A symbolic moment in sports is that of the change of the guard. It’s a defining moment, usually in a conflict, between an already established legend and a young rising star. For it to be a proper change in the guard, it must be the rising star who has the best of the aging legend, demonstrating they are worthy.
In 2021, a transition year for F1 which will lead into a massive change in regulations for 2022, expectations are high for a battle between Max Vestappen and Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen is no rookie, he has been racing in F1 since 2015, debuting at only 17 years old, and has been the only challenger to Mercedes’ dominance in the past years.
The Dutch prodigy has scored 10 race wins and 43 podiums, but never before has his Red Bull car been so competitive. On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton is arguably the greatest ever in Formula 1 history. He has 96 wins and counting, a record that may very well never be broken, and 7 world championships titles, equal to the great Micheal Schumacher.
As mentioned, Verstappen was one of the few drivers who could put up with Mercedes’ pace quite regularly during their 7 years of dominance in the sport. However, there isn’t much that a single driver can do in order to try and upset the champions, especially when the Mercedes’ car is better and help from his teammate isn’t always available.
That was the case until 2021. The new regulation changes that are edging towards the big revolution happening in 2022 were made for less air turbulence from the cars to make for closer racing and better entertainment. This hurt Mercedes very much, as they are known for having really good downforce and a very stable and predictable car.
As shown in Bahrain over the course of the weekend, if Mercedes want to get their eighth title in a row, they’re going to have to be on top of their game every single race weekend. In fact, it was Max Verstappen who drew first blood by scoring himself a pole position with a margin of nearly half a second over Hamilton, proving that the Redbull has some serious, serious pace.
During the race Hamilton and Verstappen traded first place constantly, but in the end it was Mercedes’ strategy that prevailed, as well as some great defending from Hamilton in the final laps.
The thing that has arguably been in favour of Mercedes in the past years is the consistency of their second car, driven by Valterri Bottas. The finn has pulled his weight every season he has been at Mercedes, occasionally winning races and mostly always getting a podium and solid points.
The same can’t be said for the second Redbull car until now. Historically, drivers who have aired up with Max Vestappen have never quite been able to match the dutch man’s pace, except for Daniel Ricciardo until 2018. After Daniel left, Redbull looked into their junior program in order to get a young talent driving for them. However, neither Pierre Gasly nor Alex Albon were able to deliver the standard required by Red Bull, and both of them had a short lived spell there. This has led to Redbull looking outside of their driver pool and signing Sergio Perez. Perez has been one of the most consistent drivers in the midfield and has shown he can outdrive his car on multiple occasions. Along with bringing consistency and good support for Verstappen, he also brings loads of experience.
Given a strong car like the Redbull’s, Perez can do great things as he demonstrated in Bahrain. After dropping to last place after his electrical circuit cut out on the formation lap, he fought through the field and finished 5th, so one can only wonder what he could have done if he started closer to the front.
Having Sergio Perez consistently at the front of the grid is a huge advantage for Max Verstappen this season, as it enables him and Redbull to bring new strategies to the table and really go after Mercedes.
Max winning the title however is easier said than done. The Dutch star is going to have to be on top of it every single race and be extremely consistent because there is simply no way Lewis Hamilton is going to let Redbull have an easy ride to the trophy. As he showed in the first race of the season in Bahrain, Hamilton has the talent and the race craft to fend off Verstappen’s attacks. Relying heavily on his experience, Hamilton forced Verstappen into a mistake while he was trying to overtake him, which led to Hamilton winning the race despite having tires much older than Verstappen’s.
However this season will go, fans hope to see Redbull take the fight to Mercedes and put up a good challenge. There are already people who are comparing this season to the 2005 one, when a young Fernando Alonso dethroned the legendary Micheal Shcumacher after years of dominance by him and the Ferrari. The truth is that it’s far too early to make assumptions and comparisons, however we do know that these are two brilliant drivers racing in arguably the most competitive grid as of the last ten years, which will make every race filled with entertainment.