A Hamilton victory along with an Alonso podium | Top 5 2021 F1 Qatar GP Analysis
Round 20 of the 2021 Formula 1 season took place at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, for the first time in F1 history. Lewis Hamilton took his 102nd race win of his career at the new circuit and showcased the Mercedes-AMG F1 car's true potential to Red Bull Racing on track. With a 25.743 seconds lead over Max Verstappen in P2, it was a clear indication to Red Bull that they have some catching up to do. Fernando Alonso finished third for Alpine F1 and got his first podium finish since Hungary in 2014. Tyre life was a point of concern through the grid as three cars picked up punctures as the drivers tried to find the limits of the tyres. The 2021 F1 Qatar GP was a treat for the viewers as it had fun overtakes, multiple pit wall strategies and a 1.1km long straight with DRS.
Now let us look at the top 5 points of analysis from the Qatar GP.
The championship title crunch
Alonso’s podium finish as Alpine pull off a one-stop strategy
Ferrari extending the lead from Mclaren with a solid race overall
The tyre failure problem
Things we learnt about the Losail International circuit
1. The championship crunch
The drama between the title rivals started moments before the lights went out! Max Verstappen was about to start from P2 when the stewards handed him a five-place grid penalty and made him start from P7 after he failed to comply with the double-yellow flags shown during Qualifying 3. At the same time, Valtteri Bottas got a three-place grid penalty for not complying to a single-yellow flag during the same session and started from P6.
Max and Lewis got a good start off the line and as Lewis started to stretch his lead from the pack behind, Max was able to gain three places right at turn 1. Even though Lewis was running in the clean air and was able to maximise his lead, it was just not enough to build a gap safe enough as Max started to cut through to P2.
The story was different for Max’s teammate. Sergio Perez had a difficult qualifying and started from P11. But he was a threat right from the get go and managed to overtake his way till a potential P3. It was only Red Bull’s two-stop strategy that dropped Perez so far back that he just didn’t have enough laps left to mount an overtake on Alonso.
Valtteri Bottas was a victim of Mercedes’ attempt to know how far the medium compound tyres could be stretched. The answer is 35 laps give or take. He didn’t have a lightning start like Perez, lost five positions on the opening lap, and was caught behind a DRS train as he tried to make his way through the field. But as he tried to make Mercedes’ one-stop strategy work, the left front tyre blew on him and even though he got that replaced with a pitstop, his car had to be retired after 15 laps.
In the end, Max snatched the fastest lap from Lewis after he realised the Red Bull car just didn’t have enough pace to mount any pressure on Lewis. With this victory, Lewis and Mercedes walk away with a much needed 25 points which lets Mercedes be on top by a margin of 5 points, and at the same time, Lewis is now just 8 points behind Max.
2. Alonso’s podium finish as Alpine pull off a one-stop strategy
Fernando Alonso, after starting from P3, was able to make an aggressive move on Pierre Gasly ahead on the opening laps as he started on the soft compound tyres. He was able to manage them well while maintaining a steady pace. This allowed him to make his first pitstop on lap 23 and try to push the remainder of the race on the hard compound tyres.
The Alpine car was working well in the tight layout of the circuit and was also making good use of the 1.1km straight to overtake the ones ahead. It was as if their low revving engine and high air-intake mount philosophy was actually working on the Losail track.
Teammate Esteban Ocon was able to climb his way from P9 to P5 while making the same one-stop strategy work. He was matching the pace of his teammate and also managed to pull off a longer first stint on the soft compound tyres. He was asked to ‘defend like a lion’ by Alonso when Perez was charging through the field for third.
In the end, Alonso was just quick enough to keep a margin of just 2.8 seconds from Perez as they crossed the finish line. This podium finish marked his 97th podium which he tasted last in Budapest 2014. Surprisingly, his last podium was 105 races ago, the same year Max Verstappen made his debut.
Alpine F1 now stands 25 points ahead of rivals AlphaTauri as they grab hold of P5 in the constructor’s table with 137 points.
4. Ferrari extending the lead from McLaren with a solid race overall
Scuderia Ferrari’s performances have been quite stable through the season but because of a few disappointments, they fell in contention with McLaren for the third place in the championship.
A disappointing qualifying session from Charles Leclerc saw him start from P13 while Carlos Sainz enjoyed a rather better starting grid position of P5. But as the race progressed, both drivers started doing similar race pace and were managing tyres at the same time while aiming for a successful one-stop strategy.
Ferrari pulled off a successful double-stack pitstop as they got both the drivers in at the same time in lap 27. This risk is something that Ferrari is not known for taking, but the Italian team pulled it off without a hitch and that helped them keep both their sets of tyres within the safety limit recommended by Pirelli.
Ferrari as a team have come together as a better package on the track when compared to McLaren Racing and now they have a solid grip on the third position in the construtor’s championship table. They are now 39.5 points ahead of McLaren Racing with 297.5 points.
Will Lando Norris be able to bridge the gap between the teams and will Daniel Ricciardo be able to get a better understanding of the car ahead of the final two races of the season? Will that be enough to take the fight to Ferrari? We will find out soon enough!
5. Things we learnt about the Losail International circuit
The Losail International circuit is very well known on the MotoGP calendar and has always given some thrilling races. And this time with Formula hosting its first race ever, it hasn’t let us down. The total crowd that Formula 1 was able to attract made the F1 Qatar GP the highest crowd in attendance at any sports event in Qatar.
The tight nature of the track made it rather difficult for drivers to overtake one another, but at the same time, the 1.1km start/finish straight allowed a lot of drivers to perform daredevil overtake moves into Turn 1. This allowed a good balance to come through in the race.
What was surprising was the white and green corner markers outside the white and red markers. They were very abrasive and sent huge jolts through the cars and even caused some of the punctures over the weekend. The teams were actively telling the drivers to keep off the white and green markers, but the best racing line demanded the drivers to put a wheel on two of the dreaded markers.
Losail will not be a part of the 2022 Formula 1 season because Qatar is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But they do have a multi-year deal with Formula 1 from 2023 onwards. Will Losail be a better track with the new 2022 F1 cars? Let us know in the comments.
With that said, the 2021 Formula 1 Saudi Arabian GP will start on December 5. Only one problem, the track is not fully built yet. F1 race director Michael Masi and the Saudi Arabia GP chiefs are sure of meeting the deadline but the work is being carried around the clock, with an aim to finish moments ahead of the race weekend. For more news and updates from the world of motorsports, stay tuned to evo India!