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Formula 1 2021

Mercedes or Red Bull: Which team have had the best car in 2021?

The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is finely poised with six events to go. But which driver has benefitted from having the best car this year? RacingNews365.com looks into the situation.

Hamilton Verstappen
Column
To news overview © Mercedes

Having the best car in Formula 1 gives a driver a golden opportunity to become World Champion. Often, one team are a step ahead of the field, but this year has seen Mercedes and Red Bull go head-to-head in an almighty battle.

The pendulum has swung several times in 2021 and the ability to win races when there is very little to separate the cars, or even when one is slightly slower than the other, has been crucial.

RacingNews365.com journalist Nigel Chiu evaluates who has had the upper hand between Mercedes and Red Bull in the 16 rounds so far.

Round Event Best car Winner
1 Bahrain GP Red Bull Lewis Hamilton
2 Emilia Romagna GP Even Max Verstappen
3 Portuguese GP Mercedes Lewis Hamilton
4 Spanish GP Mercedes Lewis Hamilton
5 Monaco GP Red Bull Max Verstappen
6 Azerbaijan GP Red Bull Sergio Perez
7 French GP Mercedes Max Verstappen
8 Styrian GP Red Bull Max Verstappen
9 Austrian GP Red Bull Max Verstappen
10 British GP Even Lewis Hamilton
11 Hungarian GP Mercedes Esteban Ocon
12 Belgian GP Unknown Max Verstappen
13 Dutch GP Even Max Verstappen
14 Italian GP Mercedes Daniel Ricciardo
15 Russian GP Mercedes Lewis Hamilton
16 Turkish GP Mercedes Valtteri Bottas
			© Mercedes
	© Mercedes

Explaining the conclusions

The first thing that must be said is that it's been very close between Mercedes and Red Bull all year.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have made the final difference at most events; it has and will continue to come down to very fine details such as setup, weather conditions and executing the perfect qualifying lap or race.

Bahrain is, arguably, the only event where Red Bull have had a pace advantage but failed to convert their pace into a win.

Hamilton was exceptional in Sakhir, taking things to the limit quite literally by running wide at Turn 4 in the opening half of the race due to a grey area in the track limits regulations.

Red Bull say Verstappen had a differential problem and wasn't able to run at full power for the entire Grand Prix, which also helped Hamilton, but was a small drop of the ball from the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

Verstappen grabbed the lead with a relatively comfortable overtake, though his snap of oversteer which put him wide meant it was an illegal pass, so he was forced to give up first place.

There's no doubt Red Bull had a general qualifying advantage in the opening nine rounds too, except for Portugal and Spain, where it appeared Mercedes were beginning to find their feet.

			© Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images
	© Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images

Another area of debate is the French GP, where Verstappen took pole position and the win. On paper, Red Bull had the car to beat at Paul Ricard, but Mercedes were outfoxed even though Hamilton led the race and was able to put big pressure on Verstappen in the middle phase.

A bold decision by Red Bull to give up the lead was a brilliant strategy call and the only way they could win the race, given Mercedes' speed and somewhat superior tyre management.

Remember, Hamilton also led the race early on but was undercut by Verstappen. There's a strong case that Mercedes lost the French GP through a series of strategy mistakes when they had a slight pace advantage.

The collision between Hamilton and Verstappen at Silverstone makes it difficult to judge the British GP, although they seemed fairly even in the Sprint Qualifying race.

Mercedes looked comfortable at the Hungaroring and would likely have won, without the first-lap mayhem when Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll crashed into multiple cars including both Red Bulls.

For obvious reasons, the Belgian GP is almost impossible to judge because of the wet qualifying and the one-lap 'race'.

Similarly to France, Mercedes were behind Red Bull in qualifying at Zandvoort. Appearing competitive on Sunday, they again made some poor strategy calls, as Verstappen beat both Mercedes cars with an exceptional drive. Some may argue that Red Bull had a superior car at the Dutch GP.

From the conclusions above, Mercedes have had the car to beat at seven races versus Red Bull's five, with three 'even' or 'too close to call' races and one inconclusive event.

			© Mercedes
	© Mercedes

How the pendulum has swung

In general, Red Bull had the better car in the first half of the season, but since Silverstone, Mercedes have come on strong. Whether that's due to the new rear tyres (introduced due to the Baku tyre blowouts) or a technical directive that has impacted the RB16B more, it's anyone's guess.

Red Bull also had a clear advantage over one lap, but even that's changed, and Mercedes seem to have the momentum on their side now.

Similarly to 2017 and 2018, as time has gone on Mercedes have understood their car, and minor tweaks (not necessarily upgrades) have pushed them forward.

Hamilton and Bottas are quick out of the box on a race weekend, which is an area Red Bull were strong in during the first half of the season.

Had Mercedes executed better races and made the right calls operationally, there is no doubt Hamilton would be leading the championship.

The Constructors' Championship looks like it will be going to Mercedes, unless Red Bull can unlock more performance.

Mercedes' straight-line speed must be the biggest worry for Red Bull, especially in the acceleration phase out of certain corners. However, Red Bull's questions have been turned away by the FIA.

Red Bull haven't done much wrong this year but overall they have had a slightly weaker car, and the trend over the past few months has moved towards Mercedes being the team to beat. If this continues in the remaining six races, you would have to put your money on Hamilton to take the title.

That said, the cars are close enough that this year's championship could come down to a moment of misfortune, a reliability issue at an important time or an incident.

The margins are very small but Mercedes have no excuses if they fail to win both titles.

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