Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen: who will be F1 champion? Analyze key factors as the break-in intensifies

Sky F1 expert Mark Hughes looks at Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen, Mercedes v Red Bull and big talking points for the title race, with eight races set to decide the 2021 champion; Watch this weekend’s Russian GP live only on Sky Sports F1

Last update: 09/20/21 8:38 PM


Their incident at Monza only intensified the competitive tension between title protagonists Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

With up to eight races to go and just five points between them, it wouldn’t be surprising if their duel would go through. So what are their prospects as we head to Russia for the first of these eight races?

Max Verstappen moved alongside Lewis Hamilton after his pit stop and the pair hit the first chicane, causing the two to run aground in the gravel !!
Max Verstappen moved alongside Lewis Hamilton after his pit stop and the pair hit the first chicane, causing the two to run aground in the gravel !!

Max Verstappen moved alongside Lewis Hamilton after his pit stop and the pair hit the first chicane, causing the two to run aground in the gravel !!

The circuits

If there has been a trend for the sawtooth shape of the Mercedes and Red Bull-Honda, it’s because the Merc has fared better on circuits that strongly reward low drag, the advantage. of the Red Bull being at its maximum on the slopes with strong downforce.

Sochi has historically been a Mercedes stronghold, with the very long, flat stretch from the last corner to Turn 3 suiting its low-lean performance profile very well. That said, historically Red Bull has never shown up in Sochi with a car as generically competitive as this year’s RB16B.

The rest of the 2021 F1 calendar

Dated grand prize
THIS WEEKEND Russian GP
October 10 Turkish GP
24 october United States GP
November 7 Mexico GP
14 november São Paulo GP
21 November To confirm
December 5 Saudi Arabian GP
December 12 Abu Dhabi GP

The multiple 90-degree turns in the last sector should give him half a chance to recoup what he might lose to Mercedes in Sector 1. Tire performance in qualifying is always a tricky thing here too, the challenge being. ‘balance out how much rears you take in the first sector to keep them from getting too hot in the pull-dominated final.

This and a difficult challenge to warm up the forwards at the start of the lap make it an enigma. It’s not a given that Merc’s dominance on the Russian track will remain unbroken, but of course Verstappen has at least three grid spots and possibly more if Red Bull chooses to change their power unit.

Istanbul’s setup is well balanced between the kind of high speed sweeps the Mercedes excels at and the low speed corners where Red Bull allows Verstappen to shine. But if the track is as cold and without grip as it was last year, Red Bull’s ability to warm up its tires more easily can be crucial.

Austin has a well-rounded set of requirements that should see both cars very balanced, but the next one in Mexico City is invariably Mercedes’ weakest track of the year. The extreme altitude imposes a greater power penalty on its power unit than that of the Honda. That and the layout of the track should strongly favor Red Bull.

The same, but less likely, probably applies to Interlagos, the second highest altitude tour on the calendar, but the air is nowhere near as thin as it is in Mexico. History suggests that the likelihood of weather conditions making the event random is high.

Still to be confirmed, but expected to take the vacant place in Japan, Qatar looks set to welcome F1 for the first time. Its track layout seems to create a fairly even balance between the two cars, but obviously there is no historical data on how the track surface interacts with the tires and how that might play out for either. other car.

The layout of the streets of Jeddah on which the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will take place looks like a nailed Mercedes advantage with its very long straights and very fast corners. Abu Dhabi the following week should see a more even game.

The psychological challenge

Dramatic new footage has been released of the potentially defining moment for the season when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided at the Italian Grand Prix.
Dramatic new footage has been released of the potentially defining moment for the season when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided at the Italian Grand Prix.

Dramatic new footage has been released of the potentially defining moment for the season when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided at the Italian Grand Prix.

Following their incidents at Silverstone and Monza, Verstappen and Hamilton face additional psychological pressure in any wheel-to-wheel confrontation. How each one handles this could very well be crucial.

Hamilton knows Verstappen won’t give in, Verstappen cannot know whether Hamilton will or not, as he has varied his approach at different times throughout the season. The points situation between them at the time of the decision may well decide how Hamilton handles future moments of potential conflict on the track.

Using the engine

The loss of a Verstappen power unit in the Silverstone crash makes it almost certain that he will incur a grid penalty for a new engine in one of the remaining races. Considering his drop from three grid places in Sochi for the Monza crash, this would logically be a good time to take the powertrain penalty as well. The track lends itself well to passing slower cars and it probably wouldn’t take too long, even from a penalized double grid square, for Verstappen to be immediately behind the Mercs.

With this powertrain change, Verstappen would then have a cooler engine than Hamilton for the remainder of the season, assuming Lewis doesn’t take an extra PU on his own.

Sky Formula One's Karun Chandhok says it's a huge relief that Lewis Hamilton came out of his crash at the Italian GP unscathed and thinks it's fair that Max Verstappen received a three-place grid penalty for his role in the incident.
Sky Formula One’s Karun Chandhok says it’s a huge relief that Lewis Hamilton came out of his crash at the Italian GP unscathed and thinks it’s fair that Max Verstappen received a three-place grid penalty for his role in the incident.

Sky Formula One’s Karun Chandhok says it’s a huge relief that Lewis Hamilton came out of his crash at the Italian GP unscathed and thinks it’s fair that Max Verstappen received a three-place grid penalty for his role in the incident.

Support from teammates

Staying in the pit stop window of the rival team’s title contender is a key request for each of the supporting pilots in this battle, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez.

Bottas has done a much more convincing job this year than Perez, whose qualifying struggles have often negated how helpful he can be to Red Bull in trying to win Verstappen the race.

Bottas qualified on average 0.15 seconds slower than Hamilton, while Perez was rather 0.4 seconds behind Verstappen and often, therefore, among the slower cars in the first stint as Hamilton and Verstappen s’ dart away.

But no matter how all of these contributing factors play out, there will be one more that cannot be explained but is historically vitally important: luck.

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