Stellar start for Max
F1 has longed for a season like this.
Two 10/10 drivers from two different teams, each with title contending machinery going head to head.
This could well end up being the season that 2018 was supposed to be. Lewis Hamilton was eventually crowned the clear winner then despite the capability of the Ferrari in the hands of Sebastian Vettel.
But before that, you’d have to go back to 2012 when Vettel claimed his first world title, or even 2008, when Hamilton snatched his opening championship from the hands of Massa on the final corner at Brazil, to see a cross team battle of the magnitude we look to have on our hands here.
Verstappen is leading the championship by 12 points and deservedly so. It speaks volumes of the young driver that Hamilton, who was enjoying the strongest start of his glittering career after three races, has been gapped, albeit slightly, in the championship standings.
Since Hamilton’s strong start to 2021 a lack of performance in Monaco, an unfortunate error in Azerbaijan, where the Verstappen also suffered a tyre blow out, and second to Max in France leaves the Dutchman sitting pretty as we head to Austria.
Red Bull look to have the strongest car, certainly in the hands of Max, and they have their winning mojo back having now taken three on the spin. With Mercedes head honcho, Toto Wolff, saying last month on Sky that development had now turned fully to 2022’s model – is this now Red Bull’s championship to lose?
Tale of the 2s
Bottas has been playing second fiddle to Hamilton since he arrived at Mercedes and the Finn has never quite been able to apply the pressure to Lewis in the same way Nico Rosberg did in the years prior.
That has continued to be the case this year, although Bottas was denied a certain second place in Monaco, after outpacing Hamilton, until an error with a wheel nut forced him to retire.
Mercedes will certainly need him to be back to his best to help take points of Red Bull for both the Driver and Constructer Championships.
Over at Red Bull, Sergio Perez was struggling initially and still doesn’t look to be quite at home in his new car, despite a win in Azerbaijan. He does, rather ominously for Mercedes, look to be finding his feet now though. That win in Baku was backed up by a solid third in last weekend’s French Grand Priz.
The Mexican was aided by a good strategy call to pip Bottas at the close having initially looking off the pace.
More from McLaren
McLaren’s revival is continuing its upward curve. Young Brit Lando Norris sits an impressive third in the championship despite having far inferior machinery to both Red Bull and Mercedes and it looks like the Woking outfit will be locked in a battle with Ferrari for third in the Constructors until the end of the year.
If McLaren are to finish third, they’ll need Ricciardo to up the pace after enjoying an indifferent start to life in his new machinery, but, in a similar vain to Perez, he looks to be finding his feet after a solid showing in France.
What about Ferrari?
Ferrari has been consistently inconsistent for at least a decade in Formula 1. For two or three years they’ve had a championship winning car but haven’t been able to get it over the line and, although that isn’t the case this year, they have looked particularly strong in quali trim at low grip, street circuits (Monaco & Azerbaijan) but struggled more with race pace.
That was again the case in France with Leclerc finishing out the top 10, despite starting seventh, after being hindered by high tyre wear and a poor strategy.
We now head to Austria for back to back races and this Spielberg double-header really could be hugely significant for both championships. If Red Bull prove to have the quickest car here then they have a great chance to put some serious distance between themselves and Mercedes in both the Driver and Constructer Championships.
Mercedes, on the other hand, will need to get their set up right, and quickly, to help them topple Christian Horner’s team on their home track.
Hamilton, in particular, has struggled to get his car tuned in from the off and he has been on the back foot going into Saturday for the last three races. This needs to change if he has serious aspirations of becoming F1’s greatest with eight World Championships – Red Bull & Verstappen simply look too good otherwise.