Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, F1 couldn’t race in the USA last year. But this year, F1 was back at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin for a grandstand return to the States. The US has hosted a total of 59 F1 races, with 41 of them holding the US GP name. 18 of them were at separate venues with different names, since the US has many racing circuits. Since 2012, COTA (Circuit of the Americas) has hosted the US Grand Prix. Apart from the 2021 United States GP, some brilliant and memorable races have happened at COTA.
Since COTA started hosting the United States Grand Prix, the race was towards the end of the F1 calendar. That meant that the US GP was crucial for World Championship battles. Races like the 2015 US GP and the 2017 US GP saw action, excitement, and the intensity of championships being decided. The action on the track isn’t the only part of the US Grand Prix that fans love. The celebrities are causes for excitement as well. With no F1 in the US in 2020, 2021 brought a lot of celebrities to the Grand Prix.
The list of celebrities that attended the US Grand Prix at some point are Megan Thee Stallion, Shaquille O’Neal, Winnie Harlow, Chris Bosh, Ben Stiller, Dikembe Mutombo, William Fichtner, Serena Williams, Travis Scott and Logan Paul. Billy Joel performed on the Saturday night before the race, while Shaq stood on the podium during the podium ceremony. Shaq arrived at the podium in this insane custom Cadillac longhorn car (watch the video here)!
At the 2021 United States GP, the situation wasn’t as intense as some of the other races. The start was crazy, as expected. Latifi and Stroll tangled at Turn 1, with Stroll getting spun around. Ocon got some understeer in the S-section in the first sector, which resulted in him making contact with an Alfa Romeo. Ocon ended up having to pit due to wing damage.
This race was crucial in the title fight. But since the title race is so close, it wasn’t going to end with 5 races left. However, the grandstands full of fans, the celebs, and the pure excitement from the race made ANOTHER great race in 2021. There was a huge battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the race win, with Verstappen narrowly taking the dub.
Sebastian Vettel finished in the points positions for the first time since the 2021 Belgian GP. Vettel took an engine penalty and started in P18. However, he made an excellent recovery and made his way up the field to finish in the points. Vettel had a long middle stint on the mediums. That resulted in him having fresh tires in the dying laps of the race. And in that middle stint, Vettel got past the DRS train from 15th to 10th. He made many overtakes, including a fantastic move around the outside George Russell at the round triple-corner of T16-T18.
While Pierre Gasly retired on Lap 14 due to a suspension failure, Yuki Tsunoda finished in P9 and scored points for the first time since the 2021 Hungarian GP. Tsunoda started in P10 and gained a position because of his teammate’s retirement. The midfield is where the order was shaken up because of crucial battles between Ferrari and McLaren. That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at in this post! We’re also going to look into the battle for the lead between the two title antagonists!
The Titans Of 2021 Battle For The Win Once Again
5 out of the 8 races that had happened at COTA before 2021 were won by Lewis Hamilton. Before 2021, a non-Mercedes driver had only won 3 times at COTA. In 2012, Hamilton won, but he was with McLaren at the time. In 2013, Sebastian Vettel won the US Grand Prix, which made a record-breaking 8-win streak for him. And finally, Kimi Raikkonen scored his last race win in Formula 1 at the 2018 US Grand Prix.
Coming into the 2021 United States GP, we expected another Mercedes win at this circuit. Mercedes were looking very strong in FP1 and FP2, but in FP3 and Qualifying, Red Bull pulled out all the stops. They qualified 1st and 3rd, with Verstappen on pole position. While Bottas’s grid penalty meant he would start the race in P9, Hamilton had a great chance of winning the race. Back in 2018, Kimi Raikkonen won the race because he overtook Hamilton down into Turn 1.
Hamilton started the 2021 US GP in P2 as Raikkonen did in 2018. And Hamilton also capitalised on having that inside line into Turn 1 the way Raikkonen did. It’s ironic how Hamilton ended up using the very same tactic that lost him the 2018 US GP so that he could try and win the 2021 US GP. In 2018, Kimi made the move stick and after the strategy played into Ferrari’s hands, he took the race win. In 2021, Hamilton’s strategy once again didn’t work the way Mercedes would’ve hoped it would work.
Red Bull chose a more aggressive strategy for Verstappen in an attempt to retake the race lead from Hamilton. Verstappen pitted from the medium tires to a set of hard tires on Lap 10 and came out of the pits in P3. But when Hamilton pitted on Lap 13 for a fresh set of hards, he came out of the pitlane and Verstappen was already going through Turn 1! Verstappen had just pulled off an unbelievable undercut and retaken the race lead. However, the battle wasn’t over yet.
If Verstappen was pitting earlier, his tires would go off before Hamilton’s. On top of that, Red Bull wanted to maintain the lead by going for the undercut on the 2nd stop as well. This is where the Mercedes strategists had a chance to redeem themselves. Verstappen spent 20 laps on the hard tires in the middle stint and pitted on Lap 30. However, he was going to have to go 26 laps on the final stint on the hard tires. If 3 laps can make such a big difference, 6 extra laps could be very risky.
Hamilton came into the pits on Lap 38, which was 8 laps after Verstappen did. Hamilton managed to race for 25 laps on the hard tires, and now only had to spend 18 laps on the final stint. During that middle stint, Hamilton was closing the gap to Verstappen. As expected, Hamilton came out of the pits behind Verstappen. But in the final laps of the race, the battle got more intense. While the two drivers hadn’t had an on-track tussle for position since the race start, by Lap 49, Hamilton was capitalising on the 8 laps’ extra tire wear that Verstappen was dealing with.
On Lap 55, the PENULTIMATE LAP of the race, Verstappen was dangerously close to losing the race lead. Mick Schumacher was going to be lapped for the 2nd time and was giving dirty air to Verstappen, which was helpful to Hamilton. However, Mick Schumacher being just ahead of Verstappen gave the Red Bull DRS down the main straight coming into the final lap. And crucially, Hamilton was outside of Verstappen’s DRS at the detection zone for the main straight. Hamilton was LITERALLY 0.084 seconds away from getting DRS. Verstappen used DRS to extend his lead by a small margin. And that was enough for him to win the 2021 United States GP.
Red Bull took a gamble by giving Verstappen such an aggressive strategy. They couldn’t have pulled it off if Verstappen didn’t have enough pace. He also could manage his tires enough to stay ahead of Hamilton at the end. To take the lead of the race after the first pitstop, Verstappen needed Hamilton to pit at a good time for Verstappen. Red Bull ensured that by pitting Perez on Lap 12 so that Hamilton would have to come in on Lap 13 to prevent an undercut from BOTH Red Bulls.
So Hamilton couldn’t make a long stint on the mediums, and while Perez’s race may have been slightly compromised by this, we know that Perez is willing to play the team game. Strangely enough, it was Verstappen who suggested that Perez should pit on Lap 12, and Red Bull followed that! However, I’m not VERY surprised by this. Both the team and the drivers at Red Bull know they must do whatever it takes to win races, especially this late in the season.
Mercedes had to admit that Red Bull were stronger in Austin. Historically, Mercedes have been difficult to beat at COTA, but in the 2021 United States GP, Red Bull even managed to secure a double-podium. Red Bull had a lot of pace and they were capable of winning by using aggressive strategies. Speaking of aggressiveness, let’s move on from the Titans’ Battle to the battles in the midfield.
Ferrari and McLaren’s Intense Battles
It’s fair to say that the jostling for positions between the Ferrari and McLaren drivers got pretty intense at Austin. Martin Brundle described the battle on Lap 1 as a “bitter battle”, because the drivers were putting everything on the line. Ferrari and McLaren are still trying to beat each other to 3rd in the constructors’ championship. McLaren are only 3.5 points ahead of Ferrari in the standings at the moment. Judging by how it’s been a consistently close contest, it looks like this fight for 3rd will go down to the wire.
The 2021 United States GP started with Leclerc and Sainz starting in 5th and 6th, with Ricciardo and Norris starting 6th and 7th. Leclerc got a decent start and retained P4, which is also where he finished. Carlos Sainz, however, had his work cut out for him at the very beginning of the race. Since Sainz started the race on the soft tires, I expected him to get a better start compared to everyone else, since others were starting on the mediums. But Sainz actually got a comparatively bad start, which led to Daniel Ricciardo pouncing to take P5 from Sainz.
However, those soft tires finally worked, because, in the twists and turns of the 1st sector, Sainz fought back. He used the superior grip to re-overtake Ricciardo around the outside of Turn 8. This is where you realise how important this tussle was for the drivers. Ricciardo attacked Sainz down into the hairpin, but then went for a switchback and slipstreamed Sainz down the straight. The slipstream was so powerful that while Ricciardo was overtaking Sainz around the outside of the hairpin of Turn 12, Norris dived down the inside.
Sainz hit the brakes really late, which is why he ran wide at the exit of Turn 12. He retained his P5 position and didn’t have to give any positions back or serve any penalties. For the next few corners, Ricciardo kept pushing to try and take the position from Sainz. Ricciardo got a strong exit out of Turn 15. He used that to make a fabulous move down the inside of the triple-corner of Turns 16-18. Ricciardo secured that position, and after that, it was all about strategy for a while. Sainz and Ricciardo came into the pits for their first stop at the same time, which was surprising since Sainz was on the softs while Ricciardo was on the mediums.
In terms of the 2nd pitstop, Sainz pitted on Lap 29, while Ricciardo pitted on Lap 30 to cover Sainz and stop Ferrari from making an undercut. Sainz was staying within around 2 seconds of Ricciardo ahead for around 12 laps. On Lap 43, however, Sainz decided to make a move. Down into Turn 13, Sainz tried to go for a rather ambitious move around the outside of Ricciardo. But mid-corner, Sainz found the grip he needed and actually pulled alongside Ricciardo through Turn 14. But Ricciardo actually got a snap of oversteer and made contact with Sainz, which unsettled Sainz’s car and resulted in Ricciardo staying ahead.
Sainz went on the radio and complained “That was a bit dirty. He did that on purpose”. I’m not surprised by that, because it’s not that easy to see and judge whether that snap of oversteer was on purpose or not. But to me it looks like it was unintentional, and that Ricciardo just didn’t have the grip he thought he did. That incident unsettled Sainz’s car, and after that, Sainz just couldn’t have another try at it. Sainz was back in the 2-second range by Lap 50, and that gap kept increasing. By Lap 55, Bottas was just 6 tenths of a second behind Sainz. Sainz was an entire 4 and a half seconds behind Ricciardo. On Lap 55, Bottas overtook Sainz, showing that Sainz struggled in the last 10 laps of the race.
But overall, in Austin, Ferrari were stronger, and they gained some ground on McLaren in the title race. The next race is the 2021 Mexico City GP. Since it’s a track that requires higher downforce, Ferrari may have the upper hand. Historically, Red Bull and Ferrari have been really strong at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. But let’s see who succeeds in Mexico this year. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!