Analysis Verstappen v Hamilton: Who has the quickest car?

16-09-2021 13:00 | Updated: 16-09-2021 13:37
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Analysis Verstappen v Hamilton: Who has the quickest car?

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are engaged in an intense battle during the 2021 Formula 1 season. The most recent season-long duel between Hamilton and Rosberg took place between Mercedes teammates, but this time two different teams are going head-to-head. 

We’ve seen thrills and spills on the circuit. Two big crashes, the second of which took both drivers out of the Italian Grand Prix. Verstappen leads his British rival by five points, whereas Mercedes have an 18 point advantage over Red Bull in the Constructors Championship. It’s a fascinating season, and this analysis takes a look at which car is faster. 

Little data following Silverstone

After a seriously strong triple-header in June and July, the alarm bells were ringing in Brackley and the Mercedes garage. As a result, they made it clear they were introducing significant upgrades for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. An event which Hamilton won, and reached the podium in the following three Grands Prix. In all likelihood, Hamilton was going to extend that streak in Monza. 

But it has been nearly impossible to see if these upgrades have worked in race trim. In Silverstone, Verstappen crashed heavily with Hamilton, and Perez started at the back of the grid following an issue in sprint qualifying. In Hungary, both Perez and Verstappen were involved in the first corner crash, which hampered the Dutchman for the rest of the race. And we can’t call the Belgian Grand Prix a race.

Since then, all drivers finished the Dutch Grand Prix without trouble, though Perez spent much of the race overtaking through the field. And half of the event in Italy was completed by the Championship rivals, with Perez and Bottas reaching the chequered flag. Though the Finn did start from the back. 

Monza speed

Over the last 12 months, there’s been a lot of talk about how Honda have significantly closed the gap between themselves and Mercedes power unit. And that might be true but on the circuit that truly tests power, Mercedes still reign supreme. 

In Friday qualifying, Valtteri Bottas put it on pole position, with Hamilton a close second. Verstappen was just over three-tenths behind. The Dutchman was almost beaten by both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo who are powered by Mercedes engines. 

Verstappen’s gap to pole position in Monza qualifying

Year Verstappen's gap to pole Pole position 
2021 + 0.411 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
2020 + 0.908 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2019  N/A  Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2018 + 1.496 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
2017 + 1.148 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2016 + 1.276 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

Astonishing gains

This highlights the gains Red Bull Racing and Honda have made, particularly around the power unit. Verstappen cut his previous best gap to pole position in half. 

But anyhow, the Mercedes power unit remains the strongest, and they could live to regret not scoring more points from the Italian Grand Prix. 

Dutch GP 

But what about the full package? The Zandvoort circuit was, as predicted, difficult to overtake on. Aside from some fantastic moves on the opening lap, only Sergio Perez really made ground through the field and he came up against back and midfield cars in a front runner. When he met a McLaren, contact was made proving just how difficult overtaking is. 

The first 13 positions didn’t change places from lap two to lap 20 when the pit window opened. The top five remained the same from lap 35 to lap 72, and the same could be said for sixth place aside from the last lap overtake from Alonso. 

There were few places on the circuit where moves could be made, and the dirty air provided a challenge for the drivers. Verstappen and Hamilton started on the front row, and the Dutchman got away better in front of his home fans. After the second corner, he already had a good gap over his rival. But this good gap of around 2-3 seconds remained the same throughout much of the Grand Prix. 

Measure Hamilton Verstappen Difference
Better lap time 30 42 12
Fastest lap 1:11.097 1:13.275 2.178
Slowest lap 1:16.203 1:16.363 0.159

Relatively even 

In the first stint where both drivers used soft tyres and obviously high fuel, Hamilton only recorded a faster time than Verstappen six times out of 20 laps. In the second stint on the medium tyres, the two drivers were extremely close, with Verstappen beating Hamilton 10-8. 

Crucially, the Red Bull car was faster in the final four consecutive laps of the middle stint, which indicates the RB16B is better at looking after its tyres. But Hamilton was stuck in the Dutchman’s disturbed air and there’s every chance this could’ve been flipped had Hamilton took the lead on the opening corner. 

Conclusion 

In short, there’s extremely little between the two cars. As demonstrated by the Monza power difference, the two cars have two different ways of creating similar lap times. Red Bull Racing might have the ever-so-slightly better package. 

The RB16B seems to be better at getting off the line, looking at the Dutch Grand Prix and sprint qualifying in Monza. This secured Verstappen the race win in the Netherlands, and his first pole position in Monza. Tyre management also seems to be slightly better for Verstappen, though there’s arguments to say dirty air played a part here. 

The truth is: this 2021 World Championship is going to come down to team strategy choices, driver skill, and as we’ve seen recently, wheel-banging, crashes and penalties. Exactly what Formula 1 needs, and exactly what the fans have craved for so long. 

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