Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen: Q&A on F1 title run-in as Mercedes and Red Bull await final 2021 battles



What’s the current state of play in the championship?

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have been trading a slender title lead back and forth for much of the season – there have been five lead changes already – but right now the Red Bull driver has the advantage.

After out-scoring Hamilton at the Turkish GP, Verstappen is six points ahead with just six races to go.

In the constructors’ battle, Mercedes have a 36-point lead over Red Bull.

Max Verstappen wishes he had a bit more pace overall but felt it was a great result for the team in Turkey

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Max Verstappen wishes he had a bit more pace overall but felt it was a great result for the team in Turkey

Max Verstappen wishes he had a bit more pace overall but felt it was a great result for the team in Turkey

So Verstappen is the favourite at the moment?

Not exactly. Verstappen has been the driver to beat for most of this season – with seven wins to Hamilton’s five and eight poles to Hamilton’s three – but it is the seven-time champion and Mercedes who have been in ominous form since the summer break.

Verstappen won in Belgium, on a heavily disrupted and wet weekend, and Zandvoort, at a track which suited Red Bull, but Hamilton was significantly faster than his rival at the last three races, in Italy, Russia and Turkey.

That just isn’t reflected in the points.

Hamilton and Verstappen were both point-less at Monza thanks to their crash, while Verstappen managed a one-point swing over the next two rounds despite the difference in pace, rather fortunately limiting the damage of his engine penalty at Sochi, and capitalising on Hamilton’s in Istanbul.

This isn’t to say Hamilton is the overwhelming favourite by any means, but with such a small points deficit and Mercedes on a run of form, the ever-changing 2021 momentum seems to be swinging his way somewhat.

Mercedes are now faster than Red Bull, then?

It’s hard to make a definitive judgement with the difference between the teams often track-specific, but Mercedes’ domination of Red Bull in Turkey certainly pointed towards that statement.

At a circuit where it was expected to be even between the two teams, perhaps even slightly favouring Red Bull, Mercedes convincingly out-paced the title challengers, with Valtteri Bottas a comfortable victor.

That also sealed Mercedes’ first back-to-back wins since rounds three and four of the campaign.

Where have they found their pace?

There are a few theories for that one. Mercedes put it down to a far better understanding of, and confidence in, a car that was difficult to tame at the start of the season, while the upgrade that was debuted back at Silverstone also now seems to be working its magic.

Red Bull, however, insist that the big difference between the teams now is the straight-line speed. Red Bull, having looked faster earlier this year, are currently struggling to catch the Mercedes car on the straights, and Christian Horner said the Silver Arrows have taken a “significant step” with their engine.

Mercedes deny those claims, stating that the new Power Units have only been focused on reliability and crediting their straight-line speed with different wing levels.

Either way, their car has been very fast in recent races.

Are Red Bull concerned? Can they fight back?

Max Verstappen’s mood certainly seems to have changed recently, going from his pretty confident demeanour to phrases like “it’s not going to change the world for me if we finish first or second at the end of the year”. He also said in Turkey: “I do think we need to step it up a bit to be in the fight until the end of the season.”

Horner, though, insisted that while upgrades are all-but-impossible with the new generation of cars on their way, the team and Verstappen are “fighting at it and we’re not giving up everything” in 2021.

“To be at this stage of the championship leading the drivers and still in touch with the constructors, that’s phenomenal,” he said. “We’re loving this fight, enjoying this scrap, and there’s some tracks coming up where it could go either way.”

Martin Brundle believes Lewis Hamilton 'made a mistake' by disagreeing with his Mercedes team over strategy at the Turkish Grand Prix

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Martin Brundle believes Lewis Hamilton ‘made a mistake’ by disagreeing with his Mercedes team over strategy at the Turkish Grand Prix

Martin Brundle believes Lewis Hamilton ‘made a mistake’ by disagreeing with his Mercedes team over strategy at the Turkish Grand Prix

What races are left and who could they suit?

The season continues with the United States GP this weekend before races in Mexico, Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Austin’s Circuit of the Americas tends to be a Hamilton and Mercedes stronghold but Sky F1’s Martin Brundle said of this year’s battle: “I would expect it to be a bit nip and tuck between the two teams.”

F1 2021’s final six races

October 24 United States GP Austin
November 7 Mexican GP Mexico City
November 14 Brazilian GP Interlagos
November 21 Qatar GP Doha
December 5 Saudi Arabian GP Jeddah
December 12 Abu Dhabi GP Yas Marina

He added on the remaining tracks: “I think when we get into the next two circuits, Mexico and Brazil, at higher altitude we see that the Honda engine really seems to work well there and generate more power.

“So I would say Mexico and Brazil should favour Red Bull, maybe Abu Dhabi too. Max dominated there last year.

“We don’t know about Qatar, that’s a completely new Grand Prix and so is Saudi Arabia, so those are great unknowns. It’s even-stevens I would say for the last six races.”

Could reliability still play a factor?

It could, although Verstappen and Hamilton both have fresh fourth engines now and both teams are confident that they will last until the end of the season. Toto Wolff didn’t rule out taking a fresh Power Unit and engine penalty at some stage, though if that happens it would likely be tactical, rather than enforced.

One thing that can’t be completely ruled out is a DNF via a crash, as we have seen between Verstappen and Hamilton before this season after some very feisty scraps. Red Bull and Mercedes don’t agree on much, but they do both acknowledge that losing points in that manner at this stage of this season would be catastrophic.

Who’s going to finish the season as champions?

There’s only one place to find out. Watch all six races to finish a thrilling season live on Sky Sports F1, starting with this weekend’s United States GP.





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