GPR Awards – 2021 Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix

As every weekend, the championship ebbs and flows within a win’s difference between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Again they made the top-two, with Hamilton again cutting back the Red Bull driver’s lead, and unsurprisingly the title battle was embroiled in controversy. On Formula 1’s first ever trip to the
Losail International Circuit, the fans were treated to about as riveting Qatar Grand Prix as they could have expected, we’ll dive in to that controversy and all things rejectful about the race.

Christian Horner and Helmut Marko win Reject of the Race in Qatar!

Max Verstappen grid penalty triggered some rather distasteful comments by their bosses regarding marshalls. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Max Verstappen’s grid penalty triggered some rather distasteful comments by their bosses regarding the Qatar GP marshals. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The primary uproar from Qatar came out of the Verstappen camp. Fresh off the negative press he received for his on-track (or, better, off-track) antics at Interlagos, Max improved his final Q3 time under yellows, caused by a damaged Gasly coming to a stop down the front straight. Alas, if things were simple there would be no need for argument, but under the conditions, it seems that marshals, flags, and live timing all had their own story to tell, and while Verstappen was deemed guilty, his bosses Marko and Horner leapt to the Dutchman’s defence, given the lack of safety clarity in context.

However, again it’s not as clear-cut as that. Marko and Horner went out of their way pre-race to criticise not just the contextual event, but also the quality and wisdom of the “rogue” marshals themselves, as well as Michael Masi’s competence as a race director in controlling and teaching them correctly. The comments were directed at the whole of Formula 1 organisation, and it was simply another notch in the bedpost for Hornerian imbecility. He quite rightly had the book thrown at him and now has to apologise to the marshal(s) in question, as well as undergo training of his own. Quite right. For the blatant disrespect to the volunteers who allow racing to happen, he earned the forum’s ire to win Reject of the Race in Qatar.

Underlying all this is a Race Control that deserves a great amount of valid criticism, as it has done all year. When it came to Verstappen’s quite clear-cut offence, they took deliberate inaction to wait until after the eleventh hour in announcing the news of penalties. This went over and above the rules concerning timing to help the teams be organised properly for what, we haven’t mentioned in many paragraphs, was an F1 race!

So let’s get to the race. The great reject candidate of the race itself has to have been Alpha Tauri yet again. If Sebastian Vettel has been the most wildly inconsistent driver in 2021, then Alpha Tauri must be the most inconsistent team. Gasly benefitted from the grid penalties to line up 2nd on the grid, while Yuki Tsunoda qualified safely within the top 10. Despite the double top 10 start, both cars – via dreadful strategy and lack of pace –  dropped down the order to score a grand total of zero points. All this, while their rivals Alpine (we’ll get to them) took all the possible points up for grabs, and embarrassed the Italian marque.

Double top ten start turns into no points for AlphaTauri. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Double top ten start turns into no points for Alpha Tauri. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

The only other noteworthy thing in a dull race was the Pirelli blow-ups. One doesn’t know who to blame more for the disaster that was four drivers suffering punctures within a few laps of one another. On one hand the teams who attempted one-stoppers were told explicitly that the tyres wouldn’t last more than 30 laps. Conversely, Pirelli (who let’s remind ourselves has been the sole tyre supplier for 11 straight seasons now) is still providing tyres that explode with zero warning, causing a danger to the drivers, not to speak of the precedent of teams simply playing Russian Roulette for strategy.

Fernando Alonso’s return to the podium earns him Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race!

Inspiration from Alonso and Ocon gave Alpine one of their strongest weekends of the year. Photo: XPB / James Moy Photography Ltd

Inspiration from Alonso and Ocon gave Alpine one of their strongest weekends of the year. Photo: XPB / James Moy Photography Ltd

It seemed that the Alpine duo, and the whole team behind them, got everything right in Qatar. There was little more to say after the fact, but their superbly executed weekend broke them free of the possibility of getting beaten by Alpha Tauri in the standings for fifth place when Abu Dhabi finishes. This was due to the effort, primarily, of the now-40-year-old Fernando Alonso, who definitely has life still in him.

As said, the team have not been perfect up until now – especially on Ocon’s side of the garage. But that didn’t make a Fernando podium any less improbable! An excellent 5th place in Q3 had him jump up the order when, as with every weekend these days, grid penalties were applied. A third-place start was followed by an excellent opening that got him past his chief rival Pierre Gasly. While the championship duo pushed that upper limit, Alonso was still able to maintain a strong fourth place before Bottas’ tyre blow-up. There to take advantage of any calamity, to the victor Fernando got the spoils, him making it to the end on a one stop when everyone else seemed to be blowing up tyres. Luck was on Nando’s side, for once.

Ocon’s performance also deserves a mention. He and Alonso were taking a great risk when they pushed their one-stopper to the edge of possibility. At any time they could have suffered horrifying tyre explosions that would have ended their race, but lady luck was on their side as Esteban brought his Alpine home in fifth place to add to Alonso’s podium.

Another driver who has been absent and inconsistent seemingly the entire middle mark of the season is Lance Stroll, whose sixth place deserves a mention for its sheer improbability. While he had the initial momentum and the results in the opening rounds of 2021, it has been Sebastian who has delivered the highest highs and the lowest lows. The Aston Martin had very good pace around Losail, and Stroll put it to the best use, while his team-mate was forced into an unorthodox strategy after running wide at turn 1, lap 1, but also scored points. A good weekend for Aston but an undoubtedly great performance by Stroll.

Full Results

Christian Horner & Helmut Marko 14 (54%) Fernando Alonso 21 (84%)
Alpha Tauri 7 (27%) Alonso, Ocon and Stroll 3 (12%)
Pirelli 4 (15%) Lance Stroll 1 (4%)
Race Control 1 (4%) Esteban Ocon  0 (0%)
Number of votes: 26 Number of votes: 25

Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.

The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.

The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.

2021 Grand Prix Rejects Awards
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2021 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021 Spanish Grand Prix
2021 Monaco Grand Prix
2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
2021 French Grand Prix
2021 Styrian Grand Prix
2021 Austrian Grand Prix
2021 British Grand Prix
2021 Hungarian Grand Prix
2021 Belgian Grand Prix
2021 Dutch Grand Prix
2021 Italian Grand Prix
2021 Russian Grand Prix
2021 Turkish Grand Prix
2021 United States Grand Prix
2021 Mexico City Grand Prix
2021 São Paulo Grand Prix