Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes make ‘pivotal’ shift as they close the gap on Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton goes undercover to inspire school children

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Martin Brundle believes Mercedes have “raised their game at the pivotal point” of the Formula One championship after Lewis Hamilton won back-to-back races in Brazil and Qatar to close the gap to Max Verstappen in the standings. After a dominant display during a penalty-riddled race, Hamilton stormed to victory from tenth on the grid in Interlagos and followed that fine performance with another win in Qatar to reduce Verstappen’s lead to eight points with two races remaining.

Writing in his column for Sky Sports, Brundle said: “There can be no doubt that Hamilton and Mercedes have raised their game at a pivotal point of the championship.

“Lewis has found renewed trust in the factory simulator and works late into the night at the track as he impressively finds new motivation for an eighth title despite his relative age, trophy warehouse, and significant bank balance.

“Mercedes have some powerful car set up tools and a fresh engine too for the remainder of the season which will ensure they are very fast, and no doubt they will be watching each other like hawks regarding interpretation of particularly the aero regulations. You couldn’t help but feel both teams were on their best behaviour with their rear wing elements in Qatar.

“Only Max can mathematically win the championship at the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia but, given the high-speed track layout there and such prodigious recent performance of the Mercedes, that will only happen if Lewis has a problem.”

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Verstappen was hit with a five-place grid penalty in Qatar for ignoring double-waved yellow flags, relegating the championship leader to P7 on the grid after qualifying second.

The confusion came as double-waved yellow flags were shown via the trackside light panels as AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly suffered a puncture in the final moments of qualifying.

Single yellow flags were initially shown before the track returned briefly to green before double-waved yellows were shown as Gasly came to a complete stop on the start/finish straight.

Single-waved yellow flags means there is a hazard on track and a driver must be prepared to change direction, however double-waved means the driver must be prepared to stop.

And Brundle believes it was a “harsh” penalty.

“I thought the grid penalties for him and Valtteri Bottas were harsh on Sunday,” added Brundle. “The FIA, who do a generally tremendous job in refereeing the highly complex world of F1, have had a torrid and indecisive couple of weeks since waving through the infamous turn four incident between the championship contenders in Brazil.

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“I’m a fully paid-up advocate that yellow flags must be respected as an absolute priority, but from the cockpit on Sunday the drivers would have been on their final qualifying effort exiting the last corner with no visible flags, no incident warning lights on their steering wheel or messages from the pit wall, a blaze of red lights in the night time sky at the finish line indicating the qualifying session is over (one red light and the chequered flag would be sufficient), spotting the DRS activation line which had been re-enabled, pulling up through the gears whilst then working out what that car (Pierre Gasly’s three wheeling Alpha Tauri) on the right hand side was actually doing.

“There were mitigating circumstances, to say the least, and with no trackside yellow warning panels, but green panels on the pit wall for the pitlane weighbridge, I would have missed the relatively poorly lit sole marshal post correctly waving a flag or flags on the left-hand side every time.”

“The fact that Carlos Sainz was exonerated because he lifted off the throttle after the stationary car rather underlines the confusion, but rules are rules I guess. We were at a brand-new to F1 venue late to the calendar and that showed.”

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