The 2021 Formula 1 season has been a campaign full of drama and excitement as Mercedes and Red Bull slugged it out over the first 10 rounds.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have led both of these powerhouse teams and the battle may have turned into a war, following the events of the British Grand Prix when the championship protagonists collided.
Just eight points split Hamilton and Verstappen in the Drivers’ Standings whilst Red Bull head the way by four points in the Constructors’ Championship.
Mercedes have only been seriously challenged by Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in F1’s turbo-hybrid era. But that all changed at the beginning of this season when Red Bull and Verstappen got everything together and built a car which has caused plenty of head scratching at Mercedes’ base in Brackley.
It's been a brutal battle between both teams and one that has lived up to every expectation But, recent races have suggested that Mercedes have a different target to Red Bull which could change how the rest of the season plays out.
Mercedes prioritise the Constructors' Championship
Mercedes are looking to win an unprecedented eighth consecutive constructors' title and it seems this is the championship they want more.
At the French GP, Valtteri Bottas really struggled in the latter stages of the race. First he was overtaken by Verstappen and then Sergio Perez.
With the podium off the cars and Verstappen holding the fastest lap of the race, Mercedes opted to not pit Bottas onto a fresh set of soft tyres to take the extra point for the fastest lap away from the Dutchman. Instead, they kept Bottas out there in case Perez received a five second time penalty for overtaking off the track.
In Austria, Mercedes used team orders to help Bottas. As Hamilton suffered floor damage when running in second place, the world champions decided to ensure Bottas took the runners-up spot on the day with Lando Norris not too far behind.
If Mercedes were fully behind Hamilton, they would have at least tried to keep the seven-time world champion in second place with team orders and perhaps some clever DRS tactics. In the end, they gave up the fight rathe early and Hamilton finished down in fourth.
Of course, Mercedes are favouring Hamilton for the title as we saw in Spain and Britain when team orders were used to favour the British driver. But, they are not putting everything on the line for Hamilton which is not what Red Bull are doing with Verstappen.
All in for Verstappen at Red Bull
Red Bull failed to make Verstappen the youngest ever world champion F1 has seen. But, this year presented the perfect opportunity give their star driver his first world title.
Verstappen has been one of the most exciting and talented drivers of the century and 2021 could be the time when all of the hype he has built finally pays off. In terms of marketing, Verstappen will be the hottest property on the grid by some margin when Hamilton retires.
Red Bull have been desperate to make Verstappen the number one driver in F1 and have showed they are prepared to do almost anything to do so.
At the British GP, Verstappen crashed out of the race after a controversial incident with Hamilton. Despite a 10 second time penalty, Hamilton won the race and also had the fastest lap of the race.
However, this was taken away by Perez. who was on course to score at least a ninth place if not higher. Red Bull opted to pit Perez twice to make sure he took the extra point away from Hamilton even though the Mexican would have scored more points to boost the team's points tally.
It's a fascinating move which was perhaps also pursued to the anger from Red Bull about Verstappen's heavy accident and their wrecked car.
Drivers' Championship vs Constructors' Championship
The Drivers' Championship is what most people talk about and remember. However, generally the teams prioritise the Constructors' Championship due to the extra prize money which can bring in sponsors.
But, Red Bull are behind Verstappen so much that they are prepared to, not sacrifice, but reduce their chances slightly in the Constructors' Championship simply to make Verstappen world champion.
New for 2021 are wind tunnel restrictions and this will still be on place next year and beyond. You get 2.5 percent more time in the wind tunnel if you finish second in the Constructors' Championship rather than first, so this may be a small factor too especially because there are new regulations coming to F1.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull want to win both titles, but there ambitions differ. The last time the driver who won the championship did not come from the team that won the Constructors' Championship, was in 2008.
On that occasion, Ferrari were constructors' champions but Lewis Hamilton won the drivers' title. It's very early days to say whether that will happen this year, but it's possible and the chances of it happening increase slightly due to what Mercedes and Red Bull are prioritising.
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