Rather than go full Nostradamus on the remaining races, I’ll rather propose a few points to consider. Another swing in the power balance between Red Bull and Mercedes, Max edging out somewhat but keeping an eye open as it’s very much available for the taking.
With Mercedes’ obvious power advantage displayed in Istanbul, I along with everyone else became increasingly worried that this could be the moment of ascendency post-engine replacement… Some voodoo magic was extracted. But such is the nature of racing that power without control means nothing.
Mercedes needed to raise the car on Friday and the bumps of COTA meant that any advantage could not be effectively executed. Such is the dynamic sensitivity of F1. Don’t be surprised if Christian Horner orders a few construction vehicles with heavy rollers to the remaining circuits to re-enact COTA. I joke. Obviously.
Without diving into too much detail, these are the flags I’ve raised that we have to pay careful attention to:
1. Race Strategy
One tends to forget easy but contrary to Red Bull’s race strategies at the beginning of the season, their race engineers are doing incredibly well. Not only to get their strategies correct but also to outsmart the Mercedes team. Kudos. It’s a total 180-degree turnaround.
2. The four-ship Red Bull fighter squadron
Teamwork makes the dream work. Alpha Tauri is answerable to Helmut Marko and we know what that means. Already displayed in Istanbul, Tsunoda blocking Hamilton and then at COTA, it was Bottas’ turn. The allegiance to Red Bull plays a factor, especially with Yuki seeking extra favour to keep his seat possibly into 2023. Could this play out in the coming races? We’ve seen how a hold up of a few corners or even laps on a tricky circuit could slow a charging car down.
3. Mercedes’ Speed
In certain speed traps, Mercedes was 6 km/h faster than the Red Bull, DRS more than doubled that difference. Red Bull will need to capitalise on the technical circuits so all is not lost.
4. Tyre management
Both Perez and Verstappen are masters at managing their tyres with Max raising the bar each race. Note at Circuit Of The Americas, during the mid-sector of the race, Hamilton gaining ground indicative of good strategy. Around lap 28, we saw Max edge out 0.6 seconds. That’s significant tyre management that can be quite demoralising for the chasing car. You could see it in Lewis’ body language post-race. He was down but not out. It was a display of great race craft, saving tyres and luring Lewis into it. Verstappen is maturing into a very capable racing driver.
At the end of the day, regardless of planning, motorsport will always be a game of luck. Like we witnessed Mick Schumacher holding up Max towards the closing stages of the Grand Prix – sure, it was a blessing in disguise on the last lap for Max what with DRS. Not so lucky for Lewis, though. Luck… there’s no predicting it.
6. The best of the rest
With the drivers and manufacturers championships very much in the hands of Red Bull and Mercedes, we shouldn’t forget the rest of the teams. This year has seen more mix-ups of various drivers standing on the Podium than in recent years. Everyone is closing the performance gap. Ok, everyone except for Haas but they’ve resigned to the fact that this year is done and they’ll be focusing their energies on 2022.
Daniel Ricciardo is finally getting to grips with the McLaren, Lando is firing even though COTA wasn’t his best performance. Charles Le Clerc deserves a bonus for getting that Ferrari to go at the pace he is and Carlos Sainz is right up there too. Vamos!
The Alfa and Alpine shake-up is turning into that mid-pack fight we deserve. Even Giovinazzi vs Alonso is proving to be a proper scrap. Those fights would be critical in shining a spotlight on his ability as he fights for a 2022 seat. Not only Alonso but Giovinazzi took on Vettel as well. It would be 2021’s biggest sin if he doesn’t get a spot but one of the downsides that may exist with the Andretti potential buy out of Alfa would be that an American driver would need to occupy that second seat. Giovinazzi’s performance may not be a factor regardless.
Lastly, the Williams vs the Aston Martin 'battle' leans more on a combination of Aston struggling with being on the wrong side of Average and Williams making leaps and bounds, getting to the desired levels of professionalism needed. Either way, it’s moments like these that are significant as the gaps between teams get bridged.
At the end of the day, this season is becoming the one we were waiting for. In a way, the Verstappen vs Hamilton battle is the equivalent of Senna vs Prost for our generation. Heroes will be crowned but will Hamilton reinforce his GOAT status? I can’t wait to see.
Words: Brent Van Der Schyff
Images: Red Bull Content Pool