Through Formula 1’s first four races of 2021, there have been dramatic finishes and dominant victories, triumphant overtakes, and breath-taking crashes. From Sakhir to Spain, however, there’s been one constant. Well, rather, two constants: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
The Brit and the Dutchman finished either first or second in each of the four races. The seven-time world champion crossed the line first ahead of Verstappen in Bahrain, Portugal, and Spain, but the Red Bull star turned the tables and took the checkered flag in Italy with the defending world champion in his wake.
The third stand on the podium rotated between the hands of Mercedes’ second driver, Valterri Bottas, and McLaren’s Lando Norris, but the highest two steps have been Hamilton and Verstappen’s for the taking through the fourth race. Both drivers are out to the best starts of their careers in terms of World Drivers’ Championship points, with Hamilton pacing Verstappen 94-80.
Just how rare is it for two drivers to be so head and shoulders above the competition? When is the last time two drivers ever finished first or second through all of the first four races? Has it ever happened?
Hamilton’s Been Here Before
According to the F1 history books, the same two drivers have been the first two across the line four straight times to open a season only one other time: Hamilton and Bottas in 2019.
Since the two both drove the same car and Mercedes was miles better than the field two years ago, the situation is drastically different than when the wars are waged on 2021 Sundays. Constructer notwithstanding, the Petronas pair stood alone through not only the first four races of 2019, but each of the first five. The two traded blows, with Hamilton victorious in Bahrain and Spain again as well as in China, and Bottas taking the crown in Australia and Azerbaijan.
The rest of the 2019, however, wasn’t as competitive. The British star won five of the next seven races, while Bottas won just two for the remainder of the season. Hamilton walked away with his sixth WDC title, his 413 points outpacing Bottas by 87 points.
Even just the same two drivers sharing the first four trophies of the year is rare within itself. 2021 is the ninth time since the turn of the century which the first four races crowned only two different champions among them, and the eighth in which one driver won three of the opening four races.
2020 – Hamilton (3) & Bottas (1)
2015 – Hamilton (3) & Sebastian Vettel (1)
2014 – Hamilton (3) & Nico Rosberg (1)
2011 – Vettel (3) & Hamilton (1)
2009 – Jenson Button (3) & Vettel (1)
2005 – Fernando Alonso (3) & Giancarlo Fisichella (1)
2002 – Michael Schumacher (3) & Ralf Schumacher (1)
2000 – Schumacher (3) & David Coulthard (1)
Is the WDC Hamilton’s to Lose?
Unfortunately for Verstappen, all of the drivers mentioned above who won three races walked away with the WDC hardware later that season. In fact, in the last 20 years of Formula 1 when a driver wins at least three of the first four Grand Prix’s of the season 10 times, all of those drivers end the year atop the standings.
All of this points to Hamilton holding off his challenger and winning a record eighth WDC crown later this season. In fact, Hamilton walked this path before. He won three of the first four races in 2014, 2015 and 2020, on his way to world titles each of those three seasons.
The level of performance the pair put together this season is even further on display when looking at their point totals though four races. Since the new points scale was introduced in 2010, Hamilton’s 94 points are the second-most accumulated through four races. Verstappen’s 80 points would have been atop the standings five of the previous 11 seasons, yet it still leaves him 14 points adrift of the Mercedes superstar above him.
However, through four races, one thing is overwhelmingly clear. Hamilton and Verstappen are head and shoulders above the rest of the grid right now, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue to prove so the rest of the season!
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images