The 2021 F1 season has time and time again blown us all away. It’s flabbergasting how all of a sudden almost EVERY race is so exciting and memorable. I tell you, this season of F1 has already taken its seat in the history books. Let me know your opinion on this in the comments below, but I don’t think that anyone thought that the Russian Grand Prix would be exciting. Most people expected it to be just about as exciting as it was in previous years. We honestly expected a fairly mundane race, just like last year’s race. There may have been some action, but we didn’t expect it to be as mind-boggling as the 2021 Russian GP was.
There were a few factors that made the 2021 Russian GP a race to remember. First of all, the race started with the Top 3 being Norris, Sainz and Russell after a bizarre quali. That was the perfect setting for a crazy race. Sainz EASILY overtook Norris by using the slipstream down to Turn 2 on Lap 1. The slipstream was so powerful because Norris was punching a huge hole in the air, while Sainz and the rest of the cars just tucked into the slipstream. Bottas wasn’t kidding when he said you don’t want to start on pole in Russia! Norris eventually got back past Sainz, which was a good battle for the lead. It was so symbolic because it represented the future of Formula 1, which we can see is in good hands.
The rain and the unpredictable weather has never failed to spice up a race in F1. At the 2021 Russian GP, the weather did more than just spice up the race; it completely turned it upside down! It was simply unbelievable how the rain just started with a drizzle on one side of the track. Then it quickly turned into pouring, heavy rain that completely turned the race around.
And finally, the title fight hasn’t calmed down in any way. Max Verstappen started the 2021 Russian GP dead last after Red Bull changed a bunch of his engine components before FP2. Lewis Hamilton had a major advantage after starting the race in P4. Verstappen had a HUGE task on his hands. And boy did he handle it brilliantly. Making a recovery driver from P20 to P2 is incredible, especially at a circuit where overtaking isn’t the easiest. Hamilton now leads the Drivers’ Standings by 2 points, with Round 16 of Hamilton vs Verstappen taking place on the 10th of October.
Lewis leads the standings after coming through to take the race win. Hamilton has already secured his name in the history books as an F1 legend. Many argue that he’s the Greatest Of All Time, while many say that Michael Schumacher is the GOAT. But one thing’s for sure, and that’s that Hamilton is the greatest of this generation of F1 drivers. He is the greatest of our time, and he proved that by taking his 100th race win at the 2021 Russian GP. He broke Schumacher’s race win record at the 2020 Portuguese GP, and he’s reached a century this year. Congratulations to Lewis for this well-deserved achievement!
The race was already set to be exciting, but there were other factors during the race (apart from the rain) that made it a thriller. The race start was absolute pandemonium since as I mentioned earlier, everyone was tucking into the slipstream. Drivers were trying to make overtakes, left, right and centre! Watching the start, you didn’t know which driver to watch! There were plenty of overtakes and battles, although the *tragic* TV Direction meant that most of the overtakes were either not shown at all or were shown in the small box on the leaderboard. It was a disappointment and ruined the race for some because all you could see was the positions changing, you couldn’t see the actual action and overtaking. Anyone else having 2021 Monaco GP flashbacks?
Going back to the start, the Ferrari drivers were getting quite busy. Sainz took the lead off Norris, even after getting a bad start and nearly getting overtaken by George Russell. Russell finished the race in P10, despite starting in 3rd. He dropped down to fighting for the lowest points positions after the first round of pitstops. He struggled a lot for pace in that Williams. By the time the rain came, he gained a couple of places, but he could only finish in P10. Then you had Charles Leclerc getting a great start and making a divebomb into Turn 1. Lance Stroll jumped from P7 to P4, while on the contrary, Hamilton fell to P7 after a horrible start. And then there was Fernando Alonso with his cheeky start and those interesting tactics.
That’s right, we’ll be looking at Alpine and Alonso’s performance in this race. We’ll look at Norris’s costly decision and how he wasn’t the only driver caught out by the tricky conditions. And lastly, we’ll look at Max Verstappen’s comeback and that continually exciting title fight. That recovery drive from Max was damage limitation and overtaking skill at its finest. Let’s get into the rest of the 2021 Russian GP Race Review!
Norris and McLaren’s Heartbreak – What Happened And Who To Blame
Lando Norris had his first victory in Formula 1 right there in his hands. Then the rain came and washed the win away, leaving Norris, McLaren, and many fans heartbroken. The situation and the result of the situation were tough to swallow. It’s a reminder of how competitive and brutal F1 can be, and how you’re going to experience bumps on the road to success. Honestly, Lando drove brilliantly for the entire race, and it all slipped away in a couple of laps.
As I mentioned earlier, Sainz overtook Norris for the lead of the race down into Turn 2 at the start. Valtteri Bottas wasn’t kidding when he said that you don’t want to start on pole at the Sochi Autodrom. The chase was on because despite losing out at the start, Norris kept pushing to regain the lead. Both Norris and Sainz struggled with their tires, but Norris got better performance out of his tires.
Carlos Sainz pitted incredibly early, as he came in on Lap 14. He was facing a lot of tire wear, which matches up with the Ferrari’s reputation of being very harsh on its tires. But I don’t think he needed to pit so early, and I think Ferrari played it a little too safe with Sainz’s strategy. Norris came in for a very late pitstop on Lap 28 after wringing the life out of his tires.
Mercedes did a similar thing with Lewis Hamilton and after Leclerc, Perez and Alonso finally pitted, Norris and Hamilton were 1st and 2nd respectively. Red Bull brought Verstappen in on the same lap as Hamilton (Lap 27), but Verstappen went from the mediums to the hards. A risky strategy that only really worked because of the rain.
At the 2021 Russian GP, Mercedes and McLaren had nailed their strategy game, but it was Norris who had to do all the work and try and keep Hamilton from winning. When Norris is in a midfield McLaren, while Hamilton is in a championship-leading Mercedes, the pressure would always be on Norris. Lewis and Mercedes knew that a win was on the cards.
Norris held his own for a good 10 laps or so until Hamilton started to close up to him. By Lap 47, Hamilton was well within a second of Norris. To make things worse for Norris, a part of the track was getting wet as the rain started to fall. With barely 6 laps to go in the race, things just got A LOT more interesting. It was Hamilton, who is a veteran and has raced in changing conditions before, against an up-and-coming youngblood. PERFECT.
On Lap 47, Norris ran wide at the exit of Turn 7, where the rain was most prominent. A couple of corners later, Norris got back to having regular grip. It was a very delicate and tricky situation. Lap 49 is when it got even worse, and all of the drivers were struggling. The teams were on the radio, giving the drivers info about the weather, but at the same time taking information. When it comes to the conditions on track, the drivers are a huge source of information because they’re out there experiencing the weather.
On Lap 48 and Lap 49, the drivers were slipping and sliding around, especially at Turns 5-8. Many drivers were going off the track as the rain got stronger. On Lap 48, Alonso and Sainz experienced a hilarious moment when they both went off at Turn 7…at the same time! Veterans like Alonso were better off as the youngsters ventured on uncharted territories. Lance Stroll slid off the track pretty much as soon as he told his team he didn’t want to box for new tires. He even had a snap of oversteer at the next corner due to which he spun Pierre Gasly around. That pretty much confirmed for him that he needed to pit.
With all of the slipping and sliding, there was one all-important question. It was the question all the teams were asking their drivers. “Can you keep it on the track?”. The drivers would have to pit if their answer was no and if they couldn’t keep the car on the track with the tires they were on and the conditions that were present. Opinions were mixed since some drivers pitted early to play it safer, while some wanted to brave it out and keep going. Drivers like Goerge Russell, Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz pitted on Laps 47 and 48 for a set of intermediates. That was a very safe call, and it proved to work for all 4 of those drivers.
Some drivers went for the medium risk option, which was pitting on Lap 49. I won’t say Lap 50, because it was already pouring by then. Lewis Hamilton and Yuki Tsunoda pitted on Lap 49. Hamilton was supposed to pit on Lap 48, but the team told him that the rain was going to get worse and that he had to come in otherwise it would be too late. This is where McLaren ruined their chances. I’m being very critical of them, but it’s the truth that too many people don’t understand. Lando would’ve pit earlier if McLaren told him that the rain was going to get worse.
On Lap 47, McLaren told Norris that the rain intensity would stay the same till the end of the 2021 Russian GP. At that time, the intensity of the rain was a drizzle at a couple of corners. McLaren also didn’t tell Norris that Ricciardo had pit for inters since the information that Ricciardo was giving the team could’ve helped Norris. When McLaren asked Norris about pitting for inters, he replied with a straight-up “NO!”. Norris said that he should commit to staying out, but by Lap 50, lapped cars that were on inters were un-lapping themselves. SURELY that was a sign that something wasn’t right.
By Lap 51, with 2 and a half laps to go in the race, Norris slid off the track at Turn 4. The drizzle was now heavy rain at a considerable amount of the track. He rejoined the track and immediately said that he had to box, otherwise he would “shunt” (he would crash). At Turn 5, he had an even worse slide, and Hamilton took the lead from him. It was all over for Lando Norris. He pitted at the end of Lap 51 and finished the race in P7. He finished a race in 7th when he had a huge opportunity to win. When Norris braked at the pitlane entry, he slid back onto the track and had to go back into the pitlane, for which he received a reprimand. That’s how bad the conditions became.
I’m being harsh, but McLaren shouldn’t have just let Lando stay out. They should’ve informed him that the weather was getting worse and interpreted the information and communicated the accurate information to the driver. But like I said, I’m being harsh on McLaren and Norris. The weather was unpredictable and changing quickly, and a driver’s instincts, especially a young one’s, would be to stay out and take it to the end. Besides, Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez all had chances of better results, but they pitted too late. This is a huge learning experience for Norris and McLaren and I think they’ll bounce back from this. That W is coming, Lando. You just keep your chin up!
Fernando Alonso’s CRAZY Race And Those Interesting Tactics…
At the 2021 Russian GP, Fernando Alonso got away with one of the cheekiest starts that we’ve ever seen in F1. We saw him practising the escape route at Turn 2 and seeing how much time he would gain or lose by going through there. He discovered that going through the legal escape route was faster than taking the actual corner. So at the start, down into Turn 2, Alonso barely even made an effort to make the corner. He went straight through the escape road and jumped from P6 to P3! it was completely legal and very cheeky, but it also compromised his run through Turn 3.
Lance Stroll overtook Alonso because the Alpine had no momentum through Turn 3. On Lap 2, Hamilton went around the outside of Turn 3 and overtook Alonso down into Turn 4. Now Alonso was down to P7 since Ricciardo had overtaken him before Hamilton did. Alonso fell to P8 at around Lap 9, since Sergio Perez overtook him as well. Then the pitstop window came, and Perez and Alonso stayed out for A LONG time. They started the race on the hard tires, which lasted longer than the mediums. They were 1st and 2nd by Lap 35. On Lap 36, they both pitted and came out of the pits 5th and 7th on fresh sets of Medium tires. The strategy had worked perfectly for them.
This is when the grind started for Alonso. On Lap 38, he used DRS, Verstappen’s slipstream and some brave braking to overtake Verstappen for P6. On Lap 47, Alonso once again proved how powerful slipstream and DRS are together y overtaking Ricciardo down into Turn 13. As the rain started getting heavier on Lap 48, Alonso overtook Sainz after they both slid off, and then Sainz got some oversteer a couple of corners later that gave Alonso the position. As I said, the veterans were doing better in the tricky conditions.
But on Lap 49, Alonso, Perez and Leclerc had the weirdest battle F1 has EVER seen. They were fighting for positions while sliding off the track and slipping around, which made for a very funny yet interesting battle. In the end, Fernando finished in P6, despite not having the best car and not having the best strategy during the rainy conditions. It was a brilliant drive, and I think he should be applauded for doing so well in the conditions that he faced. He could’ve scored a Top 5 finish or even a podium, but the tricky conditions caught him out. But there is one driver who made serious gains at the 2021 Russian GP thanks to the conditions. And that’s Max Verstappen.
Max Verstappen’s Recovery Drive – How He Did It And How Crucial It Was
Going from P20 to P2 at the Sochi Autodrom is no mean feat. The thing is he did a similar thing at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix when he went from P19 to P5. I think that Red Bull expected a strong performance from Max. They wouldn’t have expected him to finish P2, because that’s an insane result. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Red Bull told Max to or expected to pull something out of the bag. So let’s take a look at how exactly Verstappen put that Red Bull on the podium.
Verstappen got a pretty bad start off the grid and ran wide at Turn 2. The cold Hard compounds are far from pleasant to drive. But around the outside of Turn 3, he overtook Antonio Giovinazzi for P19. He overtook Tsunoda at Turn 8, and Mick Schumacher at Turn 15, with both being brave moves. On Lap 2, Max passed Latifi with a late-braking move into Turn 13, and on Lap 4, Verstappen overtook Mazepin at Turn 3. You knew Verstappen was on a charge when he overtook Bottas on lap 6. With another move into Turn 13 to pass Gasly, Verstappen was inching closer to the points.
However, on Lap 10, Verstappen came up behind Stroll and Leclerc. They were battling for P11, and Verstappen needed to find a way to make it through cleanly. Leclerc nearly pushed him into the wall at Turn 6, before running off the track at Turn 7. Verstappen’s race could’ve ended in a split-second, and thank goodness he didn’t get any damage. On Lap 13, Verstappen dived down the inside into Turn 13 once again, and this time he passed Sebastian Vettel to take P10. P20 to points is ALREADY a big comeback.
After his pitstop from the hards to the mediums, Verstappen had to pass Russell and then re-overtake Stroll to get into P9. He then gained 3 positions after 3 cars that were ahead of him pitted. This was on Lap 38, which was also when Verstappen went down to P7 after the charging Alpine of Fernando Alonso overtook him. On Lap 48, the rain started pouring down. Ricciardo and Leclerc slid off the track, giving Verstappen P5. When he pitted on Lap 48 for a set of Inters, he went down to P7. But Vettel, Leclerc, Alonso, Perez and Norris all lost out in the rainy conditions, which meant that Verstappen went up to P2, which is where he finished the race.
A combination of great pace, gutsy driving and good strategy calls brought this result. As I said earlier, this was damage limitation at its finest. Because of this result, Hamilton is only 2 points ahead of Verstappen in the standings. He could very easily have been 10 points ahead of Verstappen if Max wouldn’t have pulled off this recovery drive. Red Bull need to pick up the pace and Sergio Perez needs to pull himself together. Mercedes have a 30-point lead in the constructors’ standings. And based on what’s happened in the past 7 years, Red Bull are going to have to work overtime if they want to win the teams’ championship.
This is the end of the 2021 Russian GP Race Review! This race is undoubtedly going down as a classic. Although I say that, many races this year are going down as classics. I hope you enjoyed this race review. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!