Will Mercedes’ review bid hit Verstappen’s Losail win hopes? Five Qatar GP talking points

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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The fight from the last race isn’t over yet as the Formula 1 drivers head to an unfamiliar venue for the 20th round of a scintillating world championship.

Mercedes seek vengeance on Verstappen

When Lewis Hamilton was thrown out of the results of qualifying last week because his rear wing was deemed not to comply with the technical regulations, Mercedes complained vociferously, but ultimately accepted the judgement. “We want to win these world championships on the race track,” stated the team on social media.

That mood changed after the race, notwithstanding a vital victory for Hamilton which cut Max Verstappen’s lead to 14 points. Team principal Toto Wolff said he was “angry” over the stewards’ decision not to even investigate a controversial incident between the two drivers during the race. “Diplomacy has ended today,” he stated.

The team came good on that pledge yesterday. Barely three hours after new footage of the incident emerged, Mercedes announced it had requested the FIA review the matter “on the basis of new evidence unavailable to the stewards at the time of their decision”.

Analysis: Could Mercedes use missing Verstappen video to demand review of Hamilton clash?
Was this just tit-for-tat after Red Bull’s response to Silverstone? An attempt to distract Red Bull at a crucial time? These will be secondary considerations to the goal of compromising Verstappen’s championship bid, if not by provoking a retroactive sanction which would improve Hamilton and Mercedes’ positions in the two championships, then by incurring a grid penalty for the upcoming race on an unfamiliar circuit where overtaking looks difficult.

But the question remains whether Mercedes can use the ‘Right of Review’ enshrined in the International Sporting Code in this way. As covered here previously, past petitions have referred to decision documents issued by the stewards, but in this case no such material exists. Might the FIA dismiss this on a technicality?

Red Bull eye Mercedes’ speed advantage

Verstappen had his eye (and hand) on Hamilton’s wing
Verstappen’s post-qualifying inspection of his rival’s rear wing indicated Red Bull had suspicions about Mercedes’ car before the stewards found it failed to comply with a technical inspection.

The stewards’ report indicated this likely happened for innocent reasons, for example due to a broken or incorrectly installed part, and Red Bull did not dispute this. But they seem to think there’s more to Mercedes’ impressive straight-line speed in Brazil to both this and the fact Hamilton had a new engine last week.

From maps alone, the Losail International Circuit looks less likely to be a ‘power circuit’, aside from the single, long start-finish straight. But has Interlagos shown Mercedes that a five-place grid penalty is definitely a price worth paying for a fresh motor? If not at Losail, then perhaps at the following two circuits where sheer grunt is likely to be a greater benefit.

F1 heads into the unknown

Of the three races left to decide the world championships, the first two are new to Formula 1 and the last has had more than half of its corners changed since last year. The upcoming events are going to place a premium on how quickly teams can adapt their cars to unfamiliar venues, and how well their drivers can suss out their intricacies.

Sergio Perez is the only driver on the grid who has raced at Losail, winning a 2009 GP2 Asia race at the track, but has said he remembers little of the course, so is unlikely to be of extra assistance to Red Bull’s cause. Perhaps Nico Hulkenberg, who dominated the other race that weekend, can better recall the track to the benefit of Aston Martin, who he is reserve driver for.

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Will Moto GP track work for F1?

Losail International Circuit track map
Track data: Losail International Circuit
Losail was built by Qatar’s motorcycling federation to host the Moto GP series. But what makes for a good motorbike circuit doesn’t necessarily work for high-performance single-seaters which will corner far more quickly and produce significantly lower lap times. Overtaking is likely to be challenging, though the kilometre-long straight should make it possible.

Track limits are likely to be a bugbear too. Losail has generous asphalt run-off in places and new kerbing has been installed in order to prevent F1 drivers gaining an advantage by running wide at several points. Nonetheless, expect clarifications during the weekend.

Can Tsunoda deliver for AlphaTauri?

Having drawn level with each other in Mexico, Alpine and AlphaTauri increased their scores yet remained tied after the Brazilian round. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon co-operated brilliantly to prevent Pierre Gasly taking points off them.

Meanwhile Yuki Tsunoda took himself out of contention by colliding with Lance Stroll early on. It was a tough weekend for the rookie, having to learn a new track in just one hour before qualifying. This weekend the track is new to everyone, and he should have a full three practice sessions to get to grips with it. AlphaTauri need him to make good on the opportunity it presents.

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Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Qatar 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:

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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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43 comments on “Will Mercedes’ review bid hit Verstappen’s Losail win hopes? Five Qatar GP talking points”

  1. I have a feeling Mercedes will be the team to beat, even more so Lewis.

    I’m looking forward to the Losail circuit, which is quite Mugello-like.
    Additionally, a track F1 has never raced on brings some unknown & added excitement into play.

    1. If they change the engine again yes it will be hardy a race then as i think they drove on the partymode all the race and a repeat it’s hard to counter. Max new engine seems limited on how high they can put the engine.

  2. I would have thought the penalty would be applied to Brazil result and drop Max behind Bottas

    1. Could be either @the-edge. But I think it is less likely the FIA would want to interfere with the Brazil result a week after the fact. If a penalty is applied (and I don’t think it will be), I would expect a grid penalty for this weekend over a time penalty for last weekend.

      1. @the-edge @red-andy once the results are finalised changes can’t be made to them. I think this is 72h after the race finishes (though i’m really not sure about that). So even if the stewards want to penalise someone for something they did in the previous race by adding a time penalty or something similar, they can’t. So most that Mercedes can expect to come out of this is Ver gets a 5 place grid drop in Qatar.

        1. Which is still unfair if you consider that a fair 5 sec penalty given immediately would’ve seen verstappen cruise less in the end and come home 2nd, without grid penalty.

          1. Broadsword to Danny Boy
            17th November 2021, 12:19

            And see Bottas speed up to within the 5 sec…..

        2. @xenn1 But he’ll still have an advantage wear-wise.
          Results are changeable until the year’s last WMSC meeting at the very latest.
          The ‘final’ results later on a Sunday aren’t an absolute deadline as, for instance, Renault got excluded from the 2019 Japanese GP further afterwards than later on race day.
          @esploratore1 Whether a time penalty gets applied during a race or later is irrelevant.

          1. @jerejj thank you for correcting me. I remember the Renault situation, i just thought that the deadline for 2021 Brazil has passed, in any case i can’t look it up rn so i’ll take your word for it. And what are you talking about with the wear advantage? I don’t remember saying anything related to that.
            @esploratore1 yes and imagine how unfair it would be if a driver gets to keep a race result by not being penalised because the stewards didn’t feel like waiting to have all the necessary data to make an informed decision. Whatever your stance on the whole situation is, deciding not to investigate was 100% the wrong decision. And the point of a penalty is to punish a transgression, whether the driver can do something to negate the penalty during the race is irrelevant.

          2. And the point of a penalty is to punish a transgression, whether the driver can do something to negate the penalty during the race is irrelevant.

            @xenn1 Let’s say the stewards at Silverstone initially decided not to penalize Lewis for the collision with Max, then he cruised to a win by 5 seconds over Leclerc because there is no reason to extend the gap more than that. Then the stewards later re-opened the investigation due to further evidence, decided he was guilty, and gave him a 10 second penalty dropping him to second place. Would that have been fair? That’s essentially the same situation as this would be for Max, only this time for 2nd place rather than 1st.

          3. @keithedin Yes it would’ve been fair. It’s a 10 second penalty. In Monza 2015, Mercedes thought they’d be investigated after the race and instructed Hamilton to increase the gap to Vettel in case there was a post race penalty. There was an investigation but no penalty so Mercedes kept their win, and they went to the length of covering a whole post race drive through penalty. If a team gets too comfortable and does the bare minimum to cover themselves on a penalty they expose themselves to the risk of losing that cushion by appeal and deserve to lose a position if it comes down to that. Much more unfairer decisions have been made in the sport. Might i need to remind you of Canada, Austria (2 separate occasions in the same race), Italy and Mexico 2019?

            Red Bull directly assumed that there would be no further investigation or appeal from Mercedes even though they knew that the stewards had no access to Verstappen’s front facing onboard or telemetry date from the incident. That level of negligence comes from a team who went to the lengths of making their reserve driver repeat different racing lines in an attempt to ban their title rival from a race or two over an incident that *was actually* penalised. It’s very foolish of Red Bull to just expect Mercedes to let this go and not cover themselves for at least a 5s penalty (which i believe at least Verstappen had the pace for on Bottas). Just because you don’t like an outcome, it doesn’t mean it’s unfair.

        3. To appeal the race results an intent to appeal has to be lodged within one hour of the published classification. Aston Martin did this in Hungary. This has not happened, so the results stand, imho.

  3. Lower expectations for this weekend guys. This could be Monaco or Mugello like. Maybe track could be fun to drive though.

  4. Red Bull has had the car to beat all seasons with a few exceptions where Verstappen had setup problems.

    Perez had massive overspeed on Hamilton as well when going into turn 4. Does that mean Perez’s car was massively faster than Hamilton’s? Of course not, that’s what a good exit vs a poor exit onto a straight plus DRS does.

    1. I see your point @f1osaurus – in my opinion, the root cause of both Hamilton’s moves on Verstappen (the one that worked and the one that, er, didn’t) was that Max defended too hard into turn one, compromising his exit and his speed down the back straight.

      But I don’t think you can fairly deny that Mercedes had the faster car at Interlagos, and by some margin. You only need to look at Hamilton’s qualifying performance to see that.

      Overall the teams have been fairly evenly matched all season long, with a few outliers where one has been clearly faster than the other.

      I think the concern for Red Bull is that Hamilton’s new ICE has given him the edge in performance. If he can make up 24 places in 400km at Interlagos, they may surely look to change engines again before the end of the season, take the grid penalty and use the extra power to get ahead.

      1. I see your point @f1osaurus – in my opinion, the root cause of both Hamilton’s moves on Verstappen (the one that worked and the one that, er, didn’t) was that Max defended too hard into turn one, compromising his exit and his speed down the back straight.

        @red-andy, I agree with this. When watching the race I noticed that it was far better to not attack in turn 1 and try to have the “perfect” trajectory through the next 2 corners in order to successfully overtake into turn 4. Everyone that tried a move into turn 1 but failed was always too far behind in the next straight to attempt another one into turn 4 (when the car ahead drove normally through tuns 2 and 3).

      2. @red-andy

        in my opinion, the root cause of both Hamilton’s moves on Verstappen (the one that worked and the one that, er, didn’t) was that Max defended too hard into turn one, compromising his exit and his speed down the back straight

        That’s correct, though Verstappen is smart enough to know that he will be a sitting duck once Hamilton – with that pace advantage on the harder rubber (a second a lap quicker) and with the massive top speed – has shown into his mirrors. Verstappen not giving up in the braking zones is just part of the psychological warfare between him and Hamilton.
        By doing so, he is just is telling Hamilton that he will not succumb to his pressure and if he is going to overtake him it will be on the straights not in the braking zones.

        This will be no different in the remaining races regardless of the championship position. Even if Verstappen will need for example a second place in the last race to become a champion, it will be too hard for him to resist fighting Hamilton for the lead and thus risking the championship.

      3. It’s not the ICE it was the fact that the DRS zones were too powerful, note Perez was able to overtake Hamilton.

        The ICE gave Hamilton about 4 kmh based on the speed trap times in qualifying, ie without DRS etc.

        I don’t expect this to be repeated at Qatar so should be closely matched between the two of them.

        1. * I mean both had DRS equally in qually, no slipstreaming etc.

        2. I think that was the electric boost which run out of Lewis in turn 1 and Perez deployed in turn 4.

        3. I haven’t seen any speed numbers from the race proper, but up until the Sprint Q it was not so much that Mercedes had a huge advantage in straight-line speed -Hamilton was 5km/h faster than Raikkonen or Russell at the speed trap and only third fastest at the finish line-, but Verstappen was consistently at the bottom in both tables (noticeably more so than Perez), so it seems to me that the differences stemmed more from strategic decisions and there really isn’t a permanent performance gap.

      4. @red-andy That’s what I’m saying right? A poor exit from the corner onto the straight causes a speed deficit.

        If Verstappen hadn’t made those mistakes of falling for the dummy, Hamilton would never have gotten the chance to even attempt an overtake.

  5. As a Hamilton fan I really don’t want to see Max get a grid penalty (or a retrospective time penalty) as I don’t think that would be fair.

    I would like the stewards/FIA to clarify the rules and agree to enforce them correctly in future, that is enough. Or if it’s fine to do what we saw in Brazil, all the drivers know what is allowed and they will drive accordingly.

    They’ve made a right mess of this by not investigating it at the time or at least saying they would look at it, remember when they said “no investigation necessary” Max was still leading the race, this reeks and is bad for the sport as a whole.

    1. Finally a fair hamilton fan! I’m a verstappen fan and would’ve been ok with a 5 sec penalty during the race, it would’ve unfortunately ruined the fun of the race, as in a slower car trying to hold off a faster one, but when it comes to fairness that would’ve been the best solution and you can bet (even with a 10 sec penalty) bottas would’ve been far behind enough that verstappen would’ve taken 2nd place, without any grid penalty in qatar, that’s why a retroactive penalty wouldn’t be fair.

      1. I am very sure if the roles were reversed, you will be calling from a penalty for Hamilton

        1. Well, I called for a bigger penalty in silverstone for hamilton, but I look into consequences of incidents, as I think that’s fair, if you DNF your opponent you gain a huge amount of points, so a black flag is appropriate, if you spin your opponent probably a drive through or a 10 sec penalty and so on, so I disagree with the “not taking consequences into account”, you probably are missing the point that this penalty is only a problem for verstappen cause they’re trying to retroactively apply it, if they had given immediately the 5 sec penalty it would’ve made no difference.

          1. But it was almost the same as Silverstone. Just this time Hammilton avoided collision, Max ALWAYS chose to crash when he is w/o space from Lewis. The problem is that Hammilton got the penalty… With that in mind should be fair do the same. Doesn’t help the fact that he was ironical to the stewards and the zig-zag at strait.

          2. lexusreliability?
            17th November 2021, 11:12

            The only reason they didn’t crash, like they did in Silverstone was because Hamilton did not pinch Verstappen in into the corner, like Max did to Lewis. The fundamental issue is not so much the result (ie lack of crash) its the intent. But then the question remains, if they had crashed, as new footage showed Max not attempting to make the apex as hard as he could have done (bear in mind in SIlverstone Hamilton was literally on the kerb) would you be calling for a bigger penalty on Verstappen? I rather doubt it.

          3. @esploratore1

            I look into consequences of incidents

            That only shows what a reckless bully Verstappen really is. He accepts that he could die in a crash when he simply puts his car in a position where it will crash if the opponent doesn’t yield

            Complain about Verstappen doing that every time while his opponents do try to stay alive and take evasive action when Verstappen tries to run into them.

            That’s why Verstappen’s behavior is so despicable. That’s not hard racing, it’s below the belt punching.

          4. Out of all the drivers since Senna I think Verstappen is the only one that truly encapsulates how despicable Senna was. Schumacher could sometimes come close.

      2. Nobody’s seems to have picked up on this but, the way Max approach the corner was in a fashion where it seemed his intention was to initiate contact that would correct his RB trajectory and make the corner, at the same time as punting Lewis’ MB off. An extremely risky strategy in that one or both cars potentially wouldn’t finish but two of the most likely outcomes (they both retire or Lewis retires) the lead Max held in the championship would be retained or extended, so can afford to make contact knowing that there are less points on the table to be caught with for the next race, despite a potential penalty being issued to him. The most significant disadvantages of Max initiating contact (both continuing but hindered/only Max retiring) are less likely so to initiate enough contact to send Lewis into a spin, potentially damaging his car whilst at the same time using that contact to turn the car and stay on track would be Max’s evidence, albeit farfetched, to suggest there was no wrongdoing. What Max didn’t account for was that Lewis would remove his car from the reaction force he was trying to create and in effect, demonstrate how dangerous Max’s manoeuvre was by the distance he had to go off track to avoid the incident. Lewis effectively outsmarted Max and for me, a retrospective penalty should be applied. Incidentally, there should be a right to request an investigation by a team if no decision is taken by the stewards, as there is in other sports. It shouldn’t have to come to this as there is so much data available, but this incident is just more proof that the stewards are inept and not fit for purpose if they can’t see what we all saw.

        1. I certainly noticed it.
          If you look at the replay, you’ll see their wheels actually overlapped for a moment as Max drifted wide. Had Hamilton not taken instantaneous avoiding action, it could have been quite messy.

  6. if i were Mercedes i would just take ICE penalties on each of the remaining races and turn them all up to party mode!

    1. Weren’t party modes banned last season? So if MB did what you propose, they would be disqualified.

      But if that’s what they want to do, let them…

  7. That requires Lewis to overtake Max on track. What’s to stop Max simply crashing into Lewis, Schumacher-style? That preserves Max’s lead as Lewis runs out of races to make up the diffrerence.
    Lewis now has to outqualify Max in the remaining races, simple as that. Anything else and we know what the RB man will do.

    1. well there’s also the undercut

    2. What’s to stop Max simply crashing into Lewis, Schumacher-style?

      If he did that blatantly he would be disqualified from the championship – Schumacher style.

    3. It’s more Senna style.

  8. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    17th November 2021, 10:40

    I expect Merc to be strong at this track with the extra engine grunt Hamilton has. But as has been the case the whole season, RB will definitely be within a tenth or two given the twisty middle part of the track and it’ll be all about which driver shows consistency across the weekend. Overtaking will likely be an issue here, akin to a high-speed Hungary/Monaco.

  9. I fully expect Hamilton to get both pole and win, and will disappear down the road on a very snoozing race.

  10. Wishful thinking

  11. The speed advantage Mercedes had in Brazil is being oversold. Hamilton was not the fastest car in the straight line in the race. It was more so that the car he was racing of most interest, Verstappen, was one of the slowest on the straight. Mercedes had good balance, traction, and tire degradation. The new engine does not have a nitrous button. It’s just the maximum possible from the PU.

    Every race we hear people say whoever won last is going to dominate going forward because of Honda’s special oil, flexi-wings, diffuser stalling, new PU, etc. And almost every race we are surprised. Before Brazil absolutely no serious observer was saying it was sure to be Mercedes walk-over, with or without fresh ICE.

    1. @dmw – Completely agree, I thought Brazil was going to be a Rbr walk over and it got compounded with the Qualifying disqualification. But Mercedes and Hamilton had other ideas.

      This weekend will be absolutely critical, more so for Mercedes.

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