Given the sheer quality of so many of 2021’s races, the law of averages was always likely to intervene at some stage and we were probably due a bit of a routine win for the reigning world champion.
What was remarkable about Lewis Hamilton’s dominance in the first Qatar Grand Prix was the matter-of-fact nature of the win at a new track and with the end of a long tough season looming. The post-race revelation that Hamilton was using a high mileage and less powerful race engine than the unit which carried him to glory in Brazil only adds further lustre to his performance.
The pressure is at boiling point and, while some are inevitably going to find their performances subdued by tension in that environment both Hamilton and Max Verstappen show few signs of nerves when they get behind the wheel.
While all around them representatives of Mercedes and Red Bull are preening and scheming like the leading cast members of Succession, Lewis and Max continue to bang in near perfect race weekends.
To measure the value of the Englishman’s 102nd win, you only have to consider the travails of his teammate Valtteri Bottas who not so long ago looked like a driver reborn having been unburdened from the tensions surrounding his whereabouts in 2022.
When it was announced that George Russell will take over his seat and that he is off to Alfa Romeo Bottas suddenly he seemed like a driver released from solitary confinement. A great win in Turkey, pole position in Mexico, a dominant sprint race win in Interlagos – Bottas has looked at times like a new man and his efforts might just heap a little extra pressure on George Russell for next year.
However, consistently matching a fired-up Lewis Hamilton – no matter how relaxed, focused and motivated you might be – is a task that has proved beyond all of Hamilton’s teammates with the exception of Nico Rosberg. And even he could only keep it going for a single season.
In Qatar, only Bottas had a realistic chance of matching Hamilton given the manner in which Mercedes pieced together a debut weekend at the Moto GP track but he was comprehensively outpaced by Hamilton.
Max Verstappen shrugged off the deserved five-place grid penalty he got for failing to observe waved yellow flags in qualifying, but Bottas, similarly inconvenienced by a yellow flag grid penalty, went backward right from the start and could offer little help to Hamilton in fending off Verstappen.
A puncture eventually cost Bottas dear and he was probably the first of the Mercedes personnel into the airport departure lounge after the race. His was a weekend to forget but it helps us measure the true scale of Hamilton’s ability.
Meanwhile, Verstappen dragged as much as was reasonably possible out of the weekend, only Fernando Alonso offering any significant resistance in the Dutchman’s swift rise to second. Alonso really is a phenomenon, a driver who, like Hamilton, shows no sign of wilting motivation.
He is, in every sense, a true racer and his robust driving is a masterclass on living on the very edge of the stewards’ tolerance. His first podium since 2014 was long overdue and he is a key asset in Alpine’s bid for s seat at the top table.
On to the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia and another new track for the teams to figure out. Hamilton has the fresh Brazil power unit to use on the Jeddah street circuit but after a season of ebb and flow between the leading squads, only a fool would assume that Hamilton will dominate again.
Verstappen can win the title in two weeks time but the smart money is on this one going right to the wire.