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F1 2021, Turkish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, power units, Daniel Ricciardo, grid penalties, Max Verstappen, engine rules, news, latest, results, video

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After just 17 races in the Covid-hampered 2020 F1 season, the 2021 season has now seen 16 races completed of a gruelling, record breaking 22-Grands-Prix campaign.

For Formula One fans the extra races are a boon, especially with the championship battles going down to the wire. But for drivers and teams, the extended season presents massive challenges including one key factor that is already defining the campaign.

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Despite the season being stretched out to unprecedented lengths, the teams have not been allowed to use more Power Unit (V6 turbo-hybrid engine) components than in prior seasons.

That means five additional races compared to last year – and five more races of performance degradation, reliability issues, and potential engine failures to contend with.

For many teams, crashes or reliability problems have forced them to take penalties by using extra power units. But choosing when to use extra power unit components – and cop penalties – has become a massive strategic gamble. It might just decide who wins the driver’s championship.

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THE RULES

Under F1 rules, each driver has a strict allocation of the number of Power Unit components they can use through the season.

The six components which make up the Power Unit – the F1’s hybrid engine – are the internal combustion engine (ICE); turbocharger (TC); Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K), which harvests energy during braking; Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H), which harvests energy from heat captured in the exhaust; Energy Store (ES), the batteries which store and distribute energy; and the Control Electronics (CE), which manages the entire power unit.

Drivers can use three each of the first four components (ICE, TC, MGU-K, MGU-H) and two each of the Energy Store and Control Electronics.

But usually, the first components of the power unit are built together and simply called the engine, and drivers can use three of those in a season.

If a driver needs to use more replacements than allowed, they cop big grid penalties – like Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, and Carlos Sainz did at this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix.

But to stay within the regulations, teams must stretch the lifespan of the components further than in previous years. And that is a massive risk as the components degrade over time – costing speed, reliability, and most importantly of all increasing the risk the power unit will fail and end a driver’s race.

In short, teams are facing one of the greatest technical and tactical juggling acts we’ve ever seen in F1 – and it’ll define who wins and who falls apart this season.

It’s not pretty when an F1 engine fails – like Daniel Ricciardo (R) found out in his 2019 Renault.Source: Getty Images

THE CURRENT SITUATION

We’ve still got six races to go this season, but already every single driver is on their third and final (or even their fourth or fifth) engine of the season.

By the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa (the 12th race of the season), a full 16 of the 20 drivers were onto their third and final power unit – only the Alfa Romeos and Haas drivers had not reached the limit.

For those 16 drivers, that meant they would have to complete the final 11 races of the season without bringing in a new power unit. It would be a massive – if not impossible – challenge. The risk of engine failure and a forced retirement goes up with every kilometre on the track, while the power unit’s performance also drops over time.

For drivers and teams, the predicament was clear: when to take a fourth engine and incur a grid penalty, which meant the risk losing out on valuable points come the race.

As of the just-completed Turkish Grand Prix – just four races since Belgium – NINE of the 20 drivers have taken penalties by using their fourth engine (or five, in the case of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas). The other 11 are all on their third power unit.

The power unit conundrum has already had a huge impact on the title race – not to mention the seasons of every other driver and team scrapping for positions, like Daniel Ricciardo and his McLaren squad.

Red Bull’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez in action this weekend. He was the first to cop a penalty for exceeding engine component limits.Source: AFP

THE MERCEDES/RED BULL BATTLE

At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a first-lap crash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen effectively ruined Verstappen’s second power unit. He was forced to move to his third and final allowed engine at the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 1 – just the 12th race of the season.

There was no way the final engine would safely make it through the remainder of the 22-race season, so Red Bull already knew two months ago that they would have to take a grid penalty at some point to allow their Dutch star to finish the season.

But the other three drivers in the battle between Red Bull and Mercedes weren’t far behind Verstappen in running out of engines.

By the following race at Spa – the Belgian Grand Prix – Hamilton, Bottas, and Perez were among 11 drivers to drop in their third and final power unit.

Mercedes, which had always had the most reliable power unit since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014, now are on almost even footing with Red Bull’s Honda-powered engine. They might just have lost their great advantage.

So in the battle for Constructor’s Championship, as well as Driver’s Championship, the two superstar teams started pulling the trigger on engine changes.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was the first to bite the bullet, having had an engine damaged in a crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix. An underperforming power unit meant he qualified just 16th at the Dutch Grand Prix in early September.

On a high-speed track where engine power was all-important he chose to take a fresh power unit after qualifying and start from pit lane. Remarkably, in a chaotic race he managed to surge up to eighth and claim valuable points. Max Verstappen beat Hamilton and Bottas on the podium – meaning Red Bull picked up a combined 29 points to Mercedes’ 34. But there was another problem for Mercedes – one of Hamilton’s older engines blew up in practice, meaning he had to take it out of the engine rotation for the rest of the season. His resources were stretched even thinner.

A week later, Valtteri Bottas – who had already ruined one of his power units in a nasty crash in the second race of the season – was next to change his power unit. He qualified first at the Italian Grand Prix and won the sprint race, but started from last place after taking his fourth engine.

Hamilton and Verstappen crashed out in that memorable shunt, as Bottas fought his way back to a brilliant third place. Perez only managed fifth. Mercedes’ gamble had paid off – if only because of the chaos between the two title contenders.

Next it was the Russian GP. Verstappen – at that point the championship leader – was already facing a three-place grid penalty for causing the crash with Hamilton in Italy. On a Sochi track that had been utterly dominated by Mercedes in the past, he opted to take his fourth power unit and attempt to minimise the damage, knowing a win was unlikely even without a penalty.

But Mercedes’ were struggling with their own problems. Bottas took a fresh power unit for the second straight race, his FIFTH of the year. There had been a ‘batch problem’ with the internal combustion engine, something that would soon trouble Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton this weekend.Source: Getty Images

Bottas started in 16th, although the choice to take on the new components looked like a brilliant tactical decision. It was hoped he could up Verstappen near the back of the pack and help his Mercedes teammate Hamilton in the driver’s championship. Even if Bottas didn’t make the points himself, simply holding back Verstappen from getting points would be a huge boost to his teammate.

It didn’t work. In a wet and wild finish, Hamilton won after Lando Norris botched a pit call. But Verstappen managed to breeze his way past Bottas and surge all the way up to second – a result that felt as good as a win given his last-place start on the grid. Bottas finished just fifth – still a good comeback from 16th, but overshadowed by Verstappen’s surge. Meanwhile Sergio Perez, who started eight, only managed ninth.

For Verstappen to leap up to second – and lose just minimal points to Hamilton – was a brilliant result, since Red Bull knew that Hamilton would have to take an engine penalty at some point before the end of the season. It was just a matter of when – and whether Hamilton could mirror Verstappen’s miracle comeback.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out. This weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix saw them take the risk – hoping Hamilton could continue his exceptional form on a track that favoured the Mercedes car over the Red Bull.

Hamilton didn’t even take a full power unit either, just the internal combustion engine. That meant that it was just a 10-place grid penalty, not starting from the back of the grid.

But there was more to the tactical decision than just Mercedes’ car being more suited to the track. It also had to do with one of Hamilton’s greatest-ever drives, which took place in 2006 in GP2 (then the second division behind F1). On that day, on the same Istanbul track, Hamilton spun early and dropped to 17th. He scythed through the field to finish second – and went on to win the championship. It earned him a place in F1 in 2007, where he finished second in the driver’s championship by just one point to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Before the race this weekend one of Mercedes’ key figures in Andrew Shovlin explained the decision to take the penalty this time around, saying “this is a circuit where he felt there’s a lot of opportunity. You remember Lewis and that GP2 race? It should make for an exciting Sunday.”

He opened up on how the team approached the juggling act between extending a power unit’s lifespan and taking the penalty for a fresh engine.

“There’s a balance to the sort of risk of a reliability issue,” he said.

“Obviously the thing that you definitely don’t want to do is fail during a race and then have to take a penalty anyway and then there’s also a performance element because the power units do lose a bit of horsepower over their life.

“Really the bit that most contributes to that reliability element and the performance is the ICE itself, and it’s better to take 10 places than start from the back.”

The gamble was not just that Hamilton could fight through the pack – but also that his teammate could reduce Hamilton’s points loss compared to Verstappen by overtaking the Red Bull.

Bottas, starting second on the grid behind Verstappen, beat him on the track to finish first. Hamilton gained six places to finish fifth – just eight points less than Verstappen’s haul. Mercedes’ team approach meant that, despite Hamilton losing the lead in the driver’s championship, he had lost the battle but not the war.

As team boss Toto Wolff said, “The relative point of view is that in the last race Red Bull was very happy only losing seven points from a grid penalty and we lost eight points today.

“So it is not the end of the world … The championship is wide open.”

Bottas claimed his first win of the season – and he’s already used a full FIVE power units.Source: Getty Images

Verstappen’s second place behind Bottas means he now leads the championship by six points – gaining the lead back after losing it just one race ago. It is the fourth change of lead in the last six Grands Prix, and no-one has led the championship by more than eight points for seven races in a row.

Behind this incredibly close title battle is two teams with cars that suit different tracks, two title-contending drivers at the peak of their powers, and a stunning gamble over engines.

And it might not be done yet, since crashes or reliability issues – like those that forced Bottas to swap out his fourth engine after just one race – could wreak havoc in the final races.

Hamilton, in particular, could need to replace the rest of his engine, not just the ICE he swapped out this weekend. It could be a crucial blow in his title battle.

Daniel Ricciardo in action.Source: Getty Images

RICCIARDO’S NIGHTMARE ISN’T SO BAD

The headlines might read that Ricciardo finished the Turkish Grand Prix in 13th, his worst result of the season. But don’t worry. Ricciardo opted to take a penalty for bringing in his fourth power unit of the season, after the McLaren had struggled all weekend on the Istanbul track.

The Australian was one of 11 drivers to use his third power unit of the season from the Belgian GP onwards, and was always going to need to take a penalty for another change. Using it at the Turkish Grand Prix was something of a no-brainer.

He had been well off the pace on a track that has never been a McLaren stronghold, qualified 16th, and was never likely to pick up too many points.

Listen to the way teammate Lando Norris (seventh) and team Principal Andreas Seidl spoke about the weekend after the race, and there’s plenty of perspective.

Norris said: “It was damage limitation for us at this track, but we came away with the best result that we could.”

Seidl said: “We leave Istanbul with six more points in our constructors’ championship battle, after finishing P7 and P13. We achieved everything that was on the table for us today.”

The Aussie wasn’t the only one to take a penalty this weekend. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz did too, and pulled off a brilliant drive to finish eighth from a starting spot of 19th. With Norris finishing seventh and the other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc fourth, it meant that the Prancing Horse team helped reduce the gap to McLaren in the all-important fight for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

McLaren still hold a 7.5-point lead in that battle. Norris is the only driver from the two teams to still be on his third engine. He is almost certain to have to take a penalty at some point. For Ricciardo, Sainz and Leclerc, a crash – or a component failing – might just force them to take another penalty and a fifth engine this year.

For now, one thing is certain: every team is struggling with their power units. It has played a huge role in the past four races – and it might just decide the outcome of the final few races of the season.

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F1 news 2021, 2022 grid, line up, Daniel Ricciardo, Oscar Piastri, Alfa Romeo, latest, F2 champion

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Australia could have two drivers in Formula One as a result of some last-minute “shenanigans”, according to former star Mark Webber.

20-year-old Oscar Piastri is one of the hottest prospects currently outside of F1, having won the F3 championship as a rookie in 2020 and is currently on course to win the F2 title this year.

It is a feat which has only been managed by current F1 stars George Russell and Charles Leclerc, who will be driving for Mercedes and Ferrari respectfully next season.

Piastri has a 36-point lead with just six races remaining but looks like he will be stuck in the category for another year, with just the one seat left unconfirmed in F1 for next season.

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(Photo by Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Portlock – Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)Source: Supplied

Alfa Romeo is the only team not to have confirmed both drivers for next year, with only Valtteri Bottas certain to be driving for them following his release from Mercedes.

Piastri, who is part of the Alpine academy, has previously stated he expects to stay in F2 and focus his energy on securing a role as Alpine’s test and reserve driver, with a view to replacing Fernando Alonso in 2023.

However, Webber, who manages Piastri, has hinted his compatriot may not need to wait that long and a late twist could see him in F1 sooner than expected.

“Well, mate, let’s see,” he told the F1 Nation podcast.

“It’s going to be an interesting few months, nothing is totally sorted yet, there’s still a little bit of shenanigans to be sorted out, and that could fall in his favour.

“The Alfa seat is moving round, we see now Andretti floating around in terms of maybe investment – so, wow.

“It’s an interesting last seat, mate, in terms of dynamic, but does he [Piastri] deserve to be in F1? Absolutely. We all know that.

“It’s not a question of if but when.

“Alpine are very, very keen on him, Alpine do not want him to slip through their fingers to say the least, they’re sort of looking to try to re-engage and commit to the future.

“It’s not done yet but they’re trying very, very hard to keep Oscar happy for the future, and that’s something that we’re going through as we speak.”

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Spa-Francorchamps CEO dead, murder suicide, Spa circuit, FIA, F1 news

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The F1 world is in mourning after Nathalie Maillet, the CEO of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, was allegedly killed in a reported murder-suicide.

The 51-year-old was found dead alongside her husband and another woman at her home in the town of Gouvy in the Luxembourg province of Belgium on Sunday morning local time.

The Luxembourg public prosecutor released a statement confirming three people had died as a result of gunshots.

“At 00:10, the bodies of two women and one man were discovered by the police in a house in Gouvy, all three presenting gunshot wounds,” the statement said.

“According to our information, the male individual voluntarily used his firearm to kill both women, including his wife, before killing himself.”

Tributes flowed from across the entire F1 and Motorsports community for Maillet, who in 2016 was appointed CEO of the Spa-Francorschamps circuit in 2016, where the Belgian F1 Grand Prix is held.

The world of motorsports is mourning the shock death of Spa-Francorchamps CEO Nathalie Maillet.Source: Supplied

She had been overseeing an AU$129 million revamp of the track’s ageing facilities.

“It is with great sadness that the team of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit have been informed of the death of Nathalie Maillet, CEO,” the circuit said in a brief statement.

“On this very sad day, the whole staff wish to present their most sincere condolences to Nathalie’s family and friends.

“The circuit, but also motor racing, has lost today a passionate woman, strong in her convictions and always looking to the future.”

Melchior Wathelet, chairman of the board of directors of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, added: “My thoughts are with Nathalie’s family, her parents, her loved ones and her teams.

The F1 season will resume at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit later this month. (Photo by Lars Baron / POOL / AFP)Source: AFP

“I know how much this news will upset our teams and I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the entire circuit team on behalf of the entire board.

“Today, we are losing a highly respected lady, a true leader who will be greatly missed. Nathalie had become the face of the circuit, she embodied the passion for racing that we all share.”

The FIA, F1’s governing body, also expressed its condolences for Maillet’s passing.

“The FIA has been saddened to learn of the tragic death of Nathalie Maillet.

“Nathalie was the Chief Executive Officer at Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps since 2016 during which time she oversaw major development of the iconic racetrack which hosts a number of FIA championships.

“On behalf of the entire motorsport community, we wish to extend our condolences to her family and friends.”

In poignant timing, the next race on the F1 calendar is the Belgian Grand Prix, which will be held at the Spa Francorchamps Circuit on 29 August.

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Nathalie Maillet murder, Franz Dubois suicide, mistress

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The boss of a Formula 1 circuit who was shot dead was reportedly killed by her husband after he found her in bed with her mistress.

Nathalie Maillet, 51, the CEO of the Spa-Francorchamps F1 circuit, was found dead at her home in Gouvy, Belgium on Sunday.

Police say Maillet was at home with her alleged mistress Ann Lawrence Durviaux, 53, when her husband Franz Dubois confronted the pair, who were in the bedroom.

Dubois then reportedly pulled out a gun and killed both the women before turning the gun on himself.

The public prosecutor said in a statement: “At 00:10, the bodies of two women and one man were discovered by the police in a house in Gouvy, all three presenting gunshot wounds.

“According to our information, the male individual voluntarily used his firearm to kill both women, including his wife, before killing himself.”

Maillet became the general manager of Spa-Francorchamps in 2016 and oversaw the modernisation of the circuit which hosted its first Grand Prix in 1925.

Dubois was also a well-known figure in the world of motorsport both as a team owner and as the co-founder of the VW Fun Cup series.

Veronique Leonard, the mayor of Gouvy, said in a statement: “I was warned, around 2.30am, by the police, that a double murder, followed by a suicide, had been committed in the house.”

Tributes flowed in for Maillet from the motorsport community.

Melchior Wathelet, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, said: “ My thoughts are with Nathalie’s family, her parents, her relatives but also her teams.

“I know how this news will upset her staff and I wish on behalf of the entire Board of Directors to offer my sincere condolences to the entire Circuit team.”

“Today we are losing a very great lady, a motorsports lover and enthusiast, a true leader who will be sorely missed. Nathalie had become the face of the circuit, she embodied this passion for racing that we all share.”

The FIA, F1’s governing body, also expressed its condolences for Maillet’s passing.

“The FIA has been saddened to learn of the tragic death of Nathalie Maillet.

“Nathalie was the Chief Executive Officer at Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps since 2016 during which time she oversaw major development of the iconic racetrack which hosts a number of FIA championships.

“On behalf of the entire motorsport community, we wish to extend our condolences to her family and friends.”

The investigation is reportedly ongoing with forensics teams and ballistics experts examining the scene of the crime.

This story first appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission

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