Qualifying for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix produced mixed results throughout the field. From Lewis…
Max Verstappen survived a wild moment under the Safety Car to win the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix from Lewis Hamilton, who also had a rare off in what was an incident packed race. Spins, contact and a high speed accident for George Russell and Valtteri Bottas, which brought out the red flag for a thirty minute respite, all contributed heavily to the final result.
Rain lashed parts of the circuit in the lead up to the race, forcing teams to change tyres. The majority of the field chose intermediates, while Ocon, Gasly, Schumacher and Mazepin were sent out on wets. Spins for Alonso during the slow trip from the pitlane to the grid and then Leclerc on the Formation lap were signs of things to come.
The first hundred metres of the front straight looked reasonably dry as the field sat waiting for the red lights to start the race, with Hamilton taking the initial lead from Max Verstappen. The Mercedes driver was quickly swamped on either side by the Red Bull Hondas of Verstappen and Perez as the run to turn 1 glistened with water.
Verstappen risked going onto the grass as the pair ran side by side through Traguardo and towards the Tamburello Chicane. The pair squeezed each other through the entry with neither willing to cede. Hamilton was forced over the kerbs which lifted the #44 as its floor scrapped across the raised border, tearing small sections of wing and floor from the car. He then lost ground at the exit allowing Perez to attack once more as Verstappen pulled away. Leclerc soon moved ahead of Perez, with Ricciardo, Gasly, Stroll, Sainz, Norris and Bottas in pursuit.
The Safety Car intervened for the first of many trips to the track on lap 2 after Nicholas Latifi hit the wall just before the Rivazza. He had a harmless spin at the Variante Alta and rejoined next to Nikita Mazepin. The pair touched with the contact sending Latifi sideways and into the wall.
Mick Schumacher found the wall on the front straight while still under the Safety Car on lap 4. The German had been swerving to warm his tyres and was caught out by the conditions. Sergio Perez also went off track, losing two places, he rejoined and promptly drove back into position, which later cost the Mexican a ten-second penalty for the indiscretion.
The race resumed on lap 7 with Verstappen under pressure from Hamilton, who placed the Mercedes in the same section of track as he had done on lap 1. This time the Mercedes backed off and moved behind the Red Bull through the chicane. Norris used the restart to perfection and quickly passed Sainz then Gasly to move behind his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo in 5th. Such was Norris’ pace that the team ordered the pair to change places. Ricciardo then dropped another place to Carlos Sainz.
Verstappen stopped for slick tyres on lap 27 as the track had dried significantly. Hamilton stayed out for one more lap in an attempt to gain an overcut on the Red Bull. While Hamilton’s lap pace was excellent a slow 4 second stop saw Verstappen re-take the lead of the race. Worse was in store for Hamilton when he made an uncharacteristic mistake at Tosa on lap 31 after taking to the wet section of the track as he moved past Russell and slid off the track and gently nudged the tyre barrier. He kept the engine running and gradually edged back from the wall and through the gravel. He rejoined a lap down on the leader and seemingly out of the points.
Russell closed in on Bottas with DRS on the run towards Tamburello and ran wheel to wheel with the #77 Mercedes. The Williams drifted right and lost grip when the right side tyres touched the grass. It speared Russell into the side of Bottas, with both cars making heavy contact with the inside wall. Debris littered the track as the pair slid down the track before coming to a halt in the gravel. The race was immediately red-flagged as marshals scrambled to remove the two cars and the trail of debris that littered that part of the circuit.
George Russell was shaken by the high speed incident and also furious in the moments immediately after the crash. Both spoke of the other in less than glowing terms over the radio, before Russell climbed from his wrecked Williams. The Englishman, who had crashed out of the 2020 race in damp conditions when in a potential points scoring position, then approached Bottas (who was still in his Mercedes) and remonstrated with the Finn, then slapped his helmet before walking away.
“Between all the drivers we’ve had this gentleman’s agreement where if there’s a faster car approaching with the DRS you don’t jolt the steering wheel at the very last moment,” Russell explained. “I got the slipstream, and just as I pulled out, Valtteri moved very slightly and that just put me off line and put me onto the wet stuff In perfectly dry conditions on a very ordinary circuit it’s dangerous, let alone on a very narrow circuit when we are turning and there are wet patches. So an unfortunate incident, but it’s been inevitable an incident like that would occur when drivers make small moves like this.
“It’s the smallest of moves, but when you’re going at 220mph and you’re going 30mph quicker than the car ahead, it’s massive. It begs the question why he’d do that for P9, and perhaps if it was another driver he wouldn’t have. Like I said, he’s not fully to blame and I’m not fully to blame, but it could have been avoided. I think this is a good example for the stewards that minor movements like this will create crashes – and here we are.”
Valtteri Bottas disagreed with Russell’s account, placing the blame squarely on the William’s driver.
“George got close and decided to go for a move. Obviously the track is quite narrow and there’s only one dry line and he went from the outside. There was space all the time for two cars, but it didn’t make any sense that move – he obviously lost it and hit me.
“I haven’t spoken to him. I couldn’t hear a thing he was on about [when Russell confronted him trackside]. I don’t really get it. It was clearly his fault and I don’t understand the rage.”
The stoppage was a blessing for Hamilton, who returned to the lead lap and had repairs made to his car.
Racing resumed with a rolling start on lap 35 but not before Max Verstappen also had a moment as the Safety Car led the field on the preceding tour. The Red Bull Honda snapped sideways as he generated heat into cold tyres and squirmed over the kerbs at the Rivazza. Somehow Verstappen managed to keep part of the car on the circuit which prevented Leclerc from taking the lead under the full course caution.
That was the last time Verstappen’s lead came under any serious threat. He led Norris, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Tsunoda at the restart, though the AlphaTauri soon dropped down the field after a spin at the first turn. Perez also lost position when he spun on lap 38.
The order remained relatively static during the final stages of the race, except for Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver carved his way back up the field and swept around Norris for second place on lap 60.
Verstappen took the win from Hamilton and Norris. Leclerc, Sainz, Ricciardo, Stroll, Gasly, Raikkonen and Ocon rounded out the top 10 at the chequered flag, but Raikkonen dropped down the order after a post race time penalty for an infringement during one of the many race restarts. That elevated Fernando Alonso to tenth and his first points in the 2021 Formula One World Championship.
“I am of course very happy with this win for everyone in the Team and Honda,” Verstappen told Red Bull Media. “I think the key was of course the start as we had a great launch. I surprised myself as it was always hard to get off the line in the wet last year but we worked hard to try and improve that and it worked. The conditions were challenging out there, especially in the beginning and it was very hard to stay on track but we stayed out of trouble. I wouldn’t call it a dominant performance as Lewis was following me quite well and for him to come back to second after his incident means they have a lot of pace in that car. We won because we made the right calls with tyres at the right time and the Team managed everything well in these conditions. With the tyres degrading, choosing the right moment to go onto slicks wasn’t easy but we got it right. I had a little moment at the re-start trying to warm up the tyres with some throttle but luckily we didn’t spin. We still have to work hard to improve because it’s very close, but for now I’m very happy with the result. I’m looking forward to Portimão because it’s an amazing track and then we go to a track we all know well in Barcelona. We’ll see what we can do but so far, it’s been a good start to the year.”
Lewis Hamilton was philosophical about the result and still leads the championship after earning the bonus point for the fastest lap of the race.
“Considering I was facing the barrier at one stage, then a lap down, yeah, it was a difficult day in that regard,” Hamilton said to Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “I had some really good pace in the rain and was catching but just a little bit impatient, maybe, with the back markers. I’m only human so these mistakes happen. I’m grateful that I was back in the race and could hunt down and get back to second. The car had a rough time today. I started first, should have been first at the finish but these things are sent to test us and we’ve got a great battle on our hands. Game on.”
Sixth place was a solid, if unspectacular, result for Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian is still coming to grips with the McLaren.
“One of those races where you’ve got rain on the laps to grid and you’re not really sure how it’s going to go,” Ricciardo told McLaren Media. “I managed to get a position at the start and was then running in fifth for a bit. Just as the track started to dry I grained the front right, so I couldn’t really keep a good pace.
For the restart, we put on the Soft tyre to make the most of a potential standing start. I tried to keep on top of the Soft until the end of this long stint but, just couldn’t really manage it. I think both front and rear tyres I struggled with.
So, certainly not an awesome race, but I think to come home sixth is good for the Constructors’ points with Lando in third. Congrats to Lando, he had a great race and it’s awesome to see the car has the pace. My race pace was nothing too special. I’ve just got to keep working on it and improve.”
C. Sainz Jr.
Main Photo: f1.com
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