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F1 Race Preview: Qatar Grand Prix

F1 Race Preview: Qatar Grand Prix

After a dramatic turn of events in Brazil, the 2021 Formula 1 season continues this weekend in what will be the first-ever Qatar Grand Prix. Red Bull's Max Verstappen now leads Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton by just 14 points and this is one race not to be missed! Excited for the action to get started? Read on to inform your predictions with expert insight from Jennie Gow.

Brazilian Grand Prix: A look back

What a race, and what a weekend it was in Brazil! It’s fair to say that the Sao Paulo Grand Prix was extraordinary. Lewis Hamilton came back from a qualifying disqualification and then a power unit grid penalty to win the Brazilian race and close the gap at the top of the Drivers’ Championship to just 14 points. He made a total of 25 overtakes across the race weekend – first going from the back of the grid to P5 in the sprint race on Saturday afternoon, and then from P10 on the Grand Prix grid to the top step of the podium. It was a ridiculous drive, and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

I don’t think many would have believed that Hamilton could overturn such a disadvantage but overturn it he did and actually Mercedes seemed to use all of the decisions that went against them to power them. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was, at times, looking down the barrel of the TV cameras and swearing, and then after the race he said: “We are going to fight and not going to be victims.”

So, it ended with Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Valtteri Bottas on the podium and Red Bull claiming it was a case of damage limitation for them. What a bizarre sequence of events!

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Shift of power?

Momentum in sport is one of the essential components for any title challenge and you can safely say that the momentum has swung away from Red Bull in the course of just one race weekend. After Verstappen's dominant display in Mexico, I said this:

“It is hard to look past Max Verstappen winning in Brazil and also winning the Drivers’ Championship. If he were to do this, it seems to me that Red Bull would also be able to take the Constructors’ Championship away from Mercedes for the first time in the hybrid era.”

Now I’m not so sure, because Hamilton looked like a man who will not be beaten this year. The Mercedes has suddenly had a turn of pace that they haven’t had for several races and looked comfortably faster than the Red Bull this weekend. Next up we have Qatar, a track that F1 have never raced at before but on paper, it looks like it will suit the Mercedes more than the Red Bull with its long straights and high-speed corners. If Mercedes don’t capitalise and get a 1-2 finish, then this will be seen as a missed opportunity.

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Qatar Grand Prix 2021

F1 have never been to Qatar for a race. They have signed a deal to go to the Losail International Circuit but then it is thought that racing will stay in the country but head to a downtown track in Doha itself in future years. I’ve actually been to Losail before – for MotoGP – and I can tell you that it’s a wonderful track and the organisers will put on a real show for the fans; however, it’s not an F1 track. It’s been built for bikes so there is a lot of run-off and very little of the traditional track elements that make for great racing – it is a very different track from Interlagos!

There’s a start/finish straight that’s just over a kilometre long, but also a quick succession of 16 corners that make up the rest of the lap.

Qatar is just one of four races to be held in the evening under floodlights this year. This means that the evolution of track temperature over the course of the grand prix should be quite different compared to a standard afternoon race, with the potential for a big drop-off as the race goes on.

There are no support races at all on the schedule and the circuit hasn’t been used a lot recently, which will mean that there’ll be no rubber laid down prior to the F1 cars running on it. As a result, drivers can expect a slippery track at first and a high degree of track evolution. The surface could also be ‘reset’ by sand blowing onto the track over the weekend.

It will be much harder to overtake in Qatar than it was last weekend in Brazil, so don’t expect similar heroics to last time out if there are any penalties looming. It also looks like it will be a one-stop race so there will be limited chances for strategy divergence, so this might have to be a lights-to-flag victory.

Mind the gap

At one point it looked like Verstappen would be walking away from Brazil with a lead of almost 30 points but with Bottas winning the sprint and collecting the three points, as opposed to just two for Verstappen, and then him being consigned to second place in the Grand Prix with Hamilton on the top step, the gap is just 14 points with three races left of the season and a maximum of 78 points still on the table. It looks like it’s going down to the wire and the 2021 Championship will be decided in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi in December.

In the Constructors’ Championship, the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull is now 11 points with 132 points still up for grabs so this fight is far from over too but it could well fall to the second driver of both teams to be responsible for who gets the upper hand.

Who are the favourites?

Hamilton has to go into this race as the favourite after his win in Brazil. The track is expected to favour Mercedes, but the form book hasn’t exactly been on tune this year and the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen has been so close that I see no reason why Verstappen won’t perform well this weekend either.

Final thoughts

Just one final thought: the fastest lap points are being picked off by whichever Mercedes or Red Bull second driver has a pit stop free to take a last-lap lunge at whoever holds the fastest lap point at that time – whether it be Hamilton or Verstappen. Expect this to continue to the end of the season with it being highly unlikely that either of the top two drivers will secure that extra point.

Stay up to date with the 2021 F1 season by reading Jennie Gow’s weekly race preview before analysing the latest Pinnacle F1 odds for each race!

*Odds subject to change

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Jennie Gow
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