F1 Midweek: Red Bull Versus Ferrari, George Russellʻs Mirage, Valtteri Bottasʻ Start

The inaugural Miami Grand Prix is set to take place this weekend with its fake marina already making headlines. The track, built in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium is going to be a fascinating experience and will be another attempt for Formula 1 to make inroads in the American market. But tomorrowʻs preview will delve into the MGP in more detail.  Instead, let’s shift our focus to trends and the standings.

In the fourth race of the season, Max Verstappen laid a whooping on the field and made the notion that Ferrari were neck-and-neck with Red Bull look foolish. Verstappen may have qualified for the sprint race in second, but he calmly harassed Charles Leclerc during the short event and finally overtook him with a few laps remaining. His P1 starting position for the GP allowed him a clean getaway and then he cruised to an easy win at Imola.

What was supposed to be a chance for Ferrari to shine in front of their home fans turned into a flop, a production that ended with a crashed curtain and a forgettable performance. For all the gains that the team had seemingly made, the results in Italy offered the disappointing evidence that perhaps they are not the frontrunners they appear to be.

Does one race make the results of the previous three vanish? Theoretically and conceptually, no.  In fact, the points accumulation that Leclerc had built in the first three GP indicated that he was all but certain to win the title – meaning that when a team starts the season as well as Ferrari did, they are likely to have a platform good enough to stay in contention for the duration of the season. The numbers show that any driver that had amassed such a gap on the second-place driver as Leclerc had on Verstappen, won the title, but not without a few bumps.

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The trends push the notion that Ferrari and Leclerc should be moving forward with confidence but the reality of the Red Bull beatdown at what is essentially Ferrariʻs home track looks pretty unsettling. With Verstappen seeking to defend his title and Red Bull looking to bury the Mercedes monster that has ruled over them for the past eight years, there is every reason to believe that Imola was the beginning of their ascension to the top of the points in both title fights. That we are only four races into the season and these moments loom large highlights the gravity of each race and how things can change so quickly.

While Leclerc put himself in a literal and figurative tailspin in Italy, teammate Carlos Sainz is surely looking to show he is worthy of the two-year contract he signed a couple weeks ago. Having taken DNFs in the last two races, perhaps Sainz might be happy just to race past lap five, something of a big accomplishment. While Sainz is still holding on to fifth in the standings despite the poor results, George Russell is somehow ahead of him driving what is still a confused Mercedes product.

Russell’s performance thus far looks like a mirage, especially when compared with teammate Lewis Hamilton’s results, who sits 33rd in the points (actually seventh). The belief is that Mercedes is attempting to bring significant upgrades to their car in Miami which may finally unlock the performance the team had found in the wind tunnel but has yet to find it on the track due to running the car at an elevated ride height to overcome the troubling porpoising issue.

Russell surely cannot keep up his current pace with stealing points because of the misfortune of others. Should Mercedes be able to improve the car in a modicum of ways, Russell may be able to maintain his position in the top five, a result that both looks terrible for a team like Mercedes but also something of a win for how bad the team has performed thus far. Of course, there should still be a caveat that Mercedes is still Mercedes – meaning that they did not win eight consecutive constructorʻs titles without being pretty good at what they do.

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While Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes grab the splashy headlines, letʻs not sleep on Valtteri Bottas and the impressive job he is doing with Alfa Romeo. Yes, Kevin Magnussen grabbed the early attention but taking the jalopy known as a Haas to points finishes. And Magnussen deserves a ton of credit for jumping into the car with ostensibly given minutes to go before the season started and then making his efforts look easy but Bottas sits right behind Hamilton in the standings driving what has been a slightly better version of the Haas lemon.

Currently, Bottas has earned 24 points. He is two points away from doubling the points that Alfa Romeo earned for the entirety of 2021. You read that correctly. Kimi Raikkonen (retired) managed to score 10 points last year while Antonio Giovinazzi (now in Formula E) collected a whopping three points for the Ferrari-powered team. To say that Bottas has already given dividends is an easy statement. To realize that he has landed in a solid spot and may be just what the team needs to both improve and tutor Mick Schumacher may be the better realization. So far, Bottas is out-performing Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, and Pierre Gasly, all drivers likely to be thought to outdrive him.

The big question as the series heads to Miami is the question of continued performance. Will Alfa be able to remain consistent and possibly even improve or are the gains the team has made short-lived? Every team faces these concerns but for a team like Alfa Romeo, that has languished in the standings for so long, the idea of showing good face must be an enlivening prospect.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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