Abu Dhabi GP Debrief: Verstappen is a 2021 title threat if Red Bull do their job

13-12-2020 20:00
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Abu Dhabi GP Debrief: Verstappen is a 2021 title threat if Red Bull do their job

The season ending Abu Dhabi GP wasn’t one that will stick in the memory forever, but it reminded us that 2021 could see the long-awaited title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – but only if Red Bull can provide Verstappen with a competitive car.

The Dutch driver was imperious in Abu Dhabi this weekend, taking a stunning pole position, leading every lap on his way to victory. In fact, he only missed out on becoming the youngest man to score a Grand Slam by Daniel Ricciardo stealing the fastest lap on the final lap.

For a few years now, fans and pundits have been desperate to see Verstappen take on Hamilton for the title. It was expected that 2020 might produce that battle and we got a glimpse of it when Verstappen superbly won the 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone earlier in the season.

However, the consistency hasn’t been there for Verstappen, and his win in Abu Dhabi was only his second of the year, while Hamilton has racked up 11. Not to take away from Hamilton’s incredible talent and immense desire for success, but it’s unlikely he would be well over 100 points clear of Verstappen if their cars were more closely matched.

Mercedes do an amazing job, and Hamilton does as well, as shown by his continued success. Red Bull have been the closest rivals to Mercedes this season, but they’ve still been unable to match the Germans on a consistent basis, meaning we haven’t seen F1’s two most talented racers going head to head for the title.

Of course Verstappen’s win doesn’t mean he’s the title favourite for 2021. It was after all, the final race of the season, and with titles wrapped up, perhaps Mercedes weren’t working at full capacity, with suggestions they were running with less power to preserve their engines. Then we have to understand Hamilton wasn’t yet fully recovered from his bout of COVID-19, meaning he wasn’t on his A-game in Abu Dhabi.

But Verstappen still had to get the job done and that’s exactly what he did. He rarely looked troubled on his way to a tenth Grand Prix victory, ending the season on a perfect high and maybe giving Red Bull that little bit of encouragement they needed to fully believe that a first title since 2013 is possible.

Everyone knows that Verstappen has the ability to make Hamilton and Mercedes uncomfortable. Now it is up to Red Bull to give a car capable of competing with his rival at every event, not just a few a year. Everyone knows it’s not that easy, however. Mercedes have had the advantage over everyone since the introduction of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014, but with 2021 the last year before another big set of rule changes, Red Bull may be able to finally catch up.

Obviously Mercedes will be looking to take an unprecedented eighth consecutive constructors’ crown, but with so much changing for 2022, the German team may have one eye on that, opening the door for Red Bull to sneak in.

It’s unlikely that many would begrudge Verstappen the opportunity to compete for a title. Whatever you think of him as an individual, his ability behind the wheel cannot be denied and aged just 23, he is more than ready for his opportunity at the title. He’s still raw and still makes mistakes, but it’s very difficult to be perfect in F1, especially at such a young age.

In ten years’ time, Verstappen will have won at least one F1 title, there is little doubt about that. The next question is when, and with which team? Verstappen is one of the most exciting young talents ever to break through into F1.

In a car that hasn’t been able to match Mercedes this season, Verstappen has mixed it with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on several occasions. He’s taken regular podiums, often splitting the two Mercedes drivers, and of course those two fabulous victories.

What is abundantly clear is that Verstappen feels it is his time to dominate Formula 1. He’s had to watch Hamilton win the last three titles, when he’s only been able to win a few races per season. He’s going to believe it has to happen soon, and could that lead to Red Bull losing Verstappen?

Maybe, maybe not. This question is probably better to ask in 2022, when the new cars come into effect, but if by then Red Bull haven’t produced a title winning car by then, Verstappen might just become impatient.

We don’t need to talk about that just yet though. For now, we have to realise Verstappen is a generational talent, and 2021 could potentially be the year we see that title battle between him and Hamilton, if Red Bull can do their job and give him a car capable of taking into battle.

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