Will Max or Lewis take the top podium spot this weekend?
Last week's Mexican Grand Prix was a bit of a mixed bag. We enjoyed the emotional side very much, but as for the racing, it was pretty dull. Max Verstappen pulled an epic overtaking maneuver into the first corner, and that was pretty much the race. He ended his race 17 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton, followed by Mexican fan favorite Sergio Perez.
Perez received a hero's welcome at his home Grand Prix, and that's what made it special. Most of the controversy only followed after the race, which we covered in our post-race breakdown.
Looking ahead, Max Verstappen now has a 19 point lead over Lewis Hamilton with just four races to go this season. It's still too close to call, however. The constructor's standings are closer than ever before. Mercedes remains on top, but Red Bull Racing Honda is one point behind. Ferrari finally reached its goal of getting on the podium, opening up a big gap between it and McLaren Mercedes.
Here's our list of stuff to look out for at the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend.
The 2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix will run for 71 laps on the 2.677-mile circuit. Sao Paulo's rainy season runs from October to March, so we're possibly looking at a wet race. According to the official F1 website, there is a possibility of rain during the practice and qualifying sessions today. Rain is almost a dead certainty tomorrow when the sprint takes place. On race day, the weather is going to be clear.
Now that we're so close to the end, experts have started speculating about who might win. We feel it's still too soon, but we do like Mark Hughes' analysis of which track favors which car.
As Huges predicted, the Mexican Grand Prixfavored Red Bull, with both cars finishing on the podium. According to Hughes, we can look forward to a "narrow" Red Bull win in Brazil. Interlagos is a high-altitude track, but not as high as Mexico. The power difference between the two cars will not be as significant as it was last week.
The sprint format made its debut in Silverstone, and it has become a firm favorite because you get more racing over the entire weekend. F1 designed the sprint race to be no longer than 30 minutes with no pit stops. It's essentially a shorter, more frantic version of the full Sunday spectacle.
Drivers give it their all for two reasons. First, the finishing order of the sprint determines the grid of the Grand Prix on Sunday. Secondly, there are points up for grabs. The winner gets three points, second place gets two, and third place gets one. With this season being so close, the guys are going to drive hard. And we're not just talking about Max versus Lewis. The gap between Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez is equally close. One of them will inevitably take the third podium spot in the driver's championship.
Mercedes is a team divided, and it has one big problem that it will have to face at some point.
First, let's discuss team morale. Valtteri Bottas made a big mistake at the first turn in Mexico. This opened the door for Max Verstappen to take the lead. Both Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff called him out on it publicly, which was deplorable. Bottas is leaving for Alfa Romeo at the end of the season, and one always wants a split to end amicably. It seems that Mercedes is making this impossible for Bottas, even though he's done a fantastic job of scoring points for the team. You don't get to the top of the constructor's list with just one driver.
The problem with this is that Mercedes does not perform well under pressure. The team makes small mistakes, and it all adds up. Following a shunt earlier in the race, Bottas had a disastrous 11-second pit stop.
The other problem Merc is facing is Hamilton's engine. It needs some upgrades and Mercedes confirmed today that Hamilton will be taking a five-spot grid penalty. Even if he manages to come first in the sprint race, he'll likely end up a few spots behind Verstappen on the grid. If Perez is between him and Verstappen, he's facing even more of an uphill battle.
There's been a lot of talk about tracks that favor specific teams. The Red Bulls' high-altitude dominance was perfectly illustrated by Verstappen's epic 17-second win, but Lewis Hamilton came in second, keeping a supposedly much faster Perez at bay.
The same thing happened in Austin. Everyone predicted an easy win for Mercedes, but Max Verstappen drove an epic nine laps at the end, keeping the Brit from overtaking him.
Red Bull has one big thing in its favor. It's a well-oiled machine, and everyone knows their role perfectly. Perez is thrilled in his supporting role, gaining more points and respect than he did in any other team he drove for. Max is obviously the star, but both drivers get equal support. Even the pit crew spends time practicing stops without the drivers. Two people will push the car into the slot, and the team will do a tire swap. It's that kind of dedication that gets a stop down to 2.2 seconds.
Red Bull's strategy is a bit of a cliche, but going out and giving it your best as a team is working for them.
As we said in our Mexican Grand Prix review, Gasly was on top form. He came in fourth, comfortably ahead of the midfield. He's on a mission to prove that he deserves that promotion from AlphaTauri to Red Bull. However, we're not entirely sure whether that second seat will open up soon, given Max and Checo's functioning relationship. Perhaps another team?
In any case, Gasly has a history with Interlagos. He scored his first podium there, and you can be sure that he'll be after a repeat performance.
We know he can do it and that his car is fast. Add an additional layer of motivation, and Gasly could be looking at another podium.
We all know that Bottas is jumping over to Alfa Romeo following the Iceman's retirement. We hope his contract includes a Giulia QV. This late in the game, we assumed he'd partner up with current Alfa driver, Antonio Giovinazzi. This week Giovinazzi lost his seat, however. Alfa didn't say why, but Giovinazzi clashed with the team in Mexico. He also disobeyed team orders in Turkey.
That means there's an unoccupied seat in F1, which rarely happens. Will we see a familiar face return, or will someone want to move over to Alfa? The only person we can think of is Mick Schumacker, considering his connection with Ferrari. Mick already signed with Haas for next year, but perhaps there is a way to get out of the contract. Guenther Steiner will likely end up swearing more than usual, but that will just make the next season of Drive to Survive even more entertaining.