Track Sequencing, Reliability & Other Factors At Play In The Hamilton-Verstappen Title Battle In 2021
The time for ‘it’s a long season to think about the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship’ has long gone. Apart from outright talent & ability to deal with the ever-increasing pressure, I write about the factors at play in the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle as we near the close of the 2021 Formula 1 season.
If you’ve been reading my blog or hearing me on the Inside Line F1 Podcast frequently, the one term that I have repeatedly used throughout the 2021 Formula 1 season has been ‘finer margins’. After all, it’s the finer margins that have seen the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle in 2021 swing by less than 8 points in the last 7 races. But in the races that remain, what could be the key factors at play? (Read my previous post: External factors at play in the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle in 2021)
Only 5 drivers have scored points in each of the last 4 races:
Carlos Sainz Jr.#F1
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) October 11, 2021
Red Bull Racing’s lack of pace in Turkey has a lot of paddock pundits puzzled. Was that a one-off or was it a sign that Mercedes has actually pulled away after bringing significant upgrades on their car in Silverstone? Yes, Verstappen finished P2 to Valtteri Bottas, but it was the nature of his finish that has raised eyebrows. Bottas was largely unchallenged in the race. Typically, Red Bull Racing is stronger in the second-half of the season but that claim isn’t as convincing this year.
In his column in The Race, Mark Hughes explains why Verstappen is right to be worried about Mercedes’ trend. The Dutchman leads Hamilton by only 6 points and I expect track sequencing to play an additional role in their title battle. First, I’m assuming (and hoping for all of Formula 1!) that Turkey was a one-off for Red Bull Racing. This leads me to my second assumption – USA, Mexico and Brazil should play to Red Bull Racing’s advantage while the three races in the Middle East should fall in Mercedes’ territory.
If my assumptions hold true then Red Bull Racing need to maximise their advantage to help Verstappen build a gap to Hamilton over the next three races. This will include slick race management and of course, noteworthy contribution from Sergio Perez.
All manufacturers have taken on more power unit-related components than permitted by the rules of Formula 1. In another column by Mark Hughes, this time for the Motorsport Magazine, he’s raised questions about the reliability of Mercedes’ power units. Bottas is on his fifth unit of the season after taking double penalties in Italy & Russia.
As for the title rivals, Verstappen took his 4th power unit in Italy and Hamilton followed suit in Russia. However, there are ‘strange noises’ coming from Mercedes’ power unit and Toto Wolff hasn’t vehemently ruled out a fifth unit for Hamilton. This is after Red Bull Racing claimed that in theory at least, Verstappen could finish the rest of his season with his allocated power units. Wolff-Horner taking pot-shots at each other has only added to the entertainment of the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle in 2021 so these statements might well be just that – statements.
The last 6 races have seen 5 different winners:
Turkey: Valtteri Bottas
Russia: Lewis Hamilton
Italy: Daniel Ricciardo
Netherlands: Max Verstappen
Hungary: Esteban Ocon#F1
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) October 13, 2021
A few thoughts on power unit-induced penalties: should Formula 1 have more-stringent penalties for manufacturers that decide to use more than their allocation for the season? Let’s remember, the idea is to restrict them to use only 3 power units per driver per season. Maybe financial penalties linked to the newly introduced budget cap could make teams work within the rules? The funnier part is that choosing to use a 5th power unit (specifically the internal combustion engine) triggers fewer penalties than using the 4th!
Rules were written to keep PU-related costs in check & further the message about how reliable #F1 engines have become over the years (which they have).
But if 3 out of 4 power unit manufacturers have overshot their allocation then maybe more stringent penalties should apply?
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) October 9, 2021
Bottas & Perez
In Turkey, both Red Bull Racing and Mercedes saw their ‘number 2’ playing their part in the Hamilton-Verstappen title battle. Bottas took victory while Perez was a key stumbling block in Hamilton’s march to the podium. Will Bottas & Perez continue to interfere as we countdown to Abu Dhabi? Apart from Bottas-Perez’s obvious allegiance, drivers like Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso have made public their preference for a ‘Max Verstappen title win’!
Points in the last 4 races:
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) October 10, 2021