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We’re just six races into the 2021 season, and what a rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been through! Despite having a couple of less than exciting races, there was enough action just in Azerbaijan to make up for that, let alone the rest of them. We’ve seen wet racing, tyres destroyed, and the closest championship battle we’ve seen for many years, and there are still so many races to come. Here are some of my favourite moments from the last 6 races, although it was impossible to choose.

Bahrain:

The season opened where it all but closed last year, in Sakhir, and it did not disappoint. We saw the first of what would be many Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton battles, this one going Hamilton’s way. Max tried desperately hard to overtake Hamilton when pitting onto fresh tyres, and he succeeded. It became clear very quickly, however, that Max got through off the track and, therefore, the place would have to be given back. This was the last opportunity for the young Dutchman, and he ended the race in P2 but would have won had he waited to pass on a less windy part of the track. This gave us the first glimpse of the biggest title fights in years, and we immediately knew the 2021 season would be different.

Italy:

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix came next and got us excited for different reasons entirely. A wet race! Within seconds of the race start, we could see it would be a dramatic one as none of the drivers could be seen through all the spray. If we couldn’t see them at home, it must have been impossible to see from inside the Formula 1 cars. Within a few laps, cars were beginning to spin and slide all over the track and while it, unfortunately, ended the race for Latifi, and we saw a horrific crash between Bottas and Russell, it also spun Hamilton off the track and almost into the wall, almost costing him a race finish. He came back from P9 to finish an impressive P2, much to everyone’s surprise. This race also brought one of my favourite driver/engineer moments in recent times. Mick also spun into the wall during the race, and the calm and collected nature of his engineer Gary saved him from panicking, and the F1 rookie’s race continued after a front wing change. We’re very used to hearing very technical and heated conversations between drivers and engineers during a race, and it was lovely to experience the supportive role these engineers also play.

Portugal:

The race in Portugal was far from the most thrilling but did have one moment, which was nice to see, again involving Mick Schumacher. The young German driver was able to overtake Latifi during the race, and therefore, his Haas car did not finish with only his teammate behind him. While, of course, the battle for the bottom places is rarely important or even noticed during the race, but it was nice to see. Knowing how underpowered the Haas car is compared to even their nearest rivals and the constant press attention the team has been subjected to, none of which is his fault, it was nice to see him take a place on the track. I’m sure that improved his confidence as a rookie F1 driver hugely, given he’d spun in the two races before this.

Spain:

Barcelona was yet another race showcased a Hamilton vs Verstappen showdown, as every race seemed to have at this stage. What made this race special was that the role of strategy became so much more obvious compared to most races. With the front running teams often going for almost identical strategies during a race, it is rare to see a strategic win as we saw in Spain. Hamilton pitted late onto fresh tyres to take Max Verstappen close to the end of the race, and that he did. It surprised everyone both in the paddock and at home as the pit crew appeared in the pitlane at the very last moment. This caught Red Bull completely by surprise, and they immediately knew they’d been outwitted on this occasion, and Mercedes were likely to take the win. Even if this was another race with the two drivers taking all of the glory, this one showed a different side to the sport.

Monaco:

The race in Monaco was surprisingly underwhelming, with very little surprise apart from the pace of Ferrari and the lack thereof at Mercedes. After weeks of Red Bull vs Mercedes rhetoric, it was interesting to see a different team on top. My favourite moment in Monaco was seeing Charles Leclerc on pole, even if it ultimately went disastrously wrong on Sunday. Seeing the Monegasque driver on top at his home GP was really exciting and knowing that Ferrari was on the path to fighting back was lovely to hear.

Azerbaijan:

Asking me to choose a favourite moment from the Grand Prix in Baku is totally impossible! I loved every second of the drama we saw during that race. Of course, I’m most happy that both Stroll and Verstappen were okay after such scary crashes, but the action was intense. We went from thinking the title would stay in Verstappen’s hands to thinking Lewis would take over after Max’s DNF to realising neither of them got points. From this, we got the most random but by far most exciting podium of 2021 so far. Sergio finally getting the Red Bull to work in his favour was thrilling, even if it was due to Max’s misfortune. What made it so crazy was seeing Vettel in P2, however. Aston Martin struggled throughout the season and seemed so off the pace, but the 4-time world champion pulled through. Hopefully, he has found some new confidence that will ensure he continues to fight at the front of the grid, as we know he’s capable of doing. I can’t ignore Pierre Gasly either, as he was strong all weekend and totally deserved that podium. Seeing Gasly succeed after all of the dramas of recent years will never stop making me very happy. He is such a talented driver and deserves to be a front runner in years to come.

It’s lights out, and away we go! Max Verstappen got the better start than pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and passed the 7-time World Champion into Turn One with a golden overtake move on the inside. All twenty drivers made it safely through the first corner; meanwhile, Charles Leclerc made it past Valtteri Bottas and made it into third place.

It’s Lap 5, and the stewards are putting Pierre Gasly under investigation, who seemed to be out of position at the start of the race. Verstappen built a half-second lead over Hamilton in the first few laps, but the Mercedes is doing better by a tenth or two out of the Dutchman’s time, and we see Lewis earning the fastest lap. We hear Yuki Tsunoda on his team radio Lap 8 say on “Engine’s stopped, engine’s stopped,” Later on, we can see on the replay footage that the display on the steering wheel turned off, which can be signs of a gearbox problem. Due to that, the Safety Car is deployed. 

During the Safety Car, many pitstops occur, with the most shocking one coming from Antonio Giovinazzi on Lap 10. It appeared that the pit crew delivered empty tyres, which made it impossible to assemble them on the car. Meanwhile, we see a decent double pitstop coming from Williams, and both drivers switch to the medium tyres.

It’s Lap 11 and the Safety Car is back in, it’s now up to Max Verstappen to determine the pace of the restart. In the last chicane Max decided to increase with full speed. The Safety Car seems to have had no effect on the Dutchman’s Red Bull. Pierre Gasly is no longer under investigation, instead, he has been given a five-second time penalty for being out of place at the start. Since this is a data-driven decision, the stewards had an easier time coming to a conclusion.

Tyre concerns with Max Verstappen as we can see him having a clearly blistered right rear tyre. Replays of Hamilton’s car reveal that his right rear tyre is suffering from severe blistering as well. In true Hamilton style, he sets a new fastest lap during Lap 21 as the Mercedes improved a tenth or two off Verstappen’s time, while the Red Bull appears quite happy to keep the reigning World Champion out of the DRS range. We’re on Lap 23, and Gasly has taken his 5-second penalty and drops to P19. 

Mercedes was the first to act with a pitstop for Bottas on Lap 25, and the Finn has rejoined the race in clear air. Lap 26 and Verstappen is into the pits just as Hamilton was closing the gap on the race leader. Max can’t be too happy about this one as it was a prolonged stop from Red Bull and very unusual for the team as it was 4.2 seconds. It appeared to be a last-minute call.

Sergio Perez, who has yet to pit, cleared the way for Verstappen, who has already done so. Hamilton has been insisting to Bono on the team radio that his tyres are in good shape and that he wants to stay out. We can also hear that Toto has been complaining to the FIA race control about Hamilton’s time loss to Mazepin ignoring blue flags on the radio. 

Hamilton makes a successful 2.7-second pit stop on Lap 29, but Verstappen is safe as he passes while Hamilton is still in the pit lane. On the other hand, Hamilton is now on the newer tyres, but Verstappen still has the Fastest Lap on his name since Lap 28. So, it seems Mercedes’ strategy is to ensure Hamilton has more traction at the end of the race when Verstappen is expected to struggle.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton earned the Fastest Lap after his pitstop in Lap 31. We’re now on Lap 34, and the leaders have passed through the back of the field with Nikita Mazepin once again being accused of causing traffic, which seems to have helped Hamilton, who is now within DRS range of race leader Verstappen. Lando Norris has had a tough time so far, but he’s now in ninth place after passing Alonso on Lap 39 while his teammate Daniel Ricciardo is on track for a good fifth-place finish. 

While Max Verstappen complains about the lack of grip, it’s in Lap 42 to see Hamilton making another pitstop. Mercedes made a bold strategic move by doing so. They decide to bring Hamilton in just as he was approaching Verstappen. He’s now on a set of extra mediums.

It’s Lap 43; right after Hamilton’s pitstop, we can hear Verstappen’s race-engineer Gianpiero Lambiase on the team radio: “At this rate, they’re going to catch us in the last lap” Meanwhile, it appears that Max stays out and will try a different strategy. As Hamilton asks to be informed of the gap to Verstappen on Lap 44, Bono reminds him, “Currently 22 seconds; you’ve done it before.”

It’s Lap 46, and we hear the following on the team radio: “I don’t see how we’re going to take this to the end”, Verstappen says. It’s for the first time this season; Verstappen sounds so disappointed. According to the informative AWS graphics, Hamilton’s newer set of tyres is giving him concern, but within the next 10 laps, the World Champion will be within striking distance of the Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton is behind Bottas in Lap 55 and has the advantage in terms of race speed. Hamilton is attempting to overtake his teammate, but Bottas is refusing to cooperate. At Turn 10, Hamilton dives past his teammate on the inside. That was not part of a team order; the Finn refused to let Hamilton pass him by earlier. 

Lap 54 and Bottas make a pit stop, and the Finn will challenge for the fastest lap point. Two laps later, we see Bottas earning the Fastest Lap as a result.

With 10 laps to go, we can see on the AWS system that Hamilton will be within striking distance of Verstappen in nine laps. Verstappen and Hamilton are now separated by just over a half-second on Lap 59. Keep in mind that Hamilton rejoined the race 22 seconds behind Red Bull when he pitted for the second time. It seems like the pace isn’t there for the Dutchman. What we thought was coming becomes a reality; Hamilton passes Verstappen into turn one and takes the lead of the race. 

It’s Lap 56, and Pierre Gasly has moved up to the tenth position. The AlphaTauri, had a close touch with Lance Stroll while braking, but it doesn’t matter for the Frenchman as he’s now into the points. That would be a good outcome for Alpha Tauri after Tsuonoda’s early retirement.

With Hamilton out of the picture, Red Bull has pitted Verstappen a second time to move him to fresher tyres in the hope of winning the fastest lap bonus point, a move that wasn’t a part of the original strategy. 

The chequered flag is waved as Hamilton is the first to cross the finish line after leading the race for the last 12 laps. For the fifth time in a row, the reigning World Champion wins the Spanish Grand Prix, extending his lead in the drivers’ standings. 

There’s no denial that Mercedes’ strategy was spot on, and it was the decisive factor. Verstappen made his pit stop in second position just in time to get the bonus point for the Fastest Lap. 

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