It’s been a long time since seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was the underdog, but with his rival, Max Verstappen now commanding the standings, could there be a new sheriff in town?
Many came into the season trying to desperately pick a new narrative for the championship after seven years of F1 being labelled “boring” as Mercedes dominated the hybrid-era, alongside Hamilton.
The Briton is hoping to become the most successful driver in history with an eighth world title, but now in his 15th season in F1, he’s has been left in the most precarious position after seven rounds, trailing title rival Verstappen by 18 points.
It’s the first time Mercedes have really felt the heat from a rival team since 2018, when Sebastian Vettel took the fight to Hamilton with Ferrari, leading the standings early on.
Yet that came to an end in Mexico as Hamilton dominated the latter part of the season. Vettel needed to win the Grand Prix and Hamilton finish eighth or lower for the Championship to remain in contention.
The German finished second, but Hamilton finished fourth, which was enough to secure his fifth Drivers’ Championship with three two races still to go. Since then, Mercedes have once again been untouchable.
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This season, we’ve seen something similar from Verstappen, who has led early on, but we’ve equally seen something quite different from Mercedes and Hamilton, who have been unable to muster any replies to Red Bull’s pace.
Not only that, but Hamilton is currently in talks with his team about continuing in the sport, with team principal Toto Wolff saying he couldn’t imagine that Hamilton wouldn’t race for Mercedes, adding that the 36-years-old was as eager as ever.
“He is very hungry,” Wolff said. “It’s a very new situation for him also in that it’s so tight in the battle with another team and another driver and he is in very good spirits.”
Monaco was the swing with the Dutchman taking control of the standings thanks to a tough weekend for Mercedes.
Baku also lent itself nicely to Red Bull, and despite Verstappen suffering a tyre blowout, the team still walked away leading both the driver and the team standings with no points scored by their main rivals.
Hamilton had recorded 54 consecutive points finishes before Baku, an all-time record.
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The Briton and Mercedes then looked to bounce back in France but, despite a vast improvement from the previous two races, a clever strategy call from Red Bull saw Verstappen extend his lead at the top of the standings to 12 points heading into two rounds at Austria.
But then come round seven, the reigning world champions were outclassed by Red Bull and Verstappen at the Styrian Grand Prix, which left Mercedes scratching their heads, and Hamilton demanding upgrades to the car.
“It was a bit of a lonely race really,” said Hamilton, after he finished 35 seconds behind his main rival.
“I was trying to keep up with those guys but the speed they have, they have obviously made some improvements over the last couple of races and it was impossible to keep up.
“I don’t know where we are losing all the time but their long runs seem to be better, they seem to be able to continue putting out those laps and on the straight, we lose a lot, or it feels like we lose a lot down the straights.
Yet, Hamilton seems to be rattled this season. He may be hungry, but the pressure on his shoulders must be immense with a team that have come accustomed to being the best.
As for Red Bull, their form has breathed new life into “boring” Formula One, and as Toto Wolff said, the battle is “just what the doctor ordered.”