Analysis: Five factors will decide how close this title fight is going to be

2021 F1 season

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Many of the greatest moments in Formula 1 history involve world championship fights which were decided at the final race of the season.

The dramas left indelible memories in minds of those who witnessed them: James Hunt denying Niki Lauda the title at a rain-lashed Fuji in 1976, Nigel Mansell’s tyre explosion handing the 1986 crown to Alain Prost at Adelaide, or Michael Schumacher’s controversial championship-winning collision with Damon Hill at the same track eight years later.

But F1 has added little to this history in the past decade. It’s been five years since Formula 1 had a final-round title-deciding race. You have to go back almost a decade for the last time two drivers from different teams were still in contention at the end of the season.

That may finally be about to change. The 2021 F1 season opened with a finely-poised contest between Mercedes and Red Bull.

This isn’t the first time in the V6 hybrid turbo era Mercedes have faced competition at the start of a season. Ferrari won the opening rounds of the 2017 and 2018 campaigns – indeed, it took Mercedes four races to score a win in the latter campaign. Nonetheless on both occasions Lewis Hamilton bagged the title with several races left to run.

Do Max Verstappen and Red Bull have it in them to stay in the fight until the end – and finally wrest the crown which has been Mercedes for the past season years?

How far ahead are Red Bull?

Testing indicated it was the case and qualifying in Bahrain gave the first proof: Red Bull are now the team to beat on one-lap pace. Having been four-tenths of a second slower than Mercedes around the track in November, they were quicker by almost as much at the first race of the new season.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Verstappen was too quick for Mercedes in qualifying
“Bahrain was always not the strongest race for Red Bull, and also they haven’t been particularly good out of the blocks, and this weekend shows that all that is not the case anymore in 2021,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff reflected. “So I have no doubt that they are extremely difficult to beat.”

This is just one data point, of course. Mercedes had been more competitive in Q2. “On the medium tyre, Mercedes have been very strong all weekend,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in Bahrain. “They were quicker than us in Q2 on that medium tyre.”

“The great thing for Formula 1 is it looks like the two teams are close,” he added. It certainly seemed the two teams were closer in the race, where they used medium and hard compound tyres rather than the softs.

Hamilton was able to stay close enough to Verstappen in the opening stages that he could make an early first pit stop, claim track position, and run a long final stint to snatch victory from under Red Bull’s noses.

What was behind the change in performance? Verstappen revealed after the race he “had more wheel-slip on one side, on the rear”. This appears to have been related to a problem with his differential, which Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko estimated cost them around three tenths of a second per lap.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Hamilton exploited Red Bull’s troubles – and track limits – to win
Some of Red Bull’s performance gain has clearly come from its engine as well. However Marko revealed Verstappen’s unit was turned down slightly in the race due to concerns over rising temperatures.

Hamilton also had a trick up his sleeve. Drivers were told before the race they were free to use the run-off area at turn four and he did so more aggressively than most. Verstappen spotted this during the race, and Red Bull advised him to do the same. Horner’s later claim that there’s “a two-tenth advantage using that part of the circuit” may be slightly exaggerated, but of course Hamilton wouldn’t have done it had there been nothing to gain.

Even with these caveats, Verstappen was still able to catch and pass Hamilton, though the move didn’t stick. The evidence is clear Red Bull have started the season with a solid performance advantage of multiple tenths of a second over Mercedes. It remains to be seen whether this will be replicated at circuits which are not as abrasive or hot as Bahrain typically is.

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Will Mercedes close the gap?

Article: Wolff sees a 2022 development dilemma for Mercedes after off-season step backwards
Knowing what it took to deny Verstappen victory in Bahrain, Hamilton made it clear he expects a tough fight over the rest of the year. “I don’t recall how close the other seasons were exactly but this has got to have started off as one of the toughest,” he said.

“Red Bull’s pace is incredibly strong, as you could see. We can’t match them in qualifying right now. That’s a big, big step for us. I thought we could get closer within the race but that was a little bit too close for my liking.

“We just don’t know how much better they’ll be in other places that we go to – or how much worse. Maybe our car’s better in other places than it is here, or maybe it’s worse, we’ll wait and find out. One thing’s for sure, we’ll work as hard as we can to improve it.”

The usual development war has a different complexion this year. New technical regulations coming for the 2022 F1 season mean that, power units aside, any time spent working on this year’s car will have no application for next year. Mercedes and Red Bull’s rivals will be thinking much more about next year than this one.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Article: How some teams voted in vain against rule change which cost low-rake cars “1s per lap”
On top of that, F1’s new aerodynamic development handicap rules – based on last year’s constructors championship result – allow Red Bull to conduct more wind tunnel and CFD runs this year than Mercedes (and their eight rivals can do even more). The trade-off between 2021 and 2022 is therefore hardest for the world champions.

The off-season changes to several areas of the rear floor lie at the root of Mercedes’ aerodynamic problems. The full impact of this will likely have been diagnosed at the beginning of testing, and whatever solutions they have produced are likely to appear in the coming races. As Wolff acknowledged in Bahrain, they are fortunate that the opening rounds of the championship are far more spread out than last year.

More than half of the 23 races on this year’s longest-ever calendar take place in an intense burst of activity after the summer break, which includes a trio of triple-headers. Development at that point is likely to be very limited, and we’ll have a good idea then how close the title fight is likely to end up.

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Who’s got the edge on reliability?

Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Perez recovered from an early setback with his car
This is a significant question mark. Reliability problems can do huge damage to a championship fight, especially when their impact is amplified by grid penalties.

Recall how Bottas ended the 2019 season, after the championship fight had been settled: A power unit failure put him out in Brazil, and the subsequent penalty meant he started the next race from the back of the grid. For a title contender, such a blow of potentially more than 25 points can easily prove decisive.

There were worrying problems for the Honda-powered teams in Bahrain. Both Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly had to take new electronics and batteries after the manufacturer spotted worrying signs in the data. Perez’s car then stopped on the formation lap but, encouragingly, was coaxed back into life and took him to fifth place.

Honda has made a major development push during the winter, and at one stage accelerated its efforts to bring forward innovations it intended to introduce next year. Could they have pushed the envelope too far? We’ll find out as the first engines near the end of the eight (not necessarily consecutive) events they must complete.

Will the team mates get involved?

Hamilton and Verstappen have been their teams’ top scorers of recent seasons, led the way in Bahrain, are best-placed to lead the championship charge for their respective outfits. But what roles will their team mates play?

Bottas out-qualified Hamilton five times last year
Verstappen’s team mates have troubled him little in recent seasons. He has only been out-qualified once since the start of 2019. Perez, his fourth team mate in as many years, didn’t make the cut for Q3 in Bahrain and hasn’t always been the strongest on one-lap pace, so it would be a surprise if he starts regularly out-qualifying the other Red Bull and threatening to take points off him.

Bottas, however, has shown he can beat Hamilton on single-lap pace from time to time. Given Mercedes lap time disadvantage to Red Bull, Hamilton can ill-afford to let that happen at the moment. It’s doubtful he would have got in position to win in Bahrain if he’d had to spend the first few laps picking his way past Bottas.

Perez’s predecessors were too rarely a threat to Mercedes’ drivers. As he settles into the team – a process he suggests will take around five races – Red Bull will expect him to start out-qualifying the Mercedes drivers and further limit their points-scoring.

There is also the question of if and when team orders may come into play. Mercedes have done this before, requiring Bottas to give up victory to Hamilton at Sochi in 2018, while he was still mathematically in contention to win the title. This can be crushing for a driver – Bottas recently admitted he considered quitting F1 after that call.

The X factor

The unforeseen is always a possibility in Formula 1, and even more so in these strange times. That said, Verstappen has already been vaccinated against Covid-19, Hamilton caught it last year and antibodies should shield him from reinfection any time soon, so the possibility either might have to miss a race for that reason is low.

Analysis: F1 field closes up as Mercedes lose two seconds in four months
Other disruptions are possible. The rules changes which gave Red Bull the opportunity to close on Mercedes were prompted by tyre failures. Both drivers suffered them last year – Hamilton at Silverstone, Verstappen at Imola, scene of the next race.

Most unusually, there is even the possibility F1 will change the rules after the season has started. Extra points-paying Sprint Qualifying races are expected to be introduced at three rounds once the teams have thrashed out the financial and sporting details. That promises to be a bonus for whichever team has the fastest car at the chosen rounds.

As one such race is planned for round 20 in Brazil, the championship could even be decided in a Sprint Qualifying race, if either driver has enough of an advantage by then.

But for most if not all in the sport – the contenders included – the prospect of a long title fight is one we can relish and seriously entertain at this early stage in proceedings.

“I’m super excited and super happy for the fans, that they are excited,” said Hamilton. “I think it’s something that all the fans have wanted for a long time.

“Of course, this is only one race, so we don’t know what the future holds. With the pace [Red Bull] have, they could be ahead a lot more, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to try and stay close in this battle and I hope for many more of these sorts of races with Max and Valtteri. There’s a long way to go.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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60 comments on “Analysis: Five factors will decide how close this title fight is going to be”

  1. Must watch more races… Need more data… Must have answers…

    Looking great though. Either RedBull is slightly ahead, or they are about equal. And that is the best we can hope for.

  2. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    6th April 2021, 13:30

    I don’t buy it being close at all I’m afraid – and certainly not to the tune of multiple tenths. Looked to me like Verstappen was squeezing everything he could out of the Red Bull while the Mercedes underperformed largely due to poor testing and the regulation change. In short the Red Bull was running close to its limit while the Mercedes still has buckets of time left in the car to unlock – and there’s no doubt they will. This is just a slow start, nothing more.

    1. I don’t understand these stories that RBR was faster than Mercedes on Sunday, @rocketpanda
      Hamilton stuck to Verstappen during the opening stint (between 1.5-2s from lap 5 to lap 12);
      Bottas on softs stuck to Verstappen (Mediums) after stop 1 (around 4-5s from lap 18 to lap 29).
      All the other comparisons were with significantly different tyre usage or fuel levels.

      As far as I can see they are very evenly paced, with a slight race day advantage for Mercedes.

      The other positive ‘single instance’ learning was that on Sunday both #2 drivers were speed-wise close to their team leaders.

      1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        6th April 2021, 16:41

        @coldfly Why do you keep clinging to this notion? I’ve watched, read and listened to most of the respected analysts break down the relative pace. They all agree that the Redbull was faster on race day, just not by the same margin they were in qualifying. Read Mark Hughes breaks it down for The Race or listen to the Podcast. Redbull had a massive advantage in turn 5,6 and 9, 10 both in qualifying and the race. First stint Max was struggling with the diff spinning one rear tyre more which, although not fixed, got better after the first stint. Marco stated this was why he didn’t pull away and break the undercut. Max complained about it a lot in the first stint on the radio. After that he had no problems running at a faster pace.

        Bottas never ran softs. Both Mercs ran medium, hard, hard. When Max got onto the hard he was much faster, on the same tyre as Bottas and much faster than Lewis. As I have said before, if he didn’t have to follow Lewis, he would have had a good gap to second at the end. You said before, Redbull had the faster strategy, Mercedes had the smarter one so give it up please! Redbull had the fastest car and either all the experts are wrong, or you are!

        Lastly, that wasn’t Redbull’s ultimate pace either as they had to turn down the PU to manage temps. So if you combine the fact that they should have fixed the diff by Imola, the amount of medium and high speed corners in Imola where they have a clear advantage and Honda will have a better understanding of cooling, they should be easily faster next race. The only factor is what Mercedes can bring in upgrades. Absent of that and a bad race or strategy, Redbull will win.

        1. My mistake, @davewillisporter, Bottas ran the 2nd stint on ‘hard’ tyres. And that is exactly the point I made that with a harder tyre with similar age he ran roughly the same speed.

          I had not heard any confirmation or analysis of the differential issue Verstappen complained about during the race, and did not include it. Of course (and thanks for the link below) a 0.3s/lap ‘handicap’ would lift RBR above Mercedes (but on race day it was part of the package).
          So you say that RBR had a faster car, but only if it didn’t have the diff issue and if it hadn’t turned the PU down. What’s next Haas would be fastest if they had designed a faster car? (reductio ad absurdum)

          And you baffle me by proving lap speed by analysing single corners.

          Overall (ignoring what the car could have been with a fully functioning differential) the facts still support the hypothesis I shared.

          1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
            7th April 2021, 18:56

            @coldfly You keep ignoring my point and re-stating yours.

            ALL the analysis states that Redbull was consistently much faster in turns 5 and 6 and turns 9 and 10 with both cars matched elsewhere. Regardless of tyres that is a pace advantage in favour of Redbull.

            Also, if Max did not have to pass Hamilton, would he have finished the race quicker than he did behind Lewis? His lap time was faster and with 5 laps to go it tailed off to match the car that he was following. Absent of that obstacle, would his lap time advantage have continued for the next 5 laps? I’ll answer for you seeing as you don’t want to address it. Yes. He would have maintained that pace advantage as he had life in his tyres (which Lewis didn’t hence the squirming rear as he was being pursued and his call “got no rear”) and he would have finished in less time than it took Lewis to run a race distance, which means his car was faster! As it was he finished 0.7 seconds behind. In F1 generally if you can stay within a second of the car in front lap after lap you are the faster car because the outwash takes some downforce away, and even with that downforce reduction you are still doing the same lap time as the car you are following. Give that downforce back and you will be faster.

            All you’re doing is stating what you saw play out as evidence that the Merc was faster or equal. It wasn’t”! Your analysis is simplistic and ignores many factors, not the least of which is Max’s pace in the last five laps was dictated by Lewis’s Merc’s pace as he couldn’t get past. He was not running at the pace the Redbull was capable of at that time. Add all the problems with the diff and the PU being turned down, if Max had a problem free race from the front, that car would have been a good 5 to 10 seconds ahead of Lewis at the end which means it is absent of problems and poor strategy a faster car.

            Get it?

          2. @Dave, not sure why you are so upset that Mercedes was faster than RBR on Sunday.*
            Prove my factual points wrong, or bring up some other factual evidence (not ‘most of the respected analysts’ say). Anybody knows that overall speed is based on lap time, and not single corners.

            I made it clear in the initial post that I am talking about Sunday’s (f)actual speed, and not what it could/would/should have been.

            And when comparing lap speeds, please stick to laps with similar tyre age and fuel levels.
            Of course RBR was faster than Mercedes at the end; they were on fresher tyres. Similarly, Mercedes was faster than RBR on laps 30-40, when they were on fresher tyres (and they were ‘more faster’ than the difference later on).

            * Actually, I have a pretty good inkling what the reason is, but I deliberately decided to stay out of those discussions here.

        2. @davewillisporter Thanks for that link below. I just wonder though, and maybe this is detailed further in the podcast you speak of, but in the written article you link, I don’t get the impression the diff issue necessarily got better for Max after the first stint. I know Marko says he was losing up to .3 secs in the first stint, but I just wondered if he was only highlighting the first stint because it was at the first pits that LH/Mercedes was able to affect the undercut, and Marko was simply highlighting why Max got undercut.

          Just going by the verbiage of the diff discussion in the article you cite below, it sounds like Max had had to lock up the diff basically on lap one, but there is no indication that ‘it got better’ after the first stint. Unless there is further info on this, I’m not convinced Max “had ‘no’ problems running at a faster pace” after the first stint, but rather may have still been having the annoyance of having to adapt to the locked diff all race long, but got better at doing so, while also being on the hard tires which may have changed the feel for him and what he was able to do heat-wise and durability-wise with the rears in spite of the problem.

          1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
            7th April 2021, 18:40

            @robbie yes, Max got better at dealing with it after first expecting his team to give him a setting so “it” got better was Max getting better.

      2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        6th April 2021, 18:01

        @coldfly Andrew Shovlin:

        “We’ve had a lot of years where we’ve been able to rely on straight line speed or high-speed cornering or interconnected corners. But you look at it here [in Bahrain] and we weren’t taking any time out of them anywhere.”

    2. @rocketpanda I wouldn’t assume only Mercedes has performance to unlock and not RBR. Maybe if Max didn’t have a diff issue, and maybe if he’d been going as wide as LH at turn 4, and then of course if the ‘racing gods’ as TW put it hadn’t had them with Max in dirty air at the end…I know I’m playing woulda, coulda, shoulda here, however, as I say I think it is folly to assume RBR has nothing more to offer. So many questions still left unanswered as to whether certain cars favour certain tracks too, etc etc. Let’s see in a handful of races.

    3. @rocketpanda No, it looked like Hamilton was squeezing everything he could out of the Mercedes. Leaving aside Verstappen’s wheel slip issue (3-tenths) and RBR turning down the power, he was clearly in a position to win at the end but was held off by Hamilton maintaining his pace despite degraded tyres and defending perfectly.

      1. @david-br Not to mention the performance harming dirty air effect that Max was suffering.

        1. @robbie Which is kind of standard for anyone trying to overtake :o?
          I think Max had one chance and messed it up by trying in the wrong place. Still excellent. I’m just questioning the narrative of ‘Max gave it everything he’s got, driving beyond the bounds of the feasible’ when, really, Red Bull and MV should have won the first race and Hamilton was turning in fast lap times at the end when the tyres were pretty much shot (Mercedes having pitted him too early).

          1. @david-br For sure it is standard, even for a car that has a slight pace advantage on fresher tires. That LH could keep him behind on older tires, claiming there was nothing more he could is, is an indictment on these cars, and is why Brawn said in his post-race comments this is why they are changing the cars for next year onwards.

          2. Should read ‘nothing more he could do…’

          3. @robbie whilst you turn your focus on the aerodynamics, that wasn’t what Max said was holding him back – his complaint was about the thermal sensitivity of the tyres, amid the long standing complaints that the surface layers of the tyres are still too prone to overheating very easily and causing a rapid drop off in performance. What restricted his ability to catch up was more about the thermal transfer rate of the surface layers of the tyres than the aerodynamics, and that is really more down to the method of construction of the tyres themselves.

            If you think about Grosjean’s complaints as the GPDA representative in recent years, for example, he’s mainly attacked the tyres as being the main limiting factor on action, due to the combination of the high thermal sensitivity and the complaints that the tyre construction Pirelli uses tends to result in grip saturation when facing combined lateral and translational loading. We’ve had ex-designers point that way too – Symonds has made comments in that direction – and even Todt has obliquely hinted at that complaint as well.

            Whilst there have been some noises in the direction of addressing that issue with the 2022 spec tyres, I think many on this site will comment that promises of having a more “raceable” tyre less prone to thermal degradation issues is something that’s been promised more than a few times in the past, but still remained a frequent complaint.

          4. I absolutely hear you about the tires. I was riffing off what Max’s nearly first comment was in the immediate post-race interview with DC…’you can’t pass with these cars!’ This is pretty much verbatim what LH said back in 2015 after he won the WDC in the US and ended up generally behind NR for the next 7 races.

            You are absolutely right about the tires and their issues, and those are greatly exacerbated by the 50% loss of downforce and the resultant movement of these highly clean air dependent cars while in dirty air.

            I hope and trust that the new tires on 18” rims will simply have to be way way different and sturdier simply by the nature of their vastly different shape, and as well, while I don’t trust Pirelli a great deal, to me it is a no-brainer that they should be mandated to no longer make tires that are such a hindrance when the very thing they (F1) are trying to promote with the ground effects cars is close racing.

  3. Great factors. However, I still believe that it will be down to reliability, critical moments and mistakes, just like in 2017 and in 2018. Hamilton and Mercedes played every card right in Bahrain, except for Bottas’ slow pit stop.

  4. If the Sprint Qualifying experiment has a direct impact on the outcome of the championship, it will devalue this year’s title.

    1. I still hope that Sprint Qualifying will not be awarded any points.
      But even if it did, the final Championship result will be just as valid as those with/without a FLAP point, or opportunistic race results due to a late red flag or safety car.

    2. If the sprint qualifying experiment has a direct impact on the outcome of the championship, it will just be part of the championship.
      Every car is doing it – there’s nothing about this year that would be any less valid than every other year.

      1. Every car is doing it

        That still doesn’t change the fact that it might become a farce if the championship is decided by this random 3-race sprint quali.

        If in 2014, Rosberg won the championship only because of double points at the last race, there would be a lot of fuss by many not regarding him as a ‘true’ champion… even though every car was ‘elegible’ to score double points at that single random race.
        If they started to award X points every Saturday on who gets a pole position and a driver went into the final weekend needing to score X points to win the championship and turned up with a car set up only for qualifying and he took the pole position and the championship on Saturday… it would still be a farce even though every car was ‘elegible’ to score those X points on Saturday.

        Points should be only awarded on races every Sunday of the GP weekend and all races should be ‘equal’ among the others (no double/triple/X points more than the others). That’s the way it’s been done successfully for 71 years. No need to change it.

        1. @black By that logic, every year they add an extra race makes the championship a farce too.

          Supposing Rosberg had taken the championship in 2014 due to double points, then he would have been crowned champion. End of story.
          Under the rules of the time, that would have been a perfectly legal way to become champion.

          We can argue about the merit of each champion if you want to – but at the end of the day, the driver’s champion is the driver with the most points at the end of the year. Regardless of how they got them.
          That is how F1 has been for each and every year they’ve had a WDC.

  5. The only important omission in this article is the fact merc stopped the development of the 2020 car early to put all its effort in the 2021 version. They had more time then any other team, but it looks it did not pay off.

    1. Chickens being counted after race 1? Maybe hold back until at least race 3 I’d say.

  6. Sifting through the Horner BS (ti should be a full-time paid job): he claims Mercedes were ‘stronger on the medium’ (at least in Q2) but simultaneously claims that Hamilton gained two-tenths on turn 4 throughout the race, while Marko tells us Max lost three-tenths per lap because of a wheel slip problem. That’s a full half-second down on what their ‘true pace’ was according to Red Bull themselves. More than enough to nullify any claim Mercedes were equal or even faster.

    1. Good point David. Thanks for that calculation. But then how did marko make that estimate? Unless he is 1 of the engineers…maybe he should fire them and do their work for them instead.

      1. Wayne, I’m not sure either figure is credible TBH. But then there is also the claim Red Bull kept the engine power a bit turned down too because of potential heat issues. I’d say they were clearly ahead, as Perez’s progress through the field also showed.

      2. @david-br Of course Horner and Marko don’t have a lock on the BS as Mercedes famously constantly downplays their chances against ‘such strong competition’ while they dominate race after race over the seasons.

        1. @robbie I’m not going to disagree with that! However there are different varieties of BS. One is pretending you’re worried about the competition when you’re actually worried they may have edged a tenth closer. Another is flat contradicting yourself in the space of a few media pronouncements.

          1. @david-br Still unclear. Where did they contradict themselves?

          2. The 0,2 sev as a result of cutting corner 4 are not related to the car.
            So adding this to the other points.. like the 0,3 as a result of the dif is not correct.

          3. @robbie Hmm, Horner implying that Mercedes were equal or faster on the mediums and/or in the race? But if you factor in Max’s differential issue and the alleged time advantage Hamilton gained at turn 4, and even ignoring the engine being turned down, that points to a decent Red Bull advantage in Bahrain – as you yourself have suggested here.

          4. @david-br Hmm, kind of splitting hairs there though, no? When he said Mercedes were quicker than them on mediums in Q2, that was a fact, and then the race itself provided other facts. I don’t see a noteworthy contradiction there unless one is to accuse Horner of not having a crystal ball on Saturday to know what was about to happen on Sunday.

  7. RB have definitely hit the ground running this yr and seem to have closed on Merc. But as always the first few races are little more than a continuation of testing. It remains to be seen if RB can hold the advantage, if they had one.
    I think Merc/Hamilton will win again this yr Bottas backing up with RB/Verstappen third but RB will be looking over their shoulder a lot more.
    McLaren/Ferrari and later in the season Alpine will be in the mix for third. I don’t think Aston Martin will be a genuine threat.

    1. @johnrkh Of course it all has to play out, but going by what we have seen so far I cannot fathom how VB could possibly insert himself between LH and Max this season, when he could barley do so last year when RB were way further off Mercedes’ pace. Personally I think VB is screwed and is going to be the one looking over his shoulder and will not be able to defend his 2nd place in the WDC that he squeaked though last year.

      1. @robbie Yep. I can also see Perez causing Mercedes some real problems too over strategy if and when he gets up to speed and especially if Bottas fades out. VB is used to starting the season well, but he’s already on the back foot after the first race. So he needs to re-set already this year.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          6th April 2021, 16:50

          @david-br the key factor in the constructors championship will be how fast Perez gets up to speed. These crucial points he is dropping to Bottas could be a deciding factor. Despite the fact that Bottas is a great qualifier and Perez is merely ok, that Redbull quali advantage could put Perez ahead and he has the better race performance of the two, it’s just a case of how long it takes him to get there. As for the driver’s championship, it will be a driver and development race and a strategy competition. Lewis has proven wily like a fox race craft and race management and they are both fast as heck and great at wheel to wheel battling. If the cars are even the odds are Lewis will bag it. If Redbull still have an edge it will be an epic battle.

          1. @davewillisporter Yes, that’s pretty much how I see it too. The prospect of a first championship could be seen as a motivator boost for Verstappen, but then being in an actual title fight again could just as well be reinvigorating for Hamilton. So I still think his experience would edge it in an even contest between the cars. Though random events, DNFs etc. then play a huge role. If Red Bull are slightly ahead, though, I can see that being enough, especially if Perez can assist Verstappen by being closer to the front at the start of races.

    2. @johnrkh I wouldn’t be so confident about Alpine any more than Aston Martin because of limited development opportunities, the urge of shifting focus 100% on next year ASAP, and driver lineups (an area where Mclaren and Ferrari have an advantage over Alpine+AM.) Time will tell.

  8. Yes. Verstappen is experienced enough to fight for the wins but this seems to be his first season where he can win championship. Can he keep his head cool enough. First (minor) mistake was how he let Lewis through by driving off line and collecting all the dirt to his tyres.
    Those mistakes will finally decide who will win if they are evenly matched in pure pace.

    1. Did he “let lewis through” as a result of “driving off line”?
      You seem to have witnessed a completely different race.. looking at the correct season?
      He let Lewis pass because he was ordered to do so. He passed Lewis completely and went off track on the same point lewis did for 29 laps.

      1. He was ordered to let him go but he could have done it better. He could still have stayed on the racing line so then Lewis should have collected all the dirt to his tyres and maybe to get some advantage.

        1. So again, you obviously watched an other race. Lewis did not let enogh room to keep the car on track.
          Maybe, as Hill suggests he lured Max into this. But nevertheless your narrative does not fit the facts.

          1. Anon A. Mouse
            7th April 2021, 3:01

            It looks like @queki is referring to when Max was ordered to give back the place after the T4 pass. They’re saying that Max could have lifted and stayed on the racing line, forcing Hamilton to have to go around in the marbles, compromising him through to the end of the lap. Instead, Max pulled off to the side like we see back markers do when shown blue flags.

          2. @erikje Verstappen had all the room he needed but carried a tiny bit too much speed and couldn’t complete the move on track. He was correctly “penalised” for this. You will note, neither Red Bull nor Verstappen questioned it and neither claimed that Hamilton pushed him off-track.

            @queki is talking about when Verstappen gave the place back to Hamilton – he pulled over to the dirty side of the track and let Hamilton pass on the racing line. He should have done the opposite to keep his tyres clean.

  9. I think it’s a lot closer than the four tenths many are saying. Qualifying flattered red bull – Hamilton made quite a big error in turn 9 and registered a yellow middle sector on his final lap, while Verstappen put in a brilliant lap. Imola should favour Red Bull, but given the gains Merc has made, I doubt there will be much between them.

    1. Hamilton lost 1-2 tenths at maximum from the error at turn 9. 2 tenths he could have finished behind Verstappen in Q3. The car looked race biased based on the onboard of his lap, or it could be how smooth and calm Hamilton’s driving was during the lap.

    2. Indeed, 4 tenths in qualifying doesn’t mean the same during the race, people keep forgetting australia 2018, I’ve been looking cause I was hoping for a competitive season, and we got that, I think hamilton was really significantly ahead in qualifying and many expected mercedes domination, then in the race I saw he was pulling away at a rate of 1,5-2 tenths per lap over raikkonen, which at least gave hopes of a competitive season, which eventually we got, and were it not for vettel’s mistakes it’d have probably made it into the final round.

  10. 0.3s diff problem + turned down engine meaning Red Bull was 0.4-0.5 s slower than in qualifying. Add to that Hamilton gaining maybe 0.1s lap time going off the track means the cars were evenly matched and maybe even slightly in Mercedes favor, ripping a massive hole in RaceFans’ gushing ‘superhuman Hamilton’ race performance.

    1. Agree with that, I’m one of those who weren’t impressed by hamilton’s performance, I felt verstappen deserved to win more than him.

      1. @esploratore On what basis did Verstappen “deserve” to win more than Hamilton?

        Asking for a friend.

    2. I don’t think the difference is 0.5-0.6 seconds in race trim!
      Medium (C3) tyres the difference is so small (maybe Mercedes advantage) with the hard (C4) the difference is much bigger in Red Bull favor.
      The Diff problem cost maybe 0.1-0.2 i think less but the rear tyres suffer much more. 29x times of track by Lewis in the beginning was enough to keep behind Max and the undercut did the rest.

  11. RB fastest in Bahrain-Max botched his overtake. Let’s see what the next race brings

  12. I have an opinion
    7th April 2021, 1:31

    The Mercedes power unit is a proven design: puissant and dependable. The Honda ICE is a new, radical design; powerful and light but pushing the limits. Its efficiencies leave less available for the MGU-H. Red Bull have the aerodynamic edge which may persist all season.

    I hope the championship comes down to the drivers, but I fear Mercedes will win via reliability.

    1. Well, when you have to complete 23 races (plus possibly three sprint races) with just three PUs, reliability will be a key factor that could well decide where both championships end up. But when hasn’t reliability been a major factor in F1?

  13. Im just not convinced the RB is faster, I can see verstappen grabbing maybe about 3-4 race wins, but that’s about it. With time, the consistency and dependable performance of Mercedes will get the job done.
    Though I think verstappen can beat Bottas in the championship

  14. 0.7 seconds difference at the end. Love it. MV fan, but what a fun I had. Too bad that these Pirelli’s are still not good enough for F1 performance. The only thing the cars connect to the track.

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