Following the 2021 aerodynamic regulation changes, Mercedes (due to their low-rake aero philosophy) started 2021 on the back foot, with last year’s 2nd place finishers Red Bull looking like the favorites early on in the season.
After a thrilling Bahrain Grand Prix, winner Lewis Hamilton stated that it would take a lot of hard work from Mercedes in order to keep up, considering his win in Sakhir an error in Red Bull’s strategy that will likely not happen again.
In a race not without controversy, Verstappen overtook Hamilton for the lead in the closing laps of the race only to be told that he should give the position back to the Brit. Following this event, the FIA has announced that track limits rules will be changed for Imola, possibly making things even harder for Hamilton in the races to come.
Considering that he was driving at his peak, Hamilton mentioned that he was always aware of the Red Bull threat, saying: “Each year they’re talking about when you’ve hit your peak (…) I think I’m probably at that and Max is really doing well at the moment too. So it’s going to take everything and more for us to put in performances like this. We love the challenge, I love the challenge – I still love what I do.”
Even though this is not the first time Hamilton has to withstand challenges during his 7 championship-winning years, with then Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel being the last one to really push Lewis during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, him and Mercedes seem to call 2021 “the toughest” start they have ever experienced, opening up about not being on the same pace as Red Bull.
“This has got to have started off as one of the toughest, if not the [toughest seasons] (…) I think 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 but obviously I thought we could get closer in the race – but that was a little bit too close for my liking!”, Hamilton said after Bahrain.
He added: “The thing is, 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.”
2021 has been Red Bull’s best start of the season in the turbo-hybrid era, with Mercedes having to play a little bit of catch-up. Will the German team rise back up to glory, or will we see Red Bull triumphing this year with Max Verstappen?