Lewis Hamilton believes Red Bull’s performance at the start of the 2021 Formula 1 season shows it has produced a championship-winning car for the “first time in a long time.”

The seven-time world champion was able to overturn a qualifying deficit to beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to a narrow victory at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix before the Dutchman hit back with a commanding win at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who recovered from a rare error to finish second behind Verstappen at Imola, is convinced Red Bull currently has a faster car than Mercedes and reckons this year’s title fight will go down to the wire.

“I'm excited for the battle,” said Hamilton after Sunday’s race.

“I think this is really the first time in a long time that Red Bull have had a championship-winning car, so I think it’s going to be close all the way through the year – and it’s just going to be, hopefully, more and more of these battles.”

Hamilton’s recovery to P2 enabled him to preserve a one-point championship lead over Verstappen after the opening two rounds. But with 21 races still remaining, the Briton acknowledged just how crucial every point will be between now and the final chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.

“Without doubt, getting back to second and getting these points will be very valuable through the season,” Hamilton added.

“If I’d lost 25 points today, that would have been hard to recover based on the fact that Red Bull – it’s the first time that they’ve had a championship-winning car, their car is incredibly fast.

“They were faster than us this weekend, definitely in qualifying trim but it looks like a little bit also in race trim. But I don’t know if they made a couple of mistakes, I think they did, Max did in qualifying for example otherwise he would have been on pole.

“But we’ve got a real close battle which we love the fact that it’s a close battle.

“It’s great to see McLaren back up there after such a long time, it’s great to see Ferrari looking strong so there’s going to be a lot of exciting races up ahead and challenging for all of us in so many different ways.”

While Verstappen was thrilled to have beaten Hamilton at Imola and proven more than a match for Mercedes in Bahrain, he is refusing to get carried away at such an early stage of the season.

“It’s a very long season,” said Verstappen.

“We just have to keep on working very hard. I’m very happy with the result, of course, today but that’s today. I’m of course going to be happy about today, but tomorrow, we start again.

“We have to keep on improving because there’s still a lot of work to be able to keep doing this the whole season.

“It’s great to be fighting against Lewis, Mercedes who, I think, as a team, they have been so dominant and they’re very difficult to beat. So to be able to sit here now, now two races in a row, we were very, very competitive, that’s very promising but no guarantees.”

 

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