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F1 2021, US Grand Prix, Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton, next race, points, standings, Red Bull vs Mercedes, analysis

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Max Verstappen only extended his F1 championship lead over Lewis Hamilton by six points on Monday morning (AEDT).

Those six points, however, have sent the clearest message of 2021 that Hamilton’s mighty F1 reign is on the verge of crumbling down.

Verstappen and his Red Bull team combined at the US Grand Prix to show the world their new-found bravery, tactical astuteness, and devastating ruthless streak.

The same attributes have defined Hamilton and Mercedes’ dominance of the turbo hybrid era — but they are attributes they now share.

Monday’s race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) provided sobering evidence of that, as Red Bull snatched a win it had no right in taking.

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Verstappen holds off Hamilton | 00:43

When pole-sitter Verstappen lost his lead to Hamilton at the start, the race was suddenly following an awfully familiar script.

Since the US Grand Prix returned to the F1 calendar in 2012, Hamilton had won the race five times. Red Bull’s only win at the venue came in 2013, while Mercedes had claimed victory in five of the past six events at the track.

Red Bull had lost track position but was quickest on the medium tyre, while Hamilton was starting to lose rear traction, reopening the door to Verstappen.

But that’s when Red Bull — guilty of not making enough bold strategy plays in recent years — shocked Mercedes by pitting at the end of Lap 10.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said his team was contemplating an early stop for Hamilton, but was blindsided by Red Bull coming in before it could pull the trigger.

The significance of the stop was that it handed Verstappen clear air on fresh tyres to gain time on-track before Hamilton — struggling on old tyres — could make his own stop, known as an ‘undercut’.

When Hamilton eventually pitted on Lap 14 his advantage was gone, and he came out behind Verstappen.

But the race was far from won. Such an early stop meant Verstappen’s second would also come significantly early, and leave him struggling for rubber in the race’s closing stages.

Verstappen pushed his second stint as long as possible. In team boss Christian Horner’s words, his tyres were “down to the canvas” when the Dutchman made his last stop on Lap 29, with 27 laps remaining.

The gamble.
The gamble.Source: AFP

Even so, his stop was still eight laps earlier than that of Hamilton, whose race-winning equation was to make up 7.8 seconds in 18 laps.

Few thought the bold gamble would pay off for Red Bull — not even Horner was confident.

“I think I aged about 25 years in that race,” he said afterwards. “I really didn’t think we could hang on at the end there because it was such a long stint.”

Former world champion Jenson Button was also sceptical, saying on Sky Sports “It was a very, very aggressive strategy.

“I thought that was too early for Max, but they made it work.”

Red Bull deserves credit for out-thinking Mercedes, who has for so long proven to be F1’s chief mastermind. Think back to the Spanish Grand Prix when Hamilton was pulled in for an extra stop and, at the death, overtook Verstappen, who was sitting duck.

But it simply wouldn’t have been possible without Verstappen executing the plan with a masterfully composed drive worthy of any world champion.

When the temptation would have been to lay down quick times on a fresh set of tyres, Verstappen tapered his speed after his second stop and only chipped away at Hamilton’s lead.

Once Hamilton made his second stop, Verstappen was patient behind backmarkers, waiting for the right time to pass instead of aggressively overtaking and wasting rubber.

At one stage, Verstappen lost four seconds to Hamilton while stuck behind AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. A whopping seven laps then remained by the time Hamilton cut the deficit to Verstappen to less than two seconds. Just one more second would have allowed him to use DRS — an overtaking aid awarded to drivers when trailing a rival by less than one second through a detection points.

Even then, Verstappen didn’t panic.

Danny Ric accused of ‘dirty’ driving! | 00:30

It became clear that the 24-year-old had been delicate enough to save enough grip for the closing laps to keep Hamilton at bay.

Hamilton was powerless to catch Verstappen, struggling in the turbulent air behind his vehicle, and only entering DRS range on the final lap when it was too late.

The Mercedes stronghold of COTA now belonged to Red Bull.

Asked if Verstappen’s win would be the “defining” moment of the 2021 championship, Horner told Sky Sports: “They all count, every single point. It was big for us to beat Mercedes here.

“To get the pole, the first other than Mercedes in the last seven years, and get that win against Lewis here who we know is phenomenal driver around here — that’s a big win for us.”

Asked again about the strategy gamble after the race, Horner doubled down on his earlier doubts.

“Do you know what? I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off,” he said.

“Lewis with eight-lap-newer tyres, the first hards (tyres) that came off we were pretty much down to the canvas, and then thinking, ‘Wow we’re not going to have much left at the end here’. But I think the way he managed that tyre through that last stint to make sure he had enough for the last five or six laps…”

He added: “Lewis was starting to slide a bit (in the first stint), and we were starting to overheat the tyre and we thought, ‘Let’s go for track position’, and we’ll take track position and give ourselves a bit more to do.

“To lose one here would have really been painful. Max just held on, he did a great job, he managed the race really smartly and had just enough at the end there.”

Wolff paid full credit to Red Bull at the end of the race, conceding that Mercedes was outplayed on the day.

Lewis Hamilton’s back is against the wall.Source: AFP

“They went for a super aggressive first stop that was bold,” Wolff said. “We did that in the beginning of the year at Bahrain first up … they deserved to win today.

“We were debating about the undercut but it was just very early. We were too slow on mediums therefore didn’t think hards would last.”

There are now just five races left and Verstappen’s lead over Hamilton is a still slender 12 points. The next race is in Mexico where Red Bull has historically been competitive, even in years that is has struggled elsewhere.

Given Red Bull is quick this year, Verstappen is a strong favourite to win in Mexico, and at Interlagos where he won the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2019.

If Verstappen wins the next two races — as expected — that would leave Hamilton a minimum of 24 points behind with just three race weekends remaining.

If Verstappen was to win and set the races’ fastest laps instead of Hamilton, that gap would become 28 points.

Either way, Mercedes’ back is firmly against the wall for the first time in a generation thanks to Red Bull’s brilliant US Grand Prix.

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Daniel Ricciardo features in song on Triple J’s Hottest 100, reaction, Gang of Youths

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Daniel Ricciardo is a man of culture.

The Australian Formula One driver has many interests outside of motorsport, including wine and fashion. And now he has officially hit the big time as a (budding) musician, making one of the most sought-after lists in Aussie pop culture.

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As hipsters across Australia gathered around their portable speakers on Saturday for Triple J’s Hottest 100, they might have missed Ricciardo’s cameo in one of the songs.

In a strange twist, the 32-year-old made his Hottest 100 debut, having played “percussion” on Gang of Youths’ song The Man Himself.

The track, from Gang of Youths’ third studio album Angel in Realtime, came in at number 57 on the list, and features Ricciardo playing some very basic drum beats in the background.

He even features on the song’s credits, although it must be said the band’s drummer Donnie Borzestowski did the heavy lifting as the proper percussionist.

The Australian band released The Man Himself in October last year and shared a clip on social media of Ricciardo playing the drums in their studio.

On the band’s Instagram post listing Ricciardo in the credits, the McLaren driver commented: “This makes me happy”.

Ricciardo is an avid listener of music and often shared videos of himself singing along to tunes while driving (in normal life, not during races). He is also an ambassador for the headphones brand Beats by Dre.

Daniel Ricciardo on the drums for Gang of Youths.Source: Instagram

The West Australian also isn’t afraid to try his hand at strumming a few tunes on the acoustic guitar.

As for the rest of the Hottest 100, The Wiggles took out top spot for their cover of Tame Impala’s song Elepant.

Olivia Rodrigo, Lizzo and Cardi B also featured alongside some Triple J favourites including Gang of Youths, Tame Impala and ARIA winner Genesis Owusu.

Hopefully Ricciardo can take the momentum from featuring in the Hottest 100 to help him finish higher on another list of sorts — the F1 grid in the 2022 season.

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Australian F1 Grand Prix organisers won’t allow Covid vaccine exemptions, Albert Park circuit Melbourne, vaccine rules for F1 drivers

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Organisers of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix have confirmed there will be a “zero tolerance” approach on vaccine exemptions, making it mandatory for all participants to be vaccinated.

Australian F1 Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott said the conditions for the event were clear — all drivers, pit crew, staff and spectators have to be fully vaccinated to be involved in the race.

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“The rules are simple to get into the country and the rules are simple to operate in Formula One,” he said.

“To come into the event you’ll be 100 per cent vaccinated and there won’t be an exemption sought for anyone from anyone.”

The Grand Prix’s hard line policy means there will be no repeat of the Novak Djokovic exemption saga that overshadowed the lead-up to the Australian Open.

“Our arrangements have been in place well before the recent goings-on at the Australian Open,” Westacott said.

“These rules are understood by Formula One, they’re understood by the FIA, they’re going to be written into the sporting regulations and I’m very confident that (it) is just going to be a rite of passage to come into the country.

“There’s zero tolerance. Whether you’re Lewis Hamilton or Valentino Rossi in MotoGP, if you test positive, you don’t race that weekend.”

Every F1 driver including Daniel Ricciardo will be fully vaccinated for the Australian Grand Prix. (Photo by Antonin Vincent / POOL / AFP)Source: AFP

The entire F1 grid is believed to be fully vaccinated, and several leading drivers including Daniel Ricciardo have voiced their support for vaccines.

On top of the drivers, fans and all staff in the paddock will have to be vaccinated to attend the Grand Prix in Melbourne on April 10.

Aussie motorsport fans have been starved of a local F1 race. This year’s edition will be the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019 after the 2020 and 2021 races were cancelled due to the pandemic.

But the organisers have declared it will be a case of third time lucky and there is no chance of it being cancelled this year.

“I’ll go on record and say zero chance of cancellation,” Westacott said.

The Albert Park circuit in Melbourne has undergone a revamp, with the track resurfaced for the first time in 25 years.

The freshen-up is expected to cut lap times by five seconds, while the widening of several turns is expected to create more overtaking opportunities.

“The widening of five other turns, particularly the increase of speed at Turn 6 where they’re going to go from about 90 km/h to 150 km/h, that really does set it up for speeds in excess of 330 k /h around Lakeside (Drive), pulling four and a half Gs,” Westacott said.

The Australian Grand Prix is the third race of the F1 season and will run from April 8-10.

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McLaren boss Zak Brown ‘wouldn’t be shocked’ if Lewis Hamilton quits before 2022 season

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McLaren CEO Zak Brown says he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Lewis Hamilton chose to quit Formula One before the start of the 2022 season.

The seven-time world champion has kept his cards close to his chest since he missed out on last year’s title to Max Verstappen, who overtook him on the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in controversial circumstances.

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Speculation has been rife about Hamilton’s future after he was beaten to the world championship for the first time since 2016.

The 36-year-old and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff snubbed the end-of-season F1 gala, even though they were required to attend.

Hamilton, who is contracted with Mercedes to the end of 2023, is yet to publicly confirm whether he will race on this year, but Wolff is hopeful his charge will return to the grid.

Brown, who is the boss of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton called it quits and walked away from F1.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if he stopped, so I don’t think anyone should take for granted he’s coming back,” he said.

“My personal opinion is he’s going to (continue racing), but I don’t think we should discount or not recognise his frustration and his anger.

Lewis Hamilton’s F1 future is up in the air. (Photo by Kamran Jebreili – Pool/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“Maybe he hasn’t made a decision and maybe what he’s doing is taking time to make that decision to make sure, because once that decision is made, that decision is made.

“So, I don’t think we should rule it out or make light of it. I just personally think he still has a burning desire to race and that will ultimately drive his decision.”

Ultimately Brown believes Hamilton will continue to race in F1, driven by the desire to win a record-breaking eighth world championship.

“I think he’ll be back,” he said.

“He’s a racing driver. I think he’s at the top of his game.

“I’m sure he’s very angry, but I think race car drivers want to race and I think he’s a fighter, and he’ll want to come back and try to win an eighth championship.

“I don’t think he’s ready to retire; this is my own personal opinion, I’ve not talked to him, because once you hang it up, you hang it up.

“I guess you could come back as some have done, but I don’t think he’s ready to hang it up and I don’t think he’s going to let an incident put him into retirement.”

Hamilton lost the 2021 world championship to Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP)Source: AFP

Brown’s comments come after former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone predicted Hamilton will retire before the 2022 season, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.

The Brit reportedly also reportedly ignored messages from newly-elected FIA president Mahamaaed Ben Sulayem as time ticks on towards the start of the 2022 season.

Hamilton is expected to attend the virtual launch of Mercedes’ 2022 car on February 18.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the dramatic season finale in Abu Dhabi has continued.

The FIA, F1’s governing body, will reveal the results of their investigation into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on March 18, just two days before the season gets underway in Bahrain.

There have been calls for the FIA to sack Australian race director Michael Masi, after he came under fire for his use of the safety car in the dying stages of the race.

Many F1 fans criticised Masi for his decision to move only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to set up a final lap shootout between the two rivals.

Verstappen, on fresh tyres, overtook Hamilton to win the world title.

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