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 VerstappenLewis 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”.
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’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 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
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2021 Qatar Grand Prix
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