Has Verstappen done his homework? Six Spanish GP talking points

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Formula 1’s perplexing track limits rules have detracted from a great title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen so far this year. Will that change in Spain?

Has Verstappen done his homework?

Three races in, the title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is showing encouraging signs of going the distance. Following Hamilton’s little-troubled progress to last year’s title, seeing him and Verstappen go wheel-to-wheel in the opening three rounds of the new season has been a real treat.

Regrettably, Formula 1’s persistent inability to come up with track limits rules which are consistent from corner to corner, or even from session to session, has detracted from the on-track action. It doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon. Last weekend saw dozens of lap times deleted for track limits infringements, and varying standards applied multiple corners, which changed more than once over the course of the event.

Infuriating it may be, but it seems we’re stuck with it, and that goes for championship contenders as much as spectators. And it’s an area where Verstappen has been founding wanting twice in the opening three races.

Track limits have been a bone of contention all year
On Sunday he emerged from his RB16B convinced he’d taken the bonus point for fastest lap of the race, only to be told it had been deleted because he went wide at turn 14. Verstappen felt that was “odd”, but the third and final version of the track limits regulations issued ahead of final practice clearly indicated the penalty he risked by going as wide as he did.

In Bahrain, too, it seemed Verstappen had either not checked the updated guidance on track limits issued during the weekend, or missed a trick when he did. He was halfway into the race before realising he could run wide at turn four, as Hamilton repeatedly did, gaining a few tenths of a second per lap.

It’s an illustration of the attention to detail which could prove critical in determining the outcome of this title fight. But it may prove less of a concern this weekend. Most of the corners at Circuit de Catalunya feature either gravel traps or steep kerbs, and there is a well-established policy for drivers who run wide in the quick turns one and two, which is usually the best spot for overtaking on the track. There have been no changes to the track limits rules since last year – so far.

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Is Catalunya still a Mercedes stronghold?

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[/CBC][CBC show="y" country="uk"][/CBC]Mercedes’ run of consecutive pole positions at this track began before the V6 hybrid turbo era. Last year they claimed the top spot for the eighth year in a row, Hamilton a very comfortable seven-tenths of a second clear of the nearest non-Mercedes, which was Verstappen’s Red Bull.

Since the hybrid era began, Mercedes has won every race here in which their two drivers did not take each other off at the start. That notorious collision between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg opened the door for Verstappen to win on his debut as a Red Bull driver at this track five years ago.

Are Mercedes still the team to beat here? Red Bull had a clear lap time advantage when the season began, but that gap has clearly narrowed since. (Indeed, on outright lap time, Red Bull were the third-quickest team in Portugal, but that owed a lot to circumstance.)

Passing is formidably difficult at this track, so if Verstappen can secure pole position he stands an excellent chance of ending Mercedes’ run of success in Spain, and perhaps even prising the points lead from Hamilton’s hands.

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[/CBC][CBC show="y" country="uk"]

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Can Norris cement his position as midfield leader?

Norris is single-handedly keeping McLaren ahead of Ferrari
Lando Norris is on an exceptional run of form at the moment. Since the final race of last year, the McLaren driver has been ‘best of the rest’ in every grand prix, taking the chequered flag with only Mercedes or Red Bull rivals ahead of him.

It’s hard to imagine he’s going to hang on to his third place in the championship ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez. But there are encouraging early signs for McLaren that they can repeat the third place they achieved last year. What they need now is for Daniel Ricciardo to get up to speed, and start taking more points off the Ferraris.

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Was Alpine’s Algarve form a one-off?

After a disappointing pair of opening races, Alpine were the fourth-quickest team at Autodromo do Algarve. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso left the Portuguese Grand Prix with solid points finishes.

Alonso admitted during the weekend the team were not sure how much of that was genuine progress and how much might be track-specific. But he’s well aware a return to Q3 is vital if he is to add to his points haul at home.

What difference will the new turn 10 make?

Circuit de Catalunya track map, 2021
Track data: Circuit de Catalunya
The original, sweeping turn 10 at the Circuit de Catalunya was replaced in 2004 with a much sharper bend. It was hoped this would encourage more moves for position. It’s debatable whether it has.

Now the corner has been replaced by something much closer to its original form. The turn starts earlier than the original bend, leaving more room for a gravel trap to catch out anyone who goes in too deep. Lando Norris has some misgivings about the new bend, but we’ll discover soon enough what real different it may make.

George Russell wants to see other changes to the track – specifically, the removal of the awkward and slow chicane which was installed at the end of the lap in 2007 to slow the cars’ arrival onto the main straight. But it remains to be seen whether F1 will even be racing here again next year.

Does the race have a future?

Start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Will this be F1’s farewell to Catalunya?
The Spanish Grand Prix is one of F1’s heritage races. First held in the second year of the world championship, its current home has held a race every year for three decades.

But its current contract expires at the end of this year, and it remains to be seen whether it will be renewed. The new Miami Grand Prix will appear on the 2022 F1 calendar and will take place around this time of year.

Spain has two drivers of note in the field: Two-times world champion Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr. With competitors of that calibre in prominent manufacturer teams it would seem F1 can’t afford not to have a race in Spain. But the success of Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes hasn’t kept Germany’s round on the schedule, so why should this race be any different?

Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Spanish Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    49 comments on “Has Verstappen done his homework? Six Spanish GP talking points”

    1. RP (@slotopen)
      6th May 2021, 11:48

      I’ve been critical of race control over the last two seasons. No doubt they have bumbled with track limits this season. However, the rules were the same for everyone, and Red Bull’s failure to heed them has been important so far.

      1. RandomMallard (@)
        6th May 2021, 14:29

        I agree with you in part here. No doubt at Imola and Portimao the rules were the same for everyone. But Bahrain? How come Race Control only started to worry about track limits at T4 when Max started doing it.

        I don’t believe there is a massive pro-Mercedes conspiracy in the FIA, but they did only dig themselves a deeper hole when they tightened up on limits mid-race.

        (For the record, I do believe that Max handing the place back in Bahrain was correct, as was both his lap time deletions in Portimao. However, I am starting to get tired of Race Control continuously making fools of themselves every single weekend. It makes me wonder if they employed Ferrari’s strategy team).

      2. isthatglock21
        6th May 2021, 16:40

        Agreed, All the drivers are told about the latest updates on Fridays, Pundits & media bang on about it before the weekend even kicks off. Any one of us can access to same latest documents on the FIA website….Redbull have no excuse & are frankly making a bigger deal out of ‘track limits’ than they actually are. Helmut Marko is a delusional old geezer.

    2. F1 drivers used to drive in multiple categories and smoke and have fun on the evenings. Now they have to study the track limit updates twice a day to have a chance at winning the championship.

      1. @paeschli that’s oversimplifying things. Fangio worked his butt off to win all those world championships, engaging with the mechanics, and training himself back in the 50s. Of course things are different and the level of competition and professionalism is much higher. But knowing the rules has always been part of every sport. The track limit situation isn’t ideal (I find it incredibly tedious), but it’s your job in the end, isn’t it?… I doubt those few mms outside turn 14 affect laptime so much, so it’s his own fault for going wide.

    3. This track can be left out as far as I am concerned. Just one spot to overtake and with DRS. Ham 1, Bottas 2, Ver 3 in quali and race

    4. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      6th May 2021, 11:56

      The true track limit is never applied.

      Regrettably, Formula 1’s persistent inability to come up with track limits rules which are consistent from corner to corner, or even from session to session, has detracted from the on-track action. It doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

      You know and everyone knows what is in the regulations. It is straightforward but as has been the case Masi bows down to the inability of some of the drivers to keep the car on track to massage the limit in the hope of better racing and not hundreds of laps deletions.

      1. @andyfromsandy

        You know and everyone knows what is in the regulations. It is straightforward

        I know what’s in the regulations and I agree its the competitors’ job to understand them. But I don’t agree it’s straightforward. It’s a mess.

        That said, this weekend’s guidance is more straightforward than at other tracks.

        1. While I was writing this reply I received word of – you guessed it – changes to the track limits guidance for this weekend’s race…

        2. It’s only a mess because they don’t enforce it as written.
          They make exceptions and use different limits, and it is those exceptions and interpretations that create the problems.

          1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
            6th May 2021, 13:30

            That is what I meant by straightforward.

    5. This is probably the most important race of the season in terms of representative pace. This is a track where Mercedes have dominated in all of the races, except one, of the hybrid era. We all know what happened in that one-off race, and without Hamilton touching the grass before turn 4 in 2016, Mercedes would have still won that race. If Red Bull can keep Mercedes close here, then it could be good for the entire season.

      1. @krichelle Yes, which is why it will be a bummer that it will likely be normal service resumed..

        1. Yes, that’s what I’m afraid about.

    6. I think RB will be the 3rd fastest car again this weekend and with Verstappen able to get slightly forward but just not being able to tackle Bottas. 3rd and 4th should be possible for RB

      1. @Mayrton You mean 2nd fastest. RB is a clear 2nd-fastest on outright pace.

      2. As the article says, it’s Red Bull that has the pace advantage. When Mercedes have been faster in qualifying and race, it’s just been because of their good drivers, and poor driving from the Red Bull guys. See?

        1. Wow… the race not even began and the usual complainers are already at full force.

          1. @becken-lima Attacks the person behind a comment … using the argument of complaining. Congratulations, you’ve officially joined the ranks of the usual hypocrites.

            1. Well, looks like you´re complaining that I´m pointing out that you´re a complainer…

    7. Zero advantage in leaving the track at T1 because of speed bumps, so track limits enforcement is entirely redundant.
      Masi still hasn’t realized that crossing speed bumps is automatically slower versus staying on track but still lap time invalidation for the sake of it.
      The issues thus far have only occurred at corner exits, so this event shouldn’t have any.

      I doubt the reshaped T10 will make aid overtaking, but at least nicer driving-wise

      Hopefully, Alpine’s pace wasn’t a one-off. The more teams in a close battle, the better.

      I go for Mercedes as the team to beat, albeit probably close again.

      Norris may remain the highest midfielder but unlikely to keep Bottas and Perez behind in points.

      Imola and Algarve, as temporary replacements for other places, are more likely to go than Circuit de Catalunya, but maybe all three.

      1. Come on @jerejj – of course track limits are important all around the circuit, and I’ll bet they’ll still be a cause of contention yet again.
        Turns 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15 are all likely places for gaining an advantage outside of the white lines – not that that should play any part in whether or not to enforce them.
        I can’t believe you are still pushing for inconsistency on this matter, after all we’ve seen just this year in F1 – nevermind previous seasons.
        How anyone can argue for anything but using the white lines everywhere, all the time is just beyond me. This silliness has to stop.

        1. I think @jerejj is not arguing for inconsistency, but the minimum amount of white line policing necessary, and I feel the same way.

          @andyfromsandy nailed the reasons why not to use the white lines everywhere — as currently drawn, if enforced, you would have worse racing and hundreds of lap times deleted. I guess some people would rather see that, but not me.

          Some people think that if you enforce it strictly the drivers will stay on the track. But we’ve seen from esports series that use Codemasters’ “strict” setting, where the white lines are used as the limit, that, in fact, drivers do incur penalties because they take risks, and races are frequently decided by them, which is not ideal. And really, does anyone actually find playing the F1 games more satisfying with the strict setting? That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be strict enforcement of some limit, but that the current configuration of the white lines (which Codemasters follows) are not a good match to the spirit of the sport.

          And I simply don’t agree with the absolutionist position of a white line everywhere with no regard for physical alternatives. People use tennis and football as examples to follow, but turning F1 into a contest to stay between painted lines is, to my mind, a terrible dulling-down of what racing ought to be. A white line is a really unsatisfying target for a driver to aim for. It’s so much more rewarding to feel the car up on kerbs and clip gravel or grass at the track limit when you go too far.

          I don’t understand why anyone wants to see glorious circuits turned into car parks policed with white lines if they don’t need to be. Let’s see the cars up on the kerbs, and if we need white lines, let’s at least paint them on the outside of the kerbs, like at Monza. Let’s see the drivers take their cars right up to the gravel traps, especially when they’re just a few metres away from the current white lines, like at Imola. Where sausage kerbs are installed, let them do their job and police the track themselves.

          As the white lines are currently drawn, they produce visual inconsistencies — but that can be solved with a bucket of paint (and probably some FIA/FIM paperwork). I’d rather see that happen than F1 be reduced to staying between white lines.

          1. @markzastrow Precisely. The minimum amount or the minimum amount of ‘lap time invalidation’ specifically.

        2. @S The problem with enforcing every white line at every corner on every track, is that it means that track limits will inevitable play an even bigger role in the overall results than they already do. Not only are the stewards going to a tonne of work to keep on top of all possible infractions (most could be done electronically but presumably there will be occasions where a driver is forced off by another car and shouldn’t necessarily be penalised, so every instance will have to be checked at least), but there are going to be probably several times as many lap times deleted as there are currently. Watching qualifying could become a bit of a joke as we won’t know who actually got pole until we hear from the stewards which drivers actually managed to put in a legal lap.

          My view therefore is that there is no reason to enforce track limits unless there is an advantage gained. Why create so much extra work, so much extra interference from the stewards, and so many deleted lap times when the driver didn’t gain anything from it and already lost time as a result of their mistake? This seems to be the philosophy F1 is aiming for but their problems have been that they have not explained that very well, and their inconsistent application of that philosophy.

          In the vast majority of cases they should know which corners provide a lap time advantage by going outside the white lines before the start of the race weekend, and these are the areas where track limits should be enforced. The only other time they need to be concerned about track limits is when a driver goes outside the lines either to perform an overtake, or prevent one, both of which would constitute a ‘lasting advantage’ and therefore be penalised. The track limit rules specific to the track could therefore be clearly announced before the start of the race weekend, and should certainly not be changed between competitive sessions, regardless of whether the drivers and teams like them or not.

          1. @keithedin
            ”no reason to enforce track limits unless there is an advantage gained.”
            ”when the driver didn’t gain anything from it and already lost time as a result of their mistake?”
            I couldn’t agree more with your post, but especially the above parts, as they’re what I’ve been pointing many times. Invalidating a lap time is ‘redundant’ unless an off-track excursion actually leads to a faster time/speed, i.e., it shouldn’t be done for the sake of it as, unfortunately, is the case with the T1-T2 runoff and several others since last season.

        3. @S ”Turns 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15” – No, they aren’t because of gravel/grass immediately besides curbing and or turning angle, dirt offline/outside the limit, etc. Additionally, sausage curb at T15 exit. No corner exit on this circuit, where going off could realistically be faster than staying on track. I’m arguing for as little ‘lap time invalidation’ as possible or that this form of enforcement would only be done wherever advantage is actually possible, which isn’t the case at T1-T2 runoff or the old track part unless someone does it on a flying lap or when about to start a flyer.

    8. Dear Fia,
      The edge of the track is defined by the white line. Amend the rules to state that a part of the must remain inside the white line at all times during a session. Problem solved.

      Kind regards,
      Common sense.

      1. @sham Common sense won’t work for F1.

        But I’m beginning to get enough of this track limit saga. Mostly because of inconsistent stewarding. Maybe Russell was right that it’s better to just re-paint the lines.

        1. No matter where the lines are, they still need to be enforced.

          1. Yes but if they follow where the drivers go, it will be fixed with the white line, and infringements will be few and far between. Not the circus it is now.

            1. But that’s actually changing the track to suit the lazy drivers – not only is that backwards, it creates secondary issues with safety and other users of the circuits.

    9. ian dearing
      6th May 2021, 12:21

      Every race weekend rules on track limits are issued, which can be and often are revised after each session for various reasons. Following the participants briefing a final updated set of instructions are issued to teams, media and others. The media do a good job of relaying this to spectators and viewers alike and any infringement of track limits during qualifying and the race are easily spotted by all, and dealt with accordingly.
      And all us MotoGP fans go away quite happy. So I don’t know what the problem is with F1 as the systems and procedures are pretty much the same. The only difference I see is that MotoGP slap a bit of green paint down on the no-go areas to make it easier to spot. And the MotoGP commentators explain it in a clear and precise manner whilst the F1 commentators reach for the smelling salts during practice one because Ham and Max are exploring track limits and not being punished for going beyond them.

      1. I’m not in favour of painted line racing, but I do think this is something of a non-issue blown up because Max/Red Bull seemingly didn’t understand the race guidelines (spoiler: they did). They’re obviously using the issue as cover for their own (driver and setup) mistakes in these races. More contentious for me was changing their guidelines mid-race at Bahrain, telling Lewis (and anyone else) to stop it, which is making stuff up for no justifiable reason, and allowing the Norris pass on Perez.

        1. RandomMallard (@)
          6th May 2021, 14:24

          I’m not sure about whether or not RB understood the rules. The Race Director’s notes said they would delete laps in Practice, Quali, or the Race at certain corners. When they added the definition of track limits at T14 to the notes on Friday evening/Saturday morning (can’t remember when), they didn’t extend the wording of lap time deletion to T14.

          Did Red Bull probably understand the intention of the update? Of course they did.
          Did the FIA make a blunder in failing to update their notes correctly? Definitely.

          In all, the decision to delete Max’s lap on Sunday was correct. But I can equally see RB’s frustration at it not being explicit in the Race Director’s notes, when it was at some other corners.

      2. RandomMallard (@)
        6th May 2021, 14:19

        I think what MotoGP do with the long lap penalty is critical to their successful policing of track limits. It provides a penalty for infringing them, that isn’t particularly harsh, but enough for you to lose any time you gain. Additionally, it has to be taken quickly, meaning another car can’t just sit 4 seconds behind for 20 laps to gain a free place at the chequered flag due to a penalty, they instead encourage racing after the penalty is served.

        I really like the long lap idea.

        However, I don’t think the same thing could be used to apply to F1. The vehicles in use are so much larger and they take different lines, while the rejoin from the penalty itself could just cause a further problem (Canada 2019, F2 sprint race at Sochi in 2019). I think the policy of 3 strikes, warning, fourth strike = 5 secs is the best F1 could manage at the moment.

    10. I wish Masi would just pick a lane and stick with it.

      Either don’t enforce track limits at all, or enforce track limits at every single point of the track. Norris gaining a lasting advantage by going wide and pick up extra speed to overtake Perez is a prime example of why the current interpretation of the rules just don’t work in reality.

      1. I am agreeing with you just ignore or enforce all!

      2. Perhaps the ultimate off-track excursion to pick up extra speed – Raikkonen using the grippier conveniently placed off-track tarmac to ‘FIA boost’ his way back onto Hamilton’s tail and pass (under yellow flags) at Spa 2008. All legitimate! Golden Ferrari-FIA days :O)

    11. Adam (@rocketpanda)
      6th May 2021, 13:28

      Effortless Mercedes 1-2, Verstappen about 10 seconds behind, then a good 15-20 second gap down to Perez/everyone else.

    12. Given that painted line corners = badly designed race track, I’m more in favour of drivers deciding their own line. If it’s quicker out wide, that’s not their problem. Make it slower (with grass, gravel, walls, kerbs) rather than having these tedious policing disputes over images of drivers going over a line or not.

      I expect Red Bull to be quicker. If not, it’s probably a Mercedes season again.

      1. RandomMallard (@)
        6th May 2021, 14:34

        The problem here is with race tracks now being so multipurpose. What’s good and safe for car racing is not necessarily good or safe for bikes. High kerbs can be very problematic with bikes, as can gravel and grass in some areas (in other areas it’s the other way around, hence why we’re getting gravel at the top of Radillon soon).

        Personally, I would rather keep having these debates about track limits than debates about how we could have prevented a death of a driver. Well I mean I’d rather have no debates at all and see race control apply track limits consistently but that seems too much of an ask nowadays.

        1. @randommallard That’s a reasonable pragmatic point. In cases where a painted line compromise is necessary for multiuse reasons, like Turn 4 Bahrain, I’d suggest taking Russell’s idea and simply painting the line where the fastest line is! And yes impose consistent track limits when that’s been done. I don’t see the problem in wider track and wider/faster cornering if the higher speed at the corner is OK in safety terms. Also there’s more space for overtaking.

          1. Or how about the drivers learn to keep it between the lines. I reckon some of them might be good enough. Don´t you?

    13. Can hardly blame RB or Max for Bahrain, especially since Masi/FIA told MB and Lewis not to run wide at turn 4.

      It’s this type of convoluted rules that create more miscommunication.
      And we have arrived at a point where you have to wonder whether this confusiom is created on purpose, the purpose of selling more media clicks through online outrage.

    14. ian dearing
      6th May 2021, 14:41

      I’m sorry, but can we get back to the stuff that matters? After all, it is Fashion Thursday.


      1. RP (@slotopen)
        6th May 2021, 17:23

        That should definitely be a stop and go penalty.

    15. Next few races will probably be Max-Lewis-Max-Lewis, then either driver’s teammate, then a McLaren.

    16. I don’t think this is a case of Max not studying for the test so much as he studied for math and they handed him a history test. In other words I don’t think it is so much Max not being aware of track limits (perhaps except Bahrain Sunday with LH going wide so often when Max wasn’t), for that would imply he intentionally tried to get away with going off for an advantage. Rather…he’s just going for it, and has made a few bobbles that caught him out. And of course as is being thoroughly discussed it has been a mess of mixed messages as to which corners are being policed on which day, and then on top of that the reinforcement of the rules that has been inconsistent.

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