Lewis Hamilton came victorious in Bahrain, although not having the fastest car on the grid. This was an unusual scenario, as Red Bull was accustomed to play the catch up game for the whole season, trailing Mercedes in terms of car’s performance.
Things however changed in 2021, and the seven-times world champions look to have a serious championship fight ahead of the season. The Red Bull’s RB16B looks to be, as things stand, the most competitive car. Both F1 pundits and aficionados are anticipating a championship battle that will go down the wire, to the very last race of the season.
It is nonetheless not the first time Hamilton and his team have to face a resurgence in competitiveness of their opponent. Back in 2017 and 2018, Ferrari, led by Sebastian Vettel, gave to the Brackley based squad a challenge for the most part of the season. It ultimately came to some mishaps in the execution from both the team and the driver to decide the fate of the championship — and not the intrinsic performance of the cars.
Contemplating the years he faced the toughest rivalries, and asked which one was his in F1 history, Hamilton picked "mine and Seb's battles", calling them his “favourite up to now".
Hamilton opened up about the respect he has for Vettel as a man, and as an incredible driver as well, who forced them to remain focused in order to prevail ultimately.
"Knowing how hard it is to be where we are today, knowing I was racing against an incredible driver, and not only that, but a great man in Seb," Hamilton said.
"He's a four-time world champion. Ultimately when you're racing against another team at the same time, Ferrari who were very strong at the time - it took a lot out of both of us in that period of time to remain focused, to deliver weekend in, weekend out.”
The Stevenage born also reflected on the positive impact having to fight a highly competitive Ferrari had, asserting it strengthened the bond between his team’s members.
"I think whilst it was a difficult period for us, I think it probably brought us closer as well, because the respect that we have between us is I think huge."
Considering his chances in the 2021 season, the Briton refused to give in to assumptions, only sharing how he relishes the upcoming title fight.
"For me, I think fighting with Seb, fighting with Valtteri, you just want to be fighting with the best drivers and [it be] as close as possible," Hamilton said.
"Then you can hopefully try and eke out a bit more than your competitors to get the results."
Ultimately, the F1 defending champion hinted that he and his team would do everything to delay the coronation of Verstappen.
"It's different now, of course. If I'm racing with Max, he doesn't have the background that Seb has, but he's obviously got the chance of being a future champion.”
"Whether that's now or later, it depends on the job ultimately that the team and I do."