Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are relishing the opportunity to go wheel-to-wheel for the 2021 Formula 1 drivers’ championship after splitting the first two races.
Defending champion Hamilton won from second on the grid in Bahrain — holding off Verstappen by less than a second — while the Red Bull driver started third in Imola but took victory as Hamilton went off while trying to chase him down. Despite being beaten last weekend, Hamilton says he’s motivated by the fact Verstappen has a car capable of fighting him for the title.
“Yeah, excited for the battle,” Hamilton said. “I think this is really the first time in a long time that Red Bull have had a championship-winning car, so I think it’s going to be close all the way through the year — and it’s just going to be, hopefully, more and more of these battles.”
Verstappen echoed Hamilton’s comments, although warned both teams need to work hard to keep their drivers in the battle.
“We have to keep on improving because there’s still a lot of work to be able to keep doing this the whole season,” Verstappen said. “Of course if I would be driving P10, it’s not enjoyable. It’s great to be fighting against Lewis and Mercedes who, I think, as a team, they have been so dominant and they’re very difficult to beat. So to be able to sit here now (as a winner), now two races in a row, we were very, very competitive — that’s very promising but no guarantees.”
While Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says the rivalry would be good for Formula 1, he says it’s still too early to be certain there isn’t a clear favorite this season.
“I think we’ve had a sample now of two races… I always said it would take four races or so to see a true reflection of the competitive positions of each of the teams,” Horner said. “After two races we’re starting to see a pattern that the cars and drivers are very, very tight between Lewis and Max.
“At the moment it’s marginal gains here and there. We see that they’ve got very good range and degradation. Definitely it’s immense, the pace we had in both the Bahrain test and Bahrain race, now we’ve been able to bounce back after the disappointment of losing that Bahrain race to win in Imola.
“I hope selfishly for us but also for Formula 1 — they’re crying out for a great rivalry between these two drivers and I think the sport will benefit from that.”