The 2021 Formula 1 season's championship battle continues to swing between Red Bull and Mercedes, with no clear winner yet in sight.
We are now 20 races down in the 2021 Formula 1 season, with two more still to go. And amazingly, we are no closer to knowing whether Red Bull or Mercedes are title favourites at this point.
The latest race at Qatar saw Mercedes dominate from pretty much start to finish. Lewis Hamilton claimed an easy win, starting from pole and having no one even come close to challenging him.
And while Red Bull driver Max Verstappen still leads the world driver’s championship by 8 points, that is by no means an insurmountable gap. With a maximum of 52 points on offer, this could well go either way.
Aside from the thrilling – sometimes limit-pushing – racing between Hamilton and Verstappen, what has been truly shocking is the unpredictability of the races. That certain tracks will favour certain teams or drivers is a given.
But even that has not been set in stone so far this season. And it is a point worth exploring as we head into the final two races of the season – one of which features an entirely new track at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
In recent times especially, predictions have been made that have been thrown entirely out of the window on race day. Other times, teams have fared even better than expected to on certain tracks.
A quick look at the coming two races – the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and the Yas Marina West Circuit – actually makes for positive reading for Mercedes rather than Red Bull.
Granted, how the circuit at Jeddah – believed to be F1’s fastest street circuit – works is still something of an unknown, given no race has taken place there before.
But based on flying lap videos on F1’s social media, it is clear the circuit has a lot of straights; even the corners are mostly high-speed ones. Thus, it is logical to assume the Mercedes’ will have a better time at Jeddah.
Take a rapid lap of the new Jeddah Corniche Circuit 🚀
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 15, 2021
And Abu Dhabi has long been a Mercedes stronghold, even though last season Red Bull and Verstappen took the win. Realistically, that is one race which could go either way.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that Verstappen can actually win the championship at Saudi Arabia.
Should he take a race win plus the fastest lap point and Hamilton finish sixth or lower, the title will go in Verstappen’s favour. If Verstappen doesn’t get the extra point, he needs Hamilton to finish seventh or lower.
Of course, if Hamilton takes the win and the fastest lap point, the championship is level going into Abu Dhabi. And even if he doesn’t take the fastest lap point but wins, a one-point deficit in the final race is very easy to overcome.
So, as things stand, Mercedes have a slight advantage in terms of the tracks. But Red Bull can realistically afford to drop a few points and still end up with the world title.
In a nutshell, Mercedes still have more to do in terms of clawing back a deficit and building a lead. The latter won’t be possible at Jeddah unless Verstappen finishes low in or outside of the points.
However, they do still have to focus on not putting a foot wrong – as was the case at both Brazil and Qatar. Any slip-up all but guarantees a Red Bull win in the title race.
For Red Bull, however, they are closer to the title. That means, realistically, they don’t need to win both races – simply maintain a points advantage and they’re good.
Yet what makes the task even harder is that, towards the end of the season, pre-race predictions have often been proved to be wide off the mark.
Of the last six races – Russia, Turkey, United States, Mexico, Brazil and Qatar – only three have really gone as expected. Mercedes were always favourites in Russia and Turkey, as was proven with wins from Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
And Mexico was always going to be a Red Bull stronghold, given the high altitude is where Mercedes struggles and Honda’s power units work better.
Beyond that, however, expectations have by and large not been met.
The high-speed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas was widely expected to favour Mercedes. However, it was Verstappen who won there and Perez who took third. Hamilton was only just able to cling on to second.
Interlagos is also at a slight altitude, meaning Red Bull were expected to be the stronger team there too. But from the off Mercedes were quicker – and not even multiple penalties stopped Hamilton taking the win.
The Losail International Circuit at Qatar was different; both teams had enough reason to be confident. The long main straight played to Mercedes strengths, whereas the slow and medium corners suit Red Bull better.
However, again Red Bull were far off the pace. It is telling that Verstappen never got closer than six seconds to Hamilton throughout the race.
Then there’s also the fact that Mercedes, realistically, could have sealed a 1-2 at Mexico. Bottas and Hamilton were first and second, respectively, in qualifying.
Had they held that position going into Turn 1, they might have been able to defend it through the race. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is not conducive to plenty of overtaking.
Once Verstappen jumped both Mercedes cars, it was always a case of damage control. But the Mercedes cars were quicker in qualifying, meaning it was a case of what could have been.
In short – this season won’t be over till it is, indeed, over. And F1 fans – no matter who they support – should indeed be thankful for that.