Action-packed Grand Prix from Hungaroring to Monza
The absorbing extravaganza that has been the 2021 Formula One Season is emphatically living up to the billing, and with eight Grand Prix still remaining you can be sure it will be exponentially captivating right until the death.
In the aftermath to the British Grand Prix on 18 July, the World Championship battle took a major turn as reigning World Driver's Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton claimed an undisputed eighth victory at Silverstone to slash Max Verstappen's championship lead from 32 points to just eight.
Two weeks after a dramatic race weekend in Britain the F1 grid stopped over in Hungary, where a blazing hot week in Budapest saw track temperatures in excess of 60°C during Friday practice.
The weather did mellow out over the course of the weekend (perhaps a tad too much) as Hamilton and current Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas both advanced from Q2 on the medium compound tyre while the remainder of the top 10 qualified on softs.
Towards the end of Q3 Hamilton had a considerably slow outlap which effectively hindered the final hotlaps of both Red Bull cars who were close behind the Mercedes exiting the pit lane.
A pristine hotlap by Hamilton landed him pole position at the Hungaroring for a record 8th time, also a 101st career pole for the Briton. Bottas completed the front row as Verstappen & Sergio Perez occupied the second row.
Pierre Gasly started P5 with Lando Norris P6, and Charles Leclerc P7.
By the time of lights out on Sunday afternoon, qualifying tyres were insignificant as 91% cloud cover in Mogyorod meant the entire grid began the Hungarian GP on intermediates.
One of the most bizarre F1 races in many years, Hungary 2021 was action-packed from lights out to the chequered flag. Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin all had just one active car following the series of incidents at turn 1 on the opening lap, initially concocted by Bottas.
Bottas made a ponderous start off the line before the Finn failed to brake in time at the first corner and rear-ended Norris’ McLaren, subsequently wiping out both Red Bull cars as well.
In a separate incident also at turn 1 Lance Stroll's Aston Martin rammed into the Ferrari of Leclerc which drew a DNF for both drivers.
The race was red flagged to clear the profuse debris as five cars – Bottas, Leclerc, Norris, Perez and Stroll – were all forced to retire from the race.
Hamilton, just in front of the raucous commotion, managed to drive away unscathed whilst title rival Verstappen picked up considerable car damage as a result of Bottas' bizarre episode.
Ahead of the race restart the track had dried up significantly which saw all remaining cars bar Hamilton switch for slicks following a second formation lap.
Realising his mistake Hamilton boxed one lap after the restart and came out plumb last, handing the race lead to Esteban Ocon’s Alpine. Despite being at the back of the pack the 7-time World Driver’s Champion put his experience to the sword as he displayed incredible speed and comfortably rose back into the top 10, top 5 and even into the podium places.
Meanwhile title challenger Verstappen struggled to deliver a daring drive and was fighting to break into the top 10 for most of the race, with his car nowhere near full capability.
Ocon, aged 24, held his nerve with a courageous drive to take his maiden F1 win as well as Alpine's inaugural victory as a constructor – the first race this year won by neither Red Bull nor Mercedes.
Ocon's Alpine team-mate Fernando Alonso also took his maiden victory at the Hungaroring in 2003 and this year, on the weekend of his 40th birthday, took P4 for the Spaniard's best finish since 2014 in Singapore.
Sebastian Vettel ended the race in 2nd place but was later disqualified for breaching fuel limits, revoking what would have been a second podium in 2021 for the Aston Martin driver.
Hamilton who ended P3 was promoted to P2 with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr completing the podium places.
Gasly finished P5 and also set the fastest lap in Hungary, with fellow AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda taking P6.
Williams pair Nicholas Latifi and George Russell ended 7th and 8th as the team scored for the first time since 2019 and Russell collected his first points in the sport.
Verstappen and Kimi Räikkönen rounded the top 10.
65,000 spectators filled the stands at the Hungaroring as Ocon became the first French F1 driver to win for a French constructor since Alain Prost did for Renault in 1983.
14 cars finished the race as Nikita Mazepin picked up damage before the race restart. Haas are the last remaining team yet to feature in the points this year.
After Hungary was the start of a three-week summer break which was then followed swiftly by three Grand Prix over as many weekends.
A week before the grid returned to action it was announced the Japanese GP would be scrapped for a second year running, as Covid-19 soars amidst Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The race weekend at Suzuka was pencilled in for 8-10 October which will now stage the Turkish GP (previously scheduled for 1-3 Oct).
Coming into the first of three consecutive race weekends, Bottas had a five-place grid penalty following the opening lap chaos at the Hungaroring.
Moving onto Belgium and at Spa-Francorchamps there sat more inclement weather conditions which worsened as the weekend progressed.
Lando Norris seemed a firm bet for pole position after the Briton topped Q1 and Q2, before he spun out early in Q3.
The damage enflcited by the McLaren required a gearbox change with Norris on the receiving end of a five-place grid penalty, dropping him to P14.
Verstappen dramatically took pole in the wet conditions, 3-tenths quicker than Russell's Williams.
Russell snubbed his countryman Hamilton to P2 by 13-thousandths of 1-second.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified P4 on the occasion of his 200th race in F1.
Vettel qualified P5, 7-hundredths off Ricciardo, and 2-tenths faster than Gasly.
Perez qualified P7 but collided into the barriers en route to the starting grid on race day, and was unable to start the GP.
After completing the formation lap under the supervision of the safety car the race start was suspended due to the awry weather, with most drivers unable to see directly in front of them.
The FIA declared the race would not go ahead and half-points were awarded based on the starting grid.
Verstappen, Russell and Hamilton formed the podium with the Williams driver collecting his first points and first podium in successive races.
After Perez crashed out, the top 10 was completed by Ocon, Leclerc, Latifi and Sainz.
75,000 spectators were permitted per day over the weekend, and the devoted fans remained at Spa throughout the uncertain weather conditions.
The Dutch Grand Prix had planned to make a comeback during the 2020 season but was cancelled in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
McLaren won the last F1 race at Zandvoort in 1985 as Niki Lauda picked up his final F1 race win before he retired for a second and final time that same year.
In context only three out of 20 drivers on this year’s grid were born prior to the previous F1 race at Zandvoort (Alonso, Hamilton & Räikkönen) and one of them announced their impending retirement from the sport come the end of the year.
In the days leading up to the first Dutch GP in 36 years, Räikkönen announced the current season would be his last before the flying Finn retires.
Räikkönen has a record 341 race starts and the 2007 WDC has accumulated 103 podiums, 21 wins, and 18 poles over a charismatic 21-year F1 career that has showcased two separate stints driving for Ferrari, and a 2-year sabbatical between 2010-11.
At the time of Räikkönen’s F1 debut at the 2001 Australian GP, current drivers Lando Norris and Mick Schumacher were barely 2-years-old; Yuki Tsunoda would have been aged 10 months.
Räikkönen turns 42 next month and was on course to eclipse 350 career starts before he tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after announcing his retirement.
The Iceman was replaced at Zandvoort and Monza by Alfa Romeo reserve driver, Robert Kubica.
Verstappen secured pole position in his home race and shared the front row with championship rival Hamilton.
Bottas and Gasly formed the second row of the grid, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz.
Verstappen was simply a class above the rest and he duly held the pack at bay, becoming the first Dutch winner of the Dutch GP.
The remainder of the top 5 finished ended unchanged from qualifying as the trio of Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas shared a podium for a 5th time in 2021.
Hamilton won an extra point for the fastest lap.
Alonso continued his impressive point-scoring form as he came home in P6 ahead of compatriot Sainz. Perez, Ocon and Norris finalised the top 10.
McLaren collected just one point in the Netherlands as Ferrari made valuable ground on their papaya adversaries in the World Constructor’s Championship.
In Verstappen‘s home race, the title challenger’s beloved ‘orange army’ set a coruscating atmosphere as an estimated 70,000 packed the grandstands at Zandvoort each day over the race weekend.
Coming into Round 14 in Italy there had been a host of driver transfers confirmed.
Alfa Romeo confirmed the signing of Bottas to succeed his fellow Finn Räikkönen from 2022.
In the following 24 hours Mercedes confirmed that Russell would partner Hamilton from next year in an all-British line-up.
Former Red Bull driver Alex Albon was announced as Russell’s replacement at Williams.
Ferrari were in good stead ahead of their home race at Monza, having gained 15 points over McLaren in the previous race.
The renowned ‘Temple of Speed’ was named as the second destination for sprint qualifying, which earlier made its debut at Silverstone in Round 10.
Bottas qualified on pole position for the sprint with his soon-to-be ex-teammate Hamilton sharing the front row.
Verstappen and Gasly began the sprint directly behind the Mercedes pair.
Hamilton had a nightmare off the line in the sprint which saw the defending world champion drop four places before the first chicane.
Bottas won the 18-lap sprint but began the main race in last place after changing power unit.
Verstappen crossed the line in P2 but Bottas’ penalty meant Verstappen lined up on pole for the main race for an eighth time in 2021.
Ricciardo accompanied his former team-mate at the head of the grid, while current team-mate Norris started the GP in P3 alongside his countryman Hamilton.
Leclerc and Sainz started Sunday P5 & P6 in their team’s home race.
Ricciardo got a better start off the line than Verstappen and led the Italian GP until the 'Honey Badger' boxed on lap 23 of 53.
Verstappen pitted one lap later but was stationary for 11 seconds as his right rear tyre struggled to be drilled by the Red Bull crew, and he effectively lost several places including to title rival Hamilton, who pitted on lap 25.
Upon exiting the pit lane Hamilton was right alongside Verstappen and neither of the two foes were willing to yield an inch for the other at the first chicane, resulting in both drivers retiring from the race with Verstappen's Red Bull virtually atop of Hamilton's bruised Mercedes.
This was a first DNF for Hamilton in 64 Grand Prix since Austria 2018, and it was the first time both Hamilton and Verstappen failed to finish the same race. After the race Verstappen was given a three-place grid penalty ahead of the next race in Russia on 26 September.
The safety car was introduced as Bottas had climbed from starting 19th to occupy P6 when the safety car came in after lap 30.
With the two main heavy-hitters both out of the running at Monza, Ricciardo regained the lead with Leclerc close behind followed by Norris, Perez and Sainz.
Leclerc dropped three places in as many laps as Norris, Perez and Bottas all passed the Ferrari, with McLaren now sitting in P1 and P2.
Ricciardo held on for his first win since leaving Red Bull at the end of 2018, and ending McLaren‘s 9-year duck without a race win stretching back to 2012.
Ricciardo also set the fastest lap and left the Temple of Speed with 26 points.
12 different drivers have been on the podium in 14 races this season, compared to 13 all of last year (17 races).
Norris was breathing down Ricciardo’s neck and finished P2 to earn a 5th career podium for himself as well as a first 1-2 finish since 2010 for McLaren.
Bottas snatched P3 after Perez received a 5-second penalty for exceeding track limits and gaining an advantage which saw the Mexican drop to P5.
Leclerc and Sainz ended P4 and P6 in Ferrari's home race, an underwhelming return for their Tifosi considering Leclerc's position when the race resumed following the safety car's stint.
Stroll took his best finish of 2021 in P7 while Alonso scored P8 to take home points from 8 of the last 9 races.
Russell’s P9 finish sees the future Mercedes driver score in three straight races. Hungary winner Ocon ended P10.
Gasly took a DNF in sprint qualifying and had to retire on Sunday as his car was not drive-able.
Approximately 60,000 Tifosi were present per day over a thrilling Italian GP weekend.