F1: Bahrain Grand Prix preview
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Jenson Button is tipping Lewis Hamilton to win an eighth Drivers’ Championship in 2021, insisting he has a “very good chance” of doing so, but thinks Max Verstappen will run his countryman close. The new Formula One season gets underway in Bahrain this weekend.
Red Bull’s strong pre-season has sparked excitement that they could end Mercedes’ seven-year dominance of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
Hamilton enters the new year looking for a record-breaking eighth world title and despite the Silver Arrows’ struggles in testing, the 36-year-old remains the best driver on the grid.
And while Hamiltons former McLaren team-mate Button, the 2009 world champion, believes the seven-time title-winner will once again reign supreme, he expects this year to be closer between him and Verstappen.
“[Hamilton] is gonna have some competition, which I’m sure he wants,” Button told Sky Sports News. “He’s got his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has been relatively competitive.
“But when you have another team of drivers that are fighting you for the championship, I think it makes it that a little bit more exciting.
“So, Max Verstappen I think, is his main competitor in 2021. I’m really looking forward to [Hamilton’s] first race this weekend.
“I think he is a title favourite and Mercedes are, because they’ve won the last seven championships and every year we’ve had a hybrid engine, they have won.
“So, they have the experience, but Red Bull have also. Red Bull has won four championships back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I think those two teams going at it is really, really exciting.
“It’s great for F1, it’s great for all the fans watching. And even if you are a Lewis fan, you still want him to have that competition.
“But I still think he has a very good chance of getting that eighth title and being the most successful racing driver in F1 history.”
Button added of Verstappen: “His outright speed is fantastic, his natural ability, he’s definitely there with Lewis.
“I think in the team that he’s in at the moment, that’s the reason for his inconsistency, he’s pushing it too hard because he’s not got the outright pace from the car.
“That’s been the issue the last couple of years. When Max arrived in F1, he was extremely quick but made a lot of mistakes. That’s changed.
“He is the complete package now and I think with a good car underneath him he will definitely get the maximum out of it and really take that fight to Lewis.
“I love his driving style. He’s quite aggressive, he’s done things with a car I could only imagine doing, especially on the first lap of a Grand Prix.
“He puts it in places where it just doesn’t look like it’s going to work but it does.”
Red Bull added Sergio Perez to their team-mate in the offseason to replace Alex Albon and Button, who raced alongside the Mexican at McLaren in 2013, believes ‘Checo’ can be a real rival to Verstappen.
He continued: “I’m mentioning Max because he’s a known quantity in that team, we know he’s going to be quick and is going to get the maximum out of the car.
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“Checo, we were team-mates back in 2013, so I know he’s quick. The inconsistency was an issue but he’s really grown as a driver and he’s extremely quick.
“He has the experience, he’s won a Grand Prix. He’s a really good choice for Red Bull. I’m excited to see how that works, that dynamic within the team, working with Max.
“I think he’s strong enough to be able to fight Max for at least out qualifying him and possible race victories.”
Another ex-world champion Nico Rosberg, the only man to beat Hamilton to the crown in the sport’s hybrid engine era, is also backing his former team-mate to come out on top in the Mercedes.
Rosberg told Sky Sports: “The money would still have to go on Lewis [to win the title] because nobody can fathom someone actually beating Lewis throughout the entire season on points.
“But Verstappen, in particular, is as close as ever before in pre-season in terms of the odds to beat Lewis to the championship. I don’t think anyone’s been that close for many, many years.”
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