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Which circuits will favour Mercedes or Red Bull?

Mercedes and Red Bull are set to continue their titanic title battle in the second half of the 2021 Formula 1 season. RacingNews365.com takes a look at which tracks will favour each of the title contenders.

The battle between Mercedes and Red Bull has produced some of the most intense moments Formula 1 has seen for a long time. At the halfway mark of the season, just eight points split Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the Mercedes driver's favour. Meanwhile, Mercedes head the way in the Constructors' standings by 12 points ahead of Red Bull, with the championship finely poised. There are officially 10 known rounds remaining with one event to be confirmed, to replace the cancelled Australian Grand Prix. Let's take a look at the upcoming venues to see which team is going to be the one to beat.

Belgian Grand Prix

Tyre selection: C2-C3-C4 It's been extremely difficult to predict who will have the edge between Mercedes and Red Bull at numerous Grands Prix this year, but on the whole, the latter has had a small advantage over one lap. This may not have been the case at the last two races, which is why there is no clear favourite for Spa this weekend. Don't be surprised if it comes down to lap one. If Hamilton and Verstappen are on the front row, the first 30 seconds of the race through La Source, Eau Rouge, Raidillon and the Kemmel Straight promises to be dramatic. From there, a race-long battle similar to the Bahrain, Spanish and French GP could play out, given how closely matched they have been. Finding the compromise between straight line speed and downforce will be key. Spa is too close to call.

Dutch Grand Prix

Tyre selection: C1-C2-C3 Prior to Hungary, Zandvoort will have Red Bull written all over it due to the high-speed nature of the track. Verstappen will be on home soil, too, and will throw everything at qualifying to take pole position. This could be crucial on a circuit that is likely to be difficult to overtake at, even with the new banked final corner. The harder tyre compounds should help Mercedes because the W12 has gelled much better on the C1 and C2 tyres this year. Nevertheless, the mechanical grip and the ability for Red Bull to extract their speed quickly with the RB16B could play a key role at a venue F1 has not been to for 36 years.

Italian Grand Prix

Tyre selection: C2-C3-C4 Out of all the tracks coming up in the second half of the season, in theory Monza should be where Mercedes and Red Bull are split by a relatively big margin. If Red Bull's straight line speed is not a match for Mercedes at Spa or Zandvoort, Monza could see a dominant Hamilton gain momentum and confidence. Verstappen is also set to take a grid penalty for using a fourth power unit, so Red Bull may decide to choose to take that hit at the Italian GP .

Russian Grand Prix

Tyre selection: C3-C4-C5 Mercedes have won every Russian GP since its arrival on the calendar and will be hoping to continue this impressive streak at the end of September. The repetition of consecutive 90 degree turns and the smooth track surface has always suited the characteristics of the Mercedes, so they have to be favourites for the win at Sochi. Similarly to Spa, the start will be fascinating with a very long run down to the first braking zone at Turn 2. Verstappen and Red Bull's best chance will be to gain track position and have the lead after the opening sequences of corners.

October onwards?

There is a lot of uncertainty with the current F1 schedule due to Turkey being on the UK's red list – meaning UK-based personnel (i.e. most of the F1 paddock) would be required to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine upon their return to home soil, at a significant cost to teams. COVID-19 rates in Austin have put the US GP in danger, which also puts the Mexican GP in jeopardy. In theory, Red Bull should be very strong in Mexico, as they seem to go very well at altitude, which should also put them in a strong position in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The championship battle has been changing race by race, so analysing what could happen from October onwards would simply be guess work. So much could change in four weeks' time depending on development, whether upgrades have worked, the nature of the title race and momentum too. For example, Red Bull were utterly dominant in Austria but Mercedes appeared to be comfortably ahead in Hungary just a few weeks later.

It's simply too close to call

The title race will continue to twist and turn with the slimmest of margins separating Red Bull and Mercedes. It will be important to ensure any bad days are not a disaster as both championships could be decided by single figures. Simple factors such as the weather conditions (if it's hot or cold and if there's cloud cover), finding the optimal setup or perfecting your strategy are more important than what track the teams are racing at. Earlier in the season, Red Bull appeared to favour cooler temperatures but this seemed to change at Silverstone and the Hungaroring. Getting the outlaps right in qualifying, getting the tyres into the right window and having no reliability issues will be key in the title race, too. There is an endless list of variables in F1 and every one of them will count in the coming races, given how close Red Bull and Mercedes are.

It will all come down to the drivers

Ultimately, it's the driver who will be at the wheel of their car and Hamilton and Verstappen have made the final differences this year. They have been a league of their own since the season-opener in Bahrain, beating their respective teammates at nearly every event. Only they could have pulled off the bold strategies used at the Spanish and French GP when each of them chased down the other to make a late-race overtake. Without doubt Verstappen has been the better driver and Hamilton will have to return to his best form if he wants to win an eighth World Championship. There will almost certainly be more gamesmanship on the team radio and in qualifying between the title protagonists as they seek every opportunity to make a marginal gain. The pressure will ramp up and it will all be about who can deliver when it matters most. Luck could play a part, too, something Hamilton had in the first 11 rounds. This can quickly change, but everything points to more excitement and a classic season which will be remembered in years to come.

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