F1: Can Lewis Hamilton do it again?
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Exhilarating racing and flared tensions, round two of the 2021 Formula One season had every fan’s dream: a fierce championship battle with two of the best F1 drivers of their generation. Max Verstappen’s almost impeccable display at Imola allowed Red Bull to lay down to gauntlet to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, whose path to a record-breaking eighth world title will not be easy.
We look at who was singing in the rain at Imola and whose weekend was a complete washout.
Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
Searching for redemption following a disappointing qualifying, Verstappen made his 2021 title challenge clear.
Lewis Hamilton learnt this the hard way, as the Dutch driver’s aggressive move into the first chicane sent the Mercedes over the sausage kerbs and enabled him to snatch the lead.
Verstappen dominated to finish 22 seconds ahead of Hamilton, moving within one point of the seven-time world champion in the drivers’ standings.
The only mark on his otherwise spotless race record was nearly losing his car, after a squeeze of the throttle on the penultimate corner.
But in a race where several drivers’ mistakes had more devastating consequences, I don’t think Verstappen will lose too much sleep over that one.
Loser: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Regardless of the collision with George Russell on lap 32, Valtteri Bottas’ weekend was mediocre from the start as he qualified down in eighth.
His underwhelming performance continued as he languished down in the midfield, whilst team principal Toto Wolff was forced to give him the hurry up.
Colliding with Russell whilst battling for ninth proved to be the tipping point in a disastrous weekend for the Finnish driver.
Already 28 points adrift of team-mate Hamilton, Bottas needs to bring a title challenge soon. Otherwise, Mercedes’ eyes may turn elsewhere…
Winner: Lando Norris (McLaren)
Looks like McLaren is going to have a fight on his hands as Lando Norris intends on making it clear that he is their undisputed No 1.
After narrowly missing out on P3 in qualifying, the British driver appeared to have the edge over Daniel Ricciardo as his team made the call to switch their drivers around and from then on Norris didn’t look back.
Snatching second away from Charles Leclerc on the restart and holding back Hamilton in a commanding defence for several laps, despite his degraded tyres, showed that Norris could fight it up front with the best.
Losers: George Russell and Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
Looking to earn the team’s first points since 2019, Williams’ George Russell and Nicholas Latifi both leave Imola with their tails between their legs.
Latifi’s afternoon was short with his best qualifying of 14th undone within 13 corners. He slid off at Acque Minerali, before contact with the unsighted Nikita Mazepin sent the Canadian into the wall.
Russell’s weekend hit the headlines, but not for the reasons he would have hoped. An ambitious move on Bottas for ninth backfired, with frustrations boiling over as the two collided.
Neither driver can afford to fail to capitalise on any points opportunities this year and Russell needs to keep his head down if he dreams of a Mercedes seat in 2022.
Winner: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Despite the absence of the passionate Tifosi, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set out to impress.
Regaining some of the speed they appeared to have lost as a result of the investigation into their 2019 engine, Leclerc’s ability to master his Ferrari continued as he qualified fourth for the second consecutive race.
Had it not been for radio issues at the restart, Leclerc could have benefitted from Verstappen’s mistake and taken the race lead and a possible podium.
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