“Every point counts“. This is the constant, and sometimes a bit cloying, litany that you hear repeated every race weekend from the top management of Mercedes and Red Bull. The fight between the two teams in the constructors’ championship, and above all that between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ ranking, it is actually destined to decide on the wool thread. There have already been five overtakes and counter-overtakes in the standings between the two contenders, with 6 GPs still to be played. For comparison, in 2018 – the last year of the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry – there were four in the whole year. It has often been highlighted that the accidents in Baku, Silverstone and Budapest have caused Max Verstappen to lose many points in situations where the Dutchman was without responsibility.
However, it is also right to underline how the Hamilton-Mercedes duo, in the past infallible when it was a question of shoving their opponents in the decisive moments, has instead often hesitated this year. Analyzing all 16 GPs so far, they are eight races in which serious errors by the driver or the team can be found, at the driving or strategic level, which made the reigning champions lose valuable points. A wasteful loot that can be quantified, rounding down, in 59 points. A huge margin that, if he had been fully converted, would have probably already sanctioned the end of the 2021 title race.
Round 02 – GP Emilia Romagna (Hamilton error, 0 points lost)
Hamilton is second and is chasing Verstappen, but in the hurry to overtake the laps he misses and ends up off the track. Returns 9 °, doubled and with the front wing broken. A providential red flag, however, saves him, allowing him to double and restart with the repaired W12. The Englishman in ‘race-2’ recovers and crosses the finish line behind his Red Bull rival.
Round 05 – GP Monte-Carlo (Mercedes mistake, 4 points lost)
Mercedes’ black weekend starts right from qualifying. Hamilton is only seventh and complains about a less than ideal setup. In the race he goes back to sixth place, potentially fifth thanks to the unfortunate retirement of Valtteri Bottas. But in the pits they completely miss their strategy, attempting an impossible undercut and forcing Hamilton to get stuck in traffic. Result? The Englishman is overtaken by Vettel and Perez and slips back to seventh place.
Round 06 – Azerbaijan GP (Hamilton error, 18 points lost)
Destined for third place behind the two Red Bulls, Hamilton receives a gift from the Blindfolded Goddess with Verstappen’s spectacular puncture. The race stopped with the red flag and restarts for only three laps. The Englishman is second and overtakes Sergio Perez at the start. But he inadvertently messes with the buttons on his steering wheel and changes the braking distribution, ending up long in Turn 1. A safe second place – and potential first – turns into 15th.
Round 07 – French GP (Mercedes mistake, 7 points lost)
Hamilton, second on the grid, sprints well and mocked Verstappen. Everything seems to go in the direction of the silver arrows, with the English first and Bottas third. This time, however, he misses the wall. The Mercedes strategists stop Bottas to attempt the undercut on Verstappen, but cause the opposite effect. The Dutchman stops to mark the Finn and manages to pass Hamilton. Not even the second stop slows down the Red Bull rider, who passes Hamilton in the final laps and wins on a ‘historically’ pro-Mercedes track.
Round 11 – Hungarian GP (Mercedes mistake, 7 points lost)
Hamilton first and Verstappen last with the car heavily damaged after the first corner of the race. All set for Mercedes triumph? No. On the humid but rapidly drying Budapest track, Mercedes decides not to change tires on the W12 # 44 at the time of the restart after the red flag. All the other cars re-entered the pit lane, leaving the Briton alone on the grid. The subsequent comeback up to second place mitigates the damage, but other points are thrown away.
Round 14 – Italian GP (Hamilton and Mercedes errors, 21 points lost)
Bottas ahead of Hamilton in the qualifying which defines the grid of the ‘sprint race’. The extension of the English in the standings seems to have been done, however The Hammer clamorously messes at the start and in the Sprint Qualification he is only fifth, throwing away three points. In Sunday’s race he recovered, overtook Norris and after Verstappen’s mistake in the pits, he seemed destined for at least second place in the race. On the other hand, a not fast enough stop forces him to go out behind Norris again and above all side by side with the Red Bull # 33. The rest, as they say, is history.
Round 15 – Russian GP (Hamilton error, 0 points lost)
The seven-time world champion (already ‘foul’ in qualifying) starts very badly again, but lap after lap he comes back and in the end of the race he is second, with the usual Norris McLaren within reach. The rain, however, messes up the strategies. Norris – wrongly – does not want to return. Hamilton would like to do the same. After a series of back and forth, the will of the team prevails, which ‘forces’ it to stop. The move is decisive. Hamilton mounts the intermediate tires and wins the race with almost a minute of margin on Verstappen second. Norris only finishes seventh; fate that could also have touched the world champion.
Round 16 – Turkish GP (Hamilton mistake, 2 points lost)
The Sochi replica is lived in Istanbul. In wet track conditions the team would like to bring Hamilton back to fit a set of new intermediates. The Englishman is not convinced, he wants to end the race without a pit stop, and is out of 10 laps too many. He closes the race fifth and is angry with the team. But if he had followed the instructions of the garage he would probably have finished at least fourth, having the better of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.