Hamilton’s seventh Silverstone victory last year, set him for most wins by a driver at a home event, besting his competitor Alain Prost’s sixth in the French GP. In the very same GP, the Mercedes driver also set a new benchmark for most races from start to finish, beating Brazil’s Aryton Senna record of finishing 19 races.
The 2020 season ended on a high note for the Mercedes driver. While Hamilton won his seventh championship bringing his record to that of Michael Schumacher, his team won the Constructors’ title for the seventh consecutive year.
After the impressive performance in 2020, it is amazing to see the current year in an absolute contrast. With nine races already in the season, this year has been one of the worst for the Mercedes team and its driver. Hamilton managed to clinch just three P1 finishes, lap victories that would have been a walk in the park for the Mercedes superhero previously. Races, such as those in Monaco ended in complete tragedy for the team once honoured with the title of “the silver arrows”. Even Hamilton’s high-performing teammate Valtteri Bottas is struggling to find his pace and take control of his car.
So what is behind this obvious lack of performance from Mercedes? It is safe to say, the much coveted W12 vehicle has proven to be a disappointment for the team and its fans across the world. Even before the racing season started, during a three day testing in Bahrain, the poor performance of the car was obvious. At the end of the testing Mercedes Chief Strategist James Vowel admitted that the vehicle’s performance was weak and they had no ready answers for it. Even at the opening of the practice session, the performance gap between Mercedes and its rivals, particularly Red Bull, was so evident that they did not bother to defend their car and just accepted it.
Red Bull, on the other hand, is having a dream season with six P1 finishes already and has sof far managed to feature on all podiums this year. Max Verstappen, the audacious Red Bull driver, is clearly enjoying this season. During an incredible run last week, the 23-year-old managed to win both races in Austria- Red Bull’s home circuit.
The professional driver went on record saying “I knew if I had a car capable of fighting for the title I would be up there and that is showing.”
There was never a doubt about Verstappen’s talent and potential, even in his early days with the Italian Formula One racing team Toro Rosso, he was deemed a child prodigy. This year with Red Bull’s ultra-dominant RB16B, he is showing his true pace. Christian Horner, the team’s principal, has termed Verstappen’s performance in Austria as the strongest and the most complete performance so far by Red Bull
Even during the Azerbaijan GP, where the race ended with a DNF or did not finish status, due to a tragic crash caused by a tyre failure just three laps from the end, Verstappen was heading towards another victory. So far, it has been smooth sailing for the Red Bull team and its driver. His teammate, Sergio Perez, is also driving with great maturity and consistency in his first season after replacing Thai driver Alex Albon at the Red Bull senior team.
While the Mercedes team is facing all kinds of issues from tyre management, jammed wheel nuts and pit-stop errors, it seems everything is working just right for Red Bull. Age is definitely a factor in Hamilton’s sagging performance. Ironically, age is also the factor behind the rise of the young Verstappen, who has gained valuable experience over the years. For one reason or another the sheer ruthlessness possessed by Lewis Hamilton is missing this year, and Verstappen is starting to impose himself. In 2021, we may well be witnessing another shift in Formula 1 superpowers.