All the clues from pre-season suggested 2021 would see the closest Formula 1 World Championship for years and, after two scintillating races to start the season, that seems to be the case.
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton leads the way by a single point ahead of Red Bull’s young charger Max Verstappen after the title favourites claimed a win apiece in Bahrain and Imola respectively.
Mercedes ace Hamilton kept his nose in front in the title race courtesy of the extra point he earned for setting the fastest lap at Imola. The Briton is aiming for an unprecedented eighth Drivers’ Championship, while his adversary Verstappen is yet to lead the standings in his F1 career.
Red Bull Have Made Progress
The Red Bull appears to hold a slight speed advantage over the Mercedes at present. It’s a classic situation with the Merc looking the better machine at full throttle, while the Red Bull is more nimble around the turns.
The relative performance of the two cars is likely to shift as the teams develop and improve their designs throughout the year, but there’s no reason to think the battle won’t stay close.
In addition to their drivers having won every title since 2013, Mercedes are on a run of seven consecutive Constructors’ Championships. And that sequence could be under threat from the charging Red Bull.
While Hamilton and Verstappen likely fight it out at the front, it is up to their unofficial number twos, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, to pick up as many points as they can for their teams.
Number Two as Crucial as Number One
Bottas has proved a perfect wingman for Hamilton in his four years at Mercedes. It’s a label the Finn himself hates, but not a particularly unfair one.
While he is capable of winning races and taking pole positions on his day, he has never provided a serious, sustained challenge to Hamilton, unlike his predecessor Nico Rosberg, the 2016 world champion.
Mexican veteran Perez joined Red Bull this season as the team moved away from the policy of placing one of their junior drivers in the second car.
At Imola, Perez became the first team-mate to qualify ahead of Verstappen since 2018, but despite his front-row start, he finished outside the points after an uncharacteristically error-strewn race.
With Bottas having crashed out while battling for ninth place, that was a golden opportunity blown for Red Bull to take the lead in the team standings. But while that will have hurt, Perez has shown enough to suggest he can make a solid contribution in a season where the secondary drivers will have a big say in the destination of the constructors crown.
Norris Shining Bright in Early Stages
McLaren have made a bright start to the season after switching from Renault to Mercedes power, with Lando Norris lying third in the early standings.
Ferrari have improved beyond recognition from last year, though a handful of podiums is the best they can realistically hope for.
The season continues in Portugal on May 2nd, with the third of 23 scheduled races.