GPR Awards – Spain 2021

The 2021 Spanish Grand Prix provided the fans with an unusually interesting race at the Circuit of Catalunya, as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes used better strategy and almost unbelievable pace on medium tyres to provide a repeat of the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix, overtaking Max Verstappen and Red Bull in the final laps of the race to take his third win of the season. However, we here at GP Rejects are far more interested in what rejectful events befell the other competitors at Catalunya. Let’s have a look.

Reject of the Race is won by a deflated tyre!

Indeed it was the talk of the town more than anything else post-race at Catalunya:

How can a tyre be punctured before it has even got to the car?

Pitting under the safety car, Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo pit-crew brought out a fresh pair of Pirelli tyres, only for the front-left to be revealed as being completely flat before it saw a moment of racing. Pirelli, with their reputation for “delicate” tyres, took the initial blame, though it seems more apt with new information to direct that blame at the Alfa Romeo team overall – their procedures having seemingly punctured the tyre.

It is normal for teams to prepare the tyre pressures before they are used, but an incident like what happened at the Spanish Grand Prix is something you hardly see during a Grand Prix weekend, to the point where it was probably a first for Formula 1 – and we don’t often have firsts in this sport. Simply due to the novelty of the incident, GP Rejects are awarding Alfa Romeo’s pre-deflated tyre as Reject of the Race.

In crazy, unexpected races we often see a variety of good nominations for Reject of the Race, and a predictable venue like Catalunya usually throws up a few clear favourites. Competing with Spain’s saddest tyre was Red Bull’s strategy. It seems that even in races where they have an apparent advantage (though, its debatable that was the case at Catalunya), Mercedes instead take complete and total control every time to beat their chief rivals. Whether it be through strategy, or just through the fact that Red Bull only have one driver extracting the maximum of their chassis, the team left Catalunya to do a bit of navel-gazing.

Sergio Pérez, whilst an improvement from Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon, has still not quite delivered the front-running pace that Red Bull would so like to see from him. Whether that is due to unfair expectations, the team spirit, who knows? Though, this time, even if Pérez was at the front, it’s really hard to see how the race could’ve payed out differently for the Austrian squad. When Christian Horner told Max that it could be “Hungary all over again” – a reference to the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix – he was certainly expecting for the outcome to be different than that Grand Prix. Fool them once, shame on Mercedes. Fool them twice? Shame on Red Bull.

Lastly on the front-runners for the award, Yuki Tsunoda – who has escaped the harsh judgment of GP Rejects’ ire until now – had a(nother) weekend to forget. After a strong start in Bahrain, the last three races haven’t been easy for the Japanese rookie. Last weekend at Spain, he suffered a close elimination in Q1, and his angry insinuation to the press that his teammate Pierre Gasly was being given preferential treatment at AlphaTauri did not do him any favours, revealing more about his current state of mind than he probably desired.

Blaming others for his lack of pace, he then became the first retirement of the race early on with a fuel pressure issue. Even in FP3, Yuki appeared frustrated, short-tempered and lashed out at any perceived imperfection from his surroundings. As this year’s youngest driver, it is not outrageous to expect some emotion from the Japanese driver, but like George Russell in the early season, he appears to be losing the good faith others have placed upon him since pre-season testing. It’s time for Yuki to regroup into Monaco and starting learning how to take a more measured approach into the weekend. All drivers go through that process and there is no shame in that.

A joint award for Alfa Romeo‘s fast-thinking mechanic and Charles Leclerc for Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race

Here at GP Rejects we are also about awarding the people who do great things, and who else could hold a nomination for Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race than the Alfa Romeo mechanic with lightning-quick reflexes! There are countless examples of pit-crews buckling under the pressure of an unexpected issue but Alfa Romeo found a new way to do just that in Catalunya: the moment the problem was seen, the left-front tyre mechanic immediately sprinted to the garage to replace it with a correctly-pressured tyre, made it back, put it on and sent Giovinazzi out. It was the kind of professionalism any F1 team could dream of under a time of stress, and that mechanic deserves a beer from his colleagues for that mastery under pressure.

Fotografia: Batchelor / XPB Images

Charles Leclerc extracted everything he could out of his Ferrari machine. Photography: Batchelor / XPB Images

The wits of the Alfa Romeo pit-crew found them very close to taking Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race home, but Charles Leclerc was able to hold it off for a joint award. With a mostly sensible set of finishing positions at the front, Leclerc once again extracted everything from his Ferrari. The Monégasque driver reminded us yet again why Ferrari put their faith in him by delivering a pretty much perfect performance on Sunday. He made a good start and was able to hold off Valtteri Bottas for a good part of the race and even after being overtaken by the Flying Finn, he hung around for a lonely 4th place in the end. Along with Pérez and the McLarens, it seems that Charles will be fighting for best of the rest and 4th place in the standings come season’s end.

And speaking  of McLaren, it was a rejuvenating weekend for Daniel Ricciardo, whose start to his career at the the Woking squad took its time to get going. There has been a clear one driver ahead at each Grand Prix, and for the first time it was Ricciardo this time out who dominated Norris from start to finish, getting a tidy 6th place for his work. With Catalunya’s “Noah’s Ark” nature, that was probably all he could have hoped for, but it was a weekend he needed to reassure himself of his status – and McLaren’s intra-team fight should spice up from this point forward, to the delight (or not) of Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl.

And of course, getting ahead of ourselves as always, we have to congratulate Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on delivering another exceptional performance on a Sunday. Red Bull’s disaster strategy was met by Merc’s master pit call that saw Hamilton sail by on tyres that should have degraded far quicker than they did. A brilliant display of pace, strategy and tyre management by the team that seems to be leading the pack in all of the departments despite the in-roads that Red Bull have achieved in the off-season. The championship is far from over, but Red Bull need to up their game if they want to have a chance of beating Hamilton and Mercedes.

Full Results

Reject of the Race Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race
The infamous pre-deflated tyre 58% (15) The Alfa Romeo mechanic with lightning response skills 40% (10)
Red Bull’s Strategy 31% (8) Charles Leclerc
Yuki Tsunoda 12% (3) Daniel Ricciardo 16% (4)
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes 4% (1)
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.

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2021 Portuguese Grand Prix