Hamilton versus Verstappen round two as F1 visits Imola

By Sports Desk April 14, 2021

The pressure is on Red Bull to respond to a disappointing first race as the 2021 Formula One season continues at Imola.

The Austrian outfit, led by Max Verstappen, were expected to lay down a marker for defending champions Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in week one.

But Hamilton claimed a stunning triumph in Bahrain, described by the victor as "one of the hardest races I've had for a while".

The against-the-odds success might suggest a tricky year ahead for Red Bull, who had set the pace in pre-season testing.

They will be aiming to prove that was merely an early blip when Verstappen takes on Hamilton again at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix this week.

A response would set the season up nicely, but Hamilton will be similarly determined to continue his pursuit of a record-breaking eighth title.
 

LAST TIME OUT

Bahrain looked to be set for a season-opening Verstappen victory. The Dutchman was fastest in pre-season, then in practice and again in qualifying.

After starting from pole, his pace was obvious again in a titanic tussle with Hamilton.

But what the Briton lacked in speed - still adjusting to his W12 car, which team-mate Valtteri Bottas claimed was "undriveable" - he more than made up for in experience.

And the strategy of Mercedes had Hamilton in front, although it still took a Verstappen error to giftwrap a Silver Arrows success.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton with four laps remaining but went beyond track limits and crucially had to give first place back to his rival.

Bottas completed the podium in third, also collecting a point for the fastest lap, while Charles Leclerc was the best-placed Ferrari finisher down in sixth.

Aston Martin new man Sebastian Vettel was a frustrating 15th, one place ahead of debutant Mick Schumacher, while the returning Fernando Alonso failed to finish.
 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT IMOLA

Until the Mercedes drivers can properly get to grips with their cars - not relying on errors and chaos for wins - the Hamilton versus Verstappen theme is likely to continue.

The Silver Arrows have at least had time to work on their flaws, three weeks on from Sakhir, while Red Bull have been left to stew on their mishap.

Particular attention will be paid to practice and qualifying and any change in the significant pace gap between the teams last time out.

As long as Red Bull retain the faster car, Verstappen should be in a title race - even if he cannot afford further mistakes.

A two-way fight for the championship is an improvement on recent years in which Hamilton has been comfortably clear of the grid, and there is also intrigue elsewhere.

Ferrari's continued struggles combined with improvement in the McLaren ranks mean there is competition between the two again.

Both outfits will be bidding for third place in the standings this year, with McLaren boasting the edge heading in to race two, while a busy off-season means the pecking order further back is far from concrete.
 

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Back on pole? - After Verstappen qualified fastest in Bahrain, Mercedes are facing up to the possibility of failing to secure a pole position over the first two races of a season for the first time in the Hybrid Era (since 2014).

Setting the standard - This is one of only four tracks at which Hamilton has never achieved pole, but victory would make this the first time he has ever started a season with back-to-back wins. Only twice before this year had the F1 great triumphed in the season opener, going on to claim the title in both 2008 and 2015.

Man in form - Verstappen is certainly the driver to beat in qualifying after consecutive pole positions at the end of last season and start of this. He only had two poles in his prior 118 races in F1.

Streaking McLaren - Daniel Ricciardo has earned points in his past 12 races, while McLaren team-mate Lando Norris - fourth last time out - could set a new career best with a seventh straight points finish.

In his father's footsteps - Mick Schumacher will this year become used to turning out at events where his father has previously dominated. Michael Schumacher has seven Imola wins, more than any other driver, while Ferrari and Williams are tied on eight team triumphs.
 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 

Drivers 

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 25
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - 18 
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) - 16 
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) - 12 
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) - 10 

Constructors 

1. Mercedes - 41 
2. Red Bull - 28 
3. McLaren - 18 
4. Ferrari - 12
5. Alpha Tauri - 2

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    Lewis Hamilton labelled his clash with Max Verstappen at the Hungarian Grand Prix as a "racing incident" after finishing third on Sunday. 

    Hamilton and Verstappen made contact coming into turn one at the Hungaroring with seven laps of the race remaining. 

    The Dutchman attempted to go on the inside of his former rival to secure the final podium place, but in doing so locked up his front tyres. 

    Verstappen and Hamilton made contact, with the three-time world champion briefly sent into the air and off the track as he was overtaken by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc. 

    The stewards swiftly placed the incident under investigation and conducted their analysis of it after the race, with the pair both escaping punishment for the collision. 

    "For me it was a racing incident," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

    "Ultimately he was much quicker and he sent it. I moved a little to defend, but I left enough space on the inside and he locked up and obviously then couldn't turn.

    "He came at a different trajectory and clipped my wheels. If he was under control he would have gone by."

    “It’s nerve-wracking when you see the pace at which they close the gap on corners," Hamilton added of Red Bull's pace.

    "You just laugh to yourself because it’s not something I can do, particularly on the last sector they were very very strong, same as the McLarens.

    “I saw him coming from a long way back and he was able to brake a lot later than me, but he sent it up the inside, I stayed still and he clipped the wheel and went over, so I think it was a racing incident."

    Hamilton's third-place finish saw him claim a 200th podium, the first driver in the history of the competition to reach that milestone. 

    The seven-time world champion, who claimed 49 of those podium finishes with McLaren, was pleased to see his former team produce their first one-two since the Italian Grand Prix in 2021. 

    “Big thanks to this amazing crowd and a huge congratulations to the McLarens with the one-two, that’s my old original family so it’s great to see," Hamilton said. 

    “For us, the team have done a great job at pushing this car ultimately, we didn’t have the pace of the McLarens or of the Red Bulls but we were just able to hold on at the beginning of the race, it was very tough to hold on and make those tyres last."

  • Verstappen fumes at 's***' Red Bull strategy after finishing fifth at Hungarian Grand Prix Verstappen fumes at 's***' Red Bull strategy after finishing fifth at Hungarian Grand Prix

    Max Verstappen raged at Red Bull's strategy after finishing fifth at the Hungarian Grand Prix, declaring the team are no longer able to rely on a pace advantage.

    Verstappen recorded his joint second-worst finish of the year at the Hungaroring as Oscar Piastri led Lando Norris in a McLaren one-two.

    The three-time world champion's race was defined by a collision with old rival Lewis Hamilton, coming into contact with the Mercedes on lap 63 when he overshot a corner on an attempted overtake.

    Verstappen vented his frustrations over team radio, telling race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase: "You gave me this s*** strategy. I'm trying to rescue what's left."

    Speaking to Sky Sports after the race, the Dutchman refused to apologise for those comments as he said: "I don't think we need to apologise. 

    "I just think we need to do a better job. I don't know why people think you cannot be vocal on a radio. This is a sport. If some people don't like that, then stay home."

    Verstappen, who also dropped below Charles Leclerc late on, continued: "I'm not happy.

    "On a day when we're lacking pace compared to McLaren, you hope we do the right things with strategy, which was not the case.

    "You can't rely on a little pace advantage. Maybe last year when the car was quite a lot faster than everyone else, but in the position we are in now, we can't do that.

    "Naturally that frustrates me because I want things to be done better. I'm realistic.

    "Today we couldn't have beaten the McLarens, but a P3 was on the cards if we were on it a bit more."

  • Norris puts team first as McLaren secure Hungarian Grand Prix one-two Norris puts team first as McLaren secure Hungarian Grand Prix one-two

    Lando Norris said he will always put the team first after handing fellow McLaren driver Oscar Piastri his maiden Formula One victory at Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.

    Norris started on pole at the Hungaroring but dropped two places at the first corner as team-mate Piastri and world champion Max Verstappen surpassed him.

    Verstappen later fell away and ultimately finished fifth, while Norris inched ahead of Piastri after making an earlier pitstop.

    Norris – who claimed his first win at the Miami Grand Prix in May – was repeatedly asked to hand the lead back to Piastri but refused to do so until two laps before the finish.

    It looked like Norris might refuse the order as engineer Will Joseph told him he would need Piastri's support to push for the world championship, but he told reporters after the race he would always prioritise the team. 

    "It's tough. It would be tough for anyone when you're leading the race to give it up," Norris told Sky Sports. "I was obviously put in the position. 

    "They made me box first and gave me the chance to lead the race and pull away quite comfortably and to do what I was doing.

    "I think it was fair to give the position back. I don't want to come across as the guy who is not fair. Oscar has done a lot for me in the past and helped me in many races.

    "He drove a better race than I did. He got a good start, a better start and mine sucked. He deserved it and it was the right thing to do."

    McLaren team principal Andrea Stella, meanwhile, was proud of the drivers' efforts, telling Sky Sports: "We are on this trajectory together. 

    "None of us – the team, Lando or Oscar – can go alone. That's the message that we discussed on Sunday morning.

    "With racing drivers you need to refresh this message. That's why we have this meeting every Sunday.

    "We are extremely pleased by how our drivers are supporting the trajectory of McLaren which is incredible. For me, that's the news today."

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