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Verstappen fends off Hamilton... for now

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

After close to a decade of dominating the Formula One track, Sir Lewis Hamilton appears to have finally met his match in an undeterred Max Verstappen. Red Bull's RB16B car is evidently the team's best challenger in years in their pursuit to disrupt Mercedes' dominance in the sport.

There was a flurry of changes amongst drivers coming into of the 2021 F1 season. Fernando Alonso made a return from a two-year sabbatical to join Alpine (formerly Renault) after Daniel Ricciardo switched to McLaren.

Ricciardo's predecessor, Carlos Sainz Jr, signed with Ferrari in place of 4-time World Drivers' Champion, Sebastian Vettel; the 34-year-old German moved to Aston Martin while Sergio Perez filled the second seat at Red Bull, alongside Verstappen.

The 71st season of Formula One also features three drivers making their on-track debuts. Yuki Tsunoda became the latest driver to sign with the Red Bull academy, driving for sister team AlphaTauri. Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, joined Haas alongside fellow rookie Nikita Mazepin.

The multitude of youth amongst this year's driver line-up sees an on-track average age of 27 years & 11 months.

For veterans Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, top-10 finishes have been somewhat elusive in 2021. With a combined 656 Grand Prix entries, 200 podiums, 53 race wins and 3 World Championships between them, the vastly experienced duo will be searching to score as many points possible as the final chapter is looming in both of their illustrious racing careers.

Defending WDC Hamilton is eyeing an undisputed 8th title come the end of 2021 and is yet to agree a contract with Toto Wolff's constructor beyond this year. His clear competition, on the other hand, Verstappen is on a mission to become the 34th different World Champion and has hinted that he is committed to Red Bull for as long as they provide him with a title-challenging car.

Verstappen took pole position for the season opener in Bahrain, qualifying 0,4s ahead of his adversary Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas qualified two-tenths behind teammate Hamilton, joined in the second row by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.

In what was a truly riveting race, Verstappen attempted to chase down the 7-time World Champion with 16 laps remaining. Verstappen's fresher tyres enabled the Dutchman to get within range of the Mercedes and he did get past Hamilton on lap 53/56 but was instructed to give the position back due to an illegal overtake.

Mercedes' main man vigorously managed to fend off Verstappen and finished the race with the Red Bulls ace right on his tail, separated by just 0,7 seconds.

Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap as the trio of Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas shared the podium for a 14th time. McLaren's Lando Norris finished P4 followed by Perez, Leclerc, Ricciardo & Sainz.

AlphaTauri driver Tsunoda finished P9 to become the 65th driver to score points on debut, and the first born in the 2000s to do so. Aston Martin's Lance Stroll rounded off the point-scoring positions.

Imola hosted its 29th F1 Grand Prix as the Emilia Romagna GP served Round 2 of the 2021 season. Hamilton took Pole for an unprecedented 99th time as the top 8 drivers were separated by less than 0,5s: Perez completed the front row after qualifying just 0,035 shy of Hamilton, and 0,052 ahead of Red Bull teammate Verstappen. Leclerc qualified P4, five-hundredths of 1 second faster than Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.

In the wet conditions on race day, Verstappen took the lead on the opening lap before the safety car came out following the premature retirement of Nicholas Latifi. The race was red flagged at halfway after Latifi's Williams teammate George Russell collided with Bottas at the famous Tamburello.

Verstappen retained and extended his lead after the restart and duly took his first win of 2021, 22s ahead of runner-up Hamilton who set the fastest lap. Norris earned a 2nd career podium as he finished less than 2 seconds behind fellow Briton Hamilton, and less than 2 seconds in front of Leclerc with Ferrari teammate Sainz close behind.

Ricciardo claimed P6 trailed by Gasly and Stroll while Alpine got their first points on the board; Esteban Ocon and 2-time WDC Alonso finished 9th and 10th, respectively.

The next stop on the calendar was in Portimao, Portugal where Bottas clinched his first pole of the year, qualifying a mere 7-thousandths of a second quicker than teammate Hamilton; the two Red Bulls formed the second row on the grid.

The safety car was required after the opening lap once Raikkonen clipped the back of Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, signalling the end of the race for the 41-year-old Finn.

Sir Lewis raced to a 97th GP victory, almost half a minute later Verstappen and Bottas crossed the finish line, followed by Perez, Norris and Leclerc.

Alpine's pair of Ocon and Alonso took P7 & P8 ahead of Ricciardo and Gasly.

Verstappen set the pace to notch the race's fastest lap.

A week later in Barcelona, Hamilton took pole position for a spectacular 100th time to become the first driver to hit triple figures as polesitter. The centurion has obliterated Michael Schumacher's record of 68 – three above the late, great Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton edged Verstappen by a mere 0,036s, as the pair of Bottas and Leclerc lined up behind the title contenders.

In another pulsating race, Verstappen snatched the lead at the first corner on the opening lap before Mercedes’ pit-stop strategy outsmarted the Red Bull crew, paving the way for Hamilton to charge down Verstappen. The Mercedes driver passed his title rival with 6 laps remaining, beating him to the finish line by 16 seconds for race victory number 98.

Verstappen took the second step on the podium and set the fastest lap. Bottas notched 3rd place, with Leclerc P4, Perez P5, Ricciardo P6, Sainz P7; Norris, Ocon and Gasly grabbed the remaining points on offer.

Next stop was Monaco, coinciding with Williams Racing‘s 750th Grand Prix. Ferrari and McLaren are the only constructors to have participated in more F1 races.

The first race in the principality since 2019 saw home favourite Leclerc earn a first pole of 2021 and a maiden pole in Monte Carlo. The Ferrari driver, however, was unable to start the race due to gearbox issues following a crash towards the end of Q3.

Verstappen effectively led the race from the start, trailed by Bottas, Sainz, Norris and Gasly. Hamilton only managed to qualify P7.

The flying Red Bull of Verstappen stormed to victory 9 seconds before Sainz claimed Ferrari's 1st podium of the year as well as his 1st podium with the Scuderia. Lando Norris celebrated his new 'multi-year' extension with McLaren by earning his 2nd podium this season. Perez claimed P4, with Vettel taking P5 – his best finish since moving to Aston Martin. Gasly P6.

A lacklustre weekend for Hamilton who could only end in P7, although the reigning WDC did set the fastest lap of the race; Stroll, Ocon, & Giovinazzi concluded the top 10.

Bottas retired following a malfunction during his pit-stop.

7,500 grand-stand spectators were permitted per day over the weekend, in addition to the innumerable VIP guests throughout Monte Carlo’s many lavish luxuries.

Heading into Round 6 in Baku, Verstappen leads the driver's standings for the first time in his career.

Hamilton, who is 12 years Max's senior, trails the Red Bull driver by only 4 points and will be looking to retake the lead in the coming weeks.

Christian Horner’s team leads the way in the Constructor’s standings, just a single point above Mercedes.

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