- Heath Grayson
The Best Formula One Season in Over a Decade
The Italian Grand Prix turned out to be the most interesting of the season so far. McLaren won its first one-two victory in nearly a decade, and Max Verstappen took the team order to finish on top of Lewis Hamilton way too literally. If it weren't for the new F1 Halo system, the end result could have been catastrophic.
The Russian Grand Prix is set to take place this coming Sunday at the Sochi Autodrom. Following what happened last weekend, it's worth looking at the upcoming race at Sochi and what it might hold.
Before we get to that, a quick recap of the current 2021 driver standings. Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen is currently in the lead with 226.5 points, followed closely by Mercedes's Lewis Hamilton on 221.5 points. Valtteri Bottas is in third with 141 points.
The battle for the constructor's title is also between Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. Mercedes is on 362.5 points, followed by Red Bull Racing Honda on 344.5 points. At the last race, McLaren Mercedes's one-two put it in third with 215 points, shoving Ferrari off the podium eliminating their chance.
We are super excited as Formula 1 continues to build momentum here in the US, and with more regulations taking place next year we think the sport will only get better from here. Here are a 8 things to think about heading into the end of the season.
1. The Sochi Autodrom
Sochi is one of the more recent additions to the F1 calendar, with the first race in 2014. It's a 3.655-mile street circuit, and the drivers will run 53 laps for a total of around 194 miles. Because Sochi is a modern track, it has room for overtaking. The track is also relatively smooth, and tires last for quite a long time.
There's a good chance it might rain, but if not, we reckon most teams will go for the softest compound and will still require only a single stop. There's a total of 18 corners. The DRS Detection Zones are located just before the first corner and just before corner 10, which is a tight right-hander. The most exciting corner is Turn 3. It's an 820-yard constant-radius left-hander.
The big question is whether the Red Bull cars have the power to overtake. Sergio Perez's place on the grid is unknown, but we know Max Verstappen will be a few cars back as he's taking a three-place grid penalty after Monza's Lewis-topping antics. Red Bull typically struggles for pace on circuits that favor straight-line speed, so you have to wonder whether they have the pace to even try overtaking maneuvers.
2. Mercedes' Race To Lose?
With the fastest car on the grid and a seven-time champion behind the wheel, Mercedes appears to be in a good position this upcoming weekend. Sir Lewis holds the lap record of 1:35.761, set in 2019.
The other Mercedes is occupied by Bottas, who delivered a stunning performance at Monza. He won the sprint race and claimed the third spot on the podium despite starting from the back of the grid. There can be no doubting the pace of the Mercedes-AMG car, and on tracks where tire wear isn't an issue and there's the space to run a low-downforce car, Toto Wolff's team has a distinct advantage against cars like the Red Bulls and McLaren's that favor high-downforce, technical circuits.
Mercedes will want to lock up the front row, most likely with Hamilton on pole. The thing is, pole is a tricky position at Sochi. It's a short straight, followed by a slight right-hander and then a longer straight. Instead of letting every other driver into the leading car's slipstream, a better strategy would be for one and two to sit side-by-side and lock out the rest until Turn 2.
3. Bottas Off His Leash!
Hamilton might be Mercedes' undisputed number one driver, but Bottas hasn't always been the most obedient number two. At the Dutch Grand Prix just a few short weeks ago, Valterri defied team orders in pursuing a fastest lap at the end of the race, potentially robbing Hamilton of a much-needed championship point. He aborted at the last minute. The following day, however, It was announced that Bottas would be moving to Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN for the 2022 season to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen.
He's now in a position where he gives zero *offensive word redacted*. We saw his turn on the pace at Monza, and have seen his pace before. We now have to wonder whether, if placed in a position where team orders are given for him to allow Hamilton past - which has happened on numerous occasions this season already - he'll listen to team orders or prioritize the rest of his season in the championship's fastest car.
Will Bottas fall in line, or will he go for glory? What is Mercedes going to do, Fire him?
4. Red Bull Fighting For Third?
Following Verstappen's unfortunate parking incident (the stewards don't allow parking on other competitors), he will receive a three-place grid drop for Sochi. Team boss, Christian Horner, isn't too concerned about the penalty, given the unique difficulties of pole position at Sochi. Still, Horner is candid about their chances this weekend, stating that it will be "challenging."Red Bull has never scored a victory at Sochi, and the team's chances aren't looking good this year.It does have a supercharged Max Verstappen to work with, supported by an always eager Sergio Perez.
Red Bull knows that at some point in the rest of the season, a drop to the back of the grid is in the cards as the team has already used all the available power units for the season. Replacing it once more would result in starting at the back of the pack, and Sochi - a track the Red Bulls will struggle with, could be an ideal place to absorb those penalties for Max all in one go.
5. Another Clash Of Titans?
We predict that Max and Lewis will meet up at some point during the Sochi race. We doubt it'll be in an all-out racing scenario, though, as we've already discussed Mercedes' car being better suited to the track. However, with tensions riding high, if a pit stop places the two drivers in each other's way again, it will be interesting to see whether they learned something from previous races.
Hamilton put Verstappen into a wall earlier this year at Silverstone, and Verstappen took them both out during the last race. The tension is reaching boiling point, and here's hoping cooler heads will prevail. Hamilton is one victory away from becoming the first F1 driver to hit triple-digit wins. He's going to be on it.
6. McLaren To Build On Amazing One-Two Finish
We don't think so. This isn't anything against Lando and Daniel, but considering the circumstances under which it scored the one-two at Monza where two most formidable rivals crashed out of the race, a repeat is unlikely.
We don't want to take anything away from an epic victory, however. That's how the game works, and McLaren deserved that glorious win.
A big part of success in F1 is psychological. We could see it earlier this year when Mercedes started crumbling under pressure from Red Bull. Now we'll hopefully get to see the flipside of that. McLaren will be riding an all-time high. The entire team will be charged up and ready to give it their all if only to chase that feeling only dominating the grid can provide. We also know the McLaren car can be quick, as evidenced by Lando Norris a few weeks back at Spa when he was on track for pole in tricky conditions before a major accident put paid to that.
7. Politics Behind the Scenes
It's safe to say that F1 fans are currently divided into two opposing teams. You have Team Lewis and Team Max. Neither is willing to admit their driver was at fault, even though there's a solid case to that both were.
McLaren's one-two forced Ferrari off the constructor's podium, giving the most famous team of them all another knock. The gap isn't that big, but you can be sure that McLaren will be doing everything it can to stay in the lead.
The silly season of driver transfers seems to be over. Driver changes for next year have been announced, and the only vacant seat left is with Alfa Romeo. Antonio Giovinazzi, who currently occupies the seat, has been doing a good job, but the rumor mill also names Nyck de Vries and Guanyu Zhou as possible replacements.
Haas hasn't confirmed its drivers for 2022, but things are unlikely to change. Mazepin's dad is the team's headline sponsor and Mick Schumacher is a Ferrari Academy driver while Haas is a Ferrari-powered team. And at this point, Haas is one of the most valuable commodities in F1, if only from an entertainment standpoint.
8. The Pressure is in Full Force
How are the drivers feeling at this time of the season? We can only speculate, but there will be a mixed bag of emotions out there. Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris are obviously on top of the world, which will undoubtedly help their performance.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. did well in the last race, and we see no reason why they won't be putting on a good show.
Pierre Gasly is currently in the lead in the midfield, doing the most to prove that he deserves that coveted Red Bull seat in 2023. Christian Horner has openly said this is a possibility.
Kimi Raikkonen missed the last race due to Covid but he'll be back on the grid at Sochi. The Iceman has nothing left to prove, but we do not doubt that he'll be giving these last eight races everything.
This brings us to Hamilton and Verstappen, both licking wounds from the previous race. Both have stated that their competitiveness is getting slightly out of hand, but neither is known for backing down. This battle will never end until one of them retires.
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