Not since 2016 has there been a down-to-the-wire finish for the World Driver’s Championship. That year, German driver Nico Rosberg narrowly beat Sir Lewis Hamilton, 385-380, with the winner decided at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
After that, Hamilton won the next four F1 titles by an average of 83.75 points.
But Rosberg and fellow former F1 star Jenson Button think that 2021 will play out differently, with the German hailing Max Verstappen as Hamilton’s biggest challenger.
“It [the F1 title] still has to go on Lewis because nobody can fathom someone actually beating Lewis throughout the entire season on points,” Rosberg said after watching Red Bull’s impressive pre-season testing in Bahrain.
“But Max Verstappen, in particular, is as close as ever before in pre-season in terms of the odds to beat Lewis to the championship.”
Rosberg and Button are confident about Verstappen’s chances because he might finally be driving a car that can rival the mighty Silver Arrows.
“Bahrain is an unusual circuit and it was very windy but if the downforce [of Verstappen’s new car] is working at high yaw that is fantastic because that was a real weakness for Red Bull in 2020,” Button said.
“So, if they have that around Bahrain it’s going to work everywhere. It’s really exciting”.
Despite glowing reviews, Red Bull insist there is “nothing mysterious” about their car.
Rather, it is “a consistent further development of last year’s model”, according to Red Bull senior advisor Dr Helmut Marko, who emphasises that the team’s goal “is to be able to compete for victories right from the start.”
Red Bull and Verstappen will need to be at their best right from the get-go, as beating defending champ Hamilton is easier said than done — even for anyone manning a super car.
The British driver is currently tied with Michael Schumacher for the most World Driver’s Championship titles, having pulled equal with the German legend by winning it for a fourth consecutive year last campaign.
Aside from that, Hamilton also holds a couple of other F1 records, including the record for the most race wins (95) and podium finishes (165), as noted in ‘F1’s All Time Greats’ by Bwin.
Furthermore, Hamilton has won nearly half his races (47 percent) and six of his seven F1 Championships driving for Mercedes. So expect neither Hamilton nor Mercedes to back down from the big challenge that Verstappen and Red Bull will potentially provide.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner recently said that Verstappen isn’t a lock to be the team’s number one driver.
According to Horner, newcomer Sergio Perez can make his case to supplant Verstappen as Red Bull’s lead driver, as “that has been the case for years.”
“They get the same car and the same opportunities,” Horner added.
Even so, the Dutch ace likely has the inside track as the team’s number one, having held that spot since 2018.
And Red Bull’s new driver line-up has got F1 fans excited, as Perez is potentially capable of helping Verstappen wrest the World Driver’s Championship from Hamilton as a strong rear-gunner.
This internal competition might even light a fire in Verstappen, which could then propel him to have an especially strong season in 2021.
Hamilton himself may face more intra-team competition this upcoming season, with Bottas saying he “absolutely believes” he can win the 2021 Championship, according to the Express.