The Head to Head Battle is Going strong!
26TH SEPTEMBER 2021: THE RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
- 1. Lewis Hamilton
- 2. Max Verstappen
- 3. Carlos Sainz Jr
- 4. Daniel Ricciardo
- 5. Valtteri Bottas
- 6. Fernando Alonso
- 7. Lando Norris
- 8. Kimi Raikkonen
- 9. Sergio Perez
- 10. George Russel
“It has taken a long time to get to 100 and I wasn’t even sure if it would come.” (Lewis Hamilton)
The rain came today and scuppered Lando Norris’ attempt at his first Formula One race win.
And Lewis Hamilton won his 100th Formula One race, edging ahead of rival Verstappen in the championship. Hamilton has held the record of most wins since passing Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 with his 92nd win at the Portuguese Grand Prix in 2020 – but 100 feels like an important moment. Especially as this season has not been easy for the current world champion.
Norris had achieved his maiden pole position on Saturday and led for the majority of the race until – with 5 laps to go – it began to rain.
When it started the rain was light, but it was enough to prompt Verstappen to pit for treaded intermediate tyres and this decision transformed his race. A similar decision briefly promoted Alonso from 6th to 3rd.
Hamilton and Norris initially chose to stay out while they battled for the lead out in front. When Verstappen pitted, McLaren asked Norris if he wanted to stop for intermediates too – and he was emphatic in saying no. Hamilton didn’t want to pit either – replying over the radio that it ‘wasn’t raining that much’ – but he was ordered to come in by Mercedes as the rain was expected to increase.
Hamilton stopped with 4 laps to go and was now 14.9 seconds behind Norris. But as the rain got heavier it took just 5 more laps for Hamilton to catch up with Norris (who was still on his slick tyres) and take the lead.
A struggling Norris eventually pitted, but by now it was too late for a come-back and he finished 7th. Disappointing for a driver who had looked on course for the win.
“I’m unhappy, devasted. It is heart-breaking. It is a terrible feeling to be on the verge of winning a Grand Prix and then losing it, not because of a silly error but in this kind of way.” (Norris)
Ferrari’s Sainz Jr also benefitted from a timely pit (at the same time as Verstappen) and finished on the podium in 3rd. Similarly, Ricciardo and Bottas pitted at the ‘right’ time and finished in 4th and 5th respectively.
The timing of the rain (with 5 laps to go) left little room for a change of strategy – and Norris/McLaren’s error of judgement proved costly.
After starting in pole, losing the lead to Sainz Jr at the start and then regaining it 13 laps later – a win for Norris had looked likely.
Hamilton started in 4th but dropped to 7th on the first lap and spent the first half stuck behind Russell, Stroll and Ricciardo. When Russell and Stroll pitted, Ricciardo appeared to be protecting his McLaren teammate from a challenge from Hamilton – by holding back the world champion.
Verstappen had started well from the back – following a grid penalty – and was just 2 seconds behind Hamilton after 20 laps. With Perez and Alonso sandwiched between them.
After Norris and Hamilton pitted for the first time – Norris had a 10 second lead – that Hamilton soon reduced. But not by enough. Hamilton couldn’t get within a second of the McLaren and with 10 laps to go Norris seemed to be in control.
Then the rain came, and Norris failed to respond quickly enough to his need for new tyres - while those around him pitted and came out on fresh tyres. Leclerc made a similar mistake after starting at the back, fighting his way up to 9th just before the closing laps and briefly driving up in 4th – before the rain came and he also delayed pitting. This error left the Ferrari driver in 15th place at the race finish.
Earlier on in the race, pitting on Lap 26 appeared to be a poor decision from Verstappen. He dropped behind a slow-moving convoy of cars and lost ground. Then Alonso passed him.
Verstappen blamed this on his worn tyres – caused by spending too much time in ‘traffic.’ But when the rain came, he made exactly the right decision and kept within 2 points of Hamilton in the championship race.
This is so close.
We have to wait 2 weeks for the next instalment – see you in Turkey on 10th October!