Mercedes Strike Back


The 2021 Formula 1 season continued to add drama with the British Grand Prix in front of a fully packed out circuit. (courtesy of Twitter)

After a triple header, the 2021 Formula 1 season took a small break before returning for the British Grand Prix. Heading into this race, the momentum was with Red Bull, especially its main driver Max Verstappen, winning the previous three races and extending his lead in the championship. However, the British Grand Prix has been a Mercedes and one of Lewis Hamilton’s favorite tracks, dominating it in previous years.

This weekend was different as Formula 1 introduced a sprint race, drastically changing its format. Instead of two practice sessions on Friday, there was only one, with qualifying taking place instead. Then on Saturday, there was another practice session which was followed by the sprint race that did not require a pit stop. The top three drivers in the sprint race received three, two and one points respectively. The sprint race also determined the starting grid for Sunday’s full race.

Verstappen continued his hot run of form in the first practice, beating Hamilton by seven tenths ahead of qualifying. However, the Briton was able to use his experience and a fully packed circuit to storm to first there. Verstappen placed second with Hamiton’s teammate Valteri Bottas in third heading into the sprint race. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez started in fifth for the sprint, leaving Verstappen at a disadvantage since he was in between his main rivals.

Saturday buzzed with excitement and uncertainty for the sprint race’s debut. Would the drivers go all out or play it safe to have a good starting position? When the lights went out, Verstappen launched off his grid slot, passed Hamilton for the lead and never looked back. He breezed to victory in the sprint race, securing pole position for Sunday’s race and three more points for the standings. 

Hamilton finished second followed by Bottas in third to get two and one points respectively, keeping the point gap between the teams the same. While Verstappen was having a great Saturday, the same could not be said for Perez. He spun while trying to follow another car and ended up in last place, actually retiring the car before the chequered flag. He started the race in dead last, giving Mercedes a wonderful opportunity to reduce the gap to Red Bull.

When it was time for the race, Verstappen got away cleanly. Hamilton was hot on his heels and for the first sector, it was a beautiful battle that encapsulated the title fight that fans have been wanting for years. Hamilton passed the Wellington straight but Verstappen defended brilliantly and kept the lead as they exited Brooklyns. Then on the former pit straight, Hamilton attempted to use a slipstream against Verstappen and pass him at Copse. Unfortunately, two does not fit into one. 

The championship rivals collided, with Verstappen the worse of the two, crashing out of the race in a massive 51G collision. Since Perez was still last, Mercedes and Hamilton could tremendously reduce the gap in both standings. 

Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was in third and used the chaos to jump into the lead after the accident. Then the red flag was brought out, suspending the race to remove the damaged Red Bull and repair the barriers. Verstappen exited the car but looked shaky due to the massive impact. He was transported to the medical center to undergo further tests. At the same time, the stewards reviewed the accident to see who was at fault or if it was a racing incident. The team principals of both Red Bull and Mercedes were on the air trying to state their case, with one of Red Bull’s top people stating that Hamilton should be given a race ban. In addition to that, the fanbase exploded on social media with people advocating for either side.

At the red flag, Leclerc led Hamilton and Bottas with McLaren’s Lando Norris in fourth. Once the race restarted, Leclerc remained in the lead followed by Hamilton. Norris overtook Bottas to move into third. Then the stewards announced that Hamilton received a 10 second time penalty. When Hamilton entered the pits to change tires, he had to remain stationary for 10 seconds, losing valuable time in the race.

Leclerc kept Hamilton at bay while Norris did the same to Bottas. When Norris came into the pits, he had a slow stop which left him vulnerable to the overcut from Bottas. Bottas pitted the next lap and passed Norris, taking the final spot on the podium.

Hamilton eventually entered the pits on lap 28 and served his penalty. Leclerc then pitted on lap 30 with a second gap to Hamilton. Hamilton now had the task of passing both Norris and Bottas before even thinking of winning the race. Hamilton overcame both and then was able to focus on the Ferrari. He gained on Leclerc in every lap and it seemed inevitable that he would catch up due to the difference between the cars.

It all boiled down to lap 50, where Hamilton used the slipstream and, in an identical move as the Verstappen incident, passed Leclerc to take the lead. Leclerc actually went wide to avoid a repeat of the lap one accident. Hamilton then took the chequered flag after 52 laps for a victory at his home circuit and a huge chunk out of Verstappen’s championship lead. Leclerc finished second with Bottas taking third to round out the podium. Perez finished out of the points, granting Mercedes a massive haul of points in comparison to Red Bull’s zero.

The complete driver and constructor standings are here. After Red Bull’s disastrous weekend, the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton shrunk from 33 points to eight. As for the teams, the gap for Red Bull to Mercedes reduced from 44 to four points. 

The next race is this week at Hungary, where Hamilton has won a record eight times. However, after the incident, expect Verstappen and Red Bull to fight back. Red Bull have already done so by filing a petition to review the accident for a more severe punishment. This Formula 1 season continues to give us twists and turns with a title fight that has the fans glued to their seats.