Back-to-back Formula 1 victories for Lewis Hamilton have put him 14 points clear of Max Verstappen in the race for this year’s drivers’ championship.

Mercedes started the season on the backfoot but after the last two rounds in Portimao and Barcelona, it seems the reigning world champions are beginning to get on top of things. 

Verstappen and Red Bull will need to bounce back at the next round in Monaco.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Portuguese and Spanish Grands Prix…

1. Hamilton keeps getting better and better

When you think Hamilton has peaked in his F1 career, it looks like he’s taken it up another level with the level of performance he is putting in week in, week out.

In the last two years, he’s only had teammate Valtteri Bottas as credible competition but the emergence of Verstappen and Red Bull as a serious threat seems to have forced Hamilton to raise his game even further.

2018 is widely regarded as Hamilton’s best F1 season, given that Ferrari debatably had the faster car for the majority of the year, but 2021 looks like it’s another level above that.

Hamilton’s pace and sheer consistency was never in doubt but it looks like he’s improved significantly in two key areas. 

His ability to manage the Pirelli tyres while still running so close behind another car in dirty air has been mighty impressive

At Portimao, Hamilton spent the first 20 laps behind Verstappen and Bottas before overtaking them both spectacularly. 

Similarly in Barcelona, Hamilton was able to stay within around a second of Verstappen while still having superior tyre performance and pace to do so.

Hamilton has no obvious weaknesses and it’s backed up by his best start to a season to date in terms of points scored, despite stern competition from Red Bull.

2. Mercedes has the edge in race trim

A growing pattern seems to be emerging in 2021 with Mercedes having the superior car in race trim.

The way Hamilton could stick with Verstappen during much of the first half of the race in Barcelona showed Mercedes had a significant performance advantage.

Hamilton aside, let’s compare Verstappen and Bottas.

While Verstappen has finished ahead on both occasions, Bottas had the race pace to beat the Dutchman on both occasions.

The telling sign at Portimao was Bottas’ ability to close a four-second gap to Verstappen to just 1.2s, before encountering an issue with his power unit.

Similarly in Barcelona, the gap between the pair - once Bottas cleared Leclerc - remained stagnant between seven and eight seconds, until the Finn had his teammate for close company. 

Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believes Mercedes is slightly easier on its rear tyres and thus is giving it an advantage in race trim.

After Barcelona, he said: “We are still not really at a stage where we go in there thinking we’ve got the best race car, that we’re better looking after the tyres and it’s actually quite hard to say what it was. 

“We were able to sit behind them and when you’re behind a car and when someone can sit on your gearbox for a whole stint it’s not normally good news. We’re still in the stage of the year where you’re collecting data across the different tracks but it does look to be a bit of a trend that maybe we’ve got a slightly more neutral car. 

“There’s seems to be a bit harder on the rear tyres over a stint whereas we’re using both axles quite well. We will see with some more data whether that’s really a feature of the car or just how we’re setting it up here.”

3. Bottas is doing his job


Despite the frustrations of many F1 fans about Bottas’ inability to challenge Hamilton every week, the Finn is doing what he needs to do.

Bottas claimed pole at Portimao and once Hamilton overtook him spectacularly around the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 20, he managed to resist Verstappen and ensure his teammate had a comfortable margin for the remainder of the race.

A poor start in Barcelona meant he was never a serious threat for the win but a third podium in four races puts him third in the overall championship standings and ensures Mercedes has a solid lead over Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.

Bottas might not be the exciting option but he’s doing enough at the moment, especially when Perez continues to struggle in the second Red Bull.

4. McLaren vs. Ferrari will go to the wire

Only five points separate McLaren and Ferrari in the race for third in the constructors’ championship.

It’s a nice throwback to the late ‘90s and late noughties seeing these two legendary teams battle again, albeit for the final spot on the rostrum.

The advantage between the two teams will ebb and flow throughout the season.

Ferrari is better in low-speed corners where downforce is key, while McLaren has a significant advantage on the straights and high-speed corners.

The streets of Monaco are up next so it’s likely Ferrari will remain the third-fastest team, as it was in Barcelona.

5. Alpine is back in business

After a difficult opening two races, Alpine got its act together at Portimao as Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finished seventh and eighth.

Barcelona proved its improvement wasn’t a flash in the pan as Ocon qualified fifth at the same circuit the team failed to see either of its cars progress into Q3 in 2020.

The race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya wasn’t as fruitful as Alpine’s one-stop strategy for both cars didn’t work out.

Regardless, a clear step forward for the French outfit, which bodes for the rest of the season.

6. No light at the end of the tunnel for Aston Martin

Aston Martin’s disappointing start to the season continued as it came away with zero points from Portugal and Spain.

Sebastian Vettel still hasn’t got off the mark in 2021, although he did make Q3 for the first time since the 2020 British Grand Prix in Portugal.

Like Mercedes, Aston Martin has been hit hardest by F1’s changes to the floor regulations for this season as both teams have a low rake philosophy. 

The might of Mercedes can recover some of the performance it has lost, while Aston - who led F1’s midfield for much of last year under the Racing Point name, has dropped right into the middle of the pack as a result.

While it’s too early to say it’s a right off for the Silverstone-based outfit, it’s hard to see it getting much better given most teams have their eyes on 2021. 

7. Russell scoring points in 2021 is inevitable

Russell bounced back from his disappointing Emilia Romagna crash with Bottas to qualify 11th at Portimao, and went on to narrowly miss out on his first points for Williams.

Race day didn’t go to plan as gusty conditions hampered Williams’ chances of a good result on race day.

Russell made Q2 again in Barcelona and ran inside of the points for much of the race thanks to an aggressive strategy where he stopped under the early Safety Car period.

The Mercedes junior may have dropped to 14th come the chequered flag but it was one of his finest race day displays while driving for Williams.

“The car today felt the best it has ever felt, to be honest, in a race probably the best I can ever remember. That just makes it so joyous to drive compared to normal, most of which I put down to a calm day,” Russell said after the race in Barcelona.

Points are surely on the horizon very soon.

8. Unlucky Giovinazzi has made another step 

Antonio Giovinazzi’s performances in 2021 have gone under the radar as the Italian has made a significant improvement in qualifying especially.

Giovinazzi out-qualified Raikkonen by 0.6s at Portimao, while there was a similar gap in Barcelona as he progressed into Q2 yet again.

He doesn’t have lady luck on his side so far in 2021 as an unscheduled pit stop at Imola dropped him out of the points. 

He finished solidly in 12th at Portimao, while in Barcelona his chances of points were ruined as when he stopped under the Safety Car, one of his tyres was already punctured resulting in a lengthy stop.

Had it not been for his issue at the pit stops, Giovinazzi would have had a serious shot at points.

9. Portimao deserves a permanent spot on the calendar

Described as a ‘rollercoaster’, the Algarve International Circuit surely deserves a regular spot on the F1 calendar.

High-speed, elevation changes and overtaking opportunities - there’s a lot to like when it comes to Portimao.

While its track surface isn’t popular amongst the drivers, naturally over time, its grip level will get better and better.

Maybe next time Pirelli will bring slightly softer tyres as well? 

10. Time to ditch Barcelona’s final chicane

The Spanish Grand Prix threw up another fascinating battle for the victory between Hamilton and Verstappen.

The battle for the win did keep us on the edge of our seats, but generally, the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was fairly dull.

One way to potentially spice things up - which would be popular amongst drivers and fans - would be to remove the last chicane and revert to the pre-2007 layout.

F1’s race director Michael Masi says reverting to the old layout is a possibility.

“It’s something that we’ve been looking at for a little while,” Masi said after the Spanish GP

“It’s obviously not an overnight change that can be done, and looking at all the implications and unintended consequences that may come about.

“Like all of our circuits and different corners we work together with teams and drivers and F1 to make sure we have the safest venue but also something that promotes good racing.”

If F1 is to return to Barcelona again, then another change to the circuit would be very welcome.