Add rain to any Formula 1 (F1) race and events are guaranteed to get interesting.
The 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix ended with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in first, reigning World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton in second and McLaren’s bubbly Lando Norris crossing the line third. It was Verstappen’s first win of the season, starting the race in third before narrowly edging pole-sitter Hamilton at the Tamburello chicane seconds after the start. From there, he comfortably led for nearly the entire race.
“It’s a very long season so we just have to keep on working very hard,” Verstappen told Autoblog.com after his win. “I’m very happy about the result today but tomorrow we start again…it’s great to be fighting against Lewis and Mercedes who have been very dominant for so many years.”
However, there was utter chaos behind him in the grand prix’s early stages. While it stopped raining before the lights went out, it was a slip-and-slide as the drivers attempted to create a dry racing line on a damp track, forcing numerous mistakes as the cars struggled for grip.
Just on the opening lap, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi was tapped on the rear by Haas’ Nikita Mazepin, sending the Canadian driver into the wall and bringing out the safety car. Not long after, Haas driver Mick Schumacher shunted into the wall outside of the pitlane while trying to warm up his tires, but recovered and received a new front wing a few laps later.
On lap 31, a rare mistake from Hamilton saw him slip off of the track and into the wall by turn three. He miraculously recovered by slowly reversing out of the gravel and back onto the track with his front wing barely hanging on and gingerly taking his car back to the pit lane, dropping to ninth place.
“So sorry, guys” were the only words Hamilton muttered after recovering.
However, the most dramatic event of the weekend came when Williams’ George Russell was approaching Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas from behind on the beginning of lap 32. Heading side by side into the Traguardo chicane at the end of the start/finish straight, Russell’s right tires slipped on the wet grass and the car lost control. He violently slammed sideways into the neighboring Bottas in a shower of sparks as they skid down the track.
Both pirouetted into the far wall at high speed in an explosion of gravel and carbon fibre, spinning around before coming to a halt. The bits of bodywork and styrofoam littered all over the track prompted a red flag, where the remaining drivers must park in the pitlane and wait until any hazardous conditions are resolved for the race to restart.
Russell climbed out of his stricken FW43B and stormed to Bottas’ shattered and smoking W12, leaning into the Mercedes’ cockpit and exchanging some choice words with him, concluded by Bottas flipping Russell off as the Williams driver patted the Finn’s helmet and strutted away.
“I haven’t spoken to him,” Bottas said after the race. “I couldn’t hear a thing he was on about. I don’t really get it. It was clearly his fault and I don’t understand the rage.”
Russell didn’t view the collision the same way.
“I asked him if he was trying to kill us both,” Russell said after the race. “The faintest of movements when you are traveling at 200 miles per hour is actually quite a massive thing and it’s not just the speed, it’s the speed difference. Perhaps if it was another driver, he wouldn’t have done that.”
Bottas, when told about what Russell said, was puzzled.
“Sorry, I lost my aluminum hat somewhere,” Bottas responded. “It’s quite a theory…I was doing my thing, no matter who I would have been defending against, it would have been exactly the same.”
In hindsight, it’s easy to conclude that, indeed, Russell was at fault. Bottas gave him an acceptable amount of room to pass but Russell was too eager to launch past him, dipping his car into the grass before slipping and losing the rear end.
It didn’t take long for Russell to take accountability for his actions and go back on what he claimed immediately after his accident.
“Yesterday wasn’t my proudest day,” Russell posted on Twitter on Monday. “Having had time to reflect on what happened afterwards, I know I should’ve handled the whole situation better…I apologize to Valtteri, to my team and to anyone who felt let down by my actions.”
Yet it would be a farce not to mention the other surprising events of the weekend, such as Red Bull’s Sergio Perez starting the race in second but finishing in 11th in a disappointing outing with his new team. He’s no rookie, but it makes you wonder if the team’s second seat truly is cursed.
And Hamilton somehow finishing in second place despite being ninth at the restart is a testament to his craft. Are we really that surprised? He is so consistent and strong that to come back from nearly being out of the race to being on the podium is expected.
Norris’ podium finish reinforces the fact that McLaren is F1’s third best team. To this point, their main rival, Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point), is a bit too inconsistent to make consistent podium appearances. In a fair share of races, one or both of their cars don’t manage to complete the race or simply scrape by with a few points. McLaren has proven that since their third place in the 2020 Constructors Championship, they can score podiums, consistently complete entire races and be the king of the midfield.
If the first two races of this season are what we’ll expect for the rest of the year, then I urge you to strap yourselves in. It’ll be a bumpy one.