Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen could be set for the title battle Formula 1 has “craved” in 2021 after their thrilling head-to-head duel for victory at the season-opening Bahrain GP, say the Sky Sports F1 pundits.
A pulsating Sunday race boiled down to a straight fight between F1’s leading lights – seven-time champion vs rising superstar – and led to an epic wheel-to-wheel conclusion, with a dash of controversy, under the lights.
- Lewis vs Max: Explaining the winning overtake that wasn’t
- Lewis Hamilton on the ‘immense’ pressure from Max Verstappen
- ‘Why didn’t you let me go?’: Verstappen falls foul of track rules
While Hamilton came out victorious following Verstappen’s dramatic, yet illegal, overtake, Bahrain has lit the spark for a bumper 2021 season as the Red Bull driver finally appears to have the car to give him a chance of taking the fight to Hamilton for his first title challenge.
This could be a season, and battle, to remember.
“We’ve now got that competition we’ve always craved,” said Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson. “This is something special for all of the fans.
“We have to really enjoy these moments, these Grands Prix that are coming our way, because when you get two protagonists like we had in Bahrain, and it only takes two, then we’ve got fantastic racing.
“I was shouting at the TV like everyone else was. Regardless of who your favourite driver is, I think we all have to agree that these are two supreme athletes at the top of their game and long may it continue.”
The final laps may not have gone Verstappen’s way at Sakhir – but the 23-year-old had been the dominant driver over the weekend up until then.
“I think he is able to put it behind him, I think mentally that’s where he’s so good,” said Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta.
“He’s got a sniff he can win this championship and I think that’s the most exciting thing about this year – it’s him against Lewis and they’ll go knuckle to knuckle at it.”
Verstappen in the hunt? Hamilton ‘super excited’ for more
Whether Verstappen can truly mount a sustained title challenge will depend on whether Red Bull have a race-challenging car at most, if not all, of the 22 remaining circuits on a record 2021 calendar.
But there will be optimism in the Red Bull camp after hitting the ground running in Bahrain.
“What a year we’ve got ahead of us,” insisted Di Resta. “Because I don’t think, on paper, this is a Red Bull track – I think this is a Mercedes track.”
Davidson agreed: “At some point, you see the natural ebb and flow, there will be races this year where the Red Bull just storms off to victory. We will see those races. But hopefully we’ll have more of what we saw in Bahrain.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, enthused by salvaging a victory – says he wants more duels with his young rival.
“I’m super excited and super happy for the fans, that they are excited,” stated the Englishman. “I think it’s something that all the fans have wanted for a long time.
“Of course, this is only one race, so we don’t know what the future holds in terms of… with the pace they have, they could be ahead a lot more, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to try and stay close in this battle and I hope for many more of these sorts of races with Max and Valtteri [Bottas, Mercedes team-mate].
“There’s a long way to go, 22… holy c**p! I’ll be grey by the end of this!”
Verstappen added: “Of course I’m disappointed, but in a way it’s a long season. We’ll have 22 more opportunities to do better.”
Bring it on.
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