It was the most anticipated race in recent Formula 1 history. 2 drivers equal on points with Verstappen leading on Goal Difference. 58 laps. Winner Takes All.
Will this race review mention any drivers other than Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton?
The Build Up
There was only really 1 talking point in the build up to this weekend's race. Long gone are the conversations about rear wings and rule breaches leaving just one thing on people's minds... would Max Verstappen crash into Lewis Hamilton?
Race Director Michael Massey felt the need to warn drivers before the race that the FIA have the power to deduct points with Max Verstappen being the only real intended audience member. Both drivers played down the significance of the occasion, both claiming that they've had a fantastic season regardless, but both secretly desperate to be the only driver celebrating as I type this.
This is the first time that I can remember looking up a pre-race press conference on YouTube before the weekend's action unfolded.
So I was gripped - Saturday came and it was down to business, with me openly rooting for a fellow Brit to come out on top.
I'll skim over Q1 and jump to the 1st really significant moment in Q2 - whilst on a hot lap, having already secured his route into Q3, Verstappen locked-up, flat spotting his Medium tyres - the tyres that if he hadn't done that would've been those that he started the race on. This gave Red Bull a problem - they needed a faster lap or risk compromising their race start. So they put on a set of Softs, put in an impressive lap meaning that whatever happened in Q3, Hamilton would be on the preferred strategy on the Mediums, with Verstappen on the faster, less durable Soft tyres. Max needed to be on pole.
And that's exactly what he got. A fast lap which Hamilton couldn't get close to finishing up nearly 4/10ths behind in 2nd place. Advantage Max. Or was it? A lot can be said for starting on tyres that can go deeper into the race.
There were 17 other cars in this race (without Nikita Mazepin who tested positive for Covid) but nobody was thinking about them, other than perhaps Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas who if required, could opt to crash into somebody else 🤷♀️ Lando Norris even said before the race that he was going to keep out of the way.
With Michael Massey and The Race Stewards desperate for a quiet afternoon, we all knew this wouldn't happen.
Lights out, and Hamilton storms past Verstappen and comfortably ahead going into turn 1. And we all know what happens next. Patiently waiting until turn 9, Max puts his car inside, and depending upon who you wanted to win will determine whether you felt that it was over aggressive and forced Hamilton off the track. As David Coulthard said after the race:
Verstappen puts his car in places that even a draft wouldn't get through.
This time though, Hamilton wasn't going to back off, instead deciding that he'd been wronged, cutting the corner to maintain track advantage and take his chances with the stewards.
By this time, Lando Norris had kept his word, running wide at turn 1 and letting Perez play an important role in 3rd place. Bottas was somewhere else entirely. Already checked out and sipping a cocktail in the Maldives.
As Hamilton motored off down the road, the stewards decided that they didn't want to get involved, much to the surprise of everybody.
With Hamilton attaining a dominant lead early on, Verstappen's tyres started to go. It was only lap 8 - not ideal for the Dutchman. So he pitted, with the intention of trying to get to the end of the race on the Hard tyres.
Hamilton's tyres were fine. He was in control but fearful of Verstappen's fresher tyres (and presumably additional pace) so he pitted the next lap. Still comfortably ahead of Verstappen, but now behind Sergio Perez. This seemed like the obvious move. He maintained his lead over Verstappen but did he need to stop so soon? I couldn't help but feel that Red Bull had played Hamilton here, and they did exactly what was predicted.
Hamilton was smashing in the lap times, fastest lap after fastest lap and quickly closing in on Sergio Perez - Red Bull with high expectations for Verstappen's team mate to do a job on Hamilton and slow him down.
And boy, did he do a job! It's the best, and in my opinion fairest defence of the lead by a Red bull driver this season. I think Verstappen was about 9 seconds behind Hamilton before Perez came into play. It was only about 2 seconds once Perez had finished with him.
Once again though, in what was the faster car on the day, Hamilton extended his lead but then Giovanazzi had a problem. Whether he could've made it back to the pits or not, only he will know, instead deciding to park up on the side of the track (it wasn't the stupidest place to park so some credit's due) triggering a virtual safety car. With Hamilton clearly faster than Verstappen, the Dutchman gambled on a pit stop, fresh set of tyres and a 17 second gap. With the instruction that it was "only" 0.8 seconds per lap.
Suddenly Verstappen was flying again, the gap narrowing but not by enough. With 10 laps to go, Christian Horner stating something along the lines of:
We need something special from the racing Gods to win this one
His prayers were answered in the form of Nicholas Latifi with just 5 laps to go.
This time the parking wasn't so sensible. This time a Virtual Safety Car wouldn't cut it. This time, Verstappen could pit for free - a new set of soft tyres - and this time, Verstappen was within touching distance of Lewis Hamilton.
But the race had to restart for that to happen. 5 laps for the car to be cleared, cars to unlap themselves and for the Safety Car to come in. Or so we thought.
Mixed messages started coming out. The lapped cars wouldn't unlap themselves. They'd stay between Lewis and Max. But no. Suddenly, apparently from nowhere, the cars (and only the cars) between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to unlap themslves. And just as suddenly, the Safety Car came in. Fuck you Mercedes. Fuck you Lewis. We want a new World Champion.
Sat agasp in front of the TV, desperately hoping that Lewis could do the impossible and somehow make his 50 lap old tyres compete against Max's new set of Softs, I knew that the result was inevitable. And it was.
Whilst Verstappen was celebrating, Jos and Max being congratulated by their Hamilton counterparts and the world renowned Red Bull party in full swing, the Mercedes boffins were with their legal team. Dumbfounded by what had just happened, the total fuck up by the FIA and apparent breach of their own regulations.
The inevitable complaints have been made, the sense of injustice understandable. Would they have pitted Lewis in the knowledge that there'd be a 1 lap shootout? Would this have given Hamilton the advantage on that crucial, final lap? Had the FIA broken their own rules and will they fine themselves? I don't know and I doubt this is the last we'll hear from this.
In a title race where both drivers deserved to be crowned champion, it was Max Verstappen who under the (almost inevitable) most controversial of circumstances has come out on top.
Nicholas Latifi, despite his crash has also come out of this quids in - Christian Horner promising a lifetime's supply of Red Bull.
Please Share Your Thoughts
What do you think? Generic question I know but even a few hours on and whilst forming my thoughts, I still don't have a clue myself.
I'm always interested in reading your views about Fantasy Sports or Sport in general either in the comments or via your own post, remembering to post in World of Xpilar and using the tag #woxsports or #woxfantasysports.