Here are our conclusions from a biting US Grand Prix, which may well turn out to have been a turning point in the thrilling title battle.
What a race!
What. A race.
– PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) 24 October 2021
The first of the fleeting events that will determine the outcome of this remarkable season has always promised to be something special, and it has kept its promises perfectly.
A little bit of everything has been seen in the first 17 races this year – wet weather, dramatic crashes, surprise winners, but sometimes all you need is the top two drivers in the fastest cars that come together. face off to produce an incredible spectacle.
Outside of the opening turn, there was never a danger of another crash between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as the race went, but a Grand Prix that comes down to strategy has always proven to be true. be very captivating with a margin of victory of only 1.333 s. .
You can tell how much Verstappen’s victory meant for Red Bull simply by the raw emotion in the voice of team principal Christian Horner, in his immediate post-race interviews in particular, and it just has to be due. to the influence that this result could have on the fate of the Drivers’ Championship.
As Hamilton stalked his prey in the final laps, a 14-point swing was to be expected. The seven-time world champion could have taken two leads, but instead he’s 12 behind as what seemed like a Mercedes-inspired strategy, making their pitstops later than Red Bull to have the better pace at the end. , arrived. just below its target.
After the engine penalties that put the distance between title rivals on track in the previous two races, and Monza’s uninspiring collision before that, it was refreshing to see Verstappen and Hamilton in a direct fight as they l ‘had been so often earlier in the countryside.
There are five races left and they should all have something to savor. Mexico has a unique atmosphere, Brazil a great circuit, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are newcomers to F1 and Abu Dhabi, with its revamped track, could decide a battle that will never be forgotten.
The twists and turns throughout 2021 show that nothing can be taken for granted, but you get the feeling that Red Bull knows how important Verstappen’s eighth win in 2021 could be.
It wasn’t the first time, it was the training of a pending champion.
Performance predictions are futile
With a maximum of 133 points still available for each driver, an advantage of 12 is of course not a big deal, although Verstappen would much prefer that rather than being led by two.
But does either team have a distinct performance advantage that should see them carve out the lion’s share of those points by mid-December?
Austin was inconclusive in this regard as free practice, qualifying and the race itself swung back and forth, as did the season as a whole.
Mercedes had the advantage in a straight line, possibly due to the rear suspension ‘device’ that Horner spoke about on Friday, but after qualifying James Allison felt Red Bull had taken advantage of the ‘stronger development weekend. “.
Red Bull traditionally have good records in Mexico and Brazil, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia are complete strangers, and that’s the beauty of this fight. We just don’t know which team will have the advantage in any given race.
And especially with Red Bull just turning their rivals back to a Mercedes stronghold – which has surely been another key factor in their exuberant post-race celebrations.
Reliability will of course be essential, especially on the engine side. Toto Wolff says a DNF would be a “killer” so clearly nothing will be left to chance with Hamilton’s power units.
Galloping horse rearing up
?? #USGP ??
– Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) 24 October 2021
Equally fascinating, though of lesser importance, is the battle for third place between McLaren and Ferrari – and the smart money may now be on the Scuderia to come out on top.
These two teams tend to thrive on different types of circuits, but it looks like Ferrari is now on the rise after McLaren’s strong performances in Italy and Russia.
Engine improvements helped Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and while the latter was hampered in Austin by the start on soft tires, his Monegasque colleague had a lonely but very efficient race.
Also in P4, there was even a point to cross towards the finals when it looked like Leclerc could just challenge Sergio Perez for the final podium position, with the Mexican not feeling 100% and also suffering from failure. of the beverage system.
Sainz was battling with championship rivals Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, managing to stay one step ahead of his former team-mate McLaren, and now being just 3.5 points behind the Woking squad, it wouldn’t be surprising if the rebirth of the Italian giants continues by moving into the bronze medal in Mexico.
Tsunoda could start to mature
We’ve been waiting for it for a long time this season, of course, but Yuki Tsunoda may start showing us what it was about when he entered Formula 1.
The AlphaTauri driver did more than most to slow Hamilton’s progress on the pitch in Istanbul last time around with a fiery defensive display and he made a polite effort to finish P9 at COTA – the first time he set foot in the USA.
In all fairness, he is still a long way from the pace of his much more experienced teammate, Pierre Gasly. But Tsunoda found himself carrying his side’s hopes after the Frenchman was forced to retire after just 15 laps, and he netted a few points.
Alex Albon served as the 21-year-old’s driver coach and the advice could start to pay off, with Red Bull clearly doing everything they can to try and unleash the youngster’s potential.
There is still a long way to go for Tsunoda before reaching the expected level in the spring, but the last two Grands Prix have indicated why he has been given another year in 2022 to try to deliver on his F2 promise.