After the season’s first three races, Formula One enjoyed a rare three-week spring break following the Australian Grand Prix in early April. The enforced break was due to the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix for the fourth year due to the pandemic. The break allowed the teams a pause before the circus was on the road for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and Miami Grand Prix double-header.
The gap between races also allowed most teams to bring upgrades to the car, with McLaren, in particular, hoping it would help them get back on the right track after it launched the vehicle with a design flaw. However, the pecking order has barely budged, as Red Bull romped home in both races without trouble, just like it did in the first three events.
It is now clear that the battle for the drivers’ title will be between teammate Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, while it is difficult to see anyone dethroning Red Bull for the constructors’ title.
Perez takes the fight to Verstappen
Perez has always gone well around the street circuits, and the Mexican driver did it yet again, acing both the Sprint and main race around the streets of Baku. In the sprint race, he outqualified Verstappen and used the inherent pace of his car to hunt down pole-sitter Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari to win the Sprint Race. On Sunday, Perez got lucky as he pitted a lap after Verstappen during the Safety Car period and got the jump on his teammate. But what was impressive was his ability to ensure the reigning champion never got within one second of him even to try a move on him. Perez is known as the ‘tyre whisperer’ for his ability to manage tyre wear, and he showed yet again his ability to do that as he also won the Grand Prix.
World Champion hits back
After a subpar outing in Baku, Verstappen got back in form to tell the world that he is still the overwhelming favourite to win the title with a dominant win in Miami. The Dutchman started ninth after an error in qualifying, while his teammate started from pole position. It was the race where Perez needed to assert his dominance if he had any hope of fighting for the title. But it needed just 15 laps for Verstappen to come through the pack and slot behind his teammate, who was just three seconds up the road. And after both drivers had done their pitstops, Verstappen took no time to breeze past Perez and eventually finished five seconds ahead and stretched his lead further. If the Mexican driver hopes to have a realistic shot at the title, he can’t have another weekend like Miami.
Reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia returned to the top of the standings, dominating the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. The Italian driver finished second in the Sprint Race before winning on Sunday to pocket 34 points. It helped him retake the championship lead after modest returns in the previous two rounds in Argentina and the USA. The Italian now leads his compatriot Marco Bezzecchi by 22 points.
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