The 2021 Formula One season has officially begun and Sir Lewis Hamilton won the season opener for the first time since 2015. This time, however, the title race is much closer than in previous years as Max Verstappen has the pace and talent to take it to Hamilton and the dominance of Mercedes.
Hamilton deserves credit for holding off Verstappen’s late-race charge. If Hamilton is poised for his record-breaking eighth championship, he will have to pull off wins like that more often this year as the Red Bull cars have incredible pace.
Even with Hamilton’s win, is he still the clear championship favorite? The honest answer to that question is no, as Max Verstappen is going to take the fight to him this season.
Red Bull hasn’t won the Bahrain Grand Prix since 2013. This past Grand Prix was only Verstappen’s second career podium at the circuit as well. Red Bull had the better car overall and if it wasn’t for an inferior pit strategy, they may have fared much better in the race.
This past race has also shown that Red Bull’s second driver, Sergio Perez, will be a capable talent who’s able to compete against Mercedes number two in Valtteri Bottas. Perez started 20th on the grid after a technical issue on the flying lap but managed an impressive fifth-place finish in his debut for Red Bull.
The race also had its fair share of controversy as well. Hamilton repeatedly exceeded track limits and was warned by the race stewards. Verstappen also had this problem late in the race, where he passed Hamilton for the lead but relinquished the spot right after team instructions as he exceeded track limits for the overtake.
Verstappen is showing that the car is up to par with his talent as a driver. This race marked his second ever pole position in qualifying as he outpaced Hamilton by three-tenths of a second. His race pace was also top class as well, especially when he ran down Hamilton late in the race to challenge for the win.
It’s clear this year that the dominance of Mercedes easily being the best team in Formula One is over. Red Bull has built the car Verstappen needs to take the title fight to them, Perez being in the second car only makes this battle that much closer.
It is still only the first race of the season and there is still much that can change throughout the year. However, the 2021 Formula One season will see the epic title showdown between Verstappen and Hamilton that race fans have been dying to see since Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton in 2018.