Column | Mistakes under pressure by Hamilton & Verstappen makes F1 2021 exciting

19-04-2021 08:15 | Updated: 19-04-2021 08:21
Column | Mistakes under pressure by Hamilton & Verstappen makes F1 2021 exciting

Wow! The realisation that we've only had two races in the 2021 Formula 1 season is starting to sink in. However, these two races have already provided more spectacle than the past eight years combined. The main conclusion after Imola? Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are only human too.

Verstappen makes mistakes too

After the Bahrain Grand Prix one thing seemed certain: Red Bull Racing has the strongest car. Lewis Hamilton made a mistake in turn ten, but over the rest of the lap Verstappen was faster than the Brit. Many Verstappen fans may have thought that with such a strong car he would win every qualifying session, but Hamilton was not to be trifled with.

Where many know Hamilton from his dominant period with Mercedes, this is the weapon of Lewis. The Briton has 99 poles to his name for a reason. He did this not only with the fastest car, but also when his car was less good. This was the case in Imola. Where Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen made mistakes in their fastest lap, Hamilton was faultless and was on pole.

The displeasure dripped from Verstappen's face after qualifying, and that made me think back to Mexico 2018, when Daniel Ricciardo stole the pole from him. Then too, Verstappen was angry with himself. ''I'm not a robot either'', he revealed after qualifying, and that's exactly what makes this championship so beautiful.

Hamilton is also a human being

The start of the race was also a copy of 2018. A tormented Verstappen made by far the best start and left no room for Hamilton. A great overtaking manoeuvre, which gave him a taste of his own medicine after Bahrain. That Hamilton stayed on the outside and got damaged, can be seen as a small mistake by Lewis.

After the start it became clear that the important second placed drivers would not be competing in Imola. Perez lost his spot to Charles Leclerc and would later lose more spots due to a penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car and also later in the race due to a spin. Valtteri Bottas was also nowhere to be seen. Bottas 4.0 is still unable to cut through a midfield or have any kind of pace on a wet track.

So it became man-to-man for the win, and that's what made the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix interesting. Hamilton kept his intermediates alive a little longer than Verstappen, but Verstappen's pit stop came just in time. Where it seemed a bit too early at first, Verstappen drove a great out-lap, where Hamilton was also unlucky with yet another pit stop error at Mercedes.

The chance to overtake seemed gone, and Hamilton saw Verstappen disappear on the horizon. He wanted to pass George Russell quickly, but forgot the track was still wet. A rare mistake by Hamilton, which almost cost him his head. That he got his car out of the wall and off the gravel here was a miracle. That he then had some luck with the red flag is part of the game.

F1 2021 more exciting than ever

Because one lap later, there was an even bigger crash between Russell and Bottas (more on this later), which brought out a red flag. This negated the pit stop Hamilton had made and the lap deficit he had accumulated, and Lewis was able to rejoin the hunt from P8.

Hamilton did so in a unique way. Although he might have been a bit upset after his mistake, he managed to clear his head before the restart and drove back to second place in phenomenal fashion. He also took the point for the fastest lap, which keeps him in the lead.

The 2021 championship is already better than we have seen in the last eight years. Two drivers who stand out so much, yet again show that they are human. They are not robots who will always get everything out of their car. Hamilton made a mistake in Bahrain qualifying, Verstappen had a moment of oversteer when overtaking Hamilton in the race. In Imola, it was Verstappen who made a mistake in qualifying, while Hamilton made bigger mistakes in the race. Both make mistakes, and that's what makes it so exciting.

Russell vs Bottas

Then there was the incident between Bottas and Russell. I think the stewards did the right thing there in classifying it as a racing incident. Russell may have taken a bit too much risk close to Bottas there and on the wet part of the track, and Bottas may not have moved with the corner completely, causing Russell to get spooked.

I don't want to talk about the incident though, but the events afterwards. Indeed, Russell's extreme anger lasted a very long time. Hitting your competitor just after the incident can be done, but once calmed down you'd expect the press to show some nuance. That nuance wasn't there.

Russell kept insisting that it was Bottas' fault and that he had not kept to the 'gentleman's agreement' to keep to the line. That was still his position after the race, but the story around it made it juicy. As it turns out, there is a lot of frustration on Russell's part about the fact that he is still driving for Williams.

Arrogance or frustration with Russell?

Why else would you say after a crash like that that Valtteri Bottas should be driving for the win every race? That Bottas shouldn't be driving there in midfield at all? It was a nice statement for us, but what are you actually saying George? That you're so great, or that you think Bottas is terrible? In either case you are not behaving like a Mercedes junior.

Statements like this from the normally politically correct Russell, clearly show he is frustrated. There's more going on behind the scenes and it's clear he's balking that he's still driving for Williams, when he almost beat Bottas on his debut for Mercedes. The question is, does his scolding help him very much?

Is Russell shooting himself in the foot?

Toto Wolff was not amused by his statements, saying that Russell still has a lot to learn. Of course Wolff has to stand up for Bottas in this case as well, because otherwise he would ruin Bottas' self-confidence. Bottas is already underperforming, so these quotes from Russell were actually not necessary.

Since Wolff's arrival Mercedes likes a quiet organisation. Things have to work out between two drivers. That works with Hamilton and Bottas. The Finn however doesn't always reach the desired level, so they look at the juniors, like Russell. But if he lets himself be known in such a way, he won't score any points with Wolff. In fact, he could have made his position worse for 2022.

Assuming it was a racing incident, it was yet another opportunity for Russell to score points for Williams. In that respect, it might be better for Russell to focus on his own performance, rather than that of Bottas. He needs to score points for Williams in 2021 and not already be thinking about his seat for 2022.

The Grand Prix in Imola was a great second chapter in the book F1 2021. Mercedes and Red Bull Racing are clearly not far apart, and Hamilton and Verstappen turn out to be only human too. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will be world champion this year. For now it's 1-1. On to Portimao.

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