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Motorsport

With the world focussed on sports that where men play with balls, we'd rather focus on one where you need them (at least figuratively). If it doesn't have an engine, it's not here.

Watching American motor racing always smacks of a trick when, not long before the end, a safety car comes out and everyone bunches up. Why not just to five lap sprint races because at the end of the day, that's all the racing that counts. So when one hears a TV commentator at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix say that we need a safety car to spice things up, there's a horrible sinking feeling, and a sour taste after the safety-car led debacle in the Abu Dhabi GP 2021.

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To say that the the 2021 season of Formula One ended on a sour note would be the understatement of all time.

The series faced an existential crisis. When the teams assembled for testing, nothing would be the same.

When the lights went out for the first race, in Bahrain, only one question mattered: had Formula One survived?

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I'll set out my position in the first line so no one can be in any doubt: Max Verstappen is a deserving world motor racing champion.

But the sport, the drivers and the fans have been done a grave disservice by the Race Director, Michael Masi, who has capped off a season where he has demonstrated that he is unable to make a final decision and that he is easily swayed by the pleas of team principles who have learned that he can be easily bullied.

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Formula One fans across Asia and Australasia had a sleepless night watching the race that could have been the season climax but instead provided a last-minute equalizer that pushes Abu Dhabi to be the penalty-shoot out to decide a season of dogged determination, spectacular long-shots and own goals.

It's a fair bet that pretty much everyone involved in Formula One is in for a week of sleepless nights as the teams travel ten hours across the Middle East and unpack on Thursday ready for the Friday start.

And it all started when the teams arrived in Saudi Arabia and got a first proper look at the new Jeddah track.

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In less than a week's time, we will know who is the Formula One World Drivers' Champion and the Constructors' Champion for 2021.

When the teams pack up after the race in Abu Dhabi it will mark the end of multiple eras.

But there's a surprising history behind the two teams that are battling for the honours in a season that should not have been.

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If there was any justice, there would have been three top steps on the podium in the 2021 Russian Grand Prix.

But that's not how it works.

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It is becoming increasingly clear that my earlier argument that, if F1 is serious about providing the closest racing and the best spectacle, it really should abandon the massive shift in car design that is, now, only eight (or less) races away. The new qualifying format creates ample opportunity for the grid to be turned on its head and that helps but, as the race in Zandvoort showed, the fact that the lower budget teams have now had the chance to catch up with the big spenders has brought most of the pack into contention, as McLaren's historic first and second demonstrated in Monza.

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We're used to weather at the mighty Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes forest. Like many racing circuits, it has a micro-climate and, because of its trees, it is usual for moisture to hang around instead of burning off or blowing away.

But the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was something else entirely.

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It would be easy, after all the negativity from Red Bull and Verstappen to see the Dutchman's first corner crash at the Hungaroring as karma but nothing could be further from the truth; nor could any implication that it was caused by a Mercedes to further undermine his title challenge. The simple fact is that a near-inevitable chaotic start to the race nearly put out half-the field of which Verstaapen was one of the entirely innocent pins in a high-speed game of skittles.

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In two races, four penalties have been awarded against drivers who were on the inside of corners when an opponent made an ill-advised overtaking manoeuvre around the outside and, for his trouble, went off, alleging fault on the part of the driver who had been in front going into the corner.

So now it's clear: if you want to sabotage someone else's race, especially in the melée of the first lap, all you have to do is take a dive. Norris and Russell and, almost karma-like, Perez have all suffered penalties when someone else put themselves in harm's way and then complained about it.

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F1 is making a bad mistake. Recent racing shows exactly why.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it; let well alone, and such phrases come to mind.

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The Styrian Grand Prix was very misleading. It looked processional, almost pedestrian. But it was far from that. Equally importantly, it wasn't a race of pit-stop strategies. Yes, there were some tyre management strategies employed - and if they demonstrated anything it was that, in general, it doesn't matter what tyres are used in which order and, equally, it isn't critical if drivers burn the tyres early in a stint or at the end. In fact, the only thing about tyres was whether they would determine a one or two stop race.

What really matters is that Red Bull and their soon-to-be-former engine supplier Honda have quietly gone about producing a car that is faster and handles better than the Mercedes. At the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton implied that his only hope for a win was that it would rain. It didn't.

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There's an old story of the boy who cried wolf: he told villagers that a wolf was coming so often that, when it was true, no one believed him. Mercedes have the opposite problem: they have been so dominant for so long that they could rely on Hamilton's genius and a rock-solid car to win race after race, championship after championship, break record after record.

Nothing in Formula One is easy but getting a great start and bolting out of reach, for so long Mercedes' stock in trade, has made it look simple. And they have been complacent.

It seems that they have failed to develop the thing that wins races when there are competitors: they don't know how to build winning strategies.

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It's the year that shouldn't have been and Mercedes are having a tough 2021. What's going on?

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It's the ultimate dream for motor racing fans and for a driver paying his dues in a tail-end-charlie team, even more so: the call comes from the boss of the most dominant team the sport has ever seen which is seemingly getting better and better. How do you fancy a drive this weekend? a voice at the other end of whatever is the modern equivalent of the line. Of course you say "yes." Sure, their car is designed to be the fastest in practice and to win from the front; sure their pitstops aren't as fast as you are used do; sure it's the same engine as has been helping you trudge around trying not to get lapped but the package it's in and the team around it are, somehow, in a different league and no one in your present team knows why - for sure, it's not dedication and sacrifice.

So, of course you say yes. Welcome to the week when George Russel's dreams came true - then were dashed in a series of critical errors by the Mercedes team and a couple of bits of bad luck.

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