While Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton duke it out for the Formula One world drivers’ championship, the battle between their respective teams for the constructors’ title is equally intense.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team currently holds a 23-point lead over Verstappen’s Red Bull with just five races remaining on the calendar. Mercedes has absolutely dominated the constructors in years past, winning seven consecutive championships since 2014 — coincidentally, ending Red Bull’s four-peat.
With Verstappen and Hamilton only 12 points apart, the key to the constructors will be how each team’s secondary driver fares down the stretch to give them the edge. For Red Bull, that’s Sergio Perez, who has raced exceptionally well of late with back-to-back podium finishes.
That makes him our “Driver of Interest” heading into his home Mexico City Grand Prix this weekend.
Date of Birth: Jan. 26, 1990 (31 years old)
Hometown: Guadalajara, Mexico
Years in Formula One: 11 (first season with Red Bull)
Car Number: 11
Career Wins: 2
2021 Standings: 4th place | 150 points
He’s heating up
Perez had a renaissance last season with Racing Point, scoring his first career victory at the Sahkir Grand Prix in Bahrain and finishing a career-best fourth overall in the drivers’ championship.
Incredibly, Perez earned 91 of his 125 points during the back half of the season as he was fighting for a new ride with his fate at Racing Point already sealed and his future in F1 at a crossroads. That surge secured him the coveted second seat with Red Bull as they turned to a veteran driver in their bid to end Mercedes’ reign.
Checo picked up his second race win on the streets of Baku in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, however, it was not without a little bit of luck. Verstappen looked to be cruising to an easy victory when he experienced unexpected tire failure and crashed out to hand P1 to Perez. Hamilton looked to pass Perez on the ensuing restart and locked up his brakes to drop out of contention.
Perez followed up his Baku victory with another podium, finishing third at the French Grand Prix. After a mid-season blip (more on that in a little bit), Perez got back on track and into the points at the Dutch Grand Prix and returned to the podium in Turkey.
Another third-place finish followed at the most recent United States Grand Prix in remarkable fashion. Perez was already feeling dehydrated due to a stomach bug and things turned from bad to worse when his drinking water system malfunctioned during the race in the notorious Texas heat with track temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Checo persevered to grind out another impressive podium result.
Perez has finished in the top 10 four times in five races in Mexico but never on the podium … yet. It’ll be intriguing to see if he can throw down a slam dunk at his home circuit with a Honda-powered Red Bull ride — teammate Verstappen has won twice at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez course.
The checkered flag waves for Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico as he crosses the finish line to win the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku Formula One city circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Maxim Shemetov, Pool via AP)
About that mid-season blip …
Checo’s maiden voyage with Red Bull hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Perez started last from pit lane for the British Grand Prix and a late extra pit stop for soft tires to snatch the fastest lap from Hamilton cost him a chance at scoring points himself. (Perez finished 16th and was not eligible to earn the fastest lap point.)
He got caught up in the opening-lap pileup at the Hungarian Grand Prix and the trifecta of woes was complete at the Belgian Grand Prix when he crashed on his way to the grid on the formation lap.
Although his pit crew did well to get his car back into working condition, the unforced error proved to be costly as the race was called off after only a couple of laps behind the safety car. Considering Perez qualified seventh, it was a missed opportunity to score a few points.
Even the Dutch Grand Prix was looking like another write-off by qualifying 16th and opting for a power unit change to once again drop to the back of the pack and start from pit lane. Checo managed to turn things around and pick off the opposition to salvage an eighth-place result … and possibly also salvage his season.
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen, left, of the Netherlands, and Sergio Perez, of Mexico, celebrate following the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Verstappen won the race and Perez finished third. (Nick Didlick/AP)
Five Fast Facts
• Checo comes from a racing family with both his father, Antonio Perez Garibay, and older brother, Antonio Perez, also professional drivers. He was born on Jan. 26, but his actual due date wasn’t for another week. His father managed to sway the doctor to bump up Sergio’s due date, even if it meant delivering via C-section, because the original date conflicted with the 24 Hours of Daytona race that the elder Perez planned to attend with compatriot Tomas Lopez Rocha.
• Although Drive to Survive noted Perez’s rich financial backing from billionaire Carlos Slim, he actually started from humble beginnings in Mexico. A teenage Perez called up as many teams as he could in Europe – during the middle of the night due to the time zone difference – looking for a ride. Obviously, his parents weren’t too pleased with him racking up the phone bill with all the long-distance charges.
• His first season racing in Europe wasn’t glamorous either. Perez booked a one-way ticket to Germany and slept on a cot in a truck stop for a few months with no cell phone or internet access. Perez eventually upgraded his crib to the restaurant his team boss also owned.
• Perez is a big soccer fan. His favourite player is Javier Hernandez, who also hails from Guadelajara, and he even chose No. 11 after his idol: Ivan Zamorano, who played for Club America. As for the story behind his nickname? There isn’t one as all Sergios in Mexico are nicknamed Checo.
• He once bought an electric helicopter for his dog. Who knew such a thing even existed.
F1 Drivers of Interest: All eyes on Verstappen, Hamilton in finale for title
The producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive couldn’t have come up with a better storyline for the final race of the 2021 Formula One season.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes enter Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tied atop of the standings for the world championship with 369.5 points apiece.
Combine that with all the drama both drivers have dished on and off the track and you have the most intense F1 title chase in recent memory (and people say I have a really good memory).
Verstappen and Hamilton have finished 1-2 in six of the past seven races since their frightening collision in the Monza Grand Prix. Hamilton had just exited the pits right ahead of Verstappen. The two battled wheel-to-wheel and locked up into the turn with Verstappen flying on top of Hamilton’s car. Fortunately, the rollover hoop prevented Hamilton from sustaining any serious injuries.
Since then Verstappen and Hamilton have continued to tango on the track. It’s debatable whether or not Verstappen intentionally attempted to run Hamilton off in Brazil. Then there was the “brake test” incident just last week in Saudi Arabia when Verstappen had to give up a spot and slowed down, catching Hamilton off guard as he ran right into the back of the Dutch driver.
Simply put, we couldn’t ignore Verstappen and Hamilton for our “Driver(s) of Interest” season finale. Here’s why either driver could win the world championship plus a quick history lesson on why this is one for the record books.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain crashes with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, at Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021. (Luca Bruno/AP)
Why Verstappen could win the world championship
Although both drivers are currently even in points, Verstappen holds the tiebreaker with more race victories: nine to eight.
Look, we’re not going to rule anything out. It’s possible neither driver scores points (like in Azerbaijan) or even finishes the race (cough Monza cough).
There’s also the possibility Verstappen finishes ninth (netting two points) and Hamilton finishes P10 (one point) plus claims the fastest lap bonus point to keep both drivers all square. Hey, anything can happen in Formula One.
Verstappen is also the defending race winner at the Yas Marina Circuit — leading all 55 laps from pole position to chequered flag — although modifications have been made to the track in a few of the turns so it’s not quite as simple as copying and pasting the script from last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Qualifying is always key and Verstappen holds the edge over Hamilton there as well this season taking pole position eight times to five.
Don’t let his youth, brashness and fiery temper on the track fool you as “Mad Max” has 19 career race victories and actually holds the distinction as the driver with the most all-time wins without a world championship. At age 24, Verstappen’s time is now.
Why Hamilton could win the world championship (again)
While Verstappen seeks his first, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth driver’s title.
Hamilton tied the great Michael Schumacher last season after winning his seventh and an eighth — plus fifth in a row — would be unprecedented.
His past four have been won with relative ease, none of them went down to the wire like this, and Hamilton will have to bring his A, B and C games to fend off Verstappen.
Verstappen has more wins this season, but Hamilton enters Abu Dhabi with the momentum having won the past three consecutively including back-to-back from pole position in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That streak also erased a 19-point hold Verstappen had on first place.
Although Verstappen is the defending race winner, Hamilton has been victorious in Abu Dhabi more times than anyone else with five wins including 2018 and 2019.
Hamilton has also scored the fastest lap bonus more times this year (six to four) and you just know those pesky points will continue to come into play.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, celebrates from the podium after winning with second-place Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain from the podium during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Sunday, June 20, 2021.
A brief history of time
• This is the first time two drivers have entered the final race of the season tied for first in the standings since 1974 when McLaren’s Emerson Fittipaldi and Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni were even at the top. The U.S. Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., served as the finale with Fittipaldi finishing fourth, ahead of Regazzoni in 11th, to claim the title.
• Can Con: The battle between Verstappen and Hamilton conjures up memories of Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve’s title victory in 1997. Schumacher led by only one point heading into the finale in Jerez, Spain, and literally attempted to fend off Villeneuve to the point of collision. Villeneuve held it together to finish third in the race to claim the championship although Schumacher, who was forced to retire from the race, was blamed for the incident and stripped of all his points that season.
• In terms of more recent history, it’s the first year the title will be decided in the final race since 2016. Nico Rosberg led Mercedes teammate/rival Hamilton by 12 points. Hamilton won the race from pole position, however, Rosberg finished second to secure his first (and only) world championship. Rosberg announced his shocking retirement just five days later.
• Verstappen was the youngest to win a Grand Prix but he isn’t going to be the youngest to win the world championship. That record will remain with Sebastian Vettel, who claimed his first in 2010 at age 23. Should Verstappen win it Sunday, he would be fourth on the list behind Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
• There’s also the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull for the constructors’ championship. Mercedes holds a 28-point advantage as the German manufacturer aims for a record-extending eighth consecutive title. That would also put them in a tie with McLaren for third on the all-time list with Williams just one spot ahead in second place and nine titles. Mercedes still has a ways to go to catch Ferrari in first place with 16.
• Never say never and should Red Bull claim the constructors, it would be its first since capping a four-peat in 2013. It would also be engine manufacturer Honda’s first since 1991.
• What if Verstappen wins the driver’s championship and Mercedes win the constructors? It’s been done 10 times, most recently in 2008 when Hamilton captured his first driver’s title with McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa helped Ferrari claim the constructor’s championship. Massa finished the season victorious on his home track in Brazil, however, he needed Hamilton to finish no better than fifth place in order to claim the driver’s championship. Guess where Hamilton finished? C’mon, you know it. Hamilton finished right in fifth place to edge Massa on points 98-97.
Driver of Interest: Bottas key for Mercedes, Hamilton in championship chases
Before Valtteri Bottas bids “hyvästi” to Mercedes, the Finnish driver plays a crucial role in helping the German juggernaut in its historic bid for a record-extending eighth straight Formula One constructors’ championship and teammate Lewis Hamilton in his quest for a record-breaking eighth drivers’ title.
The 2021 campaign has been the most difficult with Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing providing a formidable challenge for both coveted trophies. Verstappen tops the standings, eight points ahead of Hamilton, and Red Bull is only five points back of Mercedes for the constructors’ with two races remaining.
Mercedes is counting on Bottas, who has been the quintessential teammate and a consummate professional, even with one foot out the door as he’s set to join Alfa Romeo next season.
Despite a career-high four retirements in 2021, including the most recent Qatar Grand Prix, Bottas is third with a victory in Turkey and 10 total podium finishes.
While Hamilton and Verstappen are sure to battle down to the wire, Bottas can do his part to aid his teammate should he find himself in a position on the track that benefits the greater good, e.g. letting Hamilton pass him or making an extra late pit stop for fresh tires to try and swipe the fastest lap point from Verstappen.
Bottas also has to hold off Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who’s in fourth place and 13 points behind.
Here are some interesting facts and stats about Bottas ahead of Sunday’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the penultimate race of the season.
Date of Birth: Aug. 28, 1989 (32 years old)
Hometown: Nastola, Finland
Years in Formula One: 9 (fifth season with Mercedes)
Car Number: 77
Career Wins: 10
2021 Standings: 3rd place, 203 points
Third place finisher Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, of Finland, pours champagne over teammate and winner of the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton. (Lars Baron/AP)
RIP Sir Frank
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be emotional for all in the F1 paddock as it’ll be the first race since the passing of Sir Frank Williams, who founded the team that bears his name and was at the helm of a combined 16 drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Williams died last month at age 79. Drivers paid tribute on social media including Bottas, who got his start in Formula One with Williams’ team.
Bottas tweeted, “Sad news today. Thank you for everything Frank. You will be missed. Rest in peace,” and also posted a photo of himself with Williams.
Alfa Romeo, really?
It might seem bizarre on the surface for Bottas to leave the top team on the track for one that’s been struggling for points, never mind podiums, but there is a method to his madness.
It’s obvious George Russell, currently at Williams, is the heir apparent at Mercedes and the writing’s been on the wall. Russell was part of Mercedes’ junior program and filled in admirably during the Sakhir Grand Prix last season when Hamilton was out with COVID-19.
For Bottas, it’s about needing a fresh start.
“It’s something new, something exciting for me and it’s a bit of a project,” Bottas told Formula1.com. “No doubt there’ll be work to do, I’ll give all the expertise I can to try and improve from this season for sure.”
He added: “Realistically to fight for the wins next year is going to be unrealistic, but you never know. There’s a regulation change, there’s a big bunch of motivated people and we’ll give it everything we can to get as close to the front, or to the front, as soon as possible.”
Plus, for all the doubters about the move out there, you know Bottas would love to shut down his critics again with another “To Whom It May Concern” celebration.
There’s a simple explanation for why Bottas chose No. 77, partially because of (but not in tribute to) fellow Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen.
“I liked seven, so I thought 77 would be good,” Bottas said in an Ask Me Anything video. “And actually seven was already taken by Kimi. So then I just thought double seven would be good.”
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) November 21, 2021
Blue (Da Ba Dee)
Although Bottas’ racing idol growing up was two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, a different driver from that era inspired his helmet: Olivier Panis.
“I was watching all of the races on TV, and he had this great race in Monaco and also very close to that time he had a big accident and broke his legs,” Bottas told MercedesAMGF1.com. “He recovered really quickly and I just thought he was a tough guy. I am a big fan of blue, too, so I also really liked his design and copied it.”
A different kind of racing
During F1’s summer break in August, Bottas took part in his first gravel cycling race in Colorado and finished second in his age group and fifth overall on the 64-mile course.
His girlfriend, Tiffany Cromwell, is a pro rider and finished eighth on the 144-mile route.
What an event yesterday! Enjoyed my first gravel race a lot. Ended up 5th out of 500+ riders on the line for the 64mile red course, and 2nd in my age group @tiffanycromwell was a hero again completing the black course in women’s top 10 #VB77 #sbtgrvl pic.twitter.com/QkUqPRIP1o
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) August 16, 2021
If he wasn’t a driver …
Bottas would have liked to have been a hockey player and played for almost a decade growing up but had to make the difficult decision choosing one sporting career path over the other.
“When you’re playing hockey, it gets more and more professional as you get older and move up,” Bottas told NHL.com. “So, then I chose to focus only on racing. But, hockey still holds a special place in my heart.”
Bottas is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and joined them at their practice facility in 2017 to compete in a race against Habs forward Paul Byron. Bottas is quite the slick skater, actually.
F1 Driver of Interest: Can Ferrari’s Sainz continue points streak in Qatar?
Who has the longest active points streak in Formula One? Here’s a hint: he’s our driver of interest this week.
Carlos Sainz has finished in the points during the past 12 consecutive races, a remarkable run for the Spanish driver in his first year with Ferrari.
Steady Sainz has actually completed all 19 races so far this season collecting points in 17 of them. By a stroke of bad luck, the two races Sainz didn’t finish within the top 10, he ended up just on the outside both times in P11.
F1 heads to Losail International Circuit for Sunday’s inaugural Qatar Grand Prix and it’ll be intriguing to see if Sainz can maintain his momentum on a new track.
Date of Birth: Sept. 1, 1994 (27 years old)
Hometown: Madrid, Spain
Years in Formula One: 7 (first season with Ferrari)
Car Number: 55
Career Wins: 0
2021 Standings: 7th place, 139.5 points
Second place Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz of Spain celebrates with his trophy during the Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP)
How it started
Like a few others on the grid, Sainz is the son of a former driver: Carlos Sainz Sr., who’s a two-time world rally champion.
The younger Sainz was a fan of fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, telling Formula1.com: “I met him in 2005 at the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, and when I met him, I went back home and I told my Dad, ‘Dad, I want to be like Fernando Alonso one day.’”
Perhaps a little too literally. Sainz has followed in Alonso’s footsteps into F1 with eerily similar paths as both started out with Minardi/Toro Rosso before moving onto Renault, McLaren and then Ferrari. If that holds up, could Sainz one day return to McLaren and compete in the Indianapolis 500?
He signed his Ferrari contract in his PJs
Sainz told Motorsports.com the details of his contract signing with Ferrari and how due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, everything was handled via Zoom.
“We had been spending all the lockdown together with the family, and then suddenly one day I wake up around 8 a.m., and I’m still in my pyjamas,” Sainz said. “I come into this room, and I see that my dad is ready with a pen. He says: ‘You need to sign here: it is the Ferrari contract. And it’s done if you sign.’ So I signed it in my pyjamas at 8 a.m., just after waking up! I was like ‘Okay, good morning to you too.’”
Ferrari > McLaren
Consider Sainz crossing the paddock from McLaren to Ferrari this season as just another chapter in a storied book between two legendary teams with devoted fanbases.
Ferrari and McLaren have had some famous (and infamous) battles over the decades from Niki Lauda vs. James Hunt in 1976 to Mika Hakkinen vs. Michael Schumacher in the late ’90s to Felipe Massa vs. Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
Both teams are synonymous with success in Formula One although not so much lately having taken a back seat to Mercedes and Red Bull Racing.
Nevertheless, the rivalry was renewed for third place in the constructors’ standings, however, Ferrari has broken away of late. Lando Norris has scored the team’s only two points in Mexico and Brazil while Sainz and Charles Leclerc have combined for a whopping 37 points and given Ferrari a 31.5-point advantage over McLaren.
What McLaren has this season that Ferrari doesn’t is a race win. To add insult to injury, it came at Ferrari’s home track with Daniel Ricciardo and Norris finishing 1-2 at the Italian Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, second from left, of Spain, and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, right, of Monaco, talk before taking free throw-attempts as former NBA players Chris Bosh, left, and Dikembe Mutombo, second from right, listen at the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at Circuit of the Americas, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Darron Cummings/AP)
The streak almost ended in Brazil
Sainz’s points streak came close to ending early during last Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix when Norris made a bold attempt to pass him on the outside right at the start.
Although Sainz emerged unscathed, Norris sustained a punctured tire and was forced to nurse his car all the way around and into the pits for an emergency stop.
Sainz finished sixth after starting third while Norris was able to work his way up into P10 and score a point.
The other active streak
Sainz also leads another active driver record, although one more dubious: most races started without a win at 137.
He’s also ninth on the all-time list but has a long way to go to “catch” Andrea de Cesaris at 208.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz steers his car during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (Andre Penner/AP)
What better way to wrap this up than with the Sade song that came out 10 years before Sainz was even born but has become his theme.
The story goes that the song was stuck in Sainz’s head (and probably now yours) during the 2019 British Grand Prix and from there he started singing it again following other successful races.
After completing his final race with McLaren last season, he parted ways by belting the tune one last time.
That hasn’t stopped Ferrari from getting in on the fun.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) November 17, 2021
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