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Why Perez and Bottas can decide the 2021 F1 championship

Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas could be the deciding factor as to how the season plays out at the front of the field. Both have a big job to ensure success for Red Bull and Mercedes in 2021.

All eyes will be on Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the hope that the two rivals will battle it out for the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. However, their teammates could be the key as to who comes out on top. Valtteri Bottas enters his fifth season with Mercedes after a somewhat underwhelming year. The Finn is under huge pressure to retain his seat for 2022 as Williams' George Russell awaits his opportunity to join the world champions. It's more important than ever for Bottas to get off to a good start if he wants to show Toto Wolff and Mercedes that he deserves to keep his place in the squad. An on-form Bottas would ignite the championship fight, not only for Bottas' sake but it would mean he is taking points away from Hamilton. This would help Red Bull significantly. A Bottas victory rather than a Hamilton win is a 14 point swing. Bottas' qualifying performances were on par with Hamilton but it's race day where he needs to turn things around. To take the chequered flag in first place, he almost certainly has to be leading after the opening lap because he has never overtaken Hamilton on track when the pair are out front and when he is the trailing car. Pole positions are not necessarily a must, but starting on the front row to give Bottas a chance of getting into turn one at the head of the pack is.

Bottas is generally slower than Hamilton so it brings Red Bull into play with Bottas out front. Mercedes' trademark to favour the leading driver means winning the race is substantially more difficult for Hamilton and leaves him susceptible to an undercut from Verstappen or Perez. This is where Perez can play an important role in the fight against Mercedes. The new Red Bull driver has been brought in following the inability of Alexander Albon and Pierre Gasly to make the seat their own. Often, Verstappen was fighting the two Mercedes by himself and Red Bull are hoping Perez can be a part of the battle at the front unlike his predecessors. "Perez has the advantage of having a lot of experience and of course we expect him to be close to Max and challenge him - like we had with Daniel and Max for three seasons," team principal Christian Horner told Motorsport-Total.com. "That's exactly what Perez was brought in for - to ensure that Red Bull has two cars in 2021 that regularly challenge or beat Mercedes drivers. "So hopefully Sergio can play a really important role for the team in getting both cars close to the Mercedes on a consistent basis." Mercedes boss Toto Wolff agrees that Red Bull will be a bigger threat and a "much stronger opponent" with Perez joining the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

Perez is expected to be outqualified regularly by Verstappen but his race pace and tyre management are vital qualities which could help the Dutchman. For example, Perez can run a long first stint and hold up the Mercedes drivers after they make their pitstop. This would allow Verstappen to put pressure on Mercedes if Perez is able to be a nuisance for Hamilton and Bottas. Rather than fighting with an arm tied around their back, Red Bull should have equal armoury in terms of their driver line-up. Two wins for Red Bull and Verstappen in 2020 was not what they wanted but Perez's presence gives them a better chance of winning races which will inevitably lead to a championship challenge. An underwhelming year for Bottas will only heighten Red Bull's hopes. Whilst Red Bull can use their Perez card, Mercedes can too with Bottas so a great year for the 'number two' drivers at Mercedes and Red Bull could decide the world championship.

RESULTS 2024 F1 Chinese Grand Prix - Qualifying