Six races into the 2021 Formula 1 season and Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship with a gruelling triple-header to come.
It’s anyone’s championship for the first time in a long time, and the championship will likely come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.
New for 2021 several new technical rule changes were introduced including one aimed directly at Mercedes – the dual axis steering system (DAS) ban.
Specifically, the changes to the floor has played havoc for all cars. As winter testing unfolded at the Bahrain International Circuit in March, it was clear that not a single team had a car that their drivers were entirely satisfied with as the term snappy consumed drivers radios.
Mercedes notably struggled as Red Bull succeeded during winter testing. It was clear heading into the 2021 season that both Verstappen and Hamilton were set to deliver championship grade performances, and the difference would be down to mistakes.
Below is a race by race review documenting each error made by the two protagonists so far.
Bahrain Grand Prix | +7 pts HAM v. -7 pts VER
- Q1: Verstappen wide on Turn 2 exit bangs the floor of the car off the curbs requiring inspection before Q2. [Driving error – VER]
- Q3: Hamilton makes a mistake in sector two registering a yellow sector time in his final Q3 run as Verstappen delivers a triple purple lap -0.388 to Hamilton. [Driving error – HAM]
- Hamilton undercuts Verstappen, pitting early on lap 13. [Team error resulting in loss of position – Red Bull]
- Red Bull run Verstappen long, resulting in the loss of 8.35 seconds to Hamilton between laps 13 to 18 in the process. [Team error – Red Bull]
- Red Bull/Verstappen fail to recognize FIA event notes changes at Turn 4 allowing for excessively wide running only to notify Verstappen mid-race of its allowance – [Team error – Red Bull]
- Hamilton locks up into Turn 10 under tremendous pressure from Verstappen on lap 51. [Driving error – HAM]
- Max passes Hamilton off the circuit in Turn 4 on lap 53. [Driving error resulting in loss of points – VER] although this error is disputed.
- Max relinquishes the position to Hamilton as instructed by his team on Lap 53 and as he prepares for another attack, Verstappen nearly crashes in Turn 13 on the same lap, ending his attack. [Driving error – VER].
The net result of Bahrain was there were mistakes made from both sides but Verstappen made an error resulting in a loss of points. Verstappen nearly crashing in Turn 13 on lap 53 just as he was regrouping himself to challenge Hamilton who appeared to be a sitting duck was the error that ended his ability to rival Hamilton.
Verstappen would later explain that he had lost grip due to long running within a second of Hamilton.
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | +7 pts VER v. -7 pts HAM
- FP2: Verstappen driveshaft issue – [Mechanical issue – Red Bull]
- FP3: Verstappen bounces car violently off curbing running wide at Acque Minerali. – [Driver error – VER]
- Q3: During Verstappen’s final lap he was wide exiting Turn 3 at Tamburello dipping both left wheels into the grass, losing a tenth in the process, and registering a yellow first sector. [Driving error resulting in the loss of pole position – VER]
- Not only did Hamilton get off the line slow, he fails to cover Max and then makes himself vulnerable to Verstappen resulting in Hamilton bouncing across the curbs and doing minor damage to his front wing [Driving error resulting in loss of position – HAM]
- Hamilton fails to deliver an overcut on Verstappen at the first pit stop as a result of a slow in lap and an agonizingly slow pit box entry [Driving error – HAM]
- Hamilton crashes while impatiently navigating traffic. [Driver error resulting in loss of points – HAM]
- Verstappen nearly crashes while restarting the race after the Valtteri Bottas/George Russell Red Flag. [Driver error – VER]
Despite Hamilton’s miraculous recovery to second position, Hamilton was significantly faster than Verstappen in every phase of the race ultimately losing any potential of race victory after crashing while navigating traffic. It was also Verstappen’s strongest race this season.
Portuguese Grand Prix | +3 pts VER v. +0 pts HAM
- FP1: Hamilton states the car is “pretty un-drivable” and requires serious setup changes [Team error – Mercedes]
- FP1: Verstappen complaining of severe vibration [Mechanical issue – Red Bull]
- FP3: Verstappen has a brake by wire issue [Mechanical issue – Red Bull]
- Q3: An early lap of 1:18.209 by Verstappen is deleted due to a Turn 4 track infringement. [Driving error resulting in loss of pole position – VER]
- Verstappen catches Hamilton sleeping on the restart and beats him to Turn 1 [Driving error resulting in loss of position – HAM]
- Verstappen makes a mistake in Turn 14 as Hamilton regains position [Driving error resulting in loss of position – VER]
- Red Bull pit Verstappen a second time forcing Mercedes to cover with Bottas. A mistake after exiting the pits see’s Verstappen jump Bottas for second position. [Team decision resulting in gaining points – Red Bull]
- Verstappen delivers the fastest lap on the final lap only to be stripped of the additional point due to track infringement penalty in Turn 14. [Driving error resulting in loss of points]
The Mercedes of Hamilton showed significantly better race pace than Red Bull, therefore errors on either side are nullified. Verstappen would likely have finished in third position had Red Bull not forced Mercedes to pit Bottas a second time. Therefore that’s a points win for Verstappen despite losing one point due to the loss of the fastest lap error.
Spanish Grand Prix | +0 pts HAM v. +0 pts VER
- Q3: Both Hamilton and Verstappen fail to improve on final Q3 run [Driving error – HAM & VER]
- Hamilton fails to match Verstappen’s launch off the line resulting in Verstappen beating Hamilton to Turn 1 [Driving error resulting in loss of position – HAM]
- Mercedes make no secret of holding onto an extra set of mediums for the race allowing for a strong two-stop strategy which wins them the race [Team decision gaining position – Mercedes]
It’s anyone’s guess whether Verstappen had anything for Hamilton on a one-stop strategy. The fact that Mercedes kept an extra set of mediums and then perfectly executed a two stop strategy really only guaranteed an inevitability. Therefore both drivers finished where they likely would have, regardless of pit stop strategies.
Monaco GP | +0 pts VER v. -6 pts HAM
- FP3: Mercedes/Hamilton are completely lost on setup as the car suffers from oversteer [Team error – Mercedes]
- Q3: On Hamilton’s second last potential lap with approximately 32 seconds remaining in the session, Hamilton backs out of his lap after registering +0.345 to Charles Leclerc at the completion of the second sector, to instead prepare the car for one last lap. Leclerc would go on to crash and the Red Flag prevented any further running. Had Hamilton completed his final lap which he backed out of, he would have been the last car to complete a timed lap and would have unquestionably beat Pierre Gasly to sixth starting position [Error in hindsight – HAM]
- Q3: Hamilton and Verstappen are both guilty of soft first Q3 laps. Leclerc does not deliver soft laps in qualifying by comparison. Verstappen’s first lap in Q3 was soft and beaten candidly by Leclerc. It left Verstappen vulnerable to a Red Flag which is exactly what happened. [Error in hindsight – VER]
- Mercedes attempt to undercut Gasly at the first and only pit stop, and it failed miserably. The end result is Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez both also jump Hamilton. [Team error resulting in loss of points – Mercedes]
Red Bull were supposed to dominate Monaco and were beaten by Ferrari in qualifying. While any further potential criticism of Red Bull evaporated with Leclerc’s DNS, Verstappen starring at Leclerc’s rear wing across the finish line on Sunday was a real potential. Likewise, everyone’s full attention was directed at the absolute disaster that was Hamilton’s race.
In short, Hamilton started ahead of Perez and finished well behind him, Hamilton should not have finished any worse than fourth position at the very least, instead of seventh. An argument could also be made that Hamilton should not have finished worse than second to Verstappen.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix | +0 pts VER v. -25 pts HAM
- FP3: Minor crash for Verstappen [Driver error – VER]
- Failing to translate lessons learned from Monaco, Verstappen and Hamilton deliver soft initial Q3 laps once again leaving themselves vulnerable to Leclerc in the Ferrari and a Red Flag. They once again learn it the hard way as Yuki Tsunoda’s late session crash eliminates any potential of a final run. [Driving error – HAM & VER]
- Hamilton delivers an embarrassingly slow in-lap during the first pit stop cycle, compounded by having to hold in the pit box to avoid an unsafe release penalty [Driver error resulting in loss of two positions – HAM]
- Max Verstappen’s tyre explodes resulting in a DNF despite certain race victory [Bad luck – VER]
- Hamilton misses Turn 1 during the restart after the red flag for the Verstappen incident. It was later determined Hamilton had accidently left a brake setting engaged which caused the problem [Driver error resulting in the loss of points – HAM]
Hamilton managed to throw this race away twice on Sunday. More concerning, his error on the red flag restart is among the most severe throughout his illustrious career.
Mistake Balance Sheet
Emilia Romagna GP
|+7 pts||-7 pts|
|Portuguese GP||+3 pts||
|Spanish GP||0 pts||
|Monaco GP||0 pts||
Looking at the totals, Verstappen balanced his Bahrain error with a superb drive in Imola. With some help from his team he was able to steal three points away from Bottas in Portugal only to throw a potential fourth point away by losing the fastest lap point being too wide in Turn 14.
While not being recorded as an error, it’s unfair to completely ignore the 25 points Verstappen lost in the closing stages of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It isn’t included in the tally, although it is noted.
Hamilton on the other hand, has thrown away at least 31 points this season. While Verstappen may be Hamilton’s strongest rival since 2016, what’s different is the self-inflicted damage Hamilton has done himself this year alone.
Although the pace delta’s have been slightly tipped in the Mercedes man’s favour on average, Hamilton will need to look within himself to resolve to his own struggles.