The top two finishers in the first three races of the 2021 Formula 1 season have been the same – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The former won the first and third races of the season while the latter stood on top of the podium at the second race.
The two drivers have battled each other on track in all three races and the trend looks like it will continue well into the season with both teams almost on the same level. Hamilton and Verstappen are relishing that prospect but have insisted that their battles will remain clean owing to the healthy respect they have for each other.
The F1 season started in Bahrain, where the Red Bull Racing cars looked like the favourites to win. But in typical Hamilton fashion, the British driver carved out a win in difficult circumstances. At Imola, the Dutchman was unstoppable after he overtook Hamilton on the opening lap.
In the third race, in Portugal, the Mercedes seemed to have the edge over Red Bull, which saw Hamilton take a dominant win despite finding himself in third place after six laps. Apart from the top two finishers in all the races, one more thing has been common – Hamilton and Verstappen battling each other on-track. It has been close and on the edge.
In Bahrain, it was in the closing stages of the race when Verstappen went off track to pass Hamilton, which saw him give the position back to the Briton. In Imola, it was on the opening lap when the Dutch racer edged Hamilton wide into the chicane having started from third to take the lead.
Portugal, on the other hand, saw the two drivers pass each other. It was Verstappen who overtook Hamilton at the safety car restart on lap six to go into second, but it didn't last long as Hamilton came right back at him and overtook him in the same corner before going on to win the race.
With the Red Bulls looking almost at par if not better at certain tracks compared to Mercedes, the battle between Hamilton and Verstappen could become a regular occurrence. The two racers, however, are certain that their battles will be clean with both keen to avoid any incident as they fight for the title.
"It is naturally down to respect," Hamilton said, as quoted on Race Fans. "I think [we're] both very, very hard but fair and that's what makes great racing and great racing drivers."
"I think we will continue to keep it clean and keep it on the edge but I don't think either of us has a plan to get any closer than we have been."
Verstappen, who has now dropped eight points behind the reigning Drivers' world champion after the Portuguese Grand Prix, admits that the battles with Hamilton have been "really nice."
"Especially when you race a driver, when you know that you can go to the absolute limit, I guess you can trust each other to just race super-hard," Verstappen said. "That's always really nice because you can see in the three races we've had it's been really close to each other but predictable."
"Lewis has never had something like 'oh, we're going to crash' or something. I always have full trust in Lewis that we all give each other enough space."
It remains to be seen if the two drivers will remain as cordial and respectful to one another on track as the season progresses and the title battle gets more intense. If one remembers, the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry when Ferrari were the closet challengers also started cordially before it got tense. The respect, however, is a constant.