Why 2021 could be Lewis Hamilton’s best year ever – even if he loses

Published: 30 March 2021

► 2021 season is underway
► Red Bull looks to have the fastest car
► And it means we could see some great races

Formula 1 is back, and if the first race in Bahrain is anything to go by, 2021 is set to be the most competitive season we’ve had in a while. On Sunday, Hamilton and Mercedes managed to drag a victory from a car that didn’t really have the performance to win; and in some ways it was the seven-time champion once again emulating his hero Ayrton Senna – but not the Brazilian’s dominant McLaren WDCs, more his runner-up 1993 season.

1993 wasn’t a great year for McLaren. Honda had just pulled out of F1 (again), leaving the Woking team with customer-spec Ford V8s – nowhere near as good as the Renault V10s in the Williams team, nor the works Ford PUs run by the Benetton team. And if the engine wasn’t bad enough, 1993 was the pinnacle of driver aids, and the McLaren MP4/8 was no match for the almost sentient, Newey-designed FW15C. Is this starting to sound a bit familiar? 

Senna couldn’t overcome those odds and jumped shipped to Williams the following year – but he didn’t leave without putting in some of the best drives of his career. Wins in Brazil, Australia, Japan and Monaco also saw Senna use a mixture of tactic and supreme driver skill to ring a result of his underpowered car – but a win at the damp, 1993 European Donington GP became key part of the Brazilian’s mythology. 

After one of the greatest first laps in F1 history, Senna cruised to victory and even lapped Prost’s Williams in third along the way. There was no championship for Senna that year, but the speed he was able to extract from his less-than-dominant McLaren revealed another aspect to his considerable talents – and one we might never have seen had he been in a different car. 

In many ways, the 2021 Bahrain GP felt the same. While Lewis Hamilton has had to dig deep for wins he had no real right to achieve – most recently in Turkey and Portugal last year – Sunday was very different. 

New regulations brought in to reduce downforce seem to have hit low-rake cars like Aston Martin and Mercedes most – and when combined with a performance step from Red Bull, the position of the top two teams seems reversed. It’s good news for the sport, bad news for Mercedes, and it could be the pressure-cooker we need to see Hamilton at his best ever. 

Hamilton clearly doesn’t have the fastest car, and now we’re seeing him wrestle it to victory, just as he did in 2009-2013 – only now as a far more rounded and evolved driver. The re-emergence of Red Bull may have put a different lens on Hamilton’s talents – and, win or lose, this could be the year he underlines his legacy. 

*Of course, it’s also possible Mercedes throws an update on the W12, and makes it the fastest car once again – but that didn’t really fit in with this article. 

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast

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