2021 is shaping up to be the most competitive and hard-fought constructors battle since Mercedes asserted their dominance in 2014, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen looking likely to be the two main contenders for the driver’s title. Lewis versus Max is the old boy against the new blood. The apprentice is taking on the master in the age-old battle of experience vs young talent.

Lewis Hamilton’s driving ability needs no introduction. The most successful driver of all time in terms of records, with a legacy that will last for as long as the sport continues. This is Lewis’ 15th season in Formula One, and with seven world drivers’ championships to his name, he has collected the ultimate prize in exactly 50% of the seasons he has competed in the sport. Simply incredible.

But Lewis is by no means invincible. He was, of course, famously beaten by his teammate, Nico Rosberg, in 2016 and before this, Jenson Button got one over his fellow Brit in 2011 when the two paired up at McLaren. In recent years, Lewis has not been pushed to the limit by his teammate Valtteri Bottas in the same way we all expected when he joined Mercedes in 2017, following Rosberg’s shock departure. The question is, has Lewis passed his peak? He is now 36 years old, which is at the more senior end of the spectrum for a modern F1 driver, with Lewis only junior to the longstanding Kimi Raikkonen and the returning Fernando Alonso. Hamilton has been at the top of his game for over a decade now. Is this where the fatigue of succession will disadvantage the champion in ways even he cannot control?

Hot on Lewis’ tail to break his records is the Flying Dutchman. Since Max entered the sport at the tender age of 17, he made his presence shown. He is the youngest ever driver, to date, and the youngest winner of a grand prix, following his debut victory for Red Bull at the Spanish 2016. Max’s raw talent is exceptional to watch, and you often hear Martin Brundle comment, “He is going to be a future world champion”, but is this reasonable to say?

This is Max’s seventh season, and he currently has 10 wins, four pole positions and 43 podiums to his name at the age of 23. He has proven that he is one of the toughest teammates out there, leaving Alex Albon’s F1 career in tatters, as well as making Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kyvat look very ordinary. Max is known to be hot-headed at times, and with such an aggressive driving style, he is more likely to make costly mistakes resulting in collisions and ultimately leading to a DNF. Max often seems to be caught up in the on-track drama regarding car issues, whether this is reliability or tyres. His impatience leads him to make otherwise avoidable mistakes, with Turkey 2020 being a recent example of this case. Will his lack of maturity in the car be the downfall to his chances of winning a world championship?

One question that F1 fans would love to know the answer to is given equal machinery, who would come out on top, Lewis or Max? It would be remarkably close, that is for sure! Max hasn’t had a fully competitive teammate since Daniel Ricciardo; it is difficult to say how the Dutch sensation would get on with the best-of-the-best in Lewis. Based on his pure speed, in my opinion, Max is quicker than Lewis. But Hamilton’s ability to look after his car and manage the tyres is one of the fundamental reasons he has achieved so much in the sport and continues to do so. Lewis knows how to grab situations where he isn’t in control, but the pressure of this gets to Max mainly from a lack of experience in these situations. Mind games are something we haven’t particularly seen from Max yet, but when we do, boy, do I think it’s going to be explosive! Max takes no nonsense from anyone, which is probably an impact of his upbringing, but Lewis knows how to get under his closest rivals’ skin like Nico did. I can’t see tensions rising to boil point this season, but you never know what individual tactics certain drivers will deploy to in an attempt to get one up on their opponent.

Although, if we look at the history of the last (and only other) seven-time world champion, Michael Schumacher, he made back-to-back unsuccessful attempts to clinch his eighth crown by losing to the younger generation the form of a juvenile Alonso in 2005 and 2006. Will history repeat itself? I don’t think so. Lewis has the advantage that his team continue to be the best on the grid and are more consistent in the season-long battle. But if any year could be the year for Lewis to be dethroned as world champion, this might well be the year.

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