Those of us who thought the last races of the year would be boring after Lewis made everything clear early November, well, we were wrong. Very wrong. Combining the drama we could have done without (Grosjean), the excitement with the oh so tragic end (Russell) and the final (well, almost) confirmation of drivers and teams for next season, this is probably the most dramatic season end in many years. But let’s start from the beginning, after my last F1 update that I posted early November and that you can read here.
Starting with what we could all have done without is obviously Grosjean’s terrible crash in the first of two Bahrain races two weeks ago. Honestly I think many of us thought anything like this was impossible in modern F1, but at the same time it was also great to see how all the protective measures implemented worked wonderfully – with exception of the barrier that cut his car in half and caused the fire… Among recent safety equipment is the halo that wasn’t really acclaimed when it came. Now, Grosjean said himself that without it he would have been dead. You could add that had everything the drivers wear, from feet to head, been done in another material than Nomex, which withstands 800 degrees C for up to 35 seconds, he would also not be alive, or at least badly burnt, given it took him 28 seconds to get out of the fire… It’s unbelievable that he made it basically without being hurt. We won’t see Grosjean in F1 next year and it’s great it all ended on a dramatic but in the end positive note.
In the week after the first Bahrain race, we then learnt that Lewis had tested positive for Covid and that Mercedes would replace him with George Russell (Williams) for the second Bahrain race. I described George as the big British hope for when the day Lewis retires in my previous F1 post (link same as above), but hope is one thing. The reality is that so far he has never scored a point in F1, in the improving-but-still-too-slow Williams car. Oh how things were to change over the weekend….
First, Russell set the fastest time in the free training on Friday, which he followed up with qualifying second to Bottas on the grid on Saturday. In the race he then passed Bottas in the first corner and led the race without any problems for the coming 60 or so laps (out of 87), until Mercedes (yes, Mercedes!) manages to screw up a pit stop so badly that he had to come in for a second one, and then for a third one after a puncture. After the first pit stop he was quickly back in the lead. After the second he was back in fifth, but needed only 2-3 laps to for second place (this included overtaking Bottas in a way that didn’t make the Finn look particularly good), After the third stop he came out 15th and by now, even the very calm George was swearing over the intercom. With six laps left, and did however still manage to finish 8th. It goes without saying that he was devastated, but also that anyone who saw the race realized that this was certainly not the end of it for George. Should Lewis not re-sign with Mercedes, which he still hasn’t confirmed, I’m willing to bet a face mask that Mercedes arranges for George’s contract with Williams to be cancelled. If not, he is a very likely successor to Lewis the day the 36-year old quits, which may well be after an 8th title in 2021.
With Russell having the roller-coaster of his life that he could have done without, the one positive thing was that it allowed Sergio Perez to claim his first F1 victory, and few have been more well-deserved. Perez incredibly still doesn’t have a seat confirmed for next year, and how Aston Martin (as the team will be called next season) could put Sebastian Vettel before Perez beats me, but I’ve written enough of that before.
Most of the drivers are by now confirmed for next season, and the most notable is of course that Mick Schumacher will take one of the two Haas seats. Mick is Michael’s son, he looks like a perfect mix of his father and his uncle Ralph, and he didn’t get here just on having a famous name (although that never hurts). He won the FIA F3 European Championship in 2018 and the Formula 2 Championship in 2020 and has so far accumulated three wins in 11 podiums. There will obviously be huge pressure on the 21-year old Mick and everyone will always and constantly compare him to his father, and you can only hope he’s able to handle it. He will certainly also have to answer questions around the current state of his father of which we know very little, certainly not a good sign.
Next to Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen is the other noteworthy driver who won’t be returning next year, going over the pond to race in the US IMSA Sports Car Series. After Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to move to McLaren, Renault (which will be called Alpine next year) looks forward to the F1 return of Fernando Alonso which promises to be interesting. And McLaren could be a better move than expected for Ricciardo given the team just signed a GBP 185m deal with American sports group MSP Sports Capital, who clearly have their eyes set on race wins next year. Again, it would be a great shame not seeing Sergio Perez in 2021, and late November Perez said he will take a sabbatical unless he’s offered the second Red Bull seat next to Verstappen. If you ask me that’s a very clear choice given Albon seen over the last two years has been a huge disappointment. He’s picked up somewhat in the last three races after Christian Horner gave him an ultimatum, but he’s still miles away from Max Verstappen. Perez on the other hand has consistently delivered over and above what anyone expected and to me is clearly the better driver. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone plans to ask me, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.
And so the strangest season in memory came to an end this afternoon in Abu Dhabi. Lewis was back, meaning Russell was back in the back of the field in his Williams. Lewis said he didn’t feel 100% which was probably true given he “only” qualified in third and finished the very undramatic race in the same place, after Bottas in second and Max Verstappen in first. Max had started on pole for the first time this season and this was his second win. He is by now a clear number 2 behind Lewis and will most probably be an even bigger threat to the latter in 2021!
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