By Shwetha Surendran
Boston University News Service
It was December 2020 when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was asked if Mercedes needed a Lewis Hamilton-caliber driver when his substitute, George Russell, qualified as well.
“Of course, you do,” Verstappen said. “Because he will make the difference in the most crucial moments. That’s why he’s a seven-time world champion.”
That respect was on full-display over the weekend at the gray, overcast Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari for the ‘Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made In Italy E Dell’emilia Romagna 2021.’
While Hamilton claimed his 99th pole position at Saturday’s qualifying session, Verstappen lined up inches behind on the second row of the grid. But as the lights went out for Sunday’s race, Verstappen’s Red Bull cruised up the inside of Hamilton, taking the lead of the Grand Prix.
He held this lead through multiple safety cars and a red flag.
The first 32 laps of the Grand Prix reflected the tricky conditions on the track: spins, crashes and a red-flagged race. As the remaining 17 competitors filed into the pitlane, the three who would not continue were George Russell, his teammate Nicholas Latifi and the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
Only a stroke of luck and years of experience under pressure saved Hamilton’s name from being added to the list as well.
Pushing to catch a rapid Verstappen and making his way through the back-markers, Hamilton’s tires had a tiny lock-up, taking him into the gravel trap. In seconds, he went from holding second place to being a lap down on Verstappen.
In the front, Verstappen’s Red Bull remained quick and steady amidst changing track conditions.
In his papaya-colored McLaren and Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris waged a battle of their own behind him. Norris, who had been exceptionally quick in Saturday’s qualifying session, finished the race third after an overtake on Leclerc during the restart. This was his second podium in Formula One.
Both of their more experienced teammates, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo, finished fifth and sixth respectively, keeping the fight for third between McLaren and Ferrari alive in the constructor’s championship.
After his mistake, Hamilton, wasted no time getting ahead of five cars and crossed the finish line second to Verstappen. Hamilton would also take home an extra point granted to the individual with the fastest lap of the race.
After weathering a miserable crash-strewn weekend with Bottas, there is no doubt why Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula One team principal Torger Christian “Toto” Wolff still needs a Hamilton in the car.
In recent years, the driver who won the second race of the season has won the championship. Perhaps the pattern will continue with Verstappen and his Red Bull.
The action in the 2021 season continues on April 30 in Portugal. Soon after, Formula One will be back in Florida for the brand-new Miami Grand Prix in 2022. It is set to be hosted at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens.