After the first four races of the 2021 season, it appears clear that the battle for the title is open and the two sole contenders are Mercedes and Red Bull.
The Milton Keynes team was heading to Spain convinced they had the pace to win the Grand Prix and exploit the momentum back in their favour for the championship fight.
Indeed, if there’s one thing the four opening races have done is to point out that Red Bull currently has a quicker car in qualifying, but after years of dominance Mercedes clearly holds the edge when it comes to tyre management over longer runs.
Last weekend, Max Verstappen did everything right in what was his 100th Grand Prix for Red Bull but, ultimately, after being at the lead for 54 laps, he did not have the pace to win.
The powerful mix of Lewis Hamilton’s mastery in tyre management and the team’s ability to always get their strategy right is what gave Mercedes the extra push to win. Indeed, the Briton’s rubber appeared to be in much better shape at the end of stints than Max Verstappen’s.
Unlike past seasons, however, nothing is decided yet.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes trackside engineering director, has still some doubts over Mercedes’ race pace advantage and suggests that the issue appears to revolve around car balance.
“We are still not really at a stage where we go in thinking we’ve got a better race car or we are better at looking after the tyres,”
“It is actually quite hard to say what it was [in the Spanish GP]. We were able to sit behind them and, when you are the lead car and someone can sit on your gearbox for a whole stint, it is not normally good news” he explained.
“But we are still in the stage of the year where we are collecting data across the different tracks. But it does look to be a bit of a trend that maybe we have got a slightly more neutral car.
“Theirs seems to be a bit harder on the rear tyres over a stint whereas we are using both axles quite well. But we will see with some more data whether that is really a feature of the car or just how we are setting it up.”
On the opposite side of the ring, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner thinks there is no doubt that Mercedes has had the pace advantage in recent races but remains encouraged that his squad is much closer than it was 12 months ago.
“I think the Mercedes, and we've seen it since Bahrain, their race pace has been better than ours at each GP that we've seen so far,” he said.
“I think that their degradation has been better than ours. So we knew these last two circuits would play to their strengths. They have done that”, said Horner.
“But we're an awful lot closer than we have been and I think if we can find some more race pace it's still very, very tight between the two cars.”
And, honestly, we are all here for such a tight battle.