2021 F1 Race 17: Circuit of the Americas
All to play for at the top as Max and Lewis fight for supremacy. The battle for third reaches fever pitch as Mclaren and Ferrari jostle for position, meanwhile the battle for the last points position is fought for by three ex-world champions.
Redbull carried the Acura wing sponsor for the Circuit of the Americas, a name change from the usual Honda letters due to the brand's premium offering in the USA. The rest remained of the livery returned to their traditional look after the special livery ran for the Turkish GP. None of which appears to change how Verstappen is performing along with a Redbull team that is edging closer to finally toppling the Mercedes dominance of the turbo-hybrid era. Coming into the race Verstappen's lead was marginal, anything other than first wouldn't guarantee that Hamilton didn't step back ahead, albeit with only a point or two difference. Mercedes are either rattled by the Redbull performance this year or have a grand plan forming that none of us can see. Valtteri Bottas engine change meant that unless he could slice through the field Mercedes would be fighting at the circuit of the Americas with one arm tied behind their back. Overtaking was taken swiftly off the menu for Bottas as the Ferrari vs McLaren fight, not to mention a heated battle between Alpha Tauri and Alpine, meaning he was trapped in an area of the track where no one dare give an inch for another car to take advantage off.
Sticking with the battle for third in the constructors championship, some inspired racing took place with Ricciardo and Norris trading moves with Leclerc and Sainz from Lap 1. The ex-Mclaren driver, Sainz, managed to defend with everything he had against two ravaging Mclaren's early on. Alpine found themselves in a tough place trying to battle Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo in what would eventually end up being a disappointing double retirement, although Alpha Tauri couldn't take advantage, having to retire Gasly with a sensor fault that was troublesome before the race resulting in him not making the chequered flag.
Hamilton was best off the line but without Bottas there to support the Mercedes mind-game machine Redbull were able to take control of strategy, with their decision for early stops appearing that it may have been wrong towards the end due to the traffic Verstappen faced. Fans missed the chance to see the two tussle on track as their strategies appeared to be deliberately opposing in the battle of whits fought out between the team garages.
Away from the battle for titles, three ex-world champions managed to treat us all to the joy of racecraft with over 100 years of experience. Kimi Raikkonen found himself off the track as Alonso fought for position, but forgot that leaving a driver nowhere to go but off the track wasn't going to get him his place back as Raikkonen remained as cool as ever even with some of his floor damaged. Behind all this was Sebastian Vettel, having faced a grid penalty for using more than the season allocation of engine parts, appearing as though his race was bound for another 0 points finish he played the long game. The youngest of the three men got it right though, as Alonso was forced to retire after a very questionable overtake on Giovinazzi (to which the Alfa team made an appalling call, giving a place up to Alonso, then finding that the stewards sided with their own driver who they appeared unwilling to defend). Raikkonen would begin a slow degradation of lap times with his damaged floor after the fight with Alonso and so the four time world champion picked up a single point for tenth, less than Vettel would have wanted but more than he could have expected.
Drivers deserving a mention include Tsunoda, his defensive moves secured him 9th place, a good finish for him, although Verstappen won't thank him for not moving out of his way slightly earlier. Schumacher can also hold his head high, once again beating his teammate and bringing the car home in 16th place, it isn't where Haas would want to be for a home race, but at least both he and Mazepin finished, unlike Alpine. Leclerc raced a quiet and uneventful mid and late session, not making a single mistake securing his fourth place.
The result adds a little extra fuel to fire at the top, Christian Horner previously said that Redbull would love to win the constructors championship, but getting a driver's championship would take precedent. After COTA the constructors and drivers championship could be within their grasp, especially if Perez can deliver another podium in two weeks at his home GP. Just as tantalising for F1 fans will be the battle for third, only 3.5 points sit between McLaren and Ferrari, behind them only ten points split Alpine and Alpha Tauri, so expect the points positions to be fought to the very nth degree for the last five races of the season.
Finally, we welcomed the grid walk back at COTA, a chance to see drivers just before a race again, they all appear as cool as ever just moments before putting the helmet on. The same couldn't be said for all the celebrities in attendance, why they go to a race only to have their security push around the cameramen and refuse interviews on the grid walk is beyond most F1 fans understanding. Although it was great to see actor Ben Stiller bring his son along and enthuse all he could, getting the next generation into racing is vital for F1, lets hope we see more celebs that love the sport show up (seeing 7ft Shaquille O'neal huge smile next to the drivers was another highlight) and restrictions ease, hopefully, a little less of the security pushing around our cameramen though, after all, this sport bigger than any one person.