Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and famous Mercedes GP. (Photo by Mark Thompson / Getty Images) / Max Verstappen from the Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates. (Photo by Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)
After five years of procession, F1 finally has a rivalry and a competition for the world title between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. This is not a false start. It’s the race at full speed for the 2021 world title.
Lauda and Hunt, Senna and Prost, Schumacher and Hakkinen and Hamilton and Rosberg are some of the real rivalries on which the romance of Formula 1 (F1) has been built. And in 2021, there is another one.
After five races in the new season, Lewis Hamilton, chasing a record-breaking eighth world title, finds himself in an unknown position – he is lagging behind another driver with a quarter-season elapsed.
Dutchman Max Verstappen, driving Red Bull Honda, leads the world title with 105 points after winning the streets of Monte Carlo last week. Mercedes’ Hamilton has 101 points, but he has won three of five races this season, with Verstappen sacked in all of those competitions. Verstappen did not finish outside of the top two.
Since the sudden retirement of Nico Rosberg after winning the 2016 world title, after three seasons of dueling with Hamilton, the sport has entered a phase of total domination of Hamilton. It is not only an honor to Hamilton’s driving ability, but also to a dominant car, which Rosberg and more recently Valterri Bottas have also appreciated.
Since the start of the present era, when F1 cars have shifted from 2.4-liter V8s to 1.6-liter V6s, Mercedes has been untouchable. Hamilton single-handedly won an incredible 76 Grand Prix between the start of 2014 and the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix last week.
A rivalry and a possible change of guard
Whisper it, because a lot can go wrong in a season including cancellations and disruption due to the pandemic, but F1 finally has a rivalry. And maybe a change of the guard. Verstappen is 23 and Hamilton is 36.
Sport of any kind needs two or more protagonists to make it truly compelling. One-sided contests are only appreciated by the most staunch and short-sighted fans of a team or athlete. Most of us want the unpredictability that has been sorely lacking in F1 for the past five years.
It is not Hamilton’s fault that he was in the best car and that his rivals were unable to close the performance gap with the German manufacturer. Hamilton has yet to propel the missile through error-free test circuits to maintain his dominance, but his job has been made easier by almost always leading the grid.
The great champion admitted after Monaco that the threat of Verstappen is real and that it will be maintained. Hamilton knows a strong team and a rival when he sees one, and in Red Bull and Verstappen there is a dangerous threat to the established F1 hierarchy.
To add to the sense of danger emanating from the Red Bull garage, Hamilton only finished seventh in Monaco, although he claimed an extra point for setting the fastest lap. His teammate Bottas failed to finish after a lug nut seized during a tire change, knocking him out of the race.
This mistake puts Red Bull at the top of the constructors’ championship for the first time since mid-2013. Mercedes’ race to the top of F1 briefly ended after seven years. These are obvious signs that Red Bull at least has found the pace to match Mercedes and have a driver at Verstappen capable of maintaining a challenge of the season for the Briton.
“It will be difficult, they have a car that won the championship and they will be very difficult to beat,” Hamilton said after Monaco, when asked about Verstappen and Red Bull.
The recent move to give an extra point to the driver who achieves the fastest lap as long as he finishes in the top 10, could prove decisive in what promises to be a close battle for the world title.
“I’ve been serious about this all year. It is not over, there is a very long way to go. I’m grateful that we finished and got some points and the fastest lap, ”said Hamilton. “Every point you can get on a bad weekend like this can count towards something in the end.”
And if there were any doubts in Hamilton’s camp about Verstappen’s detente or whether just putting pressure on the world champion was enough, they were erased immediately after Monaco.
The TV interviewer was doing his best to get Verstappen to romanticize his first victory in the narrow streets of Monte Carlo – for many of F1’s most prestigious races. The Dutchman did his best to follow the narrative before exposing his true state of mind:
“You always want to win this Ghent Prize. I remember when I was very little you always wanted to win this one, ”he said. “So, of course, I’m very proud, but I also think about the future. It’s a very long season.
The result in Monaco was also a reminder that other teams are improving. After a dismal 2020, Ferrari seemed to have found a bit of rhythm and McLaren, with young Lando Norris in the cockpit, won the mix.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc qualified from pole position in Monaco before a mechanical failure on the warm-up lap cost him a start. His teammate Carlos Sainz finished second in the race and Norris third.
Monaco is an outlier of a track where overtaking is almost impossible, but there is no doubt that over five races Red Bull and Mercedes are closely linked.
The drivers’ title will come down to a few crucial moments, and a sloppy pitstop, bad racing tactics and driver error could be bigger than in the past five seasons.
F1 has gone from a boring afternoon insomnia cure procession to a real sporting spectacle where the outcome is anything but predetermined. And it’s a good thing. DM
Mercedes dominance since engines switched to 1.6-liter V6s
Mercedes 16 won 19 races
Mercedes 16 won 19 races
Mercedes won 19 of 21 races
Mercedes won 12 of 20 races
Mercedes won 11 of 21 races
Mercedes won 15 of 21 races
Mercedes won 13 of 17 races
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This notice was published: 2021-05-25 12:41:56