The 2021 Formula 1 season has produced two dramatic races in Bahrain and Imola. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are set to battle it out for the championship whilst the midfield is as close as ever.
Perhaps the best thing is many teams have closed the gap to Mercedes over the winter which has elevated the intensity throughout the grid. Qualifying at the Emilia Romagna GP saw the top eight cars split by just 0.487 seconds, the closest qualifying session since Malaysia 2012.
This is more fascinating when you consider that Imola is one of the most demanding and challenging tracks on the calendar.
Last Saturday, Mercedes lost the most time compared to their 2020 Emilia Romagna GP qualifying. The world champions were seven tenths slower than they were in November.
Meanwhile, McLaren and Williams were actually slightly quicker despite the harder tyre structure and changes to the rear floor of the car which were made to slow the cars down.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc cut the gap to pole position from one second to 0.329 seconds on the Imola year on year comparisons. It reiterates the significant improvements Ferrari have made with their new power unit as Imola has become a power-sensitive track for modern Formula 1 cars.
The battle between McLaren and Ferrari has been intriguing with very little to separate the teams.
“It is very tight,” Carlos Sainz told RacingNews365.com and other select members of the media. “Maybe they [Ferrari] had a bit of the upper hand this weekend or they had the upper hand a tiny bit the last two weekends.
"But as soon as we do a very good weekend and we going to a track that maybe favours us a bit I think we can be ahead. I think the McLaren has its strengths and weaknesses so that makes it like a really nice fight, is that we are quick in very different places on the track."
McLaren and Ferrari have excellent driver line-ups and their battle appears to be pushing them forward towards Mercedes and Red Bull.
Last year, there were lots of drivers who took surprise podiums. But, most of them happened due to strange circumstances whereas for the first time in recent years, McLaren's Lando Norris was able to make the top three on merit to break the trend.
AlphaTauri have plenty of pace too and their strong driver pairing of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda has pushed them towards the pointy end of the midfield. They have not had the results to show their speed but their raw qualifying pace has improved by a similar margin to Red Bull's one lap improvement.
Whilst Alpine and Aston Martin have slipped back, their gap to the front of the field has not actually changed compared to 2020. It's simply a case of other teams making gains over the winter which has bunched up the whole field.
Alfa Romeo and Williams have closed up too with Alfa Romeo making the second biggest gains in Bahrain qualifying.
This has happened in Formula 1 in the past especially with key regulation changes. Whenever the leading team is unable to continue their form from one season to the next, everyone else naturally catches up and this is the case with F1 in 2021.
It's taken a long time considering the clear differences between the leading two or three teams and the rest of the field throughout the turbo-hybrid era.
The closeness of the grid means mistakes are punished more harshly and an off-day is more clear to see. It makes things more exciting as the drivers on their A-game can stand out more.