Stoffel Vandoorne, reserve driver at Mercedes, has detailed how it felt to witness the team handle the "intense" fight with Red Bull for the 2021 World Championship.
A close battle between the two sides played out throughout the season, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen going wheel-to-wheel on track on numerous occasions, whilst respective team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner shared a few bitter exchanges away from the circuit.
Vandoorne had a front-row seat to the action within the Mercedes outfit, and admits that it was interesting to see how motivation appeared to be even higher than during the Silver Arrows' dominance of the sport.
"It was very intense and above all very interesting to see internally how the team was handling this totally new situation and competition against Red Bull," Vandoorne told Belgian media outlet RTBF.
"Believe me, they were hyper-motivated and maybe even more so than when they dominated F1. They knew that every weekend everything had to be perfect and there was no room for error."
Hamilton's change of approach
Verstappen and Red Bull seemed to have the upper hand during the earlier stages of the season, whilst Hamilton and Mercedes looked to have the stronger package in the second half of the year.
Vandoorne believes that Hamilton also adapted his approach midway through the calendar following some run-ins with Verstappen on the track.
"I think Lewis changed his approach on track from the middle of the season when the bumps and contacts were becoming more and more frequent," Vandoorne said.
"He knew exactly who he was up against and he adapted."
Vandoorne - who previously raced in F1 for McLaren between 2017 and 2018 - might be affiliated with Mercedes, but the Belgian driver thinks that both Verstappen and Hamilton were deserving of the championship in 2021.
"We had one of the best F1 seasons of all time," he explained,
"Every weekend it was Max against Lewis and this opposition, which put the same two drivers face to face every week, created a great story.
"It was all anyone could talk about, there was a lot of pressure. Verstappen and Hamilton were on another planet this year. Both deserved to win the title."
As it was, Verstappen beat Hamilton to the crown in controversial fashion at the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, whilst Mercedes claimed their eighth consecutive Constructors' Championship.
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