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Hamilton having best-ever start to season despite “least competitive margin” in car

2021 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton has made his best-ever start to a Formula 1 season despite having one of the least competitive cars Mercedes has given him, according to a senior engineer at the team.

The Mercedes driver has taken three wins and a second place from the opening races, matching his previous best in the 2015 season. However he has one more point today than he did at the same stage that season, as he scored a bonus point for fastest lap at Imola, which was not available six years ago.

Mercedes enjoyed a much greater margin of superiority over the competition in 2015 than they did today. The team’s head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said he was therefore surprised to learn Hamilton has amassed his greatest points tally at this stage in the season.

“He’s doing a good job, isn’t he?” said Shovlin.

“I think to be honest, in Bahrain winter testing, what you could see with Lewis was he realised that he and the team were going to have to be absolutely perfect to be able to go out there and win races. And you also realise that one bad test was not an indication to him that this might be a championship he’s not in the running for.

“So it surprises me, that stat, because you think this is the least competitive margin that we’ve had for a number of years.

“But what I would say is he has arrived in a frame of mind that is just about maximising every little opportunity, be it on-track, be it in set-up based in how we approach the weekend.

“He brought that to Bahrain and we haven’t seen it wane at all since.”

Hamilton’s performance over the first four races of a season

Year1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10thOther
202131000000000
202030010000000
201922000000000
201811110000000
201712010000000
201602100010000
201531000000000
201430000000001
201300202000000
201200300001000
201111010001000
201001100200000
200900010110001
200810101000001
200703100000000

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2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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  • 84 comments on “Hamilton having best-ever start to season despite “least competitive margin” in car”

    1. I am having real trouble with the 2021 season’s narratives, say compared to the 2017 and 2018 season narratives.
      Before the season, everyone was sure that Red Bull would be fastest. In Bahrein they were, but on race pace only by a small margin. Imola, they were likely faster, but again in the race Hamilton could pretty easily keep up. Portimao and Barcelona: Mercedes quite a bit quicker.
      We like this season because Verstappen and Hamilton actually have battles, because there is a sense that Verstappen could beat Hamilton, even though the Merc is now probably the better car.

      But in 2017 and 2018, seasons we all quickly seem to forget, Ferrari actually won races with ease. We don’t remember those races much, because unlike in 2021, there was no real fight for victory. At some tracks you just accepted that Ferrari was fasted, and Vettel won. At others (enough) Merc was fasted, Hamilton won, and he was WDC.

      So what troubles me about this season is that there isn’t the same balance. The Merc will probably be fastest at the majority of the coming races, yet the narrative continues to be: ‘How did RB and Verstappen throw this one away’. The biggest mistake this season so far has come from Hamilton, yet he leads the WDC quite comfortably. RB isn’t actually as competitive as the Ferrari was in 2017 and 2018. And that needs to become clear to everyone right quick, or this whole season will be one giant disappointment and Hamilton love-in when he’s actually not having to do that much.

        1. Yes I hope it will not be boooooring again. Hamilton is great as is Mercedes, but they are ruining the sport. Please please let it NOT be another year of same old same old…..

          Reply moderated
          1. Your gripe should be with the other teams for not stepping up, not at Mercedes for “ruining the sport”.

      1. @hahostolze
        I think people will ask how Red Bull/Verstappen threw it away because Max has led or beaten Hamilton into turn 1 at EVERY race this year. In three of them, he’s lost out to Hamilton by the end. And, in all three races where Hamilton has won, there was a mistake by Red Bull/Verstappen or a poor decision was made with regards to strategy etc. Whilst it could be argued that Hamilton may have won without those mistakes, the fact is that they happened.

        1. @minnis Portimao Verstappen made a mistake, Bahrein maybe RB did. But both Portimao and Barcelona the Merc win was utterly inevitable, and it’s weirdly harsh on Verstappen and RB to claim otherwise. This is my problem with the season narrative perfectly encapsulated.

          1. Verstappen could have won at Barcelona if Redbull had followed Merc few strategy and pitted him a second time. We all saw when on equal tyres Hamilton had no chance of passing Verstappen. So no it was not inevitable.

            1. But that would have only worked had Verstappen pitted first and kept track position. A lap later, and Hamilton would have got passed with the undercut.

            2. If Verstappen pitted first he would come out behind Bottas. Hamilton would just stay out win anyway. Max did P2 with a car that was good for P3.

            3. No Medium tyres left and too long for softs, so no

      2. Well put, I think it’s worth remembering that Ferrari and Red Bull are quite different adversaries though. For all the performance Ferrari were able to bring to those seasons initially, they’ve not looked like a capable race team or got the most out of a driver pairing in a very long time. Red Bull on the other hand are imo the best race team on the grid, they consistently make the best strategic decisions, have the best pit crew and make fewer mistakes than anyone else so if there’s a team that could get into Merc’s performance window and put them under enough pressure to make it interesting it’s RB. It’ll be interesting to see how the season goes as RB have recently came on strong in the second half of the season, they might just need to get a bit more out of Perez.

        1. Well put @alec-glen, while Red Bull in previous years had a car that usually wasn’t quite there (at the start of the seasons), given an opportunity they always could be counted on to take it, while Ferrari might have had the fastest car in some (parts of) the last few seasons (not 2020, indeed), but they more often than not also had a good chance of squandering their results. I do think that Red Bull are a bit out of habit of fighting for the championship, and have to relearn how to make it count every race, maybe more than Verstappen hasn’t done that in F1 yet.

      3. @hahostolze

        Portimao and Barcelona: Mercedes quite a bit quicker.

        Based on what?
        Verstappen had the fastest lap in Q3 in Portimao and if you look at sector times he was fastest in all fastest sectors combined too. He just made a mistake in his first run and for the second attempt that track was slower (and even still he improved at the place where he made the mistake earlier).

        So he had the fastest car, but simply couldn’t get a good lap together when it mattered.

        He had the fastest lap in both races too. Even though one was deleted because yet another track limits error.

        So Verstappen was fastest in Q3 and fastest during the race for both of these. How does that lead to the conclusion that the car was “quite a bit” slower?

        It’s not the speed that is the issue though. Hamilton is better at tyre management and over a full race that means he can extract more performance out of them than others can. Apart from maybe Leclerc in Spain.

        Plus Verstappen made mistakes costing him those 3 wins. Like the failed overtake in Bahrain, lost it on exit onto straight in Portimao and pit stop mistake plus failing to cover undercut in Spain.

        It’s really a combination of Verstappen not doing well in Q3, not getting as much out of the tyres as Hamilton and making more mistakes.

        To be honest if he learns to fix just one (or perhaps two) of those three he should start to be able to win every race easy since he does have the faster car.

        1. @f1osaurus considering all attempts made by any number of very good posters here to convince you that you are talking rubbish, please forgive me for not trying to convince you.

          1. Yes, it’s absurd to expect verstappen to win races easily without those mistakes, there’s only a race that he could’ve won without a mistake and that is bahrain, apart from that mercedes was by far fastest in race pace, and no, a single fastest lap on new tyres doesn’t change the average pace of a race.

          2. @hahostolze You mean a couple of Verstappen fans like yourself not willing to acknowledge he has the fastest car? Sure.

            If with “convince me” you mean that they simply just state that Mercedes is fastest, just like you and that’s it. I present actual facts to support my opinion. How about you try to do the same? What makes it so obvious that Mercedes has the fastest car?

            1. @f1osaurus +1 I’m willing to concede Mercedes may have caught up in Barcelona on race pace, but Red Bull clearly started the season with qualifying and race advantage. We have to see further tracks and further developments. On another point – and this is irritating me beyond belief – it’s always about the package. VER+RedBull > BOT+Mercedes. Accepting HAM+Mercedes > VER+RedBull, how much is down to the car, and how much to the driver includingHamilton’s meticulous setup for Barcelona? The fact is he scraped poll but then was slightly faster over the race. It’s virtually impossible to draw the line for where the car begins and the driver ends. Driver input to the car design and setup is crucial when the margins are so close.

            2. Sour F1oSaurus…

              Verstappen and Hamilton are at the moment the ultimate stars. They are fighting a titanic battle, and will continue this season, I hope. We, as fans, are the winners to watch this season!

              So stop whining about the car, who has the benefit, who is the better, who is making more errors, how serious those errors are, and so on. Stop with the whining!

              Just sit back and enjoy this awesome show.

            3. @david-br Indeed, it’s hard to say over a whole race who actually performed best when just looking at race results.

              And yeah even how much of the speed of the car is in the driver leading the team to develop the best car and setting up the car for the track and conditions.

            4. @f1osaurus Final attempt from my side to enlighten what you should be looking at instead of your blunt favouritism for Lewis… and then I will never ever respond to you anymore. I am not part of the Verstappen clan, I sincerely enjoy the talent from both Lewis and Max. Please stop mixing up single lap, softest tyre, low fuel lap time with race pace. Only the latter wins races and determines dominance. So if you want facts please look at the race pace of both cars when on the same tyre. So again: do not look at Qualifying to determine what is the car that wins races. And even if you do not get that point, then please listen to @theredbaron and enjoy the sport and please stop whining. I wish you a happy life. Mayrton over and out.

            5. Mayrton I’m looking at all the things. It’s lame Verstappen fans like you that say “Ah it can’t be helped he has the slowest car”. You lot are the ones focusing only on that one aspect and I’m simply showing even that does not make sense.

              Before this season they would actually ad, “If only Verstappen had a competitive car he’d easily win every time, just like Hamilton”. Well he does and he’s getting spanked.

              But sure pretend you are a Hamilton fan. Cry me a river.

        2. F1trolloSaurus enters the local dimension.
          Poor boy, seek help!

        3. @F1oSaurus You are being intellectually dishonest if you try to argue that the car that sets the fastest lap is the only thing determining which is the fastest car over a race distance. Alonso scored a fastest lap in the McLaren Honda… I shouldn’t need to provide further evidence than that. Fastest single lap during a grand prix has as much or more to do with strategy, and who has the gap behind them at the end of the race to pit for brand new soft tyres, as it does with the car’s genuine, sustainable race pace.

          1. @keithedin Well that’s how it has always worked here. When a Mercedes sets pole. It means it’s the fastest car. Even though clearly it was only a one lap advantage due to for instance engine modes and long runs clearly indicated Ferrari or Red Bull were faster. So why should this definition change now?

            Besides, I’m not arguing just that. I’m countering the claim that Red Bull is slowest. If the car is fastest in Q3 AND fastest in the race. It’s really hard to argue that the car lost because it’s simply slower. At the very least it shows Verstappen could have gone faster if he applied the correct strategy or kept the tyres alive better.

            So yeah it’s a combination of multiple factors, but the point is that the “we couldn’t have won since we are simply too slow” is a lame copout. When comparing the Ferrari in Spain vs Mercedes and Red Bull sure Ferrari does not have the outright pace to get pole or the win. Between Mercedes and Red Bull really no, that’s just a lame excuse for failures made elsewhere.

            1. @f1osaurus Ok, but you’re still claiming that Redbull was fastest in Q3 and fastest in the race. In Barcelona neither of these were true (apart from aforementioned fastest lap, which is almost irrelevant). Mercedes was on pole so by that definition was ‘fastest’, and the best race comparison possible is when both cars are on the same tyre compound of the same or similar age, and in those conditions in the race Mercedes (in Hamilton’s hands) was definitely faster.

            2. @keithedin Well Edd Straw (or Peter Windsor) did an analysis and found that Verstappen had made an error in his first run and actually was faster in those sectors in his second run when the track was slower. So he argued that Verstappen was at least a tenth faster.

              And yes the 2,5s FL gap that Verstappen had on Hamilton showed he had plenty potential in that car. It’s a much bigger gap than they normally have with such an FL attempt. Especially since Hamilton was already 1.5 to 2s faster than Verstappen just before the overtake. Plus he was 1.3s faster than Bottas also trying a fast lap. This points out that Verstappen did have a lot of extra pace in the car available and a better strategy could have worked perfectly fine even if Hamilton had been ahead after the stop.

              Also the point is that none of that indicates even a little bit that Verstappen had the slower car.

              Either way, cute that you focus solely on the speed issue again when I have mentioned half a dozen parameters that were in play and then blame me for simplistically looking at only one issue -rolls eyes-

              No doubt some other Verstappen fan is going to knee jerk out some sob story about how you cannot just look at speed again.

      4. This is blatantly clear to me. Its just that the less knowledgeable viewers mistake single lap, softest tyre, no fuel lap times for race pace of the RB. I think we’ll have a full year of Max bashing ahead of us. So be it. This dominance surely must end some season, hopefully we will not have to wait until 2025. In the meantime let me make perfectly clear I am a Hamilton fan, but this is just getting ridiculous now.

        1. You know the narrative is silly when even hamilton fans admit this “mercedes is slower” is getting silly!

        2. I’m not mistaking anything. It shows which car is fastest. The definition of “fastest” is in being the fastest over the single lap.

          You can try to argue why Verstappen is not using the fastest car to do the race in the shortest time or to keep track position up until the end.

          1. pastaman (@)
            12th May 2021, 12:55

            That’s your definition. It is not the definition.

            1. @pastaman Well how else but looking at fastest lap times to determine the fastest car?

              Although granted, I know it’s supposed to be that if Hamilton takes pole, then it’s the pole time that shows who’s fastest and/or if Hamilton wins the race it’s by whatever definition that he has the fastest car.

              But if you want to use something actually measurable and more objective then what else but checking fastest lap times in Q3 and race?

              People like Peter Windsor and Edd Straw who say that Verstappen had the car with which he could and should have at least gotten pole in all 4 races.

            2. @pastaman Simple mental test: forget Hamilton. Imagine two Bottases racing for Mercedes. Who wins? Verstappen, right? I can’t imagine a single Verstappen fan (and I include myself to a certain point) who doesn’t believe that. So the differential factor for Max is having Hamilton in the other Mercedes. As he made abundantly clear on the radio in Barcelona.

            3. pastaman (@)
              12th May 2021, 14:40

              That is too simple a definition. You are not taking into account fuel loads, tires, traffic, racing conditions, lap of race, ability to follow other cars, etc. I guess I can’t expect nuance out of the internet though

            4. pastaman (@)
              12th May 2021, 14:49

              @david-br please run your mental test also with no Verstappen in the RB

            5. @pastaman I do, obviously. Mercedes look way ahead. Red Bull a second down in qualifying in Spain. Mercedes an easy 1-2.

            6. Is not so easy to imagine a RB without Verstappen because since Ricciardo left they were unable to serve the driver in the other car.
              People just love this narrative that Red Bull is an average car and Verstappen is some form of racing God. Teenage stuff, really.
              They operate today just like Benetton did in the Schumacher days. The guy in the other car is always going to look bad, no wonder Ricciardo left.

            7. @pastaman No it’s not too simple a definition it’s just one aspect in the whole race.

              The lame excuse that Horner, Verstappen and his fans make that Verstappen couldn’t have won simply because the car is too slow is just repugnant. They are the ones making this about car speed. And then I point out the car was most likely faster if anything and then I get this nonsense about looking at it to narrow?

              It’s not like he’s driving a Ferrari or less. The car has the pace, but due to his and team mistakes he didn’t get the maximum out of the car.

              Just stopping too early for his first stop by mistake already pretty much cost Verstappen the race. It allowed Hamilton to go longer and seeing how Verstappen ran out of tyres well before the end of the race, that mistake already could have been enough for Hamilton to win.

              Then not pitting when Hamilton made his second stop was the second blunder. Perhaps this is easier to say in hindsight, but analysts showed that Verstappen had the gap to come out ahead if he had come in immediately. Making it till the end on a new set of softs is a lot more likely than on worn mediums. Several drivers did.

              Also, not being prepared for a two stop race by having a set of mediums available is a fault Verstappen made

              Indeed look at everything and see how Hamilton beat Verstappen on a lot of things, but don’t come with the BS that the car was slower.

            8. pastaman (@)
              13th May 2021, 12:53

              @f1osaurus you must have argued with your teachers a lot as a kid.

            9. @pastaman True. Also with my students when I taught at university :)

          2. Nobody here (not even you!!) can be that ignorant. Comparing the artificial FLAP scored by a last-minute tyre change to softs (which I dislike, losing about 20 seconds in the pitstop get 1-2 seconds less in track sounds like a terrible mistake, but hey it’s 1 point so it’s worth it. Thats why I loathe the 1 point for FLAP rule. But I digress) with a normal racing FLAP is utterly preposterous and of course you know it.

            Obviously nobody buys it, so who are you trying to swindle?

            1. Well it shows the car had plenty speed. Read some of the other replies where I added a lot more. I can’t repeat all of it every time some cries that Verstappen had no chance because his sad car was so much slower.

      5. Suggestion:
        – Stop considering Lewis as the one doing nothing and not making a difference
        – Stop considering Mercedes as the fastest car

        And hen maybe you will have no problems with narrative…

        1. pastaman (@)
          12th May 2021, 15:48

          You can’t remove Hamilton from the consideration without also removing Verstappen from the consideration. *facepalm*

      6. Hamilton’s mistake was the biggest in terms of the visuals ofbot, but it cost him nothing. Verstappen’s tiny mistakes on the other hand have cost him a dozen points, such is the ferocious speed of Hamilton, that Verstappen can not afford to do these small mistakes anymore. This is a driver vs driver 2 way championship fight like we hand seen in a while and mistakes will decide the championship, they already are.

      7. Plus the numbers get flattered by not having a third top team in the mix. In 2017-2018 the Red Bull’s were (almost) always in the pit window aswell, giving them much less freedom strategy wise.

        This year he’s only battling Verstappen and Bottas. And Bottas has already been told to move in the 4th GP.

        1. both 2nd drivers were told to move in the 4th GP.
          And both are already 40+ points away from their team mates in four races.. What would you expect ?

          1. Both team orders were however very reasonable: if perez had tried to hold up verstappen at that point he might’ve cost him the place to hamilton, he was at the limit, and bottas holding up hamilton also didn’t help him, but he had such a margin on tyres that it proved irrelevant.

      8. Harsha Vardhan
        12th May 2021, 18:01

        Well all got Merced again for 8th time

      9. Spot on

        Reply moderated
    2. Good point re the Ferrari comparison.

      I don’t think the headline or data is very useful – the start of 2016 Ham had a bad start – because he was being beaten by another Merc driven by Rosberg!

      Shovlin has hardly given Hamilton a Williams.

      1. Hamilton had a “bad start” in 2016 because once he got punted off at turn 1 by Bottas and in two other races he had to start from P10 and from P22 due to technical issues in quali. That’s 3 out of 4 races already lost yes.

        1. He had a lot of bad starts in 2016. That was partly the reason he lost that season.

          1. Both Mercs had bad starts in 2016, most down to clutch issues.

            Both drivers had 2 bad starts that were of their own doing. Rosberg in Germany and Hungary, Hamilton in Monza and Japan.

            People trying to detract from Rosbergs bullet proof reliability in comparison to HAM in 2016 always cling on to the myth that Hamilton lost the title through a number of bad starts of his own making, when the reality is both made the same amount of poor starts of their own making.

          2. Yes indeed Mercedes had a start system issue. Both cars were affected though. Although the car on pole usually had more of an issue and so Hamilton would probably be more prone to facing the issue.

            Also since when Rosberg was on pole in 2016 that was usually because Hamilton didn’t participate (fully) in Q3 and would be starting from the pitlane, back of the grid or P10 or something. So even if he did have a slightly worse start it wouldn’t matter much.

            Two times of the only of three times when Rosberg started from pole with Hamilton on P2 (Hungary and Germany)… Rosberg lost the position at the start due to a start system issue. So Rosberg was technically less often affected, but it cost him about the same over the whole season.

            Rosberg explained that the system lost traction going over the (then wet) start line in Germany.

            Gav,

            By Mercedes own account it actually affected 7 races. I counted 3 for Rosberg and 4 for Hamilton. But I think you mentioned the most notable ones yes. Although also Australia was bad where they were both passed by Ferrari at the start.

    3. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      12th May 2021, 9:08

      Well, he was sort of saved at Imola by the safety car that literally came after a mistake that could potentially have cost him a points finish. Hamilton seems to be a bit of a magnet for good luck after he makes a mistake at times.

    4. Ha ha. That off into the barrier in Imola reminded me a lot of his off in china 2007 when he binned it on a little patch of grass barely bigger than his car.
      This time he was allowed to reverse onto the track. Normally that’s a no no. But there you go.

      1. No its not. Max did it in Monaco, Its been done in Baku plenty of times. Stop making stuff up.

      2. Reversing in the pit lane is the big no no. Reversing on track to remove a car from a dangerous position happens plenty.

      3. Explain how you think reversing on track is a no no. Your hero Verstappen did it in monaco where he always crashes :) Verstappen is favourite to win at Monaco this year, do if he crashes again don’t blame Merc dominance :)

        1. Max did reversed in Monaco in FP3 all under yellow (same as Lewis did) so it’s allowed. In pits only when his crew pushing him back to the box (not by himself)

        2. Last year he didn’t crash and i am sure an other year which he finished 8 or ninth or something.

    5. It is clear Lewis finally experiences some pressure after Rosberg left. So smart to start the season better, which was frankly never needed before. But he knows by now nr 8 is in the bag. Mercedes on top again. I cant wait til those rule changes

      1. The rules changed this year when have made Redbull equal quick to Merc.

        1. That was the objective but it all already fell apart after 1 race. Mercedes simply has such a pace advantage. I bet they have a regular meeting on Friday to determine how far they wont have to go with turning up the engine. It is a great compliment to a great team but frankly also a bit boring after all these seasons. RedBull simply does not deliver again. I feel sorry for Max, but his time will come anyway. He has a 13 year advantage over Hamilton or so

    6. Lewis has always been blindingly quick. That was clear from his debut season. But I can’t remember the last time he had a properly off weekend as he seemed to have occasionally a few years ago. His relentless consistency is simply incredible. That’s how you win championships. His motivation just never seems to wane.

    7. I know we all have our favourites but looking at the Max v Lewis in black and white terms isn’t productive or quite frankly interesting. As you grow up you realise that very little in life is black and white and is mostly shades of grey and one of the great joys for me of F1 is its complexity and subtly of impact of numerous factors impacting a race.

      So my take would be:
      – the Red Bull seems to have been the slightly faster car in qualifying so far this year although that advantage seems to have been decreasing over the races even to the point that the Merc may have been ahead in Spain which may have been down to a combination of types of track or car development
      – Possibly Max has made more minor errors and not got the qualifying results he might have but Lewis hasn’t always been error free either having beaten by Bottas
      – In races it has been different. The Merc has been more comparable to the Red Bull from the start and has seemingly been faster near the end of the stints which probably have different explanations. Tyres are unlikely to the difference at the start and this may be that the Merc has a more efficient power unit that allows them to carry less fuel or something of that nature. Clearly Lewis has a tyre advantage at the end of the stints compared to Max which is may be due to the car itself and/or the way Lewis drives compared to Max. As Peter Windsor pointed out in his Spain post-race support the way Lewis drove in comparison to Max would have led to lower tyre wear. Whether that is only down to Lewis is another matter entirely, it seems unlikely and before anyone piles in and says this a deficiency in Max’s driving, he may need to be hustling the Red Bull that way to get sufficient speed and if he drove it more like Lewis the car may be significantly slower – this is very hard to determine from the outside
      – Both Max and Lewis have made mistakes in the races but clearly Lewis has made the worst one which he remarkably got away with – in large part sheer luck with the red flag but also some credit for carving back up through the field too
      – We can also look back at their team mates for extra insight. From previous seasons it has been clear that Bottas is proportionately better in qualifying than in the race and for Perez the reverse. If you compare lap times for Spain on the interactive chart you can see fairly similar times between the two of them with perhaps Perez on the whole very slightly faster although you have to note the later first pit stop. Given their performances in qualifying and in the race are in line with their relative performance in previous seasons it would that the cars themselves are closely matched with no clear evidence of superior performance either way
      – Looking back over the past 3 seasons then Lewis had comprehensively beaten Bottas and Max has beaten his teammates by an even bigger margin but quality/experience of team mates and other factors don’t make this a simple comparison

      The evidence as it stands points to both being absolutely top drivers and ahead of all the rest and very closely matched and as they are, you will need a pretty big body of evidence to come to a more certain conclusion. If the cars maintain comparable performance through the rest of the season we might well get a better idea than previous seasons with the car performance gaps as they were. I’m really looking forward to it.

      1. Lewis is better at setting up the car than Max and RedBull.

      2. I agree with much of what you state.

        RBR began the season with ahead in terms of qualifying and race pace. The former by a larger margin than the latter. By last weekend, qualifying pace seemed more or less equal and Mercedes slightly ahead in race pace.

        However, there’s a huge caveat or two, in fact. First, drivers do make a significant difference and second, the car, driver and team package, also makes a difference. These two differences are causally related to the results we are seeing.

        Verstappen could have won in Bahrain and failed to take his opportunity. Hamilton drove brilliantly that race. To me, that race was decided by driver error and driver brilliance.

        In Portimao, Verstappen squandered the opportunity for pole and we will never know if that could have been the difference between him finishing second or on the stop step of the podium. What is without doubt, is that the biggest driver error resulted in Red Bull not being on pole.

        At Imola, the Russell-Bottas red flag enabled Hamilton to recover from what would otherwise have been a significant points loss.

        I would argue that the result in Spain was down to the Mercedes package being superior to the RBR. Although both Horner and Verstappen said that Mercedes was faster and gave the example of Hamilton following so close to Verstappen on the same tyres, Bottas wasn’t able to do the same behind Leclerc in a ‘slower’ Ferrari. Similarly, whilst Hamilton sliced through the field at Imola in his recovery drive, Bottas found the going much tougher. Ergo, within a team, the package is not the same.

        Verstappen is a fast, hard, ruthless and widely lauded driver. He is often put at the same level as Hamilton, whilst the likes of Alonso and Vettel are relegated a tier. Verstappen was fast-tracked into F1 without the experience of battling for and winning championships. Since Riccardo departed, he has not challenged by a team mate in qualifying or races. The hyperbole surrounding Verstappen is huge and is not matched by experience or achievement. I would argue that the reverse is true for Hamilton, much of his achievements are underplayed and attributed to the car. At least, that’s the spin put by a lot of fans and pundits.

        It was interesting to see the comments of Fernando Alonso and Damon Hill, two men who know a thing about driving and winning in F1. They seem to be in no doubt that F1 is witnessing greatness. Mercedes are a great team and have one of the great team principals in Toto Wolff. They also have one of the greatest F1 drivers. One thing I notice about Woolf-Hamilton-Mercedes is that they never boast, choosing instead to praise their opponent and commit to working harder to eek out a little more performance. They also relish the battle and enjoy the position of hunter, chasing down a faster competitor. I cannot remember seeing Hamilton being as happy as he seems now. He’s thriving with the competition Verstappen and RBR are presenting.

        I hope it’s a tight season and look forward to Verstappen and Hamilton and their respective teams putting each other under immense pressure to see who comes out on top. If Verstappen beats Hamilton then he deserves all the plaudits. Until then, the 7 x WDC is the Man. Thus far this season, with the exception of his off in Imola, Hamilton is delivering at a superior level. To my mind, Leclerc is the only other driver on the grid who is doing the same.

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      3. sheer luck with the red flag

        The red flag is an arbitrary decision, not a matter of luck

        1. Yes, of course, but there’s no denying it came at an incredibly opportune moment for Hamilton.

          That said, I’m sure at some point this season Verstappen will be in a position to take advantage of a fortunate circumstance.

    8. @wheel-nut Agreed. Although I would argue that looking at Perez for a benchmark is quite useless. Since by his own admission he doesn’t know how to drive the car.

      I’d say Perez never showed to be top level material to begin with, but lets see if Perez can actually perform somewhat decently maybe mid season or something. I don’t see how people think he will ever fare any better than Gasly or Albon did with the way that team is set up around Verstappen.

      The way Verstappen struggled against Ricciardo until Red Bull decided to focus mostly on Verstappen (and even after to be honest) is a more fair comparison.

      Besides it’s easier to drive around more than 7 tenths slower per lap during the race, like Perez did in Spain, than it is to do be within a few tents in Q3. Not sure how that qualifies as doing better in the race.

      That it’s (relatively) close between the Mercedes drivers is a testament to how fair Mercedes is and how good the feedback is that they get from the drivers, that they can develop a car that’s for the most part drivable on the limit by both drivers. And even a first timer like Russell.

      1. Even mercedes team is obviously set around hamilton, yet bottas does decently, certainly compared to gasly and albon, and dare I say even perez is already closer to verstappen than those 2 were.

    9. Mercedes figured out what was going wrong with how their low-rake design was being affected by the rules changes after Bahrain. They then proceeded to develop the car, finding various marginal gains. Red Bull (for once) did an excellent development job in the off season and arrived with at Bahrain with a car slightly faster than the Mercedes.

      This is no longer the case. That’s why Verstappen seemed so annoyed after quali in Portugal. “Where the hell did my margin go?” I could almost hear it, the body language was so clear.

      Mercedes are still taking RB seriously because the latter are so good at in-season development. The margin Merc has right now will evaporate in a race or two as RB figure out what’s making the car so twitchy and hard on the tires during a race. This will return Perez to the front, finally giving RB the devastating one-two strategy punch of an ascendant driver backed up by an extremely good one that Merc has had since Bottas arrived. This is the secret sauce that allows Merc to exploit any opponent’s strategy mistake (and remove most strategy options) with devastating effect. Another team able to field such a duo will neutralize this critical advantage.

      So, IMO, in spite of Lewis’s superb start to the season, it ain’t even close to over yet.

      1. Also I have a problem with hamilton’s superb start of the season: he would normally have come 7th or 8th in imola, and that already makes it no longer his best start of a season.

        1. he would normally have come 7th or 8th in imola

          Or he would normally have lapped George without incident and pursued Max and overtaken him with a few laps to go? What is normal to you?

          1. Looking back at Imola, did you slam the desk when you saw the replays of THAT crash? Desky slammy desky slammy.

      2. Thanks for that. I needed some perspective/hope on a decent season. Let’s hope your right.

    10. I’m shocked that the team with a lengthy history of sand-bagging appear to have been sand-bagging yet again!

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    11. The stats might show this to more perception than fact, but I can’t remember seeing Hamilton getting passed on track for position so often as this season. And it’s been a while since we saw two different constructors running nose to tail lap after lap and in contention to win. Everyone’s been dreaming for 5 years about Verstappen getting a car that let’s him go wheel to wheel with Hamilton and here it is. Let’s appreciate it.

    12. This might be his best season start ever, but last year Lewis won at all 4 GPs we’ve had so far.

      1. Yes, last year was terrible in terms of competition, mercedes only lost 4 races, 2 on pace to red bull, silverstone #2 mostly due to a better tyre degradation from red bull, and it was a great win from verstappen to beat 2 mercedes who could employ strategic games against him, and abu dhabi where red bull seemed simply faster, and 2 other races due to mostly pit wall mistakes, see hamilton pitting at monza while dominating during a time he couldn’t, or russel almost winning his only mercedes race in bahrain #2 and getting the tyre mix up and then the puncture.

    13. The sooner we agree that Mercedes didnt have the fastest car in 2017, 18, 19 and 21, the better.

      1. I’d say 2018 was the most competitive season lately, cars were even, ferrari marginally faster even till they went into a wrong development direction around the last 3 races, but in any case vettel’s mistakes made it a sure win for hamilton, 2017 mercedes was a bit faster and more reliable, especially so in the 2nd half of the season, 2019 ferrari had nothing, just straight line pace, not even decent reliability, and 2021 red bull hasn’t been bad but mercedes will most likely have reliability advantage (perez had to start last due to a problem in bahrain) and they already seem to have a race pace advantage and to have caught up in qualifying.

    14. HAM best [Re]start of the season gets a whole different meaning after Baku..

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