The performance swing, the fallout from lap 48 and a first F1 race at Losail – 5 scenarios that excite us ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix
The last triple title of the season ends with a new venue as Formula 1 heads for a race in Qatar for the first time. Here are some of the stories we expect the paddock to talk about ahead of the visit to Losail.
1. Mercedes and Red Bull performance swings
It’s the season that keeps on giving. Whenever it seems like one team is clearly the favorite for a race weekend, the other comes back in style. Mexico was a dominant performance for Red Bull, and Brazil even more for Mercedes.
So which direction is Qatar going to go? That’s the question many are asking, as we head to a new track and try to figure out which team they will favor.
READ MORE: Was Hamilton’s scramble in Sao Paulo due to that new Mercedes engine?
One thing that has been so exciting about 2021 has been the ability of each team to excel if they have their respective cars in the right working window, but one has rarely had a huge advantage over the other. Then the last two weeks rolled around, but while one championship contender was dominant, the other made sure to limit the damage with second place. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton do not let go.
With three races in the Middle East and some common characteristics between the tracks ahead, a strong performance in Qatar should bode well for the rest of the year. Which version of each team we have this weekend could prove to be crucial.
2. The âlet them runâ philosophy
One of the main talking points coming from Brazil was the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen on lap 48, when the pair found themselves wheel to wheel heading towards turn 4. Hamilton had almost cleared on the outside. before the braking zone, before the two pilots leave the track.
The championship leader couldn’t get to the top or even keep his car on the circuit, and the Red Bull ran wide and Hamilton went off the track as well. Mercedes was not happy as Verstappen was retaining the lead at this point, but after FIA race director Michael Masi noted the incident, the stewards ruled that no investigation was necessary.
On Tuesday Mercedes decided they weren’t willing to leave it there and asked for a formal ‘right of review’ – so it looks like we haven’t heard the end of this flashpoint yet …
READ MORE: Mercedes asks for ‘right of review’ for Hamilton-Verstappen clash on lap 48 in Brazil
All angles: the battle of Verstappen and Hamilton in the 48th round in Brazil
3. McLaren in the last-ditch sedan
Ferrari’s form in recent races has been nothing short of remarkable. Since the Scuderia introduced a new powertrain upgrade, it has been extremely competitive across all venues and has finished with at least one car in the top five in each of the last seven races.
The final two laps saw them come home fifth and sixth with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz respectively, finishing best behind Mercedes and Red Bull at Interlagos as Sainz’s third place in the Sprint earned him an extra point.
After Russia – the first race where a Ferrari driver took the new power unit – McLaren held a 17.5 point advantage over Ferrari, but that has since reversed and they are now 31.5 points behind. Considering how close the two teams are for much of the season, it has been difficult to get any big points, but the recent race makes it extremely difficult to see how McLaren will stop Ferrari’s momentum. If they’re going to do that, they’ll have to start making some serious breakthroughs this weekend.
READ MORE: Ferrari moves away from rivals P3 McLaren, as Sainz and Norris tangled up in Brazil
4. The closest battle on the grid
As the battle for third place in the Constructors’ Championship appears to be winding down as Ferrari progresses so far, the fight for fifth place takes on a whole different tone.
If we use Russia again as a point of comparison, Alpine has 103 points and is 19 points ahead of AlphaTauri. It might not sound like a lot, but if four other teams (Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren) have steadily taken points ahead of you, you’re usually fighting for the bottom two or three paying positions.
Alpine has added just nine more points since then, while AlphaTauri has collected 28, meaning they are completely tied with three laps to go. They were even tied in front of Brazil, where the seventh for Pierre Gasly ahead of the eighth and the ninth for Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso respectively ensured the two teams equal points.
READ MORE: 6 Sao Paulo Grand Prix Winners & 5 Losers – Who Led It In Brazil?
Gasly led the charge scoring 92 of AlphaTauri’s 112 points, while the Alpine pair are more evenly distributed with Alonso scoring 62 and Ocon 50. It’s that balance that keeps the battle tight, as AlphaTauri appears to have the car more. fast, but Yuki Tsunoda didn’t score as consistently in his rookie season.
It’s like starting over with only three rounds to go, but a big result could decide this fight anyway.
5. A first race in Losail
Fresh off three venues that were back on the calendar after a year late due to Covid-19, we are now heading for the first-ever Qatar Grand Prix and a race at the Losail International Circuit.
Losail is no stranger to big events, with MotoGP races here regularly, but it will be the first time an F1 car has raced at the site since it was built in 2004.
READ MORE: Norris and Hamilton pay homage to seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi ahead of his final race
The teams are used to racing in the Middle East, and pre-season testing this year has also been held in nearby Bahrain, but they will have a lot to try and learn during testing as they tackle a new circuit which was only confirmed on the calendar at the end of September. Also coming at the end of the triple header, there was not much time to prepare for the first track visit.
This may be the first race in Qatar, but it won’t be the last. While the race is not on next year’s schedule, it is a sign of things to come with a 10-year deal to host races from 2023.
On board: Qatar joins 2021 F1 calendar