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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Explained: How Hamilton’s stranglehold on the F1 title is being challenged

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has a five-point lead over Hamilton.

Written by Shashank Nair , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
September 25, 2021 3:00:30 pm
Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1 race, F1 drivers, F1, Sports news, Indian express, indian express news, hamilton, indian express explained, express explainedLewis Hamilton joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013. (File)

Lewis Hamilton’s dominating five-year run at the apex of Formula One is being challenged for the first time. Nico Rosberg, who won the 2016 World Championship, was the last person to thwart the Brit. This time Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has put up a strong challenge for Hamilton’s throne.

The Belgian-Dutch driver is 23-years-old – a year older what Hamilton was when he won his first world title with McLaren. This will also be the first time since 2012 that a car from another team is challenging for Mercedes’ crown.

The youngster made his F1 debut in 2015, the year Hamilton won his third title. His season best so far was when finished third the past two years.

How is Mercedes’ dominance being challenged?

The Mercedes F1 team has been at the apex of the sport for the past five years. It has done so by combining a superior car and the skilled driver in Hamilton, who is now closing in on breaking Michael Schumacher’s record for most world titles – both have won seven World Championships each.

But all great cycles in sport come to an end. While Mercedes continues to have a car worthy of winning the World Championship, Red Bull have created a vehicle that can compete against the German manufacturers. At the helm of it is Verstappen, a young Dutch driver who has a five-point lead over Hamilton with eight races left in the season. Verstappen has benefited from an RB16B car that is able to accelerate from slower corners better than most other cars on the circuit.

Which circuits help which of the two drivers in the final eight races of the season?

The Russian GP, which is set to have its qualifying session on Saturday, has historically been a Mercedes stronghold. But this is the best Red Bull car in years and Mercedes winning this race is not set in stone.

As for the rest of the circuits, both the Mexican and Interlagos (Brazilian) GP are high downforce tracks and play right into the hands of Red Bull. Other than Russia, there really is no track that Hamilton and the Mercedes engineers could point to and call their own. Both Austin (US) and Istanbul (Turkish), set to host their own GPs, have a combination of high speed sweeps that Mercedes seems to excel in, and also the slower corners from where Verstappen can shoot out faster than any car in the F1.

Since there will be no Japanese GP, reports seem to suggest that Qatar would host it instead.

Is there a rivalry between the two?

Aside from which circuit favours whom, there is also the matter of a personal rivalry that has grown between the two. Monza showed that Verstappen would rather crash into the Brit driver than give him room to overtake.

Verstappen cannot say the same for Hamilton. There have been instances this season where Hamilton has allowed room to pass. As the 36-year-old’s experience has grown, so has the knowledge that one corner or one lap might not always decide a race.

“That’s really just through experience you find that balance and you know it’s not all won on one corner, so there will be other opportunities,” Hamilton said ahead of the Russian GP.

“I know what it’s like having to fight for your first championship and your eagerness and you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time. I do believe that we will continue to get stronger and I’m hopeful that we won’t have any more incidents through the year.”

Hamilton also spoke about how the pressure was going to keep mounting on Verstappen in his first ever real challenge for the title.

The youngster though pleased with Hamilton’s comments and said, “Yeah, I’m so nervous I can barely sleep. I mean, it’s so horrible to fight for a title. I really hate it. Those comments, it just shows you that he really doesn’t know me – which is fine. I also don’t need to know him, how he is. I’m very relaxed about all those things and I really can’t be bothered, I’m very chilled.”

Whose engine can hold on longer?

There is also the issue of engines. Because Verstappen lost his power unit during a crash at Silverstone, he will most likely need to serve a grid penalty. Considering that he will be also be facing a three-grid penalty for the Monza incident, now might be a good time for Red Bull to get the engine penalty out of the way as well.

The new power unit will ideally put the advantage on the back of Verstappen’s car with a fresher engine for the remainder of the season. But this could be mitigated if Mercedes too pull the plug on their engine and get Hamilton to serve out a grid penalty.

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