Sprint race a new addition as Hamilton looks to bounce back on home soil

By Sports Desk July 14, 2021

Lewis Hamilton will hope returning home for the British Grand Prix and a new sprint race format can kickstart Mercedes' faltering challenge in the Formula One title battle.

Round 10 of the 2021 season takes place at Silverstone, a venue where Mercedes have won seven of the last eight races.

Six of those triumphs came for Hamilton and he has a total of seven British Grand Prix wins, having also triumphed there for McLaren in 2008.

That is already a record for most F1 wins at a driver's home circuit and if he can secure an eighth victory, he will match Hungary – which is next on the calendar this year – as his most successful race.

Victory will not come easily, though, with Max Verstappen coming into the event after winning three races in a row for the first time in his F1 career. 

 

The in-form Red Bull star has built an impressive 32-point advantage over Hamilton in the drivers' championship that could have been bigger were it not for his late tyre woe in Baku.

Verstappen has taken one more pole position this year (four) than in the rest of his F1 seasons combined (three).

The constructors' standings are also looking good for Red Bull, who are 44 points clear.

Two straight podiums for Valtteri Bottas have come at a good time as he fights for his Mercedes future, while Sergio Perez – who sits third in the drivers' standings – will want to recover from a ragged race in Austria.

LAST TIME OUT

Verstappen eased to yet another victory at the Red Bull Ring, as he won in front of huge support at the Austrian Grand Prix to complete a triumphant triple-header having won in France prior to the two races at his team's home circuit.

The Dutchman led from start to finish again after claiming pole.

Hamilton's hopes of reeling him in – dismissed as "out of the question" after qualifying – were hindered by another fine drive from Lando Norris, with the Mercedes great starting where he finished in fourth.

Bottas was the big mover, up from fifth to second, benefiting from keeping clear of controversy as numerous drivers – notably including Norris and Perez – tangled in costly fashion.

Norris claimed a superb third despite a time penalty and has now collected points in 14 consecutive races – his longest streak and the best ongoing run in the series. Fernando Alonso in 2007 was the last McLaren driver to enjoy such a stretch.

Carlos Sainz took fifth ahead of Perez, who was hit with two penalties.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT SILVERSTONE

The new sprint event and revised race weekend format is undoubtedly the most intriguing aspect that will be closely followed at Silverstone.

Qualifying will take place on Friday, which sets the grid for the first-ever sprint race in F1 on Saturday, with all cars to be fitted with soft tyres.

The results of the sprint race, which will last 100km – around 17 laps – will then determine the grid for Sunday.

Points (three for the winner, two for second and one for third) will also be awarded in the sprint race, with drivers getting a free tyre choice for sprint race and the main grand prix.

Practice, meanwhile, will be cut from three sessions to two.

Aside from the new format, Mercedes are bringing an upgrade to the circuit, which Hamilton and Bottas will hope revitalises their fortunes in the battle against Red Bull.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Super Silverstone – This will be the 55th race at the famous circuit, which has held more grands prix in F1 than all but two tracks – Monza (70) and Monaco (67).

Hamilton hope – Having finished fourth in Austria, Hamilton is bidding to avoid finishing two consecutive races outside the podium for the first time since 2017 (Mexico and Brazil).

Pole drought – Mercedes have gone five consecutive races without reaching the pole position in F1, their worst run since 2019 (seven between Hungary and Mexico).

Mercedes misery – Toto Wolff's outfit are winless in their last five GPs, their worst run without a win in the Hybrid Era (since 2014) and as many races without finishing first as in their previous 17.

Red Bull flying high – The team have won six races in 2021 including the last five. The last time they won so many in a season was in 2013, when Sebastian Vettel won the championship for them.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 182
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 150
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 101
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 92

Constructors

1. Red Bull – 286
2. Mercedes – 242
3. McLaren – 141
4. Ferrari – 122
5. AlphaTauri – 48

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    Football can feel like a Formula One race at times, with things moving so rapidly that if you blink for a second, you could miss something.

    For example, few would have been able to predict six months ago that in January 2023, a player called Enzo Fernandez would be joining Chelsea for a British-record transfer fee of £106.8million (€121m).

    Not even many Benfica fans knew much about the midfielder when he arrived from River Plate for a reported fee of €12m in July.

    Fernandez had been making a name for himself in his home country, with a loan spell at Defensa y Justicia under former Chelsea and Argentina striker Hernan Crespo convincing River Plate to give him a chance, which he took.

    After 52 appearances for Los Millonarios, interest from Europe saw Fernandez linked with some big names, and it was Benfica who took the plunge.

    The Lisbon club will be pleased they did after making a profit of well over €100m after just half a season, with the midfielder not only impressing in the Primeira Liga and Champions League, but also starring for Argentina as they lifted the World Cup in Qatar last month, with Fernandez claiming the FIFA Best Young Player of the Tournament award.

    Is he really worth all that money, though?

    Chelsea clearly think so, and in Fernandez they have bought a player who will feel like a dream come true for head coach Graham Potter.

    In his time at Brighton and Hove Albion, Potter delighted in building midfields that could dominate the ball, that could keep hold of possession while also making incisive passes to turn the opposition around.

    Despite being one of the smaller clubs in the Premier League, Potter's Brighton averaged 54.3 per cent possession in league games in 2021-22 (only Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea had more), while averaging 496 passes per game, and 59 passes into the final third per game (sixth in the league for both metrics).

    Only Man City, Arsenal and, funnily enough, Brighton have a higher possession average than Chelsea since Potter took charge at Stamford Bridge in September, while only City have attempted more passes than the Blues, which will be where Fernandez comes in.

    The man who only turned 22 earlier on January 17 is a passing machine, having completed 1,431 in total in just 17 Primeira Liga games, over 200 more than the player with the next most in the Portuguese top-flight.

    It is not simply quantity over quality either, as Fernandez has also made 248 passes into the final third, at least 51 more than any other player.

    Not only do they lead the league in terms of the table, but Benfica are also league leaders in averages for possession (66.0 per cent), passes per game (623) and passes ending in the final third per game (70.6). Their style enables Fernandez, but in turn, his ability allows them to execute it, which must have Potter salivating. 

    Fernandez showed similar form in the Champions League as Benfica surprisingly won a group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, before going on to star in the World Cup as well.

    Several big clubs had already taken a shine to him, but the astonishing figure shelled out for him by Chelsea was no doubt rubber-stamped after his performances in Qatar, with Fernandez leading all players in the epic final between Argentina and France for touches (118), successful passes (77) and tackles (10). His 10 tackles were the most of any player in a World Cup final since Gennaro Gattuso in 2006 (15).

    But is he better than what Chelsea already have?

    In the Blues' midfield this season, Mateo Kovacic leads the way in terms of number of passes per 90 in Premier League games (69.0), ahead of Jorginho (61.7), with no other player to have played more than five games averaging even 50.

    Fernandez has been averaging 84.18 successful passes per game in Portugal, though consideration must be given to the difference in strength between the Premier League and Primeira Liga. In fact, it is the second-most of any midfielder in any of Europe's top 10 leagues this season, behind only Manchester City's Rodri (84.58), and ahead of Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti (78.06) and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos (74.53).

    There is also the Argentine's creativity to take into account, with Chelsea struggling to score goals this season having only managed 22 in 20 league games so far.

    In league games, of those to have played more than twice, Conor Gallagher is averaging the most chances created from open play of Potter's midfield options at 1.59 per game, followed by Carney Chukwuemeka (1.38) and Mason Mount (1.24). Fernandez has averaged 1.62 per game.

    When you consider that Potter already had Kovacic, Mount, Gallagher, N'Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Denis Zakaria, Lewis Hall and Chukwuemeka to choose from, with Jorginho having departed for Arsenal on deadline day, you might think spending nine figures on another midfielder to be somewhat indulgent.

    With the early promise and potential trajectory of Fernandez though, Chelsea have quite probably taken the next step in a long-term rebuild. Jorginho and Kante are both 31 years old and out of contract at the end of the season, and investing in the future rather than the past makes sense for a team that always wants to be challenging for the biggest trophies.

    With great spending comes great expectations though, and the pressure will be immense on Fernandez to not just shine on the big stage, but to do so immediately.

    Chelsea's newest addition could justifiably insist he has done just that with every challenge thrown at him in a short space of time, including the biggest challenge of winning the World Cup.

    Enzo will no doubt back himself to prove he can live up to the price tag and be the Ferrari that Graham Potter needs.

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    Enzo Fernandez has finally signed for Chelsea, becoming the Premier League's record signing after the Blues met his £106.8million (€121m) release clause at Benfica.

    Fernandez, who was named Young Player of the Tournament after helping Argentina win the 2022 World Cup, was strongly linked with Chelsea earlier in the transfer window before talks broke down.

    However, the big-spending Blues went back in for him with the end of the window drawing closer, signing Fernandez to a long-term contract – rumoured to run until 2032 – with confirmation arriving an hour and a half after the transfer window closed.

    Chelsea submitted the relevant paperwork in time and Benfica were first to announce details of the deal on their official website on Wednesday.

    His arrival takes Chelsea's spending to a reported £288.5m (€328.5m) in January alone, with the midfielder becoming their eighth signing of the window.

    Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate last year but has played a starring role for them since making that move, helping the Portuguese giants top their Champions League group.

    He had looked likely to remain in Lisbon at least until the end of the season, but Chelsea revisited the deal with head coach Graham Potter reportedly keen for midfield reinforcements.

    The fee surpasses the previous Premier League transfer record, set by Jack Grealish's £100m switch from Aston Villa to Manchester City in 2021.

    Fernandez could make his Chelsea debut against Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Friday, as the Blues look to climb the table after a poor run of form saw them drop to 10th position. 

    A dogged competitor with an eye for the magnificent, Fernandez featured in all seven of Argentina's games in Qatar, starting five of them after he came off the bench to net a superb goal against Mexico in the group stage.

    Fernandez's ability on the ball, as well as his tenacity, will add a new facet to Potter's midfield options.

    Only 11 players carried the ball further than Fernandez (1,239.7 metres) at the World Cup, while just 10 were involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 27.

    Fernandez boasted a duel success rate of 58.8 per cent, winning 40 of his 68 engagements at the tournament.

    He made just 17 league appearances during his short stint with Benfica, though he also featured in five group games in the Champions League.

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    Fernandez, who was named Young Player of the Tournament after helping Argentina win the 2022 World Cup, was strongly linked with Chelsea earlier in the transfer window before talks broke down.

    However, the big-spending Blues went back in for him with the end of the window drawing closer, signing Fernandez to a long-term contract – rumoured to run until 2032 – with confirmation arriving an hour and a half after the transfer window closed.

    Chelsea submitted the relevant paperwork in time and Benfica were first to announce details of the deal on their official website on Wednesday.

    His arrival takes Chelsea's spending to a reported £288.5m (€328.5m) this month alone, with the midfielder becoming their eighth signing of the January transfer window.

    Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate last year but has played a starring role for them since making that move, helping the Portuguese giants top their Champions League group.

    He had looked likely to remain in Lisbon at least until the end of the season, but Chelsea revisited the deal with head coach Graham Potter reportedly keen for midfield reinforcements.

    The fee surpasses the previous Premier League transfer record, set by Jack Grealish's £100m switch from Aston Villa to Manchester City in 2021.

    Fernandez could make his Chelsea debut against Fulham at Stamford Bridge on Friday, as the Blues look to climb the table after a poor run of form saw them drop to 10th position. 

    A dogged competitor with an eye for the magnificent, Fernandez featured in all seven of Argentina's games in Qatar, starting five of them after he came off the bench to net a superb goal against Mexico in the group stage.

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    Fernandez boasted a duel success rate of 58.8 per cent, winning 40 of his 68 engagements at the tournament.

    He made just 17 league appearances during his short stint with Benfica, though he also featured in five group games in the Champions League.

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