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Max Verstappen

Why Verstappen vs Hamilton will happen in 2021

The top two drivers on the Formula 1 grid are set to go toe to toe over the 23-race F1 season. RacingNews365.com explains why we can expect a battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen after a fascinating pre-season test in Bahrain.

Verstappen Hamilton Bahrein 2018
To news overview © Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Formula 1 has been waiting for this battle of the generations between two of the greatest talents the sport has ever seen. Lewis Hamilton has been the man to beat for seven years whilst Mercedes have been the team to beat during that same time.

The Hamilton and Mercedes combination have been formidable in the turbo-hybrid era. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari had their chances but ultimately failed to topple the mighty Mercedes.

Meanwhile Max Verstappen and Red Bull have been unable to provide a car capable of beating Mercedes on a variety of tracks. But that might be about to change if testing is anything to go by.

Mercedes - Lack of running

Mercedes have had their handling and setup struggles in the past, but never have they been bottom of the leaderboard on the mileage charts.

A gearbox issue after Valtteri Bottas's first testing lap on Friday put them in the garage for all but six laps and Hamilton uncharacteristically made a mistake 24 hours later, spinning his Mercedes into the gravel.

At the start of the afternoon session on each of the three testing days, Mercedes spent the first 60 minutes in the garage.

Whether this happened due to a change of pedals, seats and steering wheel to ensure Bottas and Hamilton were comfortable, or because the team were making a big change to the car, it cost Mercedes precious track time.

If winter testing is limited to three days in future years, it's something they may want to avoid.

			© Mercedes
	© Mercedes

Mercedes - Another 'diva'

In 2017, Mercedes built a car known as a 'diva' meaning it had a lot of speed but finding the sweet spot of the car was difficult. Four years on, it might be a similar deal as both Bottas and Hamilton did not enjoy the balance of the W12. Hamilton admits it was a tricky weekend.

"The last day was beautiful and weather wise, not too windy," said Hamilton. "I think it got a bit windier in the afternoon, which was my running and it changes the characteristics of the circuit. But difficult, difficult days ahead.

"I know the guys here have been working flat out this weekend these few days and the guys back at the factory are going to have to work crazy, crazy hours over the next two weeks to try and understand the data.

"It does appear that we are perhaps not quick enough at the moment, but I have every faith in the team. We love challenges and this definitely is a challenge for us."

Pirelli have made changes to the structure of the tyre for this year so finding the optimum tyre working window will be crucial in the opening rounds. The teams and drivers that can get on top of this quickly will have an advantage.

Mercedes have had problems with the Pirelli rubber in the past and they appeared to be battling similar problems on Sunday, even when conditions were favourable.

			© Mercedes
	© Mercedes

Red Bull - The pace is there

Meanwhile at the garage next door, Red Bull had a near-perfect pre-season test. Verstappen's 1:28.960 on the C4 soft tyre was the quickest lap of the event and a statement of intent to the rest of the grid. It looked like Verstappen left some margin on the table too.

Equally impressive was Sergio Perez's one lap pace in the morning which was the benchmark time for much of the day, despite Perez using the slower C3 medium tyre compound.

Never have Red Bull looked this good prior to the season-opener. On paper, they have had a stronger test than their title-winning years in 2012 and 2013.

Red Bull have traditionally started the season off slowly before bringing upgrades to the European rounds and showing more form for the remainder of the campaign. But it's always been too late.

By the time they have a car that is capable of challenging Mercedes, their drivers have been out of championship contention. For the first time since 2013, they could be on par or even ahead of Mercedes at the opening round on March 28.

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

Red Bull - Perez gets up to speed

Perez is set to play a big role in the potential championship battle between Red Bull and Mercedes. From the running in 2021 so far, the Mexican has bedded in well with his new team and has shown strong pace despite getting to grips with the new car.

It suggests the RB16B is a predictable machine, unlike last season's car which caused havoc for Alexander Albon. The clearest long-run comparison between Mercedes and Red Bull came on Saturday evening when Perez was in the car.

Bottas in the Mercedes showed great pace which went under the radar, lapping consistently in the the 1:36s and 1:35s on the C2 hard compound. During the same session, Perez was able to be in touch with those lap times on his first full day in the car.

Mercedes did not complete a full race simulation (filling the car up on a full tank of fuel before completing over 50 consecutive laps without coming into the garage) so it's hard to make a clear comparison between the world champions and Red Bull.

			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool


At worst for Red Bull, they have significantly closed the gap to Mercedes but everything points their way going into the opening race in Bahrain. Mercedes have bounced back from poor pre-season tests in the past but a major difference this year is that testing and the first race are at the same track.

Traditionally, winter testing takes place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya whilst the season-opener is at Albert Park in Australia. The Melbourne track has suited Mercedes down to the ground and they always go well there which gives them the confidence and momentum to kickstart their campaign.

The Bahrain International Circuit is an unusual track due to it's numerous high-traction zones. Imola and Portimao will follow the season-opener which will give us a true indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the W12 and the RB16B.

But, Bahrain has never been a strong track for Red Bull. In fact, until last year they had never been on the podium in Sakhir during the turbo-hybrid era.

Car characteristics may have changed over the winter but it bodes well that Red Bull have impressed in Bahrain out of all the tracks on the calendar.

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			© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
	© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

The brand-new Honda power unit has worked wonders too, as Red Bull and AlphaTauri ran largely trouble-free to complete over 4000km over the three days.

Judging straight line speed differences between Mercedes and Honda is near-impossible though given the differing engine modes and blustery track conditions.

Verstappen has been waiting for six years for an opportunity to battle for the title. He's had 10 wins in that time and has been the driver Hamilton has feared the most in recent years.

The seven-time world champion will have to bring his A-game to defend his crown because Verstappen is hungry and a dangerous prospect when their is a victory on the line.

This battle comes at the perfect time for Verstappen as he has matured and become a complete F1 driver. He doesn't have the 14 years of experience of Hamilton but he definitely has what it takes to be the driver that can beat the Mercedes man.

This year could be a classic, and it all begins in under a fortnight with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

Stay up to date with all the latest news, plus exclusive interviews and analysis pieces right here at RacingNews365.com as we build up to the start of the 2021 season.


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