Max Verstappen Wins in Imola

Max Verstappen won his first race of 2021 at the second round of the season in Imola after a chaotic wet/dry race. Lewis Hamilton recovered from first lap drama, contact with the barrier and a red flag to finish second, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, who took his second podium as he finished in third place.

The race started under wet conditions, which instantly got plenty of F1 fans interested, as they saw a mixture of intermediates and wet tyres being used at the start. After plenty of chaotic and action-packed laps, it was Max who crossed the line in first place for Red Bull, followed by Lewis Hamilton, with Norris in third. Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz took a fine 4th & 5th for Ferrari, with Daniel Ricciardo in sixth for McLaren. Pierre Gasly finished in seventh, ahead of Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin. Following penalties for Kimi Raikkonen, the two Alpine’s of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were lifted to ninth and tenth, with both cars bringing home points for the first time this year.

Lewis Hamilton started from pole for the 99th time in his Formula 1 career, but Max Verstappen got a terrific launch and jumped up into the lead, squeezing Hamilton onto the kerbs at turn two, which launched the Mercedes driver into the air, causing some bodywork to break off the car. This didn’t severely damage the car or impact Lewis’ race, however, and he briefly retook the lead when Verstappen pitted for medium tyres as the track quickly dried out. The win slipped away from him again, however, as a rare slow pit stop from Mercedes held him back. He entered the pits unusually slowly, perhaps due to the conditions, and when he pulled into his box, the right front tyre was very slow and didn’t want to come off the car. This cost him plenty of time, and he rejoined just behind Verstappen.

The race got even worse for Hamilton a few laps later, as he locked up whilst lapping George Russell’s Williams and slid off the circuit, catching the barrier and breaking his front wing. He cleverly engaged reverse to dig himself out of the gravel, and rejoined, albeit down in P8.

Just after the Hamilton incident, the second Mercedes of Bottas and Russell had a huge coming together at the Tamburello corner, with both cars spat into the barriers and severely damaged. Thankfully, both drivers emerged unharmed, but plenty of words were exchanged, mainly from Russell as Bottas stayed sitting in his car, apparently winded. The Finnish driver responded by raising a certain finger to the British driver, who also responded with a slap on Bottas’ helmet. Following the investigation after the crash, neither driver was judged to be to blame, but it was a frustrating end to the race for both drivers, as Bottas was running towards the bottom of the top 10, whilst his teammate was challenging for victory, and Russell was running in the top 10 on merit and on the verge of scoring his first points for Williams.

The race restarted following a red flag to clear the cars and debris, and the restart almost saw Max Verstappen spin whilst warming tyres, but he held on to his lead, with Hamilton back up to third by lap 55.

Verstappen Cements Title Challenge

Following Bahrain, it became apparent that Red Bull was equal to, or maybe faster than the Mercedes. After race two, it certainly seems like we will have a title fight on our hands between Verstappen and Hamilton. Verstappen could have won in Bahrain of course, but had to settle for a second. This time though, it was advantage Max and he took the chequered flag ahead of Hamilton.

Lewis retains the lead of the championship as he picked up the extra point for the fastest lap, but Verstappen has had a brilliant and consistent start to the season, with no mistakes, and this could very well be his best chance yet to fight for motorsport’s greatest prize.

Red Bull appear to have a very fast and competitive car and it is so good to see after years of Mercedes dominance with very little challenge. We have, as F1 fans, longed to see a Verstappen/Hamilton battle for many years now, and it seems we finally have our chance. This is shaping up to be a very good season and a very good fight - and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Bemoaning Bottas

Here we go; one of the regular segments. It was yet another disappointing weekend for Bottas. Following on from a quiet third-place finish in Bahrain, he needed to get his season started here and make a statement about his championship challenge. It was a disappointing qualifying though, and he put his car down in eighth on the grid whilst his teammate took pole.

Come race day, he seemed to make no progress up the grid and languished around the lower regions of the points. He ended up in a fight with Williams’ George Russell, who of course stepped into an identical car last year in Bahrain and completely showed Bottas up. The pair of them made contact in a big way, and both drivers were instantly out of the race, as Bottas defended his position by squeezing Russell ever so slightly onto the wet part of the track, which unsettled the Williams and sent it into the side of the Mercedes.

It’s been a poor start to the year from Bottas, in a year which may well be his last chance to challenge for the title in a Mercedes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see George Russell sitting in his old seat in the Mercedes in 2022, and I do wonder if Bottas has some idea of that too, unless he ups his performances.

This is his fifth year driving for the champions, and we had his customary “I know what I have to do” speech at the start of the year, but we’ve seen very little of his plan so far. I know it’s only race two of a long season, but he needs to make progress. Rapidly.

Agony For Williams

Argh, this race was painful for Williams, and for myself and all the other Williams fans out there. The team enjoyed their best qualifying for a while, with George Russell lining up 12th and Latifi just behind in 14th. Finally, it looked like Williams might score points if things just went their way.

However, it didn’t Nicholas Latifi’s race was over on lap 1, as he spun off the circuit and then crashed into the barrier after making contact with the Haas of Nikita Mazepin. It was a silly error from Latifi, as he was rejoining the circuit and moved straight back over onto the racing line. Mazepin couldn’t avoid the Williams, and it was sent nose-first into the barrier. Latifi will learn from this, but it was a painful start to the race.

It all went horribly wrong as Russell and Bottas collided. An absolutely heartbreaking end to the race for the Williams team and for George, who came so close to scoring his first points for the team, and picking up Williams’ first points since Robert Kubica finished 10th in Germany back in 2019. Russell gave some scathing comments about the incident, saying that Bottas may not have defended like that if it was anyone else, and that fighting for two points is nothing for Mercedes, but for Williams, it’s everything.

The team has obviously made progress, and I think more progress will be made over the coming races, but they seemed aware that Imola presented one of the best chances for them to score points, so were understandably gutted.

An Up And Down Weekend For Red Bull

It was mainly up for Red Bull, of course. Max Verstappen won and is now only 1 point behind Hamilton in the standings. They also qualified second and third, with Perez ahead of Verstappen.

It went wrong for Perez as following a decent start, he slipped back and then picked up an avoidable penalty for overtaking under the safety car after he slid off the track in the dodgy conditions.

Red Bull have one of their strongest lineups of recent seasons, probably since the Ricciardo/Verstappen years, and I have no doubt that they will be serious challengers for the constructors' title. Especially is Bottas keeps performing as he is, and Perez is only going to get better in that car. He qualified on the front row for the first time in his F1 career and would certainly have been in the fight for the podium if he didn’t pick up a silly penalty.

Another Tough Weekend For Haas

It’s not getting easier, is it? After an incident strewn first weekend in Bahrain, Mazepin did nothing for his reputation by spinning into the barrier in FP2. Unsurprisingly, the two Haas cars lined up at the bar of the grid, ahead of only Yuki Tsunoda who didn’t set a time following a crash.

They started well and kept their noses clean. Mazepin got in a tangle with Latifi but that wasn’t the Russian driver’s fault, as Latifi moved across when he shouldn’t have done. They had a quiet race until Mick Schumacher spun whilst warming up his tyres and had to complete multiple laps with no front wing. He spun into the barriers and tore off his wing, which blocked the pit exit and, annoyingly for the young German, prevented him from coming into the pits to fit a new one!

Both drivers did finish, but they finished behind Sebastian Vettel who retired but was still classified as he retired so late in the race.

It’s going to be a long season for Haas and their drivers, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do and how much progress they make.

How Are The Standings Looking?

Well, closer than they’ve been for a while! Lewis Hamilton leads, but he is only one point ahead of Max Verstappen. Lando Norris is third for McLaren after a great start to his season, with LeClerc fourth and Bottas in fifth.

Mercedes currently lead the constructors' standings, 7 points ahead of Red Bull with McLaren third, Ferrari fourth, AlphaTauri fifth and Aston Martin sixth ahead of Alpine. Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas remain the only teams yet to score points.

It looks like we are in for a fantastic battle, not only for the top of the standings but also between McLaren and Ferrari for third and fourth!

Where Do We Head Next?

We have a two-week break before F1 return to Portugal and the Portimao circuit for the Formula 1 Heineken Grande Premio De Portugal 2021. F1 likes its long Grand Prix names this year it seems!

We head there on 30th April, with the race on the 2nd May.

Thank you very much for reading, and I apologise for the lateness of this article! I won’t be so slack next time, I promise. It means a lot to hear and see your feedback, and to see plenty of you tuning in to the F1 Fans Show Live, every Monday at 7:15 pm! The show is getting better and better week by week and we cannot do it without all of you, and it means so much to all of us.

As always, take care and stay safe!

Steve Thomson