The 2021 Qatar GP surprised many F1 fans with how dramatic and engaging it actually was. When people saw that F1 was racing at the Losail International Circuit, they were sceptical about what the racing would be like there. But the race turned out to be a thriller! Lewis Hamilton started the race in pole position while his championship rival started in P7 thanks to a grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags in Quali. Verstappen was on fire during the race and made a great comeback from P7 to finish in P2. But he and Red Bull had no answer to Hamilton’s pace, so they just couldn’t grab the win.
Red Bull still had a fantastic performance at the 2021 Qatar GP. Their qualifying wasn’t so good, because Perez qualified in P11 and was knocked out of quali in Q2. After a suboptimal performance in quali, it’s easier to think that Perez wouldn’t do well in the race. However, he proved that to be wrong, cause he was on fire out there! He definitely made up for the qualifying performance. But Perez finished in P4, and he finished just behind the man, the myth, the legend, FERNANDO ALONSO!
ALONSO SCORED A PODIUM!! He started the race in P3, and he actually said that he expected to lead the race down into Turn 1. Many F1 fans were hoping for that to happen, saying it was “El Plan”. This term came from an interview he did with DAZN back at the 2021 Turkish GP. He qualified in P5 and said that F1 fans needed to wait a few months for El Plan to work. He said that we needed to rely on “El Plan” and many F1 fans jokingly said that maybe this was “El Plan” – start in P3, grab the lead into Turn 1, and take a shock victory.
Unfortunately, that was a little bit of a fairytale situation. Alonso got a good start and pulled along Pierre Gasly, who started in P2. But Hamilton got the perfect start that he needed, and Alonso had to wait until Turn 4 to dive down the inside of Pierre Gasly. And at the exit of Turn 1, he had to defend his position from the fast-charging Max Verstappen. On Lap 5 Fernando went down from P2 to P3 after Verstappen overtook him down into Turn 1. On Lap 29, after a long charge, Perez overtook Alonso for P3. When we thought that podium was lost, luck was on Fernando’s side. Certain things helped him take the podium under the floodlights in Qatar. We’ll analyse that later in this post.
We’ll also analyse the racing action too – the 2021 Qatar GP surprised us because it was an engaging and exciting race. On top of that, we’ll analyse the Red Bull v Mercedes battle at this race. We’ll analyse how certain things played into Alonso’s hands and helped him get that podium. And lastly, we’ll analyse the surprise punctures. 4 drivers suffered punctures during this race, with Valtteri Bottas being the first to experience a puncture that ruined his race.
Many drivers wanted to try a one-stop strategy to try and gain some positions, but the tire wear was surprisingly high. 4 different drivers had a puncture that forced them to pit – two of them had to retire from the race! Valtteri Bottas was the first driver to get a puncture. It’s a shame because he had such a good race up until then. After a bad start, he dropped to P11, but then he made his way up to P3 before the puncture. Let’s save the rest of the analysis for later – it’s time to get into the race review!
Why The 2021 Qatar GP Turned Out To Be A Thriller
As I mentioned earlier, people were sceptical about how the 2021 Qatar GP would be. When the race was announced and we saw the layout of the Losail Circuit, it didn’t look like it would provide exciting racing. I was sceptical about it too – there are a few sharp corners, but there was only one straight. Many thought that following a car through the dirty air in the middle sector would be difficult and would increase gaps between cars. However, the Qatar GP exceeded expectations, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who found this race captivating. Certain characteristics of the circuit actually encouraged close racing.
There were a range of battles and overtakes taking place throughout the 2021 Qatar GP. Drivers were using DRS down the long main straight to gain positions down into Turn 1. Turn 1 is a long corner and is almost a hairpin at the same time. This means drivers were trying out various racing lines when battling and were able to attack and defend competitively to provide exciting racing for the fans. Drivers even went to the dusty parts of the circuit to try and make overtakes, and it was fun to see how that risk was working out for them.
On top of that, drivers were actually able to stick to the car ahead well enough. And also, the last sector has high-speed corners that allow you to optimise your run through them. Then you can use DRS down the kilometre-long main straight. Corners like Turns 6, 10 and 16 are also tight corners where late-braking moves could’ve been attempted. Despite that, we saw a vast majority of the overtakes taking place at Turn 1. This was mainly because of drivers like Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen all making their way up the field. They were able to make overtakes, so they were able to go further up the order and provide excitement to the fans.
The thing is, pure action wasn’t the only entertainment from this race. There was a lot of strategy play going on with the unpredictability of how the tires would perform. Medium and high-speed corners wear out the tires faster than usual. That’s why Pirelli opted to give the teams C1, C2, and C3 compounds this weekend. These are the hardest and most durable compounds.
Yet there were still punctures and the drivers were pushing while keeping their tires in a manageable condition. The teams were always trying to use an undercut to get a jump on their rivals, or they were trying a one-stopper to try and gain the time that others would lose from an extra stop. Overall, this race had us hooked and was quite enjoyable to watch. It was an all-rounder with both on-track and off-track battles. I think that F1 has a habit of shocking people who judge a circuit or a race before it actually takes place. Who knows – maybe the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP will surprise fans as well…
Red Bull vs Mercedes Got Spicier…AGAIN!
This race was another race in which the championship battles got even more intense. The battle for the constructors’ championship got closer, and Red Bull are only 4 points behind Mercedes now. Before the 2021 Brazilian GP, Red Bull was 1 point behind Mercedes. But Mercedes out-performed Red Bull in Brazil, so Red Bull had some ground to make up in Qatar.
As I mentioned earlier, in qualifying, it looked like Mercedes would extend their championship lead. Bottas qualified in P3 behind Verstappen, but he also got a grid penalty for ignoring a yellow flag. He got a 3-place penalty, but Verstappen got a 5-place penalty for ignoring double-waved yellow flags. Bottas started in P6 ahead of Verstappen in P7, which worked out perfectly for Mercedes. Their plan was for Bottas to keep Verstappen company so that Hamilton could secure the dub. Red Bull needed Perez to combat Mercedes, but Perez had a horrible quali, and he started the race in P11.
I’m sure Mercedes didn’t see this one coming from Red Bull. During the race, the Bulls were charging on faster than anyone else! Verstappen had some unbelievable pace that helped him get from P7 to P2 really quickly. As the lights went out, he got a great launch and went to the middle of the track. He overtook Bottas straight away and secured the inside line down into Turn 1. Verstappen stuck to the inside curb through Turn 1, which meant he got through the corner faster and overtook Sainz and Norris. At this point, he was up into P4 already.
At the exit of Turn 1, he pulled alongside Alonso, but he didn’t see Verstappen was there, so he pushed Verstappen off the track a little bit. But Verstappen proved in the space of one corner that he had this planned out and that he had wasn’t going to let a grid penalty ruin his race. On the other hand, Valtteri Bottas was struggling a lot. Bottas had a bad start, so he lost a position to Verstappen. Then, down into Turn 1, he had Tsunoda going down the inside, and Ocon and Perez going around the outside. And then, through Turn 3 and into Turn 4, Stroll overtook Bottas and sent Bottas down to P11. At this point, Perez got up to P9.
The race start was much more disastrous for Mercedes than anyone expected, and Red Bull had pulled off a perfect start. Verstappen was in P4, with Perez in P9. At the end of Lap 3, Verstappen was really close to Pierre Gasly, who was in P3. Gasly was told on the radio “Max is not our race”, which was another way of saying “don’t race him and pretty much let him by”. Gasly ran wide at the exit of the final corner, so Max closed right up to the AlphaTauri. Using DRS and slipstream, the Red Bull overtook Gasly before Turn 1. On Lap 5, down into Turn 1, Verstappen had the advantage from DRS into Turn 1 to overtake Alonso for P2.
The Bulls were now in P2 and P9, with Bottas still stuck in P11. Verstappen was just over 4 seconds behind Hamilton when he overtook Alonso. That gap increased slowly, and it kept increasing and increasing. While Red Bull tried to grab the win, there was something else that both teams were trying to grab. The fastest lap. If a driver in the top 10 gets the fastest lap of the race, they earn an extra championship point. A point could be the difference between winning and losing a world championship in a battle that’s this close.
Over the 57 laps of the 2021 Qatar GP, 20 of them were the fastest laps set by either Hamilton or Verstappen. They were seriously pushing hard to try and get that extra point. In terms of the race strategies, both drivers went for a two-stop race, and so did Sergio Perez. For the first and second pitstops, Verstappen came in and then Hamilton came in a lap later to extinguish the threat of an undercut. It was during the 2nd stint, which was after the first pitstop, that Hamilton really started putting in those fastest laps.
The 7-time champ was pushing hard and putting in some decent lap times. However, Red Bull played the long game. They got Verstappen to extend that gap to Alonso behind, and it worked. Because on Lap 55, Verstappen came into the pits for a set of soft tires. With those softs, Verstappen smashed the previous fastest lap and secured that extra point. He still had a massive gap to Alonso behind, and it was clear that he wasn’t going to beat Hamilton to the win.
While Hamilton could’ve come in as well on the same lap to try and get the fastest lap point, it was too risky because Verstappen could’ve just stayed out and taken the win, since Hamilton was a few seconds ahead of him. Hamilton couldn’t come in on Lap 56, because it would be too late to get the fastest lap. Red Bull basically nailed their fastest lap strategy. And while Hamilton still beat Verstappen and Red Bull were left with no answer to Hamilton’s pace, Hamilton and Verstappen’s teammates were trying to score points as well. While Perez had a bad quali, Bottas had a bad start.
So going back to Lap 5, Perez was in P9 with Bottas in P11. Bottas was stuck in P11 until Lap 9 because he took a while to really get in sync with the car and the track. Perez started pushing much earlier and was up to P6 by Lap 9. You could see that Red Bull making overtakes down into Turn 1. But Bottas actually tried a double-overtake down into Turn 1 on Lap 9. It became a 3-way battle between Bottas, Stroll and Tsunoda. Bottas and Stroll overtook Tsunoda, and a lap later, Bottas got past Stroll for P9.
By Lap 18, Perez and Bottas were in P4 and P6 respectively. They were both gaining positions rapidly, but at the moment, Bottas had done a lot of limitations to the damage of that bad start. With Hamilton and Verstappen 1st and 2nd, at this point, Mercedes would gain 3 points on Red Bull in the constructors’ standings. Red Bull didn’t see Bottas coming. Frankly, nobody thought Bottas or Perez would be running in these positions.
On Lap 19, Perez came into the pits. He went down to P11 but regained all the positions he lost during the pit window. He pulled off a strong undercut because, by Lap 29, which is when most of the field had already pitted, Perez overtook Alonso (more on that podium battle later). However, that was for P4. In P3 was Bottas, with him and Mazepin being the only drivers yet to pit. Bottas was really pushing it with the medium tires – making mediums last that long at a high-deg circuit was never gonna work (more on that later). That’s why Bottas suffered a puncture. That ruled him out of the race and promoted Perez to the podium.
As I will explain in the next section, Perez finished the race in P4, with Hamilton being the only points-scorer for Mercedes. With Verstappen in P2 and getting the fastest lap, Red Bull are now only 5 points behind Mercedes. Verstappen still has the WDC lead, but only by 8 points. Heading into the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Verstappen could possibly secure the championship. But it looks like this will go down to the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
How Luck Played Into Alonso’s Hands To Give Him The Podium
Perez had an insane run at the 2021 Qatar GP. He made up for the disappointing qualifying. But the cherry on top would’ve been a podium – a double-podium for Red Bull would’ve been an extra punch against Mercedes. It took until Lap 29 for Perez to get close enough to Alonso – and they were fighting for what was effectively P3, but was P4 on track since Bottas still hadn’t pitted yet and was running in P3. Alonso had been waiting for a podium since the 2014 Hungarian GP. At that time, Uptown Funk hadn’t been released yet, the iPhone 6 was the latest iPhone. There were many more things that were completely different at the time. And in terms of F1, Hamilton had only 1 WDC to his name – he won his 2nd at the end of 2014, and you know the rest.
Knowing the kind of drive and motivation drivers like Fernando Alonso have, he wouldn’t give up that podium that easily. Despite being up against Perez, who was in a car that was fighting for the championship, Alonso put up a strong fight. On Lap 29, Perez had DRS and attacked down into Turn 1. Alonso defended the inside line, so Perez was forced to try and go for it around the outside. Alonso had the advantage on the inside, but Perez got the inside line through Turn 2. He pushed Alonso just off the track to legally secure the position. Down into Turn 4, Alonso couldn’t get the podium back because Perez defended and clearly had more pace.
It took a long while for things to get better for Alonso. Perez came in on Lap 42 for a fresh set of mediums. Red Bull wasn’t taking the risk of a one-stop and decided to get Perez to push for the last 15 laps and regain the positions lost during the pitstop.
I think Red Bull messed up this part – they took a huge gamble because Perez came out of the pits in P7, and he had to get back to P3. It’s a little too risky, and Perez ended up having to deal with these slower cars. But for the fans, this was perfect, because we got to see another comeback drive from Pere in the last 15 laps. On Lap 46, Perez finally overtook Stroll into Turn 1. Fernando Alonso, who was now up in P3, went on his team radio and said “Tell Esteban [Ocon] to defend like a lion”. Going back to the 2021 Hungarian GP, where Alonso’s staunch defence meant Hamilton couldn’t catch Ocon to snatch the win, maybe this was time for Ocon to repay the favour.
However, it wasn’t the same. At the Hungaroring, defending was easy, while overtaking was harder. At the Losail International Circuit, defending from a faster car that is using DRS down the long main straight is much harder. On Lap 47, with 10 laps to go in the race, Ocon defended the inside line into Turn 1. Perez went around the outside, and it looked like he got the position. Ocon tried to pull alongside at the exit of Turn 1, but through Turn 2, Perez stayed ahead. Ocon kept himself in the battle by making a move around the outside of Perez into Turn 4. But Perez had that defence nailed, and he slightly squeezed Ocon so that he secured P5.
Perez went up to P4 when Norris came into the pits at the end of Lap 48 thanks to a puncture. Now for the last 9 laps or so, the chase was on for Perez. He needed to bridge a gap of around 14 seconds in those 9 laps. However, Perez’s charge was brought to a halt. On Lap 50 and 52, George Russell and then Nicholas Latifi both experienced punctures. Latifi’s puncture was at the beginning of Lap 52, and these punctures resulted in a Virtual Safety Car.
Because of the VSC, Perez couldn’t continue closing the gap to Alonso. The last two laps of the race would’ve been full of intense battling between Perez and Alonso for the podium. Perez was sometimes catching up to Alonso by 2 seconds per lap, so he would’ve definitely caught up to Alonso. The Alpine was nursing his tires and staying off the kerbs so that he didn’t get a puncture, since he was told to be “extremely cautious on that front left”.
When Hamilton was crossing the finish line, Perez was 4.4 seconds behind Alonso. But at the end of the race, he was 2.9 seconds behind Alonso. One more lap would’ve been enough for Perez to push hard and catch Alonso for the podium. And looking at Alonso’s tire conditions, it’s unlikely he would’ve been able to defend hard enough. That VSC and other drivers ending up with punctures at the 2021 Qatar GP gifted Alonso the podium that he had been waiting 7 years for. While that is lucky, you can’t ignore his outstanding performance in qualifying and his ability to manage the tires, because he wouldn’t have got the podium without them either.
What Was With All The Punctures?!
As I mentioned earlier, Valtteri Bottas experienced a puncture at the 2021 Qatar GP that ruined his entire race, but he was only one of the 4 drives that experienced a puncture. He was coming into Turn 7 on Lap 33 when his front-left tire just deflated completely. He went off into the gravel and had to limp back to the pits, which sent him down to P14. It undid some of the great progress that Bottas had made. That puncture showed that the tires are really strained at the Losail International Circuit. Bottas was on the mediums and was trying to stretch that first stint to try and go for a one-stop strategy. However, the rest of the punctures came towards the end of the race on the hard tires.
By Lap 48, Bottas retired because of the damage that punctured tire caused to his car. A lap later, soon Lap 49, Lando Norris suddenly came into the pits. It was a very confusing stop because it took a long 3.5 seconds and Norris came out of the pits in P11. It definitely didn’t seem like the right call to make. Then it was confirmed that Norris actually had a puncture. He was running in P4 prior to the pitstop, so the puncture was really disappointing for him and McLaren.
Just a lap later, George Russell was going through Turn 8 when his front-left tire punctured as well. Russell went down to P18, although he was only running in P15 before the puncture. The last few races have been disappointing for Williams – they haven’t scored points in the last 5 races. To make matters worse for Williams, Nicholas Latifi suffered a punctured front-left on Lap 52.
And it couldn’t be worse for Latifi, because he missed the pit entry and the puncture happened down the main straight. He couldn’t do a whole lap on 3 tires, so he had to retire from the race. So these were the 4 punctures that took place at the 2021 Qatar GP. But what caused all of these punctures? There must’ve been a specific reason that caused the same tire to puncture on 4 different cars. So now we’ve broken down why that’s happening.
Since there is barely any data to go on when there is a new circuit on the calendar, teams needed to be very careful with their strategies. But one thing that Pirelli and the teams would’ve expected from the Losail Circuit was high tire wear. The asphalt is rough and abrasive, and the medium and high-speed corners wear the tires out more, and of course, there was the dusty parts of the track. Pirelli wrote in their race preview for the 2021 Qatar GP that a “reasonably high degree of [tire] degradation” is expected.
Pirelli’s press release before the race advised teams against a one-stop strategy and said the optimal strategy would be a two-stopper. They also confirmed that “tire wear appears to be quite high”, which is crucial in explaining the punctures. I wouldn’t do this, but many teams, including Mercedes, McLaren, and Williams, simply went ahead with a one-stopper. When Pirelli, the tire supplier, is advising you against going for a risky strategy, I’d probably listen to them.
I can understand the benefits of doing one less stop than your rivals – if it works and the driver can manage their tires, then it works wonders and can help you jump some rivals. But when racing at a high-deg circuit, and when the tire supplier has advised against a one-stop, then a two-stop would be the safest way to go. I think some teams opted for the one-stopper thinking that a two-stop wouldn’t work because overtaking would be difficult.
But the race proved otherwise. Also, the front-left tire is the tire that is strained the most at this circuit, but Pirelli needs to investigate why that tire was literally the only tire to puncture on all 4 cars. I hope you enjoyed reading this race review! The 2021 Qatar GP had plenty of action and definitely surprised us since many expected a boring race. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!