Eight races into the 2021 F1 season, it’s not Lewis Hamilton leading the championship as most would have expected. Instead it’s Max Verstappen at the top of the table, and he doesn’t look like giving up his championship lead any time soon.
We have a real battle on our hands in F1 this season and it’s a very welcome change. Gone are the days of the Mercedes drivers running away with both titles with barely any competition. This season it’s Red Bull vs Mercedes and Red Bull are currently ahead, with Verstappen leading the charge.
Today’s Styrian Grand Prix saw Verstappen take his 4th win from 8 races this season. If not for a tyre failure in Baku 3 weeks ago, it would have been Verstappens 5th win of the season and 4th in a row. He is very much the driver in form and seems to be getting more and more comfortable at the front of the field.
The only driver who seems able to challenge Verstappen at all in 2021 is Lewis Hamilton. But today, even Hamilton had no answer to Verstappen’s pace. Verstappen led from pole position, pulled a few seconds ahead of Hamilton and then just maintained a comfortable gap for the rest of the race, until Hamilton pitted for fresh tyres to claim the fastest lap in the closing stages.
Hamilton is doing what champions do. He is making the most of every race and picking up as many points as possible. His mistake in Baku was a rare lapse and cost him a near perfect opportunity to close the points gap to Verstappen. But it doesn’t seem to have rattled Hamilton at all. He is just maximising what he has every time he gets in the car. And that may prove crucial later in the season if Verstappen makes mistakes or is unfortunate with car unreliability.
Of course, it’s still relatively early in the season. Much can change over the next 13 races. But Verstappen and Red Bull’s position at the top of the standings doesn’t look temporary or fortunate. They’ve done the work and produced a winning car and Verstappen is driving it of into the distance.
Right now, if it’s a question of pure pace, there’s one driver standing a step above the rest. That driver is Max Verstappen.