowed to avoid the Mexican, Nikita Mazepin came in unsighted and smashed into the back of the Brit, taking them both out of the race.

Then followed the first of several controversial FIA decisions. Verstappen, deemed to have overtaken Hamilton off the track, was then informed by Michael Masi to Red Bull that he must start behind Hamilton at the restart or he will be referred to the stewards.

As Verstappen assumed the lead, chaos reigned behind (Sky Sports F1)

The only problem being, Esteban Ocon’s Alpine had forced itself ahead of Hamilton before the red flag in all the melee! This therefore created a new grid for the third restart of Ocon, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gasly and Leclerc.

Third Time Lucky?

At the third time of asking, the race finally got away properly on Lap 17 and Verstappen made amends for his earlier poor start by launching away from P3 and sending one up the inside of both Ocon and Hamilton to lead the race.

Hamilton soon flew past Ocon when the cars came back down the pit straight to take P2, with Ocon, Ricciardo and Bottas making up the top five.

Gasly was now sixth, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Sebastian Vettel doing a great job in seventh and eighth, Yuki Tsunoda and Leclerc the remaining points scorers.

However on Lap 23, this changed again as Tsunoda and Vettel made contact through Turn 2, sending the Aston Martin into a spin and Tsunoda with a broken front wing. As this went on, the two Ferraris went side-by-side into Turn 1, with Sainz getting ahead of Leclerc for now P8.

AlphaTauri set to work on Yuki Tsunoda’s front wing after him and Sebastian Vettel came to blows (Source: AlphaTauri)

The Virtual Safety Car was deployed to clear the mess as the race then entered its second half.

The Title Duel Is On

Vettel’s eventful race continued on Lap 27 as a feisty Kimi Raikkonen attempted to fight him round the outside leading to more contact and more debris strewn across the track.

This inevitably led to another Virtual Safety Car, which continued to neutralise the duel between Hamilton and Verstappen at the front. This period in fact lasted several laps, as the marshals attempted a full clean-up of the track from all the various incidents throughout the race.

Finally on Lap 33 the race resumed, crucially giving Verstappen a few extra laps of life for his medium tyres compared to Hamilton’s hards.

This lasted precisely 3 laps before another piece of Aston Martin landed on the track and led to a brief further Virtual Safety Car interruption.

Vettel’s second incident came as Kimi Raikkonen attempted to force his car around the outside, leading to contact (Source: F1)

As the green flags came back out, Hamilton was right on the back of Verstappen. This allowed Lewis to get a run into Turn 1 using DRS and as the two went side-by-side, predictably it ended in contact again.

The Most Dramatic Collision of All?

Then came the most confusing and bizarre few laps of the entire season. Verstappen was instructed by the FIA to let Hamilton pass, adjudged to have forced the Mercedes off the track.

Verstappen seemed to oblige, and slowed considerably to let Hamilton through. However, the Mercedes driver was clearly not informed of the situation and confused, stayed behind the Dutchman until he slowed so much that they collided, damaging both Hamilton’s front wing and the rear of the Red Bull.

Verstappen scampered away ahead, however soon slowed again to let the Brit pass into the final Turn 27. He let him through before immediately repassing going onto the main straight, quite cheekily.

However at this point, Verstappen then received a 5-second penalty, although before he got the message to confirm that, he let Hamilton past for good to finally assume the lead in a crazy sequence.

All Tied Into Abu Dhabi

At this point, the lead battle finally calmed down, with Hamilton cruising home to victory as Verstappen nursed his worn mediums and damaged car to finish P2. With Hamilton getting the extra point for fastest lap, this incredibly puts the two drivers level on points going into the Abu Dhabi season finale.

Behind them, Esteban Ocon was on his way to a brilliant podium, until out of the final corner of the final lap, Bottas used DRS to propel past across the line and crush the Frenchman and Alpine’s hearts to take away P3.

Ocon’s podium dream was cruelly denied at the last as Bottas stole crucial bonus points for Mercedes (Source: F1)

Ricciardo drove a solid, and actually uneventful race home to fifth ahead of Gasly, whilst Leclerc repassed teammate Sainz in the closing laps to claim seventh. Rounding out the top 10 were Giovinazzi in a rare points finish for Alfa Romeo, whilst Lando Norris recovered from earlier drama to take home a single point.

With all that drama, Netflix could probably have made an entire documentary on that one race alone. However, there is still one more race to finally decide the winner of the now-war between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Final Classification

F1 2021 BELGIAN GP: VErstappen takes pole as russell stars

Changeable conditions at Spa continued to wreak havoc amongst the F1 grid in a chaotic and controversial qualifying session for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen’s 6th pole of the season came at a much needed time but no one in their wildest dreams would’ve predicted that the Williams of George Russell would join him on the front row.

However, a nasty crash at Eau Rouge for Lando Norris raised yet more question marks over safety at the circuit.

Q1

Heavy rain in the minutes leading up to the session led to a slight delay to proceedings, but it wasn’t long before the timing pages were being lit up in a ever evolving first part of qualifying.

Whilst the rest of the field attempted their opening laps on full wet tyres, the two Williams drivers of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi braved the intermediates. This immediately paid dividends as they lapped several seconds faster than anyone else.

Yuki Tsunoda’s difficult run in qualifying sessions continued with another Q1 elimination (@AlphaTauriF1).

Once the rest of the field recognised this, they were soon in for the inters and the times began to tumble.

Most in danger in the latter stages of the session was Daniel Ricciardo who scrambled himself to safety in P12 as Yuki Tsunoda became the most notable driver eliminated.

Joining him in a Q1 exit were the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen as well as the Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Q2

Q2 ran in much a similar way to Q1, with track conditions continuing to slowly improve in the intermediate conditions.

Alarmingly for the championship leaders, Mercedes struggled in the early stages of the session, and with just a few minutes to go, both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were in danger of elimination.

A quick stop for fresh inters solved that issue as both drivers comfortably moved into the top 10, however it was the McLaren of Lando Norris that was continuing to shine as him and Verstappen traded blows at the top of the standings.

The Ferrari drivers couldn’t find the winning formula in Q2 as they both failed to make the top 10 shootout (@ScuderiaFerrari).

Ferrari were having a difficult weekend, and both drivers would be high-profile Q2 eliminations, Charles Leclerc in particular unhappy with the way his team managed the session, gambling on more rain in the closing minutes.

Joining Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the bottom five were Nicholas Latifi (his best qualifying result in F1) in P12, Fernando Alonso a disappointing P14 and Lance Stroll, who missed the chequered flag to start his final lap.

Q3

A huge rain shower in the interval between Q2 and Q3 moved the track back to full wet conditions and drivers cautiously went out, with Sebastian Vettel vocal on the radio that the conditions were now too dangerous to continue.

Sebastian Vettel checks in on Lando Norris after the McLaren’s huge crash in a touch of sportsmanship (@F1).

Unfortunately this message was not acted upon until Norris had a massive accident after losing it at the crest of Eau Rouge, pirouetting into the barrier at almost 200 mph. Vettel behind him stopped his car to check that the Brit was okay, which he fortunately was, but was deeply unhappy that the incident had been allowed to occur.

The red flags were immediately flown and a lengthy clean-up began as the rain slowly began to thankfully ease. Norris went to the local hospital for an X-ray on his elbow and will be deeply disappointed to be starting most likely from the pitlane on Sunday.

As the session resumed, conditions were on the crossover between full wets and inters, with Red Bull and Mercedes gambling on the later as Hamilton set the early pace.

However as the track continued to dry, it would all come down to the final laps and it was Verstappen who took a bit of championship momentum back with a brilliant pole.

George Russell had done a great job to even reach Q3, but he hadn’t finished there, scoring Williams’ best qualifying since Monza 2017 with a stunning front row effort.

George Russell showed yet another sign of his future potential with a stunning P2 (@WilliamsRacing).

Hamilton had to settle for P3, whilst Daniel Ricciardo made up for his teammate’s misfortune with his best McLaren qualifying in fourth with Vettel rounded out the top five.

Pierre Gasly was a solid P6, with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull in seventh. Valtteri Bottas’s P8 will become P13 after his grid penalty from Hungary is applied, whilst Esteban Ocon was the other runner left in Q3 in P9.

A Thrilling Race Ahead

With conditions predicted to be changeable tomorrow as well, a fascinating Grand Prix lies ahead.

Verstappen has a huge opportunity to seize back the championship advantage, however with Russell alongside him, how much risk will the Williams take on the opening lap to take glory?

Can Lewis Hamilton build on his recent form and outrace Verstappen on Sunday (@MercedesAMGF1)?

Hamilton’s wet-weather racecraft usually shines and he can never be ruled out, but could we see another first-time winner join Esteban Ocon in the record books?

Only time will tell.

Full Classification

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
133Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing1:59.765
263George RussellWilliams+0.321
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes+0.334
43Daniel RicciardoMcLaren+1.099
55Sebastian VettelAston Martin+1.170
610Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+1.399
711Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+2.347
877Valtteri BottasMercedes+2.737
931Esteban OconAlpine+3.748
104Lando NorrisMcLarenNo Time
1116Charles LeclercFerrari1:57.721 (Q2)
126Nicholas LatifiWilliams+0.335
1355Carlos SainzFerrari+0.416
1414Fernando AlonsoAlpine+0.484
1518Lance StrollAston Martin+0.510
1699Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo2:02.306 (Q1)
1722Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri+0.107
1847Mick SchumacherHaas+1.667
197Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo+2.146
209Nikita MazepinHaas+2.633

F1 2021 Monaco Grand Prix: Heartbreak for Leclerc as Verstappen Takes Charge

Charles Leclerc caused controversy on Saturday when his crash at the exit of the Swimming Pool chicane left the hometown hero on pole, despite those behind him being on course to set personal best laptimes.

With Max Verstappen alongside Leclerc in P2, and Sir Lewis Hamilton down in P7, the scene was also set for a potential swing in the Dutchman’s favour in the championship battle.

Could Ferrari convert the most important pole of the season into their first victory since the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix?

Drama Before Lights Out

Leclerc’s crash undoubtedly sent shockwaves through the gearbox, but Ferrari’s overnight investigations had suggested no serious damage.

However on the way to the grid, Leclerc’s instant team radio cry of “nooooo no no, the gearbox guys” told you the story. The Monegasque, who has never finished a Monaco GP, was wheeled back into the pits and with that his pole position was gone, out of the race before the lights even went out.

A dejected Charles Leclerc reflects on a heartbreaking end to his home weekend (Twitter)

What was left, was an effective front row of Verstappen, and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. Meanwhile old friends Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris suddenly smelt an opportunity in P3 and P4 respectively.

The All Important Start

Off the line, the top places remained unchanged, as Verstappen recovered from a slightly sluggish pullaway to maintain the lead ahead of Bottas, Sainz, Norris and Gasly, with Hamilton retaining P6.

Max Verstappen led away from the start ahead of Bottas and Sainz (Red Bull Racing)

Verstappen and Bottas quickly pulled away from Sainz, whilst Hamilton and Perez were set for difficult afternoons behind the gearboxes of Gasly and Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin respectively.

The top two spent much of the early running trading fastest laps with Sainz settling into a rhythm just 4 seconds off the lead in third. In fact all the way down to Hamilton in P6, lap times were comparable, with Vettel in seventh the cork in the midfield bottle.

All Hail The Overcut

The timing of the pit stop from the softs would be crucial in deciding the outcome of the race. With everyone hovering in undercut range of each other, one mistake in the pitlane could be the difference between victory, and being off the podium.

Norris meanwhile was in danger of throwing it away on track, as he earned a black and white flag warning for repeatedly exceeding track limits.

By Lap 25, Verstappen has slowly eased away from Bottas, who now was feeling the heat from Sainz in third. Vettel was also now going well, and closing in on the battle for P5 between Gasly and Hamilton.

The first stop came on Lap 30 when Hamilton moved onto the hards to kick off a series of chain reactions. Not least his teammate Bottas, whose race would suddenly turn into a disaster.

Mercedes had their worst weekend of the season, with Bottas’s pitstop meltdown being the low point (F1)

A cross-threaded tyre refused to come off and with no way of dislodging it from the wheel, the Finn was out of the race.

Meanwhile as Gasly and Norris also stopped, Vettel stayed out an extra lap to overcut and get ahead of both the AlphaTauri and a more than disgruntled Hamilton.

Sainz pitted from a now net second place, whilst Verstappen waited until Lap 34 to come in, handing his teammate Perez the lead, as the only of the front drivers not to have stopped yet.

The Mexican made his stop on Lap 36, with a series of superb laps moving him up to 4th, behind Verstappen, Sainz and Norris, but ahead of Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton.

A Quiet Second Half

With Verstappen now well in command of the race, the chase was on for Sainz and Norris to try and erode the 7 second lead held by the Red Bull.

Some rapid laps from the Ferrari quickly moved him within 3 seconds of the lead, however Verstappen soon upped his pace in response to maintain the gap.

Carlos Sainz’s first Ferrari podium came in fine fashion with a composed second place (Scuderia Ferrari)

Norris maintained an excellent third for McLaren, with Perez in 4th set to help Red Bull overhaul Mercedes in the battle for the constructors’ championship.

The closest on track battle in the points was for P9. Esteban Ocon used an overcut at the first stop to overhaul Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo, however the pair remain just under a second apart as the second half of the race wore on.

Perez Applies The Pressure

As the Grand Prix entered its final 20 laps, Sainz continued to push on, hoping to force Verstappen into an uncharacteristic error.

Norris meanwhile in P3 was starting to struggle, despite lapping teammate Daniel Ricciardo who was having a day to forget outside the points. Perez in fourth started to sense an opportunity, with the gap coming down lap after lap.

Lance Stroll’s mammoth first stint ended on Lap 59, but worked to great effect, keeping the second Aston Martin in a solid eighth place ahead of Ocon and Giovinazzi.

By Lap 65, Perez had got within DRS range of Norris. The McLaren was not enjoying the hard tyres, but famously at Monte-Carlo, even a massive pace advantage isn’t usually enough to force an overtake.

Lando Norris lapped McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo as he continued his flying start to the season (McLaren)

Hamilton attempted to improve his day by stopping on Lap 68 for an attempt at the fastest lap point, although as it stood he would still lose the championship lead to Verstappen at race end.

Max’s Day

Max Verstappen had never lead a world championship in his career before today. But that all changed when he crossed the line to take his second win of the season and his first ever win at Monaco.

For a driver who once famously couldn’t avoid the Monaco barriers, it was a victory that highlighted the maturity the Dutchman has realised over the last three years.

Sainz had a quiet but excellent day in second, his first podium in the Ferrari red, whilst he was able to share the podium with Norris, who held off Perez to take a second podium of a superb season.

Vettel’s best result in an Aston Martin so far earned him Driver Of The Day in P5, with Gasly an impressive sixth, and Hamilton a disappointed seventh.

Rounded out the points were Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi, who was unable to overhaul the Frenchman despite sitting on his gearbox for over 40 laps.

The result moved Verstappen 4 points ahead of Hamilton in the standings, with Norris highlighting just how superb his season has been in third place.

Max Verstappen’s first World Championship is firmly in range for the Dutchman in 2021 (Red Bull Racing)

The paddock now has another weekend off before heading to Baku where Red Bull and Ferrari will look to build on their street circuit momentum for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Full Classification

Here is the full provisional classification for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix:

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
133Max VerstappenRed Bull RacingLeader
255Carlos SainzFerrari+8.9
34Lando NorrisMcLaren+19.4
411Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+20.4
55Sebastian VettelAston Martin+52.5
610Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+53.8
744Lewis HamiltonMercedes+1:08.2
818Lance StrollAston Martin+1 Lap
931Esteban OconAlpine+1 Lap
1099Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo+1 Lap
117Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo+1 Lap
123Daniel RicciardoMcLaren+1 Lap
1314Fernando AlonsoAlpine+1 Lap
1463George RussellWilliams+1 Lap
156Nicholas LatifiWilliams+1 Lap
1622Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri+1 Lap
179Nikita MazepinHaas+3 Laps
1847Mick SchumacherHaas+3 Laps
DNF77Valtteri BottasMercedesPit Stop
DNS16Charles LeclercFerrariDriveshaft

F1 2021 SPANISH GRAND PRIX: Mercedes win the strategy battle again

Sir Lewis Hamilton’s 100th pole in Formula 1 dominated the headlines from yesterday’s qualifying session, however with championship rival Max Verstappen just three hundredths behind him, another duel for the win was expected.

Sergio Perez was looking to bounce back from a disappointing 8th on the grid, whilst Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and Esteban Ocon’s Alpine were hoping to battle for best of the rest.

A Crucial Start

Just three times has someone won a Grand Prix in Catalunya from outside the front row, meaning that getting into Turn 1 in the lead could be vital in deciding the outcome of the race.

Off the line it was Verstappen who got the better launch and on the run down to Turn 1, drew up alongside and forced his way past Hamilton into the lead. Daniel Ricciardo got up to fifth in his McLaren, whilst Leclerc managed to drive round the outside of Valtteri Bottas in Turn 3 to move up to third.

Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton to grab the early race advantage (F1).

Verstappen quickly pulled out of DRS range, whilst Leclerc and Bottas fell away from the top two. Perez had worked his way up to sixth, with Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top 10.

By the end of Lap 6, Leclerc was already nearly 9 seconds off the lead, effectively making the race appear a straight fight between Hamilton and Verstappen.

Safety Car Neutralises The Duel

The tide changed on Lap 8 when Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri parked up at the exit of Turn 10, forcing a full safety car to be deployed.

On the Lap 11 restart, Verstappen controlled the field perfectly to maintain the lead, with the only change in the top 10 being a superb move by Lance Stroll on Alonso for 10th place.

Max Verstappen holds off Lewis Hamilton after the Safety Car restart to maintain the lead (Mercedes-AMG)

After that it was very much as you were, with Leclerc once again unable to keep pace with the Red Bull and Mercedes in front of him.

However as the stint wore on, Hamilton began to apply pressure on Verstappen, despite some severe blistering at the right rear. Leclerc and Bottas were in their own race for third, with Ricciardo heading the midfield pack behind.

Undercut or Overcut?

Tyre wear overall was pretty high amongst the field, meaning that the timing of Hamilton and Verstappen’s stops would be vital to deciding the race outcome.

Bottas stopped on Lap 24 in an attempt to undercut Leclerc, whilst Hamilton closed within just half a second of Verstappen as the Red Bull dived into the pits as Lap 25 started.

However, just when a perfect stop was needed, Verstappen had an issue at the rear, adding around 2 seconds to his stop.

Despite this, Mercedes elected not to take the overcut opportunity, and instead him and Leclerc stayed out in a bid to come back at Verstappen and Bottas later in the race.

Charles Leclerc drove an excellent race for Ferrari, finishing a comfortable fourth (Scuderia Ferrari).

However by Lap 29, Hamilton’s soft tyres finally had enough, with the top two pitting, allowing Verstappen and Bottas up to 1st and 3rd respectively.

Sainz’s Ferrari also gained a place on Ocon in the pitstop phase, whilst Hamilton immediately set to task with his fresh tyres, lapping a mighty 1.5 seconds a lap faster than the Red Bull in front.

By Lap 34, Hamilton had got within DRS range of the lead but at this point the gap finally stabilised.

Hungary 2019 Deja Vu?

As soon as Hamilton caught Verstappen, the charge faded. As the laps wore on, the gap remained around a second, with Bottas keeping station in third, Leclerc a lonely fourth, whilst Ricciardo, Perez and Sainz fought over fifth.

Mercedes knew that they were resigned to second by staying out, so on Lap 43, they suddenly brought Hamilton in for a fresh set of mediums. Hungary 2019 immediately sprung to mind when a similar strategy gave Mercedes the win; was history about to repeat itself?

Red Bull elected to keep Verstappen out and chance fate again, with the showdown set to go down to the final few laps. In brighter news for the team, on Lap 46, teammate Perez finally got the better of Ricciardo for fifth, with a beauty of a move around the outside of Turn 1.

Daniel Ricciardo’s drive to a sixth place finish signalled a return to form for the Aussie (McLaren).

Ricciardo and Sainz reacted to this by making a second stop of their own, coming out behind Ocon and Norris, but with much fresher tyres enabling them to swiftly get back past.

Fresh Tyres Win Out

Hamilton’s pace in third was relentless, often nearly 2 seconds a lap faster than Verstappen as he attempted to haul back the 22 second disadvantage of an extra pit stop.

However this charge was briefly disrupted when Bottas quite evidently ignored the team orders to not hold his teammate up, forcing the Brit to pass Bottas “properly”, losing him 0.3 seconds to Verstappen on Lap 52.

Bottas responded by pitting, however this dropped him behind Leclerc back into fourth place.

With 10 laps to go, the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton was down to just 4.7 seconds, with Red Bull resigned to the fact that there would be a tense battle to hold on in the last few laps.

Lewis Hamilton passes Max Verstappen on Lap 60 to finally lead the race he started from pole (F1)

Leclerc’s superb drive still wasn’t quite enough for a podium, when Bottas repassed him using DRS on Lap 57.

By Lap 59, the lead was just 1.5 seconds with both Hamilton and Verstappen now complaining about their tyres. However, the Red Bull’s tyre deficit was just too strong and as the two entered Lap 60, Hamilton used DRS to finally take the lead that Verstappen had held from the start.

Norris moved past Ocon for eighth, whilst Stroll and Alonso’s battle for 10th became controversial when Stroll’s Aston Martin was pushed off the road into Turn 1, but then failed to go round the red and white bollards to rejoin the track safely.

Mercedes 3-1 Red Bull

Verstappen pitted at the end of Lap 60 onto a fresh set of soft tyres for the fastest lap point, but Hamilton had once again used strategy and guile to grab victory from a losing position.

The controversy over 10th place became futile when Pierre Gasly came through to take the final points place.

Hamilton’s victory was the 98th of an ever unbelievable career, 15 seconds clear of Verstappen by the finish.

Bottas took home third, Leclerc a quite outstanding fourth, Perez fifth whilst Ricciardo held off Sainz for sixth. Norris finished a slightly underwhelming eighth, whilst Ocon crossed the line just a couple of tenths ahead of a charging Gasly to round out the top 10.

In the championship battle, Hamilton now led Verstappen by 14 points, Bottas moved up to third whilst the battle for fourth between Norris and Leclerc was separated by just a single point.

Lewis Hamilton’s march to an eighth world championship continues in style (Getty Images).

The F1 grid now takes a week off before heading to the Principality and iconic streets of Monaco in a fortnight’s time.

Full Classification

Here is the full provisional classification for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix:

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
144Lewis HamiltonMercedesLeader
233Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing+15.8
377Valtteri Bottas (FL)Mercedes+26.6
416Charles LeclercFerrari+54.6
511Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+1:03.6
63Daniel RicciardoMcLaren+1:13.7
755Carlos SainzFerrari+1:14.6
84Lando NorrisMcLaren+1 Lap
931Esteban OconAlpine+1 Lap
1010Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+1 Lap
1118Lance StrollAston Martin+1 Lap
127Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo+1 Lap
135Sebastian VettelAston Martin+1 Lap
1463George RussellWilliams+1 Lap
1599Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo+1 Lap
166Nicholas LatifiWilliams+1 Lap
1714Fernando AlonsoAlpine+1 Lap
1847Mick SchumacherHaas+2 Laps
199Nikita MazepinHaas+2 Laps
DNF22Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriMechanical

F1 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix: Hamilton Takes Control in Portimao

It was Valtteri Bottas who bounced back after his disaster in Imola to take pole position in Portugal, with Sir Lewis Hamilton flanking the Finn in a Mercedes 1-2, ahead of the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

With Red Bull and Mercedes sharing the race winning spoils in the first two rounds, the scene was set for another duel between F1’s top two teams.

A Wild Start

After last year’s chaotic opening few laps, where Carlos Sainz grabbed the lead and Verstappen and Perez came to blows, many predicted more mayhem today as drivers got to terms with getting their tyres in the right temperature window.

Bottas maintained his lead off the start, whilst it was Sainz who made progress again, passing Perez for fourth. Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris battled hard for sixth, Ocon initially getting up the inside into Turn 5, before Norris brilliantly went round the outside to regain the position.

The Safety Car was deployed as Lap 2 begun as Kimi Raikkonen ran into the back of Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, causing a spectacular failure of his front wing. Raikkonen would fly straight into the Turn 1 gravel trap and out of the race.

Kimi Raikkonen’s front wing flies off following contact with teammate Antonio Giovinazzi (F1)

Lewis and Max Duel Again

On the Lap 7 restart, Hamilton was the one who got caught napping, giving Verstappen the opportunity to charge alongside and make a superb move around the outside of Turn 1 for second. Behind them, Norris continued his fine form, making great moves on ex-teammate Sainz and Perez to move up to fourth.

Whilst Verstappen initially put further pressure on Bottas up front, a mistake in Turn 14 on Lap 10 gave Hamilton the slipstream onto the main straight to get back in front of the Red Bull.

Lap 15 saw Perez repass Norris for fourth, whilst Hamilton begun to stalk his teammate grip on the race lead. Norris’ McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile was recovering from a poor qualifying nicely, moving into the top 10 by Lap 18.

Lewis Hamilton moves past championship rival Max Verstappen as Mercedes took control (Mercedes-AMG F1)

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s pressure on Bottas for the lead finally told by Lap 20, when the Brit steamed around the outside into Turn 1 in a similar fashion to Verstappen earlier in the race.

Strategy Plays Its Part

Sainz’s soft tyres bit the dust on Lap 22, beginning the pitstop phase of the race. This was immediately covered by Norris, whilst Charles Leclerc stayed out as Ferrari played a split strategy gamble.

Leclerc then came in on Lap 26, unable to make the mediums last as long as hoped, going onto the previously unfancied hard tyres to attempt to get to the end.

Out front, Hamilton began to take change, opening up a 3-second lead whilst Bottas continued to frustrate Verstappen in the battle for second. Perez ran a lonely fourth, with Ricciardo and Alonso using their mediums to good effect in P5 and P6.

Red Bull blinked on Lap 36, bringing Verstappen in for hard tyres in a bid to undercut Bottas. Bottas came in the following lap and whilst he initially came back out ahead, Verstappen used his warmed-up tyres to good effect, moving past Bottas on the back straight to regain a net second in the race.

Hamilton maintained his position over Verstappen after his stop, however Red Bull elected to keep Perez on track in a bid to cause further disruption to Mercedes’s control of the race.

Lando Norris takes control of the midfield as his excellent start to the season continued (McLaren).

Ricciardo and Alonso relinquished their control of the midfield when they made their one and only stops, leaving Norris in fifth, ahead of Leclerc, Ocon and the fading Sainz.

Perez’s mammoth stint on the medium tyres nearly came to an abrupt end when backmarker Nikita Mazepin cut across the Red Bull as he was being lapped, leading to the “idiot” team radio bingo being used again on the Russian.

By Lap 51, those medium tyres were fading badly and Hamilton retook the lead in effortless fashion. Behind them, Fernando Alonso’s strong race continued as a move around the outside of Ricciardo into Turn 1 gave him ninth. The Mexican would pit at the end of that lap.

Fastest Lap Point Takes Priority

Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen during the final stint hovered around the 5-second mark, with Bottas maintaining a gap just outside of DRS range in third.

However, this third place became threatened on Lap 55 when the Finn reported a loss of power. Fortunately for Mercedes, the exhaust sensor error was fixed, albeit at the cost of three seconds to the Red Bull in front.

Alonso’s fine race continued on Lap 58, passing Sainz’s Ferrari for eighth, whilst the Spaniard’s misery was compounded when Ricciardo took ninth on Lap 64 and Gasly took the final point a lap later.

Fernando Alonso stormed through the field in the closing laps to take a solid eighth place (Formula Racers)

The battle for the fastest lap point took precedent in the closing laps. Perez held it following his late stop for softs, however both Bottas and Verstappen pitted again in a bid to reclaim it.

Whilst Hamilton crossed the line for his second win of the season and 97th of his career, Verstappen put in a rapid final lap for that potentially vital extra point in second. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, track limits at Turn 14 meant his time was deleted, handing the fastest lap to Bottas behind instead.

Perez’s quiet afternoon ended in fourth, whilst Norris and Leclerc continued their strong starts to the season in fifth and sixth, respectively. Esteban Ocon led home his Alpine teammate Alonso for seventh, whilst Ricciardo and Gasly rounded out the points.

With this result, Hamilton increased his championship lead to 8 points over Verstappen, with Norris holding his excellent third place in the standings ahead of Bottas and Leclerc.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas share the podium for the second time this season (Getty Images)

The paddock now heads to Barcelona for Round 4 of this year’s championship with this first double-header of the season.

Full Classification

Here is the full provisional classification for the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix:

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
144Lewis HamiltonMercedesLeader
233Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing+29.1
377Valtteri Bottas (FL)Mercedes+33.5
411Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+39.7
54Lando NorrisMcLaren+51.3
616Charles LeclercFerrari+55.7
731Esteban OconAlpine+1:03.7
814Fernando AlonsoAlpine+1:04.8
93Daniel RicciardoMcLaren+1:15.3
1010Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+1:16.4
1155Carlos SainzFerrari+1:18.9
1299Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo+1 Lap
135Sebastian VettelAston Martin+1 Lap
1418Lance StrollAston Martin+1 Lap
1522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri+1 Lap
1663George RussellWilliams+1 Lap
1747Mick SchumacherHaas+1 Lap
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams+2 Laps
199Nikita MazepinHaas+2 Laps
DNF7Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoCollision

Will Vettel regret his Aston Martin move?

Last month’s opening round of the 2021 F1 season was not the Aston Martin race debut that Sebastian Vettel, Otmar Szafnauer nor Lawrence Stroll wanted.

On the back of a brilliant end to 2020, with first and third for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll respectively in Sakhir being the highlight, expectations were high for the newly branding British Racing Green team to solidify themselves as the third best team in Formula 1.

However, whilst Stroll slaved away for a hard-earned 10th place point in Bahrain, Vettel’s performance only raised further eyebrows off the back of his worst season in F1 last year with Ferrari. 

Where did Vettel’s Weekend go so Wrong?

Perhaps it could be considered no huge surprise that Aston Martin and Vettel suffered a turbulent opening weekend when considering their pre-season testing struggles.

Much like their senior Mercedes partners, gearbox issues cost Vettel valuable running on the second morning. Other gremlins left the German bottom of the lap charts amongst all 2021 race drivers. Especially when factoring in that Vettel was moving to a completely new power unit and chassis, undoubtedly this was far less running than the four-time champion hoped for.

Vettel’s smash into the back of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine summed up a difficult opening weekend (Motor Sport Magazine)

After a drama-free Friday at the Bahrain GP, where Vettel was able to get some more crucial running in, the next moment where his weekend was seriously hampered came in Saturday’s qualifying session.

Vettel looked set to make the improvement needed to get his Aston into Q2, until a spin for Nikita Mazepin brought out the double-yellow flags in Turn 1. This forced all drivers behind the Russian on their final runs to abandon their laps, leaving Vettel stranded in the drop zone and out in Q1.

READ MORE F1 OPINON: IN THE PIT LANE – SPONSORSHIP REVENUE IN EUROPE TAKES €7 BILLION NOSEDIVE

Things would get even worse for the German when it emerged that he had failed to abandon his lap after Mazepin’s spin, thus earning himself a five-place grid penalty and three penalty points on his superlicence. 

On the Sunday, Vettel started from P20 but, on an alternative one-stop strategy, made a strong start, reaching P14 by the end of Lap 1. Vettel moved into the points as others made their first stops but soon started suffering with high tyre wear, falling back before making his stop for hard tyres.

READ MORE F1 OPINION: IN THE PIT LANE – BRILLIANT RACING ON-TRACK MASKS TROUBLES OFF IT

The Aston struggled on the hard compound and when battling with Esteban Ocon for 12th place on Lap 44. Vettel made an error synonymous with his latter Ferrari years by locking up under braking and careening into the back of the Alpine.

Vettel was handed a ten-second penalty and two further penalty points for his troubles, leaving him in P15 by the end of the race. Whilst internally, the team were quick to play down their struggles, it’s clear that a lot more will be expected of one of the greatest drivers of all time in the coming races.

Is this just part of a growing trend?

Many people were unsurprised at Vettel’s poor opening show in Bahrain, claiming that this is just part of the German’s continued decline from the elite level of Formula 1. 

Vettel’s worrying trend of preventable collisions and incidents began to emerge in the second half of 2018. After being in control of the title battle against Lewis Hamilton, Vettel quickly fell away as Hamilton won race after race.

Vettel’s slip from the lead in Hockenheim in 2018 is seen by many as the trigger for his decline in form (Goodwood)

Whilst a half season’s worth of problems could be put down to a Hamilton 2011-style blip, Vettel’s alarming racecraft woes only continued as he came up against new teammate Charles Leclerc in 2019.

Whilst Leclerc quickly started to gather his authority on the team, Vettel’s level of spatial awareness and inability to manage the rear end of his Ferrari grabbed a multitude of headlines.

READ MORE: TOP 10 MEMES OF THE 2021 FORMULA 1 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX

His latest incident in Bahrain looked eerily parallel to the mistakes Vettel made in 2019 and 2020 and perhaps suggested that it wasn’t just a toxic relationship with Ferrari that was to blame for Seb’s poor performances.

If the German has any more collisions or spins in the next couple of races, the media’s daggers will be out, especially with supersub Nico Hulkenberg recently announced as Aston Martin’s new reserve and development driver.

Where does Stroll sit in all of this?

For Lance Stroll, who has had to stave off a number of “pay driver” criticisms since his arrival in F1 in 2017, despite some very credible performances, the arrival of Vettel could prove to be a massive asset in raising Stroll’s stock. 

Stroll has been self-critical throughout his career, admitting to suffering badly with confidence following his hard crash in Mugello and subsequent poor run of results. 

The manner of Stroll’s pole in Turkey raised eyebrows up and down the paddock (Sky Sports)

Thus the inevitable scrutiny of Vettel’s performances could take such much-needed weight of pressure off of the young Canadian’s shoulders. His father’s control of the team means that he will naturally get a longer leash than most, but Stroll has proven on multiple occasions that when he has the belief in himself and the car, performances like his brilliant pole in Turkey last year are possible.

If Stroll gets an early upper hand on Vettel, this could compound the German’s problems by hurting his reputation further still, whilst giving Stroll the kick boost to take his career to the next level.

And of the Original Question?

Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career is an enigma. No four-time world champion in history has had his achievements most discredited by his critics than that of the German. 

Whilst some put his four successive titles down to the genius of Adrian Newey more so than Vettel’s ability, there’s no doubt that in his prime, Vettel was unbeatable.

Sadly, those days do seem a long time ago now, with 2020 painting a sorry sight as he was comprehensively beaten by Leclerc week after week.

The Aston Martin move was supposed to be a fresh start for the German, a chance to build a fledgling team in his image, much like he was a huge factor in taking Red Bull from contenders to champions.

Vettel famously bows down to his Red Bull following his fourth successive title glory in 2013 (Red Bull)

However, if many more races like the season opener in Bahrain occur, then it could only do more to make Vettel’s critics even louder. There were several mitigating factors which contributed to those issues, however the excuses won’t hold for much longer.

Unless Vettel finds his form again soon, we could be witnessing a sorry end to a previously distinguished career. 

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview this weekend’s Emilia-Romagna GP? Ruby Price hosted panellists Alex Booth, Sam Thatcher and Owain Medford in Grid Talk’s Imola preview podcast. Audio and video versions of the show are both available below:

Is Esteban Ocon about to get the “Vandoorne treatment”?

Does any driver on the 2021 F1 grid have a more important season ahead than Alpine’s Esteban Ocon?

After harshly getting the boot from Force India at the end of 2018, following two closely-matched seasons against highly rated teammate Sergio Perez, Ocon returned to the sport in 2020 and found life tough after a year out.

Return of the prodigy

Esteban Ocon’s 2nd place at the 2020 Sakhir GP was the highlight of an otherwise difficult season (motorlat.com)

Ocon signed for Renault at the end of 2019, on an initial two-year contract, meaning that 2021 is a contract year for the Frenchman. Coming off the back of a relative thumping from Daniel Ricciardo, there’s no guarantee that Ocon will earn a new deal for 2022 and beyond, putting his place in the F1 paddock itself in doubt.

Ricciardo didn’t just beat Ocon, he annihilated him. Not only was the qualifying head-to-head a brutal 15-2 in the Aussie’s favour, two-car finishes also went the #3 car’s way 9-3.

READ MORE: F1 2021 TESTING PREVIEW: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE TEAMS?

For a driver under pressure to deliver, the last teammate you wish to be announced alongside you is Fernando Alonso. Just three years ago, Alonso’s sheer ruthless destruction of Stoffel Vandoorne knocked the Belgian, who came into F1 with a big reputation, out of the sport and into Formula E.

With Alpine’s young driver academy brimming with talent, and with rumours of Pierre Gasly being interested in the team not going away, Ocon cannot afford a Vandoorne-style hammering, especially after he was so comfortably dispatched by Ricciardo.

It’s not all doom and gloom though

However, not all signs are bad for Ocon. After all, the Frenchman had some impressive performances throughout the first two years of his F1 career. Ocon scored points in each of his first five Grand Prix for Force India in 2017 on his way to an impressive 8th in the World Championship.

Ocon’s relationship with Sergio Perez in 2017 and 2018 was often frosty, with several midrace spats (planetf1.com)

His second year at Force India was less consistent, but still saw Ocon only narrowly beaten by Perez, this time by 62 points to 49. More concerning however, were the growing tensions between the pair on track.

The rift began in Canada, when Perez ignored team orders for Ocon to be allowed past to attack Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. Then followed an embarrassing and costly collision In Baku, before a scary coming together at Spa nearly led to a huge accident between the pair.

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The rivalry continued into 2018, with yet another inter-team crash at Singapore, putting Ocon out the race, leading to an outright ban on racing between the pair for the rest of the season.

With new major shareholder Lawrence Stroll taking control of the team midway through the season, Ocon, who doesn’t provide huge financial backing, was inevitably going to be booted out for Lawrence’s son, and then Williams driver, Lance for 2019.

Enforced sabbatical

Ocon was due to sign for Renault, however a late decision by the team to take Ricciardo from Red Bull left the Frenchman without a seat for the first time in his career. Ocon used this year on the sidelines to work behind the scenes with Mercedes, undoubtedly gaining insight on what it takes to drive for a world championship winning team.

Ocon has retained a close relationship with Toto Wolff, leading to Mercedes seat rumours not disappearing (Autosport)

And it’s world championship-winning potential that Ocon has to start showing against Alonso this year to have any long-term future in the sport.

Although Alonso left the sport still at the top of his game in 2018, two years out will undoubtedly have left a little rustiness and it’s vital that Ocon gets out the blocks early and lays down his authority on the battle.

Ocon did end 2020 with a career-best P2 in Sakhir followed by points in Abu Dhabi, where he outqualified Ricciardo, and needs to carry that momentum into the new year.

If he doesn’t, just like Stoffel Vandoorne, Ocon’s F1 future may be totally dead.

F1’s Class of 2021: What can we expect?

Whilst Nicholas Latifi won this season’s rookie of the year contest by default, the 2021 Formula 1 rookie class looks set to be far more exciting. There’s a total of 3 drivers confirmed to make their Grand Prix debuts in Australia next year.

Haas have announced an exciting all-rookie driver pairing of F2 champion Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Whilst AlphaTauri confirmed last week that F2’s star rookie of 2020, Yuki Tsunoda, will drive alongside Pierre Gasly.

Following in his father’s footsteps?

Being the son of 7-time F1 world champion and sporting legend Michael Schumacher has undoubtedly helped Mick attract attention from sponsors and the media during his junior career. However, Schumacher Jr has earned his spot on the 2021 F1 grid through sheer talent and performance.

Just like his 2018 European F3 title triumph, this year’s F2 championship came after a slow start to the season. After the fourth round of the season, Schumacher was already 40 points behind teammate Shwartzman, who was at the top of the table. A run of 7 podiums in 9 races from Catalunya to Sochi, though, sent the German flying towards the title and a spot in the Haas team for next season.

READ MORE: FORMULA 1 2020 SEASON REVIEW – THE STRANGEST SEASON EVER

Given Mick’s record for slow starts in new categories, it would be wise to set low expectations for his first season in Formula 1. Haas and Ferrari clearly believe in him to potentially be the next Scuderia superstar in years to come, but this will take time and his development in the American outfit over the next couple of seasons will be crucial.

The Schumacher name being back on the grid will be one of the biggest stories of 2021. But just like how Mick has been his own man throughout his junior career, he will soon create his own story and legacy for his sadly still stricken father to be proud of from back home in Germany.

Mick Schumacher celebrates his dominant feature race F2 victory in Monza on his way to the 2020 title (Sky Sports)

F1’s New Bad Boy?

Nikita Mazepin may be supported by a wealthy father, and whilst some may argue that Callum Ilott was more warranting of Haas’s other 2021 F1 seat, Mazepin clearly has the speed to be successful at the top level.

Where the Russian may fall down is in his own character off the track. Mazepin has been internally investigated by Haas for an incident on social media a couple of weeks ago, where he appeared to post a video on Instagram groping a woman’s breasts without consent.

Whilst the woman in question initially came to Mazepin’s defence, it has since emerged on her Instagram story that she indeed felt sexually assaulted, leading to the #WeSayNoToMazepin campaign trending amongst fans on social media. Fans have been furthered angered by the Russian receiving no punishment from his new team.

READ MORE: F1 2021 REGULATION CHANGES: EXPLAINED

On-track, Mazepin is known for his aggressive combative style. There’s no doubt he will ruffle some feathers in wheel-to-wheel combat next season, with a bet on multiple super licence penalty points seeming like it’ll be low odds.

His battle against Mick Schumacher to establish themselves as the star rookie at Haas will be intense. But with Ferrari reserve driver Ilott waiting in the wings, the most important thing for Mazepin is that he doesn’t beat himself in 2021.

Nikita Mazepin’s feature race victory in Mugello was a highlight of a rollercoaster season for the Russian ace (F1.com)

The Next Red Bull Superstar?

Red Bull have had a problem ever since Daniel Ricciardo walked out on them, filling the seat next to Max Verstappen. Pierre Gasly buckled under the pressure, whilst despite showing promising early signs, Alex Albon also struggled to put the Red Bull where it should be.

This has left Red Bull looking outside their academy in 2021, with Sergio Perez to fill their seat in the short-term. AlphaTauri rookie, Yuki Tsunoda, may soon be the driver to solve their second driver conundrum long-term.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – F1 SEEING DOLLAR SIGNS

Tsunoda’s pace in his only F2 season was beyond question. Had the season been made up solely of feature races, the Japanese man would have been champion. In fact, by season’s end, Tsunoda was clearly the class of the field and in one of the deepest F2 grids for talent ever, that is some feat.

With Honda’s involvement with Red Bull ending after next season, Tsunoda could turn out to be their long term legacy. A Japanese driver has never won a Grand Prix before, but if anyone is able to break that unwanted record, Yuki may just be the most likely candidate yet.

Yuki Tsunoda’s feature race win in Sakhir was his third victory of a superb rookie F2 season (Getty Images)

Charles Leclerc: F1’s next new World Champion

As Charles Leclerc crossed the line in fourth place at the Turkish Grand Prix, you could see the anguish written inside his cockpit. Losing a podium on the very last lap to teammate Sebastian Vettel after making a move for P2 on Sergio Perez made Leclerc feel like a failure. 

But the Monegasque was anything but a failure that day, putting on a show stopping display to come from the back of the field all the way towards the podium places, all whilst gaining time on race leader Lewis Hamilton.

However, Leclerc will only settle for perfection, and his late slip heading into Turn 12 meant that the ultimate result wasn’t quite achieved by his Ferrari. That’s why Charles was so furious with himself.

Leclerc berated himself to his Ferrari team on the radio immediately after the Turkish GP (Formula1.com)

Many might argue that Leclerc was too harsh on himself in Istanbul, however his strive for improvement is arguably the elite mentality needed to become the best in the business.

His Junior Series Rise

Leclerc was renowned in the karting ranks as the second best karter in his generation, behind the enigma that is Max Verstappen. Charles improved year-on-year before rising into single seaters in 2014.

Progress is the name of the game with Leclerc and each season on his rise to F1 was more and more impressive.

A solid Formula Renault campaign in 2014 was followed up by 3 wins in a star studded European F3 line-up as Leclerc fought for the title for much of the year.

READ MORE: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DATA: WHAT PEREZ COULD BRING TO RED BULL

Leclerc’s improvement earned him a place in Ferrari’s Driver Academy in 2016, and it’s from there that his career really began to take-off.

The then teenager won his first senior championship that year by conquering teammate and future F1 rival Alex Albon to the GP3 crown before absolutely dominating his rookie season in the newly rebranded Formula 2 in 2017.

READ MORE: F1 2020: THE YEAR OF THE HONEYBADGER

The first real glimpse of Leclerc’s F1 superstar potential came in that season’s Bahrain sprint race. Having destroyed his tyres early on in the race, Leclerc gambled on an unheard of “sprint race pit-stop” strategy which would require a mammoth comeback from the back of the field to pull off.

Coming out the pits with 8 laps to go, Leclerc took over 3 seconds a lap out of the leaders, all whilst overtaking the rest of the field, to grab the lead on the final lap of the race to take a stunning victory.

Leclerc’s famous F2 sprint victory in Bahrain truly announced his arrival on the world stage (Autosport)

So many world champion drivers have their junior series “moment” where they announce themselves to the world. Think Lewis Hamilton in Turkey in 2006, or the infamous Schumacher vs Hakkinen Macau showdown in 1990.

This was Charles Leclerc’s statement to the F1 paddock that he was coming and that the world better watch out.

Leclerc went on to take that F2 title in crushing fashion, setting him for his F1 debut for Sauber in 2018.

Rise To Stardom

Leclerc’s rapid improvement throughout his short F1 career so far has been nothing short of remarkable.

After all, the first few races of his debut season were hardly stellar. Outperformed by Ericsson in each of the first 3 races of the year, many worried whether the Ferrari protégé had risen to a seat too soon.

READ MORE: F1 ANNOUNCES SAUDI GP, BUT DO WE REALLY RACE AS ONE?

However those sentiments were quickly squashed with a measured drive to P6 at the following Azerbaijan GP and from there Leclerc’s season went from strength-to-strength.

Out-qualifying established Swede Marcus Ericsson 17-4, what was most impressive about Leclerc’s rookie campaign was the way he learnt from his early errors to become the most consistent midfield runner by the end of the year.

Leclerc’s rookie campaign with Sauber turned the heads of many further up the F1 pitlane (enzari.com)

The Monegasque finished the season with 3 consecutive “Class B” victories, more than justifying his place in the senior Ferrari team for just his second season.

Again, only the greats usually rise to a “top team” so early on, let alone quickly establish themselves as the driver that said team then wishes to build around.

READ MORE: DANIIL KVYAT: NOT DONE YET

Similarly to Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso in 2007 at McLaren, Leclerc was supposed to play second fiddle to 4-time world champion and future hall of fame teammate Sebastian Vettel in 2019.

However, Leclerc quickly showed, just like Lewis all those years ago, that he was more than capable of being the #1 man immediately.

Although Vettel finished ahead of Leclerc in more races last season, Leclerc grabbed 2 victories to Vettel’s 1, finished above the German in the world championship, and recorded a staggering 7 pole positions, more than any other driver in 2019.

This Season…And Beyond

It’s hard to remember a multiple world champion being as comprehensively beaten as Vettel has by Leclerc in this 2020 season.

Although the news that the German would be replaced by Carlos Sainz in 2021 undoubtedly has had an impact on his performance this year, for Leclerc to outshine his senior statesman in such crushing fashion has been utterly sensational.

READ MORE: WHO WILL BE FORMULA 1’S NEXT NEW WORLD CHAMPION?

Bar one obvious blemish in Styria, where the two Ferraris came together following an overoptimistic Leclerc lunge, the Monegasque’s season has been almost perfect.

Reminiscent of Fernando Alonso in 2012, Leclerc has made up for Ferrari’s shortcomings by consistently getting the absolute maximum out of the car and using superb race craft to drag the Scuderia into places they arguably don’t deserve to be in.

Leclerc has outqualified Vettel 11-3 and outraced him 8-4, giving him almost 3 times the number of points of his teammate (97 to 33).

Had it not been for his late error in Turkey, P4 in the drivers’ standings also beckoned, an outstanding achievement in arguably the 6th fastest car.

Remaining competitive in underwhelming cars is a trait that once again, world champions show. Lewis Hamilton drove his 2009 McLaren boat to multiple victories, whilst the great Michael Schumacher famously outshone his Ferrari in the years before eventual dominance.

Leclerc’s attitude to defeat and his ability to learn from his mistakes and ensure that he improves next time is the feature that arguably stands him above the rest of his generation.

His closest rival for the next decade is clearly most likely to be Max Verstappen, but as shown in Turkey, the Dutchman still has a tendency to become too easily rattled. Races can fall away from him and unlike Leclerc, Verstappen usually blames others rather than himself for his mistakes.

The Leclerc/Verstappen rivalry has the potential to become one of the fiercest in F1 history (formula1.com)

Verstappen clearly has prestigious speed, but to win a world championship requires minimal errors and an ability to not get worked up when things don’t go to plan.

Schumacher, and subsequently Hamilton, are masters of this, and many of their early career traits can be seen in Leclerc too.

If Ferrari can provide him with the equipment, and that’s the biggest if at the moment, then there’s no doubt that Leclerc has the speed, mentality and the determination to become a multiple world champion.

The future is bright.

2020 NASCAR Cup Series Season Review – Passing of the Torch

As Jimmie Johnson stepped out of his iconic #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the final time as a full-time NASCAR driver, his rising star teammate Chase Elliott was busy celebrating his maiden Cup Series title in Phoenix.

The 24-year-old became on Sunday the third-youngest driver to ever win a Cup Series championship. Elliott follows in the footsteps of his mentor Jeff Gordon, who was also 24 when he won his first title back in 1995.

Rapid rise to the top

Elliott’s rise to fame has been meteoric, becoming competitive immediately in his first full season in 2016, winning Rookie of the Year. Elliott quickly became the new face of the sport in the wake of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s retirement.

The Hendrick Motorsports #9 driver has won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award every year since Earnhardt Jr’s retirement and looks set to hold that honour for many more years to come.

Elliott’s season was one of frustration for much of the year. Whilst 5 wins and 15 top 5 finishes are stats of a worthy champion, his team missed out on another 5 victories through bad luck, misplaced strategy, or costly errors on pit road.

READ MORE: 2022 IMSA SPORTSCAR REGULATION CHANGES EXPLAINED

However, when it counted, Elliott was the man to beat in the playoffs. He recorded the best results of anyone through the final 10 races of the season. Elliot was always a factor for the win almost every week, before winning the final 2 races at Martinsville and Phoenix to win the “Championship 4” format.

The other 3 drivers featuring in the championship finale would all have been worthy champions themselves.

Chase Elliott gets congratulated by teammate Jimmie Johnson following his title triumph (nascar.com)

The Title Contenders

Denny Hamlin, one of the greatest drivers to never win a championship, had one of the best seasons of his career, and arguably was the second-best driver over the course of 2020.

7 wins and 18 top 5 finishes are stats worthy of a first title, but sadly Hamlin struggled in comparison to his Championship 4 rivals in Phoenix to finish 4th.

Hamlin and Logano were two of the championship protagonists. Image: USA Today

2018 Cup Champion Joey Logano had a relatively quiet season, but once again became a force in the Playoffs and came close to his second title. Logano picked up 2 wins in the first 4 races of the season but then went under the radar until the Playoffs, where a win at Kansas put him in the title showdown. Logano’s short-run pace on Sunday was strong, but he faded on the long final run to finish 3rd.

Brad Keselowski came close yet again to his second title, but ultimately came up short despite having searing pace on the long runs in Phoenix, finishing runner-up to Elliott.

READ MORE: THE PROBLEM WITH WRC COVERAGE

The Team Penske driver was his usual ultra-consistent self, with an average finish of just 10.2 over the season. 4 wins and 13 top 5s however showed that he didn’t quite have the outright speed of some of his title rivals.

However, the strongest driver of all throughout the 2020 NASCAR season, didn’t even feature in the Championship 4!

Kevin Harvick crosses the line in sparks and disappointment as his title charge came to an end in Martinsville (nascar.com)

Kevin Harvick had one of the best seasons of the modern era, picking up 9 wins, 20 top 5s and a stunning average finish of 7.3. Harvick should’ve gone on to the final showdown in Phoenix with a title shot, but for mediocre finishes in both Texas and Martinsville meaning that the Stewart-Haas driver missed out in the Round of 8 to Keselowski on points.

Highs and Lows

Harvick’s season was still less disappointing than defending champion Kyle Busch’s though. The favourite to retain his crown, Busch had one of the most difficult seasons of his career, threatening to go winless for the first time. A victory with just 3 races to go in Texas to kept his winning streak alive.

Elsewhere, rookie of the year Cole Custer picked up a maiden victory in Kentucky. Fellow rookie Tyler Reddick also showed huge promise for the future with a number of impressive performances.

Cole Custer celebrates his stunning maiden Cup Series victory at Kentucky. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace had an encouraging year for Richard Petty Motorsports, so much so that he’ll be joining up with NBA legend Michael Jordan to form a new team in 2021 in partnership with Denny Hamlin.

2021 and Beyond

NASCAR’s points system has its critics, and undoubtedly the best driver over the whole season did not go on to win the championship. Everyone knows the game, though, and Chase Elliott peaked at the right time to take his first of perhaps many titles.

With Kyle Larson coming back from suspension to replace Jimmie Johnson as Elliott’s Hendrick teammate for 2021, alongside fellow promising young talents Alex Bowman and William Byron, the future seems particularly bright once again for Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolet squad.

Can Elliott follow in the footsteps of Johnson and Jeff Gordon to become another Hendrick legend? Only time will tell!