Crash debates: Whose non-score will hurt the most in 2021 F1 title race?
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Verstappen had dominated the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after over-cutting title rival Hamilton during the pitstops and appeared set for a certain win until his left-rear tyre failed without warning, sending him into a high-speed shunt on Baku’s long main straight. It was a huge blow for the Dutchman, who had looked on course to extend his points lead over Hamilton in the championship by a significant margin, with the seven-time world champion running third behind the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez just before Verstappen’s race-ending accident. But Verstappen was left breathing a huge sigh of relief after Hamilton threw away a potential victory with an uncharacteristic error that resulted in him leaving Baku without a point to his name as he squandered a golden chance to wrestle back the championship lead. Following a lengthy red flag for Verstappen’s accident, Hamilton got a great initial launch at the restart to briefly seize the lead from Sergio Perez, but having accidentally hit the ‘magic’ button on his steering wheel – a switch that alters brake balance – he locked up and careered off the track at Turn 1, dropping him out of the points and down to 15th at the chequered flag.But which driver’s non-score will end up being more costly in the grand scheme of things? Here are the views of our F1 writers…Baku blunder shows Hamilton is feeling the pressureSI202106060279_hires_jpeg_24bit_rgb.jpg accImages.createImage();There is no doubt that Hamilton missed a huge open goal in his failure to capitalise on Verstappen’s retirement. Had Hamilton gone on to score all 26 points on offer, he would have moved into a 22-point championship lead over Verstappen. Even second place would have seen him enjoy a minimum 14-point swing in his favour. These are situations that Hamilton usually thrives on and takes full advantage of, so to see him drop the ball in such a major way was a big surprise. Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Bottas confused by ‘really weird’ pace struggles in Baku F1 raceaccImages.createImage(); Bottas confused by ‘really weird’ pace struggles in Baku F1 raceIt is a testament to the incredible and consistent level of performance Hamilton has now reached in F1 that it is extremely rare to see him make even just one big error over the course of a season. Error-free driving is something that Hamilton has prided himself on in recent years. But Hamilton’s Baku blunder marked the second time in six races that he has been guilty of making a critical mistake. At the second round of the season in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver ran through the gravel and hit the wall in his desperation to hunt down Verstappen for the lead. Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); F1 Driver Ratings from the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand PrixaccImages.createImage(); F1 Driver Ratings from the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand PrixXPB_1082031_HiRes.jpg accImages.createImage();On that occasion in Imola, Hamilton had the racing gods on his side as a red flag spared his blushes and enabled him to take the restart on the lead lap from ninth before he turned in a superb recovery drive to second. However, in Baku, Hamilton’s luck ran out as his remarkable 54-race streak of consecutive points finishes in F1 came to an end. Baku was the latest example of how much the title threat coming from Red Bull and Verstappen is forcing Hamilton and Mercedes out of their comfort zone and to take risks they haven’t had to for years. To suggest Hamilton has suffered a major blow in his quest to win a record-breaking eighth world title would be premature at this stage, though he will certainly be kicking himself. “4The Briton has faced many setbacks throughout his 14-year career and has shown extraordinary resilience to bounce back many times in the past. It will act as the latest test of his character but a hurt Hamilton is usually a dangerous Hamilton. Lewis Larkam Luckless Verstappen arguably lost more Verstappen maintained his four-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship after Hamilton’s mishap, but his failure to take the win in Baku may prove to be more costly in the race for this year’s title.”5E3NY6ZkXIAYONz5.jpeg accImages.createImage();Of course, it was through no fault of his own but it was still a big opportunity for Verstappen to put significant daylight between himself and Hamilton.The Monaco and Baku street circuits offer a unique challenge that teams don’t face at any other circuit on the calendar.Its smooth asphalt and the fact there is a lack of high-speed corners means getting tyre temperature is incredibly challenging – something Red Bull has mastered in 2021, while Mercedes continues to struggle.With the Singapore Grand Prix now being cancelled, only Hungary and Saudi Arabia at the end of the year may pose Mercedes a similar challenge.It’s likely the next run of races will see Mercedes return to the level of performance it showed pre-Monaco at Portimao and Barcelona. “6The Paul Ricard Circuit hosts the next race, with Hamilton winning the French Grand Prix comfortably in 2018 and 2019.The Red Bull Ring and Silverstone are also likely to suit Mercedes, and while Valtteri Bottas’ form has been hit-and-miss in 2021, he usually performs well in Austria.”7Even Verstappen said it himself after the race: “Also, two street circuits we had, now we go back to normal tracks. As I said before, Mercedes will be very strong on the normal tracks.“They had some difficulties on the street circuits but as you could see also in Barcelona, they were mighty quick in the race so there are still a few things we have to keep on our toes and we have to keep pushing hard because they have a good car even though sometimes they don’t say it, they do.“We just have to keep on pushing. It’s a shame, I wanted to open up the gap a little bit more because we go back to those kinds of tracks.””8It’s too early to say whether Verstappen’s failure to win in Azerbaijan is season-defining.Time will tell, but as we saw in 2017 and 2018 with Sebastian Vettel, if you don’t take every opportunity, you just know Hamilton and Mercedes will bounce back even stronger.Connor McDonagh Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…2823085.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();
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