Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: This year’s fascinating battle for supremacy is set to go to the wire

October 25, 2021January 6th, 2022

What a weekend! The United States Grand Prix delivered in every way – a great race, massive crowd and a real feeling that Formula One is finally coming out of 18 difficult months caused by the global pandemic.

I was really impressed to see how much Formula One is growing in America and the enthusiasm the fans have for our sport. 

They were given a demonstration of why Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are the title contenders at the moment. Both guys pushing incredibly hard all race, running different two-stop strategies which meant that tyre usage was critical. Austin is hard on tyres, even the hard compound tyres need to be looked after, so the sensitivity of the driver is all-important.

If Max had pushed too hard after his second stop I think Lewis would have had no problem at all in catching him in the final laps, but the Red Bull driver has matured a lot and paced himself perfectly. It’s not easy to back off when you know the guy behind is catching you, but saving the tyres was critical.

After lap 50, when Lewis closed the gap to almost one second, Max managed to push it back open for two or three laps. That was a key moment, and although Lewis kept pushing until the chequered flag he realised Max had timed his strategy perfectly.

 

 

It was so interesting to watch how the weekend developed. After first practice it looked like Mercedes had a good advantage over the Red Bull-Hondas, although the World Champions admitted their engines were turned up. As the track evolved and the effects of the bumpy circuit demanded some set-up changes the picture really changed.

Max’s pole lap was a sign that he and his car really did have the pace needed to beat Mercedes, but Lewis made such a great start that the pole advantage was lost into Turn 1. It’s just brilliant to see these two guys fighting wheel to wheel with incredibly tight margins involved. 

It was also a strong weekend for Max’s team mate Sergio Perez who looked like he might take pole position. Although he started 3rd he was able to put enough pressure on Lewis to force him to make his first pit stop slightly earlier in order to avoid the undercut. Ultimately Sergio fell back, not helped by a drinks bottle that was not working – that made life difficult for him towards the end of the race. On a hot day, dehydration is not ideal when racing in F1!

Max now has a 12.5 point lead over Lewis with five races remaining. While that’s important, a single non-finish caused by an accident or mechanical failure could swing the World Championship one way or the other. This is far from over, and both teams and drivers know that.

 

 

The fight between McLaren and Ferrari for 3rd place in the World Championship for Constructors is even closer. Just 3.5 points separate them, and with Charles Leclerc finishing 4th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz 7th ahead of Lando Norris, Ferrari scored some important extra points on Sunday.

I think Daniel is in much better shape at this point of the season compared to early in the year when he was struggling a little. The win in Monza has made a difference and in Austin it was clear that he has a lot more confidence in the car. The battle between him, Lando and the two Ferrari driver is going to be incredibly close as we head into the final five Grands Prix.

Next stop is Mexico – a circuit which should suit Red Bull due to its configuration. It is also the home event for Sergio Perez and I know the Mexican fans are really looking forward to seeing their hero in a race-winning car running at the front.  

Sergio’s performance in this next race will again play an important strategic role for Max, but I know that Lewis and Valtteri Bottas remain confident that there will be more opportunities for victories this year. It’s a championship that has produced some major surprises and I we will certainly see some more before the we reach Abu Dhabi in mid-December.