Who knows why Lewis Hamilton is viewed as some sort of anti-hero.
There’s no questioning his abilities behind the wheel of a Formula One car. Yes, he’s had the best machinery for years, but his level of consistency has been nothing short of remarkable.
As the cars smoldered on the grid ahead of the first race of the season, it wasn’t unreasonable to believe that for a change Lewis Hamilton was not sitting in the best car on the grid.
Away to his left, in pole position, sat the immensely talented Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. The RB16B had a slight performance advantage in qualifying and slight is all that’s required in formula one to make a difference.
Early in the race, Verstappen reported issues with the differential, but it didn’t appear to have an adverse effect on his pace. He flew from the start resisting Hamilton’s early challenge.
And so began a race-long battle for victory between the two drivers, not to mention the battle of wits between race strategists at Mercedes and Red Bull.
It would ultimately result in a thrilling final duel between Hamilton and Verstappen over the closing 6 laps.
There was a lot to savour before we reached that point.
Once again Charles Leclerc’s flair was more than evident in the Ferrari. The Prancing Horse is not at Mercedes or Red Bull levels just yet, but the latest incarnation of Ferrari’s F1 challenger is an improvement on 2020’s troublesome SF 1000.
Leclerc made the most of the machinery at his disposal and was involved in some exciting battles with Valteri Bottas in the early stages and then Lando Norris.
Norris is another one of the new young chargers blessed with natural speed. Both drivers also have personality and charisma, traits which, combined with their driving prowess make them hugely popular among race fans.
Then throw Max Verstappen into that mix and we could very well be about to enter another glorious era in formula one.
They are three drivers who have the potential to become World champions, popular ones at that.
That’s not forgetting Daniel Ricciardo, personable, fast, experienced and still with a point to prove.
When you consider the calibre of the current crop, the future of Formula one is in good hands.
Yes, we need Ferrari’s magnificent tradition, McLaren’s illustrious history, Red Bull’s contemporary image, and ambition, other famous Marques such as Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo are more than welcome back to the grid.
There are two keys to boosting f1’s popularity; Closer racing of course and that’s coming down the track in 2021 if the new regulations work as expected.
But ultimately it lies with the drivers and how they are perceived by race fans . In 2021 there appears to be plenty of personality on the grid. Dare I say it, there may even be a character or two.
Now it’s worth reminding you of where this story started; with Lewis Hamilton, sitting in second place on the grid, not in the best car, an anti-hero to some.
But in the midst of the rising tide of new talent, you have the 36-year-old 7-time world champion, who may not top the pole in the popularity stakes, but after race one, in 2021, is still the man to beat.
He held off Verstappen’s forceful challenge to win in Bahrain, but the young Dutch driver will come again, as will others, Norris and Leclerc may be among them if McLaren and Ferrari get on the pace. It could very well be one hell of a season.