Monday, 11 Oct 2021. 7:10 AM
Only six points separate Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 world championship. Before the last six Grands Prix of the year, two of which are new, it is impossible to say who will be best equipped for the title.
The battle in F1 had not been so close since 2016. But that season, rivals Nico Rosberg and Hamilton had the same Mercedes car. In 2021, Red Bull is on a level playing field, and no circuit seems promised to either team – especially the last six to visit.
The next three GPs (United States, Mexico and Brazil) could not be organized last year due to a pandemic, leaving the teams without fresh data to analyze.
As for the last three, two are completely new (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and the last, Abu Dhabi, has been remodeled to allow more spectacle on a circuit known to be boring.
“I stopped trying to anticipate”
At the Turkish GP on Sunday, Mercedes won with Valtteri Bottas ahead of Verstappen, while Hamilton finished fifth (starting eleventh after an engine change penalty).
The German team was going “really faster” according to the Dutchman, who could not catch up with Bottas, who started from the leading position. Would the star brand thus arrive in a position of strength in the United States on October 24?
“I stopped trying to anticipate whether it is historically a strong race for us or not, because with the new regulations everything has changed so much”, replies the boss of the Mercedes team, Toto Wolff. “We knew Monza and Sochi would be more on our side, but the reality is different. ”
In Italy, Verstappen and Hamilton retired after a collision. In Russia, the Briton won well but his rival limited the damage by climbing from last to second place.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner confirms: Turkey completed a window of three ideal races for Mercedes … which has not maximized its profits. Now, “we’re going to Austin, where we should be in it, and then to Mexico and Brazil, where we’ve always been strong.”
« 50-50 »
In recent years, ultra-dominated by Mercedes, the statistics are for the Silver Arrows in Texas, where they have always taken pole position since the start of the hybrid era in 2014 and have only let victory slip away. in 2018 for the benefit of Kimi Räikkönen, then at Ferrari.
But, in Mexico, the advantage is undoubtedly on Red Bull’s side. At altitude, the engines lose performance, which has so far favored Austrian single-seaters and their better aerodynamics. Verstappen won twice in Mexico City (2017, 2018) and could have gone on to 2019 without a penalty in qualifying, giving Hamilton the victory.
In Brazil, the Dutchman ended Mercedes’ dominance in 2019, with the lead position and victory. Sebastian Vettel also won in 2017 with Ferrari.
Finally, in Abu Dhabi, at the last GP of 2020, Verstappen also put an end to Mercedes’ hegemony since 2014. Since then, “Mad Max”, its team and its Honda engine manufacturer have confirmed their new dimension.
In the qualifying exercise, revealing the pace displayed on a circuit, Red Bull and Verstappen have won eight pole positions since the start of the year (against five for Mercedes). Between 2014 and 2020, the Austrian brand had only had six in total …
Side wins, Red Bull also has the advantage, eight (seven for Verstappen, one for Sergio Pérez) against six (five for Hamilton, one for Bottas).
But, after the Americas, the Middle East promises even more uncertainty, according to Horner. “We don’t know anything about Qatar, we don’t know anything about Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). Same for Abu Dhabi … So you can say it’s 50-50 ”. We say so.