Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton could be one of the most exciting new rivalries on the Formula One grid, one that has been compared to the likes of the great Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost battle in the late 80s.
We were treated to an epic duel for the win in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix a few weeks ago, and after a dramatic victory for Hamilton in the opening race of the Formula One season, it’s advantage Mercedes heading into round two in Italy.
And it’s no secret that many are hoping we see much the same during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the place Mercedes wrapped up a record seventh consecutive constructors’ title last season.
The Mercedes one-two last season also put Hamilton within striking distance of breaking another record, equalling Michaer Schumacher for world titles.
However this season, F1 heads to Imola much earlier, with the seven-time world champion leading the way in the driver’s standings – but with what looks to be a mighty fast Red Bull of Verstappen in his rear view mirror.
Emilia Romagna Grand Prix makes schedule changes
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Verstappen topped the timing sheets in all practice sessions and grabbed pole position in Bahrain, something he had never done before in his career, but failed to take the win.
And the Dutchman admits he’s under no illusion that keeping Hamilton at bay won’t be an easy task.
He told Autosport: “Man, you know it’s super hard, but of course you have to give credit to Lewis.
“[For] the way he has dealt with all the years, to always come back and be honoured and win that amount of races and championships. You definitely cannot go around Lewis.
“But, of course, there are still a lot of other people in F1, I think who are very good, very strong, and would have been very good in that car as well.
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‘But still, of course, the way Lewis has won and also sometimes in tricky races – like last year in Turkey, to win that race, I think he did very well. Yeah, definitely he is one of the best ever in F1.”
Qualifying will be key heading into the race on Sunday, even more so due to the tight and high-seed nature of the circuit, however naturally race strategy will come into play.
Hamilton admitted Bahrain wasn’t ‘business as usual’ for Mercedes – with the Brit admitting it was one of the hardest races he’d had in a while.
And with qualifying so important at Imola, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted they will be on the backfoot across a single lap.
“The 2021 F1 season certainly began in spectacular style. It was an encouraging first race, coming away from Bahrain with a double podium, and hopefully the duel in the desert between us and Red Bull is a sign of what’s to come this year,” said Wolff.
“We may have won the first round, but we’re under no illusions that this will be a straightforward season. The car is still lacking pace over a single lap and Red Bull appear to have the edge right now. We’re pushing hard to close the gap, and this is a challenge we relish.”
Now the real test comes for Red Bull to see if they can keep the pace they had in Bahrain, challenge Mercedes at the front, and this time take the win in what could be one of the most exciting seasons in F1 for a good while.
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