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Formula 1 2021 Season Review: The greatest title fight ever?

I’ve just about caught my breath and had a chance to reflect on what was an unbelievable final race to an absolutely bonkers Formula 1 season. I will do my best to review the controversy and drama of Abu Dhabi, whilst also reflecting on the carnage that the other 21 races conjured up.

The Controversy

Latifi’s crash threw the race and the title battle into overdrive. Image: F1

Let’s start at the end and discuss the big and final talking point of the 2021 season – the final five laps of the Abu Dhabi GP. Sir Lewis Hamilton was undoubtedly on track to win his 8th world championship in dominant style before Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought out the Safety Car on Lap 54.

At this point, it didn’t look as if we’d get any more running due to the awkward area of the track where Latifi binned in, and the amount of debris on track. Red Bull rightly made use of a free pit-stop to pit both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez onto soft tyres. Verstappen re-joined the track still in P2, but now with four lapped drivers between himself and Hamilton.

The message that was initially relayed was that the lapped cars would not be allowed to un-lap themselves. This was until Race Director, Michael Masi, decided half way into Lap 57 that four drivers were going to be allowed to overtake the safety car and un-lap themselves.

This call, from one individual, will go down as one of the most contentious decisions in the history of the sport. I don’t want to delve deep into analysing this decision, as there are many other things from the season worthy of mention in this season review. And you’ve probably heard a million different opinions already.

But what I will say is the biggest shame for me is that the championship was decided off-track by a contentious call. This was the one result I was hoping wouldn’t happen. Despite not being a Hamilton fan, it felt hollow and unjust. It is so disappointing that the immediate aftermath and likely, the longer-term reflection on the 2021 season will be focused on a decision by the FIA. That’s the bit I’m struggling to take.

The entire F1 fan base should be reflecting on how lucky we’ve been to see two fantastic drivers engage in a relentless, season-long duel filled with on track battles and brilliant races. And still, it’s difficult to do this when one driver has been unfairly robbed of a championship because the sport’s governing body didn’t follow their own rules.

The Stewards and FIA

Race director Michael Masi has been heavily criticised for his conduct in 2021

I think Abu Dhabi highlighted just how much of a mess the sport is in at the moment in terms of the consistent application of the rules. Albeit particularly poor in 2021, the issue of poor stewarding and incompetency from the FIA isn’t exclusive to this year – its been a problem in recent seasons and unfortunately, it had a major impact in the championship decider.

If I can take one positive from all of this is that I think Masi will rightly lose his job in all the aftermath that is due to follow. Hopefully, we can arrive at a defined and clear system of rules that are consistently applied. Just like football, there will always be some element of subjectivity in the application of rules. But at present, it feels like the rules lead to too many opinionated decisions. And when you have stewards changing every race, this doubles the issue.

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. We need to know why it’s okay for some drivers to force another off the track and get away with it whilst others are penalised. There needs to be more consistency and clarity for both fans and more importantly the teams and drivers on what they can and cannot do.

The season

Hamilton and Verstappen were head and shoulders ahead of the chasing pack in 2021

Despite the shenanigans of the final race, I still feel lucky to have watched the 2021 season unfold. From the get-go in Bahrain, it looked like Red Bull had a car capable of taking the fight to Mercedes and a driver capable of ending Hamilton’s dominant reign.  

For me, the title fight had everything – two brilliant drivers, two operationally excellent teams, on-track battles, strategy dilemmas, collisions, off-track antics and close, hard racing.

Looking back, I can’t actually think of many bad races. Even tracks like Sochi and Paul Richard which have traditionally been poor, served up absolute crackers in 2021. Not to forget as well – Bahrain, Budapest, Baku, Silverstone, and others which were an absolute pleasure to watch.

Behind the top two (usually very far behind), the rest of the pack played their part in putting on a brilliant season of racing. Watching Lando Norris get amongst the big boys particularly in the first half of the season was great. Carlos Sainz also impressed, surprisingly beating his teammate Charles Leclerc in the driver’s standings.

Pierre Gasly is also worthy of a mention for another impressive season at Alpha Tauri. And it was great to see Alonso back on the grid, putting in consistent strong performances to prove he’s still got it.

The future

Despite the events of the last week, I think Formula 1 in many ways is in a great place at the moment. The sport will have inevitably lost some fans after Abu Dhabi, but it has also gained many in 2021. It needs to ensure it hangs onto these by creating defined rules and consistently applying these fairly in races.

Looking ahead to next season, weirdly, I hope the big regulation changes don’t spice things up too much. The pessimist in me is worried that Mercedes will turn up in Bahrain half a second clear of the pack just like 2014. And the optimist believes Red Bull will produce a car that is a worthy challenger again. If the latter transpires, we’re in for another barnstormer in 2022 and I cannot wait.

Top 10 Memes of the 2021 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

What can we say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not a lot.

So we won’t. To try and make this regular feature a slightly safer haven from the silliness spouting from the mouths of some corners of the internet, we’ll see what memes we could find out there. Take a look.

1

Posted on Reddit by KarnaF1

9 years later and Alonso still loses out in F1 to Vettel at the final race of the season.

Granted it was for the highest number of overtakes rather than the highest number of world championship points, but that’s beside the point.

READ MORE – F1 2021 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX PREVIEW: SHOWDOWN IN THE DESERT TO DECIDE THE TITLE

2

Posted on Reddit by Mako3232

That camera move has cropped up in a number of pitstops this season, but to this day we can’t work out why they decide to include it.

Potentially it’s a cheap, contrived attempt at increasing the show?

3

Posted on Reddit by MarinZG060

Given that Kimi has never been one for the spotlight of Formula 1, particularly when there’s not a prize he cares about at the end of it, perhaps it’s no surprise the Iceman retired halfway through the race when he was sure to get driver of the day.

Whether or not that was the case on Sunday we’ll never know, but either way it was sad to see Raikkonen leave without a last hurrah.

4

Posted on Reddit by CHarlieUhUh

The way F1 has run this season has seemed like the natural conclusion of the increased sensationalism of the sport since F1 and Netflix enacted their current partnership.

Concerns are now being raised over whether that’s necessarily a benefit to the sport but one thing is for certain. Drive to Survive will have plenty of material to work with come March.

READ MORE 2021 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX – FP1 & FP2 REPORT – HAMILTON FASTEST, BUT GAMES ARE AT PLAY

5

Posted on Reddit by JuanFF8

The biggest target of the ire throughout the season, but particularly THAT last lap, was Michael Masi, the race director.

Personally, I’d like to make it clear I understand that the Race Director’s job is not easy, particularly with screaming from two team principles coming at you.

That being said, the disregard of the procedures set by the FIA themselves could be seen as a dangerous precedent where no rule is safe from the race director’s discretion. As with all the controversial decisions this season, that needs changing as soon as possible.

6

Posted on Reddit by JamesIcarus

Tension was high over the weekend. In the teams you say?

Sure, I guess, they’re going for a record-breaking world championship each.

Toto Wolff’s table though? It must have felt as worn out as Lewis Hamilton’s tyres at the end of the race after the torture it endured all season.

7

Posted on Reddit by kibollp

The way the FIA have investigated potential wrongdoing by one of their own appointees could be seen as incredibly shady. This feeling is exacerbated when you think the FIA has a vested interest in finding them and their representatives innocent.

We’ll not be explaining the story as there are many articles which do that better, and this is meant to be a lighter look at this weekend’s action, so much as we can take one.

READ MORE – 2021 SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX: HAMILTON WINS AS TITLE BATTLE ENTERS WARFARE

8

Posted on Reddit by mdstwsp

The online discourse has been incredibly toxic through the yeah with every twist and turn taking the situation ever closer to devolving into outright mud-slinging.

You’ll notice a conspicuous lack of comment on the actual events that unfolded during the grand prix, and that’s deliberate.

Neither driver deserved to lose this world championship in our opinion. The contest between the two drivers has driven both their levels to unprecedented levels, as it always does and should for that matter when the title is this close.

There are concerns that should be allowed their time in the sun as we re-evaluate, as we periodically should, whether the rules are fit for purpose.

9

Posted on Reddit by EnvironmentalStop412

George Russell looks to be a star in the making as Max Verstappen was for Red Bull while at Toro Rosso all those years ago.

Not only is he fast on track and an excellent team player, but his PowerPoint skills rival even Apple in a tech keynote.

Mercedes brought their legal counsel to Abu Dhabi, in a move ridiculed by some, but what could they do? He was driving for Williams!

10

Posted on Reddit by pyattii

Lastly, and it’s a great shame to say that as I’ve had a blast making these meme reviews all season. And what a wonderful, intriguing, sometimes controversial and always entertaining season it was, right until the last 30 seconds.

Given that the gap between the two rivals was under 12 seconds across 22 races and over 3800 miles that’s akin to the Le Mans 2011 finish in both distance and gap between the leaders.

That race was what this race has been. A classic, one for the ages, and a tough act to follow.

Your move F1 2022.

So that’s it. F1 2021 (almost) in the books. Please do check out our previous meme round-ups over the off season, and also keep up with our Formula 1 coverage over the off-season before we see you all again in March to do this all over again.

Grid Talk Podcast

To help recap this race and the whole season in general, along with this race, do take a look at the Grid Talk Podcast as our exceptional panellists break down this an every week’s action.

The Grid Talk crew produce a preview, qualifying analysis show and race review for every Grand Prix weekend. You can check out the latest show on our Podcast section.

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – FP1 & FP2 report – Hamilton fastest, but games are at play

We’re here, the final Friday practice sessions of the 2021 season and boy do they mean a lot.

The Yas Marina track has gone under some reconstruction over the last 12 months and many of the slow 90-degree corners have been taken away to allow for closer racing.

Also, two new hairpins have been installed to help promote overtaking.

For the final time in 2021, let’s get into the Friday action!

FP1

With the new track layout, drivers were eager to hop out onto the track and get to grips with it.

We got to see immediately just how quick this new Yas Marina track is. Without the slow and unnecessary chicanes and the new profile of the final sector, drivers were going 11 seconds faster than last year.

The midfield teams look like they are going to be in a tight battle once again. We’ve seen how chaotic they have been in both Qatar and Jeddah.

Alpha Tauri were looking solid once again in Free Practice, but we have yet to see it materialise in the race so it’s difficult to gauge if this early pace will pay off.

They were forever closely followed by the Alpines who have been very impressive in the last two races and look to continue this great run of form that we are seeing from them as they look to confirm 5th in the constructors championship.

McLaren weren’t pushing too hard as they stuck to their programme as they often do on a Friday, but they were showcasing their special livery for this weekend which was looking stunning out on track.

It did appear from early on that Lando Norris has the pace over Daniel Ricciardo. Norris would need that pace as he will be fighting with both Ferrari drivers for 5th in the driver’s championship.

But by the end of the session, it was Max Verstappen who topped the first practice session of the weekend ahead of Valtteri Bottas and then Lewis Hamilton in 3rd place.

While it may seem Red Bull have an edge, tricks are being played by both teams and we won’t see where they are until Saturday evening.

FP2

The sun was setting over Yas Marina as the drivers started to push the times as they did some qualifying runs.

Lewis Hamilton was the first of the title challengers to cross the line on a set of the Medium tyres and put it fastest.

When Max put in his lap, he could only go second but then had his lap time deleted for track limits.

Valtteri Bottas was also pushing his Mercedes to the max and hit the Armco barrier for good measure. The rear stepped out through turn 14 and tapped the barrier with his rear tyre, however he was lucky to sustain no damage.

Nicholas Latifi was not able to avoid damage however when he lost the rear of his car through turn 13 and went backwards into the wall. He kept the car going but would have to pit for a new rear wing.

The drivers then made the switch the soft tyres for their second qualifying runs as we got to ride on board with Fernando Alonso in his visor and got to see him set a very impressive time before it was deleted.

A weird game of cat and mouse was being played between Red Bull and Mercedes as they didn’t look to want to show their hands too early.

Both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were towards the top of the timing sheets, but they weren’t the fastest.

That accolade went to the Alpines who were dictating the pace throughout the middle of the session and, until Lewis Hamilton pipped him, it was Esteban Ocon who was topping the timing sheets.

Valtteri Bottas was going fast but seemed to be struggling with the car. He had a huge lock-up going into the fast right handers in the final sector and was overall 4 tenths off Lewis Hamilton’s fastest time and also slower than Esteban Ocon.

Red Bull could only manage 4th and 5th with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez respectively.

Just as the chequered flag dropped on FP2, Kimi Raikkonen was in the barrier after a hefty shunt at turn 14. Not the way he would have wanted to end his final Friday practice session.

It all comes down to this

Plenty of games have been played between Red Bull and Mercedes throughout both sessions today and there are going to be plenty more as the weekend unfolds.

The amount of pressure on the shoulders of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is going to be immense and so far both drivers have looked very calm and collected on track.

You may see how both drivers have performed so far and see that Lewis Hamilton looks to have the edge, and you could be correct, but I believe that we haven’t seen the true pace of the Red Bull so far.

Max Verstappen didn’t set anywhere near a representative fast lap time in FP2 so that 6 and a half tenths gap between Lewis Hamilton and the Dutchman is not the true gap between them.

We will have to wait until tomorrow to see where the true pace lies on this track and I for one can’t wait to see just how close this battle is going to be.

Bring on this title fight!

FP1 Classification

FP2 Classification

F1 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview: Showdown in the desert to decide the title

Sports of all kinds share cliches meant to describe the pinnacle of their events. They’re all meant to convey a sense of importance and finality to that event despite the sun always rising the next morning. Those cliches are overused and applied to pedestrian matches or games far too frequently.

Locker rooms and broadcasts are filled with them and it’s cheapened the effect. But every so often, there is an event nobody has to print a word about for the epic nature to soak into the lore. It’s already being discussed in every fan’s garage, living room or device. And, for F1 fans, that event is this weekend.

Inserting a cliche here would do nothing more than discuss the fairytale truth: we have arrived at the last race of the 2021 season, the 22nd, and two drivers are tied for the championship lead. They also happen to be indisputedly the best drivers on the grid and near complete opposites. It’s an early Christmas present.

Track guide

Credit: Reddit

Finally, some good news about Yas Marina! One of F1’s more boring tracks – though, far from the worst – got a much-needed upgrade this year. Intending to smooth out some of the slow, jerky sections into rhythmic corners where cars can actually pass, the circuit now offers a track possibly worthy of the fight on it’s doorstep.

This is no longer the track Hamilton slowed his then teammate Nico Rosberg into the challengers behind in 2016. It was a cheap, tactically brilliant last move to try and salvage a championship. And it largely worked because of the former layout of Yas Marina.

In its place are faster, more flowing corners that will leave room for even more wheel to wheel racing: exactly what Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are itching to give us.

Jeddah was dynamite

Last weekend was the first weekend F1 has spent at the Jeddah track in Saudi Arabia it gave us a terrifying edge-of-your-seat ride. From the very beginning, drivers were noting how close and hard the walls were and how fast it was.

The race had to be red flagged and restarted twice, the lead was changed more times than I can remember and controversy swirled like a tornado with post-race penalties adding to in-race reprimands. Ultimately, Hamilton prevailed over Verstappen to continue his triumphant surge in form over the past six races. The Dutchman was able to salvage second to stay even with Hamilton heading to Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen? Or Hamilton?

The title rivals collided yet again a week ago

Whatever happens this Sunday, 2021 will go down as one of the greatest seasons in F1 history. It has been a beautiful tapestry of interwoven racing lines, epic heroics and a chaotic, aggressive mess all at once.

Will Verstappen, who seems to be summoning demons trying to stop his opponent, take his first and destined world championship? Or will Hamilton take his finest?

This season has been defined by close and aggressive racing between the two.  Frequent penalties to Verstappen, clashes and crashes, and wild swings in momentum have pronounced themselves at nearly every event. It will be unfortunate if a crash between the two determines who wins the championship. But, as has been the truth all season long, the level of skill and commitment to winning is supreme from them each. And it won’t come down to who “wants it” more. Clearly, they’re both desperate to win and possess the skills to do so.

The end of the season is here again. Only, this season was magic, carrying nearly impossible levels of excitement. I can’t tell you who is going to win but I do know that Sunday may be one of those times a sporting event makes you remember where you were that day – so don’t blink.

Session Times

Practice 1, Dec 10th: 9:30 – 10:30 (4:30 – 5:30 EST)

Practice 2, Dec 10th: 13:00 – 14:00 (8:00 – 9:00 EST)

Practice 3, Dec 11th: 10:00 – 11:00 (5:00 – 6:00 EST)

Qualifying, Dec 11th: 13:00 – 14:00 (8:00 – 9:00 EST)

Race, Dec 12th: 13:00 (8:00 EST)

All times are UK time (GMT), unless stated

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your Abu Dhabi GP weekend? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast, the Abu Dhabi GP Preview. Owain Medford hosted Tom Downey in episode 159 of the show. Both audio and video versions of the podcast are available below:

5 Drivers who need a good Saudi Arabian GP Today

Max or Lewis, Lewis or Max? On whom have you placed your bet?

The battle lines have been clearly drawn for the final two races and as we head to the end of the season. The Saudi Arabian GP has crawled on upon us like a massive volcano of opportunity for both Hamilton and Verstappen who’ll look to maximise their chances. 

But guess what? 

The win, as always, remains for just one of the two. One from a duo whose famous rivalry has scripted a new era of sorts in the turbo hybrid era of the sport. 

That said, let’s look at five drivers who’ll be keen to deliver a particularly strong weekend. 

1. Sebastian Vettel 

Sebastian Vettel begins his penultimate Grand Prix of the season from seventeenth on the grid. It’s neither the best possible start for a driver of his caliber nor is it a particularly troubling slot from which to aim to rise into a formidable grid position in the end.  

However, his P17 does indicate exactly a year that Aston Martin have had, slotting themselves in their maiden season neither too behind the rest of the lot whilst never fully capitalising on any race barring Baku’s triumphant podium finish. 

A year, therefore, spent in forging vital steps in what shall hopefully be a good journey up ahead! 

The last two races for Vettel, however, have yielded lukewarm results. At both Brazil as well as Qatar- Vettel went on to finish exactly where he began the races from – an eleventh at Brazil and a tenth at the latest F1 Grand Prix – at Qatar. 

Therefore, what’ll come in handy for the great German driver would be to make most of what now remains of the season. So, what’ll the four-time world champion make of the 50 laps ahead of him? 

2. Antonio Giovinazzi 

N

For someone who not only outperformed someone like Kimi Raikkonen in the first half of the season, where he finished on considerably better grid positions (in qualifying) than the famous Finn, it’s no surprise that it’s Giovinazzi- not Kimi- who got a better hang of the Jeddah track this weekend. 

Now what remains is to see whether the outgoing Alfa Romeo driver, who’s driving his final two races, much like Kimi, can salvage something special at the forthcoming race. 

To make things better for him, Antonio Giovinazzi’s worked really hard to get to a P10, a position he’d quite like to see take him further up in the grid. 

But can that Alfa Romeo hold up and give its long locked Jesus a blessed run this Jeddah?

It’s all to play for! 

3. Max Verstappen 

For most drivers, the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix is a massive opportunity to score on a track on which they’ve never previously raced before. For Verstappen of Red Bull though, it’s a make-or-break contest. 

Few drivers have put in as much effort to stretch a contest to its final legs in a bid to win a title as has the Hasselt-born driver. 

But then it’s one thing to soldier on in a race and something another to excel against someone like Lewis Hamilton. 

As Verstappen begins his second last race of what has been a tremendous season, he’ll only have two things on his mind. First, how to contest in an error free Grand Prix and second, how to win the contest in order to maximise his chances come Abu Dhabi. 

But in either situation, Verstappen will be tied to what’ll be an exceedingly big task that of denying glory to a proven legend of the track: Lewis Hamilton. 

It’s exactly what makes this upcoming 50-lap run a one of its kind tussle and it’s precisely what can make this a miss and go opportunity for a driver who’s the face of Formula 1’s young generation, along with names like Leclerc and Norris. 

4. Yuki Tsunoda

For someone whose last three Formula 1 Grands Prix have resulted in no points whatsoever, there’s no rocket science theory as to why the rookie Japanese driver needs a strong Saudi Arabia GP. 

Having already proven his worth and caliber as a Formula 1 driver thanks to race finishes like his P6 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Tsunoda will look to find some old form. 

In so doing, he’ll be keen to offer a final flourish to what has been a mixed bag of a season. 

Jedda being a new track will, however, offer an interesting challenge to someone like Tsunoda for whom every Grand Prix is an exciting opportunity to forge a career. With age on his hands and a new contract under his belt, you’d 

5. Lewis Hamilton 

A great driver must belong in the driver’s seat. And that’s precisely where Sir Lewis Hamilton- fresh from massive wins at Brazil and Qatar- finds himself ahead of the soon-to-begin Jeddah race. 

For someone who’s faced a relentless onslaught at the behest of Max Verstappen’s menacing form this season, the way Lewis Hamilton has fought back last few races to be in the thick of things is indeed remarkable. 

Moreover, it exemplifies the very virtue Hamilton himself stands for- Still, I Rise: a belief that regardless how staunch the attack from the opponent, I’ll still try to rise to being my best. 

This very philosophy and self-belief will be the facets Hamilton will fight with as he begins his and the sport’s maiden Grand Prix at Saudi Arabia from the very front of the grid. 

In clinching a very memorable pole at Jeddah, the first by any driver at the latest venue and a 103rd of his career, Hamilton is now barely a few laps from what could be another world title or if not, a major upset. The kinds that only a Red Bull can attempt. But let’s see what happens ahead in what’s poised to be a titanic struggle until the very end. 

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to react to the Saudi GP qualifying? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast, the Saudi Arabian GP Qualifying analysis. Louis Edwards hosted Tom Downey, Olivia Kairu and Jawad Yaqub in episode 157 of the show. Both audio and video versions of the podcast are available below:

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: FP1 & FP2 report – Hamilton is fastest as Leclerc stops the show early

Formula 1 cars took to the Jeddah street circuit for the first time as the sun was setting over the red sea. Formula 2 had gone out earlier in the day, so the track wasn’t as dusty as Qatar, but the track was still green, and drivers would have to be careful not to push too hard.

Max Verstappen has a chance this weekend to win his first world championship, so getting to know the track and get up to speed would be crucial. The same goes for Lewis Hamilton who must finish in the top 6 to stay in the championship fight.

Let’s get straight into the Friday action!

FP1

Some drivers were taking their time to get to know the new track, but Max Verstappen was having none of it and was pushing from the off. He set the initial pace on the hard tyres before making the switch to the softs.

He was exploring the limits as he kicked up a lot of sparks as he hit an exit kerb in the final sector. While it was spectacular, he was back into the pit not long after with a mechanic looking at his right rear. Nothing was damaged and he continued on.

The narrow nature of the track was proving to be a problem for some drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both had to abort fast laps as they encountered traffic.

With many of the bends being blind due to the walls, we are going to see much more of this as we get to qualifying.

Early on it looked like the McLaren was very comfortable around this new track. Lando Norris was setting very solid times on the hard tyres. Daniel Ricciardo was also looking settled through the session, but as the track rubbered in Ferrari looked to be on top again.

As the session went on, the track cooled and got closer to representative conditions, the drivers were looking to push more. Max Verstappen had a moment with an Alpine at Turn 1 and then later he had another moment through one of the fast chicanes.

Despite no one having driven this track before, no one hit the wall in their first excursion. FP2 may have another answer.

But when the chequered flag dropped, it was Lewis Hamilton who topped the session, followed by Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas was third.

FP2

FP2 time. Between the sessions was F2 qualifying so the track had rubbered up and cooled down to more ideal conditions for the drivers to get to grips with the new track.

The medium tyres were proving to be a bit tricky for many drivers. Getting temperature into them was difficult in the cooler conditions. Valtteri Bottas was struggling with rear grip through Turns 1 and 2. Fernando Alonso also locked up into turn 1 and was forced to cut across the run off.

Just like FP1, Max Verstappen set the early pace, but it was both Ferraris who also shot out of the gates on the Medium tyres.

Yuki Tsunoda was flying on the hard tyres as the track continued to improve and set the fastest lap, but it was taken away within seconds by Max Verstappen on the Medium tyres.

Much of the session was the drivers testing the limits of the track and pushing the limits of the kerbs to see what they could get away with.

The design of the kerbs at this track makes it very easy to beach the car on them so going over them too much will be a problem for the drivers.

The first yellow flag came at the end of FP2 as Nikita Mazepin went for a spin on the exit of turn 2 which impeded Lewis Hamilton who was going about his business..

Traffic was becoming a big problem for all of the drivers. The narrowness and the fact many of the corners are blind, makes it very hard for drivers to judge where to get out of the way. We saw some very close moments between Lewis Hamilton and cars on slow laps.

This didn’t stop Lewis Hamilton going fastest on the Medium tyres followed by Valtteri Bottas. Pierre Gasly put in a great lap in third with Max only 4th.

The session was ultimately red flag when Charles Leclerc had a very big crash at turn 22. He was but and walking soon after. He lost the rear as he entered the corner and went straight into the barrier. It will be a big job for Ferrari to get the car ready for qualifying.

Who will shine under the Arabian Lights?

This is crunch time for Red Bull and Mercedes and no mistakes can be made. It’s going to be tricky when the wall is only a few inches away from the track. There is truly no room for error.

The fast nature of the track has been working well for Mercedes so far, but given how twisty the first sector is, it could be the place where Red Bull is able to claw back some time on Mercedes.

This is going to be a very tight battle between these two teams as we reach the conclusion of this amazing season.

Behind the front runners, the mid pack look so tight and it’s a dice roll to see which team is going to be on top.

At time, the Alpine, Alpha Tauri, McLaren or Ferrari have been very fast and it’s very reminiscent of what we saw in Qatar. This is going to make Qualifying very interesting tomorrow and I reckon we will see some shock Q2 exits.

Traffic is going to be an issue to contend with as well in Qualifying so it could get very tasty.

FP1 Classification

FP2 Classification

F1 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Preview: Will Jeddah decide the championship?

A new circuit is always a voyage into the unknown. This weekend’s Saudi Arabian GP is no exception to the rule, as Formula 1 heads to the brand-new Jeddah Street Circuit. With both the driver’s and constructor’s championship on a knife-edge, this tricky and tight track could produce a fascinating contest.

Let’s see what we should expect for this night race in the desert!

Track Guide

Credit: F1

Jeddah is the fastest street circuit on the Formula 1 calendar. The walls are incredibly close throughout the lap, this is like Monaco at high-speed. Unfortunately, for the racing side of things, this track will also be very likely difficult to overtake on. However, there could be opportunities for mistakes from what should be a dusty surface.

There are a mammoth 27 corners, the most on the calendar. It’s also been confirmed that there will be three DRS zones, but how effective these will be remains to be seen.

Hamilton continues momentum in Qatar

Hamilton’s win in Brazil was one of the best of his career

Sir Lewis Hamilton won his second race in a row with a dominant display in Qatar two weeks ago. Hamilton started on pole and was untroubled from behind after Max Verstappen started further down thanks to a grid penalty. Verstappen came home second and took the fastest lap to keep the championship gap at eight points.

Fernando Alonso claimed his first podium in F1 since 2014 and his first for Alpine with a hard-fought third place. Sergio Perez recovered from starting outside the top ten to finish fourth, while Esteban Ocon made it an excellent day for Alpine with fifth.

Lance Stroll scored Aston Martin’s best finish in months, as he finished sixth. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc scored solid points again for Ferrari with seventh and eight, respectively. Lando Norris rescued two points for McLaren with ninth place, despite a puncture. Sebastian Vettel scored the final point with tenth place.

Will Verstappen win the title this weekend?

Mathematically, Max Verstappen can become the first Dutch Formula 1 champion this weekend. He’d also become the first non-Mercedes driver to win the driver’s champion since Vettel in 2013. Is this realistic, though? Given both Max’s and Lewis’ form in 2021, it’s unlikely.

The pair have finished 1-2 more often than not, and you’d be brave to bet against them both being on the podium in Saudi Arabia. Team tactics could play a role though, as passing will be very difficult and both Perez and Valtteri Bottas will be looking to make their cars as wide as possible.

Barring any mechanical retirements, the title battle will likely go to the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend. This race in Jeddah though, will be a tight and tense affair, especially if 44 and 33 are at the front of the pack.

Session Times

Practice 1, Dec 3rd: 13:30 – 14:30 (8:30 – 9:30 EST)

Practice 2, Dec 3rd: 17:00 – 18:00 (12:00 – 13:00 EST)

Practice 3, Dec 4th: 14:00 – 15:00 (9:00 – 10:00 EST)

Qualifying, Dec 4th: 17:00 – 18:00 (12:00 – 13:00 EST)

Race, Dec 5th: 17:30 (12:30 EST)

All times are UK time (GMT), unless stated

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your Saudi GP weekend? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast, the Saudi Arabian GP Preview. George Howson hosted Owain Medford, Tom Downey and Tom Horrox in episode 156 of the show. Both audio and video versions of the podcast are available below:

5 Drivers who need a good Qatar GP today

A lot has changed at the venue of the forthcoming F1 race, the Losail International circuit and it doesn’t only concern changes made to track to make it fast paced and competitive for Grand Prix racing.

Besides changing the pit lane entrance completely, Losail’s presence on the F1 calendar is a change in itself. Not once previously has an F1 race been held at the track famous for hosting many a mighty MotoGP battle.

Now that it’s ready, it seems the home to the Qatar Grand Prix is all set to unfurl a mega contest that would see the man second in the driver standings claw back to the thick of things concerned with the 2021 championship.

Having said that, which 5 drivers need to deliver a strong Qatar GP?

1 – Charles Leclerc

Leclerc’s qualifying performance wasn’t up to his usual high standards

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc begins his maiden assignment at Qatar from thirteenth on the grid. Unable to put together a strong lap in Q2 meant that for the first time this season, the Monegasque found himself knocked out.

Someone not accustomed or fond of staying away from the main battle on the grid, Leclerc, sixth in the driver’s standings, would want to hold the upper hand in the teammate battle on Sunday.

For that, he’d have to deliver a belter of a race since his good friend at Ferrari Carlos Sainz is a long away ahead in seventh.

Though a cool-headed bloke, Leclerc would also be wary of other challenges the likes of which require him to focus on the larger context of the battle: the fight against McLaren.

His closest rival in this year’s standings, Lando Norris (3 points ahead of Charles) is also ahead on the grid having found better grip and traction than his struggling McLaren teammate, Daniel Riccardo on Saturday.

Among the key questions for this year’s maiden Qatar GP would be to see who might hold the edge in the battle for supremacy on Sunday. Can Charles deliver a strong race?

2 – Daniel Ricciardo

To put it simply, there are multiple reasons as to why Ricciardo in his McLaren would want to finish off his maiden drive at Qatar on a high.

For starters, when compared to Lando Norris’s 2 points from the last two races, a driver much younger to him, Ricciardo has managed none.

A DNF at Brazil and his P12 at Mexico didn’t help Daniel Ricciardo’s cause one bit.

Moreover, the mega talent found himself struggling under lights on the twisty high speed circuit where much like others, Ricciardo struggled and found himself knocked out in Q2.

While his qualifying form still needs to find the much needed improvement, purely on race performance there can be no undermining of the Honeybadger. But, the question is whether the smiling man in that McLaren can come up trumps at Qatar in the next few hours from now?

3 – Sebastian Vettel

Prior to entering the 2021 Brazilian Grand Prix, the famous German had declared, “I’m not here for midfield racing!”

Which is precisely what he’s been doing, albeit pushing his Aston Martin mighty well toward the front end of the track with much gusto in 2021.

One look at what both Aston Martin drivers have managed would reveal Vettel having easily neutralised his younger teammate, Lance Stroll. The German bagging 42 points to his Canadian teammate’s 26.

But at Qatar, the former Red Bull driver would be up against a different challenge altogether.

While the younger F1 lot that’s still to cement its place in the sport, think Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin can still make errors and will be overlooked for they’re largely learning their craft, the experienced bunch of drivers will have a real test at their hands.

Not that any among Kimi, Fernando or Sebastian need to feel unnecessary pressure, they’d still like to set an example for the rest of the grid to follow. By that count alone, Vettel, who’s always relished a new challenge, would like to give it all at the night race at Qatar where he begins from a strong tenth on the grid.

How about converting a promising start into a mighty fine result in the Grand Prix?

4 – Antonio Giovinazzi

For a driver who didn’t necessarily enjoy what’s now turned out to be his final Formula 1 season, unless and until a sudden return to single seater racing’s top flight becomes apparent much too sudden, somewhere Gio is upset. And he’s grieving.

It’s not hard to see why. He must drive whatever’s left of this championship and what remains are only three final races, with all his might.

Try and convert the inner turmoil into a reason to excel on the track.

So that the adieu he bids to the sport is a mighty one in that the team that didn’t give him another shot to reclaim himself – this is when he consistently outperformed Raikkonen in qualifying- can see there’s a lot left in the driver who’s been snubbed away.

Moreover, Antonio Giovinazzi hasn’t helped his cause a bit by finishing behind his teammate and Latifi, on eighteenth. A strong result would be such a fine end to what’s been a testing time this weekend at Qatar.

After coming mighty close at scoring a point each at Mexico and previously, the USA, Antonio would desire competing in a blessed weekend.

5 – Max Verstappen

If the fighting duo of the grid finish at Qatar exactly where they currently are – P1 and P2, respectively- then Verstappen would see his lead over Hamilton shrink by some margin.

He’d still be in the lead but with only a seven point advantage over second-placed Sir Lewis Hamilton.

That Red Bull have clearly struggled from what one has seen so far, Perez sliding down below on eleventh only exacerbating the woes of the Milton Keynes outfit, should be considered a clear and present danger of what could happen if one doesn’t push the throttle and focus on Sunday. 

For Verstappen to regain control, and not lose out on the momentum he’s built ever so painstakingly in this year’s championship, a strong result, maybe even a win, must happen. 

But then, can a Hamilton in such great form as seen in the last few races ever let that happen? 

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more reaction to yesterday’s Qatar GP Qualifying? Never fear, the Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast! Louis Edwards hosted Tom Downey, Tom Horrox and Jawad Yaqub in the 2021 Qatar GP Qualifying analysis show. Both video and audio versions of the show are linked below:

F1 2021 QATAR GRAND PRIX: Hamilton dominates to pole

The first F1 qualifying in Qatar saw some shocking eliminations early on. It also saw a masterclass performance from Sir Lewis Hamilton, as he beat his championship rival Max Verstappen to pole.

Q1

The Haas drivers were the first ones out on track, followed by half of the grid. Most cars opted for the soft tyre compound, though Pierre Gasly used medium tires putting himself 4th on his first try.

The first attempts of Hamilton and Verstappen put the two in a completely different league. Hamilton led by two tenths, but Lando Norris in third was over half a second behind Verstappen. On his second attempt, Valtteri Bottas lifts himself up to first place, three thousandths ahead of Hamilton.

Both Alfa Romeo and Haas drivers struggled on their first attempts, sitting in P17 to P20. Charler Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo also had a difficult time, only getting up to 12th and 13th respectively. The track was improving towards the end of the session, with Russell putting his Williams to P10 with two minutes to go.

A lot of traffic collected in the final sector, catching out Nicholas Latifi who could not go onto make his final lap.

Hamilton ended Q1 on top, followed by Verstappen and Bottas. The eliminated drivers were Raikkonen, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Schumacher, and Mazepin.

Q2

Medium was the tyre of choice for most teams, though AlphaTauri goes out with softs on both cars. Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas retain their places from A1 on their first attempts, until Gasly took second place.

Perez’s first attempt was a dud, with the Mexican only eighth and almost one second behind Hamilton. The Aston Martin’s and Alpine’s came out on the softs after the other teams finish their attempts. Their speed forces Leclerc and both McLaren’s to change their medium tires to softs.

Perez was also forced to take the soft tyre, as he finds himself on 12th place with 5 minutes to go in Q2.

Leclerc cannot improve enough and is left in P13, with Ricciardo struggling to 14th. The Biggest shock is Perez being eliminated in 11th place. Ferrari’s gamble with putting Sainz on mediums paid of, as the Spaniard qualified for Q3 in 10th place. The Alpines and AlphaTauri flew in Q2 and get both of their cars into Q3.

Q3

All drivers headed out straight away after the green light in Q3. The first attempts echo the standings from Q1 and Q2, with Hamilton leading ahead of Verstappen and Bottas with two tenths between all three drivers. Gasly and Alonso complete the top five, all five inside just over four tenths.

Hamilton was the first one out for the final attempts with little over three minutes left on the clock. Mercedes splits their cars a sector apart, quite unusual for the team. Verstappen was the last car to leave the pits.

Hamilton dug out an incredible first sector, beating everyone by three tenths. He finishes his lap with a 1:20.827, over four tenths faster than his previous fastest lap. Gasly’s front wing broke in the last sector, puncturing his tyre and causing short yellow flags. This meant Hamilton took the pole by four and a half tents to Verstappen in P2, followed by Bottas in P3. Gasly and Alonso kept their impressive P4 and P5.

Norris got 6th, followed by his golfing partner Sainz. Tsunoda was an impressive 8th, with Ocon in 9th. Vettel could only manage 10th in his Aston Martin.

Full Classification

via @F1 on Twitter

2021 Qatar Grand Prix: FP1 & FP2 report: Bottas tops FP2, but Lewis stuck behind Verstappen.

F1 arrives in Qatar for the very first time and Friday practice was, for many of the drivers, their first look at the track. This track has been used for MotoGP for many years, so it would be interesting to see how the F1 cars get on.

With three races left, the tension has really ramped up in the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Today’s session would give us an insight if Mercedes could have another dominant weekend.

Let’s get straight in Friday Practice!

FP1

It took a while for the drivers to finally get to grips with the new track, but no matter how much preparations the drivers do, there will always be those who push the limits a bit too hard and get punished for it.

The two Haas drivers were the first to start pushing the track limits as Mazepin went wide at turn 4 and kicked up a lot of dust. Schumacher pushed the limits a bit too much and found himself having a trip through the gravel at the end of the session.

Plenty of drivers were kicking up dust onto the track and the kerbs were also providing a spectacular show. George Russell ran wide and sparks were literally flying, I’m sure Williams would have a look at the floor after that.

McLaren would have definitely looked as Norris ran wide and a piece a bodywork flew off the car as he went over the kerbs.

As the session went on, the time were tumbling as the dust clears and the track rubbered in. But, it was Max Verstappen who was looking comfortable at the top of the timing sheets.

Lance Stroll’s session ended prematurely as he suffered a brake by wire problem which ruled him out of the session.

Problems then hit Lando Norris as he was crawling down the pit-lane. It appeared as though he was having some engine issues. The replays showed him riding the kerbs very aggressively again which seemed to have caused the issue. Lando was able to roll his car down the pit-lane to the garage and got back out on track later in the session.

Lewis Hamilton then looked to have an issue with his front wing as the Mercedes mechanics were having a very close look at the problem.

When the session ended, it was Max Verstappen who topped the timing sheets followed by Pierre Gasly.

FP2

We were now under the lights in Qatar as the drivers took to the track for Free Practice 2.

The stewards had taken a very laisse-faire attitude to track limits in FP1 as they looked to see where the drivers were gaining an advantage. The stewards had decided that they were going to use the purple and white kerbs as the track limits.

There would be an absence from this session as Nikita Mazepin required a brand new chassis after the old one was damaged during FP1.

It was an immediate battle between Red Bull and Mercedes as all four drivers topped the timing sheets as one point as they explored the track on the Medium tyres. But, it was Valterri Bottas who was looking comfortably quickest at the top.

The kerbs were still proving to be troubling for a few drivers. Lance Stroll who was having problems in FP1 had a moment over the kerbs and so did Antonio Giovinazzi. We saw a huge piece of bodywork fly off the back of the Alfa Romeo.

Max Verstappen was trying his hardest to wrestle his Red Bull closer to Valterri Bottas, but he couldn’t quite do it. He was losing time in all sectors as his Red Bull looked to be struggling to find the right balance.

As the cars ditched their quick runs and settled into their long runs, some drivers were being plagued by traffic issues. Sebastian Vettel ran into traffic twice in one lap as he was held up by both Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez.

For others, the dust was still roving to be a bit of a problem. Lewis Hamilton went straight on at turn1 and kicked up plenty of dust as he re-joined the track.

Charles Leclerc dipped a wheel on the AstroTurf which dragged him into the gravel trap. He was fortunate not to get bogged down and re-joined the track.

But at the end of the session it was Valtteri Bottas who was fastest followed by Pierre Gasly and then Max Verstappen.

Bahrain 2.0 for Tsunoda?

We have slowly seen Yuki Tsunoda ditch his demons and start to be more competitive, but we have yet to see a performance that rivals is first race in Bahrain all the way back in April.

However, Yuki Tsunoda has been looking very competitive so far this weekend. He has been a lot closer to Pierre Gasly this weekend and been generally competitive in the midfield.

AlphaTauri are currently in a tight battle with Alpine for 5th in the Constructor’s championship and while Pierre Gasly has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for AlphaTauri this season, Yuki Tsunoda will have to start pulling his weight if he hopes to aid his team to 5th.

If there is a track that could be good for Yuki Tsunoda, it does look as though the Losail track could be a good fit for him.

Pierre Gasly has been looking phenomenally quick so far, finishing 2nd in FP1 and FP2. It will be quite the achievement if he can be faster than both Red Bulls this weekend, but certainly he could be up there.

Time will tell for AlphaTauri this weekend, but pace from today looks very promising.

FP1 Classification

FP2 Classification

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