Monday 22 November 2021
Which side are the villains on?
Hamilton has regained superhero status
He wants to watch the race again, says Lewis Hamilton after his victory in Qatar. But not because the Formula 1 world champion wants to admire himself, but because he wants to see “what happened behind me”. An arrogance that he can afford. Red Bull doubts that, however.
His boss had just certified him superpowers, the experts were amazed at the comeback in the title fight – Lewis Hamilton himself had a modest wish after a lonely evening at the head of the field. “I’m looking forward to watching the replay,” said the world champion after the victory in Qatar. “I want to see what happened behind me.”
Because Hamilton was no longer used to a race without any contact with the opponents, as in the times of the greatest Mercedes dominance. He had recently fought close duels with Max Verstappen for months, his bolide was partially defeated – but after the victories in Brazil and now in the Persian Gulf, the world looks completely different again.
The Mercedes is again the best package, as it is called in Formula 1, it is a car that you can win on all tracks. And inside there is a driver who then completes it. Mercedes motorsport director Toto Wolff did not hold back in his eulogy. “Lewis is there,” he said, “brutal, cold-blooded. When faced with adversity, he is able to develop the powers of a superhero.” Two weeks ago, after the race in Mexico, Hamilton was already 19 points behind, and Verstappen’s car seemed too strong in the end of the season. And next was the race in São Paulo – for all that was known at the time, a Red Bull track.
Red Bull suspects fraud
But everything turned out differently. Hamilton won there, although he was relocated twice by race management, and Verstappen could not follow in Qatar either. From Red Bull’s point of view, it all happened a little too quickly.
Team boss Christian Horner has been irritating over and over again in the past few weeks, “because I say everything straightforward,” as the Briton says. And especially often recently he said that something was wrong with the Mercedes. “What we see there is abnormal speed on the straights,” said Horner. There was something with the engine, maybe also with the rear wing, the statements were never much more specific. And there are no complaints from the FIA inspectors. The ongoing allegations, however, are slowly ensuring that Horner and Red Bull themselves slip into the rogue role.
The truth is possibly quite simple: the Mercedes has been a winning car all season and the most difficult stretches for silver are over. In addition, Hamilton now – officially – has a fresh engine available again.
The world championship fight doesn’t feel particularly good for Red Bull anymore, and Verstappen is still leading the rankings. It’s eight points, after all, and he could make his first title perfect in Saudi Arabia (December 5th). However, even Horner sees Mercedes at an advantage on the new, fast-flowing street circuit, and the following season finale in Abu Dhabi (December 12th) is a journey into the unknown: The route has been rebuilt at crucial points.
It is entirely possible that Verstappen will have the faster car again. But even the Dutch are now relying on force majeure. “A lot of things can happen in two races,” says Verstappen, “that have nothing to do with the speed of the car.”