With all the hype around the 2021 F1 regulations, it is easy to forget the drastic changes already made to the sport this year. For the 2019 season the driver with the fastest lap during the race has benefitted from a bonus world championship point as long as they finished within the top 10. However, the real prize on offer (in the eyes of the sponsors at least) is the DHL Fastest Lap Award.
Prior to 2019, a race fan would see drivers make a bid for the fastest lap late in the race, when their fuel load has dropped, and the cushion between positions was large enough to just throw caution to the wind and go for it. Even when there was no point attached, Sebastian Vettel would frequently claim fastest laps in the closing stages of races during his successful years at Red Bull Racing…much to the despair of his Team Principal at the time - Christian Horner.
It is worth recalling that such a drastic change – awarding a bonus point - did not happen overnight due to the fact that F1 bosses and the FIA had to also receive the backing of The Strategy Group and The Sporting Working Group. Even when these 4 bodies had been consulted, approval still had to come from the F1 Commission as well as ratification by the World Motor Sport Council. It is little wonder that the 2021 regulations took so long to be finalised when history shows how many bodies must be considered for an amendment to the rules.
The intention of the bonus point rule when it was composed was to ‘give an extra dimension to the race as drivers running inside the top 10 will have something extra to fight for.’ What we also we also saw was racers outside the top 10 making a late dash for the fastest lap in the closing stages of the race so as to prevent a rival team from benefitting from it.
This tactic was deployed by Haas at the Singapore GP when Kevin Magnussen achieved the fastest lap…but no bonus point due to his final placing in the race. Back in March, Magnussen told Ekstra Bladet newspaper: "I think it's a pity that it's a point that we will not be able to get. It's a little unnecessary," Despite the fact that Haas did not benefit from the point, they also made sure none of their competitors would receive it either – something tells me this tactic will deployed more next season due to the fact that the midfield battle could be the closest yet in 2020.
As well as a bonus point being attached to the fastest lap – so too is an award: The DHL Fastest Lap Award. This honour will be bestowed on Charles Leclerc in 2019 due to his seven fastest laps over the course of the season. This too further shows the real threat Scuderia Ferrari posed Mercedes-AMG Petronas, hopefully calmer heads and clearer direction from the pit wall will bring more consistency to the results for the Prancing Horse in 2020.
Irrespective of what happens in Abu Dhabi during the only twilight race of the F1 Calendar - no one can better Charles Leclerc’s amount.
Valtteri Bottas could finish the season with a total of 6 fastest laps - if he claims the fastest lap around Yas Marina on Sunday - due to being the closest rival to the Monégasque. A valiant attempt from the reigning champion having secured a total of seven fastest laps in 2018. Bottas claims he knows what to do now to beat Lewis Hamilton to the title in 2020…well, he is certainly quicker on paper so who knows what could happen. The real favourite for the Fastest Lap in Abu Dhabi must surely be Max Verstappen due to a combination of his brilliance, his confidence and his Honda engine. It should be a good final tussle.
What we do know is that Fastest Laps and gimmicks of bonus points do not rival wheel to wheel racing in the eyes of what an F1 fan would rather see. In the same way that a Premiership footballer would rather win a trophy than a Golden Boot Award, you can guarantee that Charles Leclerc would much rather swap accolades with Lewis Hamilton with regard to 2019 successes.
Congratulations Charles Leclerc on your first DHL Fastest Lap Award season victory – we eagerly await the future success certain to come over the course of his Formula 1 career.