Jolyon Palmer believes Mercedes’ recent improvements and the tracks remaining make Lewis Hamilton the title favourite for the first time in 2021.
But given how Bottas was able to perform and the apparent gap in speed between Mercedes and Red Bull in qualifying and the race, former Renault driver Palmer is now beginning to lean towards his compatriot in who will take the title in 2021.
“You know what, for the first time this season I’m starting to think maybe Lewis is the favourite overall,” Palmer said after the Turkish Grand Prix, quoted by talkSPORT.
“I actually think Verstappen can’t be happy with that race. Yes, he’s taken second, he’s got the championship lead, but he was no match for Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton, if he was starting from pole which is where he qualified, he’s winning this easily I think.
“Lewis has taken his engine penalty, lost a few points, that was pretty much going to be a given unless something remarkable happened which it didn’t.
“But I’m worried for Red Bull because I can’t remember the last time they really showed a lot of pace.”
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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is insistent that the closeness of the championship means a DNF will prove to be more crucial than the small swings being experienced between Hamilton and Verstappen, but the differences in the remaining circuits could play into either team’s hands on a given weekend.
The Red Bull has traditionally performed better at circuits at high altitude, such as Mexico and Brazil, while Hamilton has had five previous wins in Austin – Formula 1’s next venue.
Despite Red Bull seemingly holding an advantage in a couple of events, Palmer feels their opponents have the overall edge for the remainder of the year.
“What I’ve thought is that USA, Mexico and Sao Paulo coming up could be better for Red Bull, but quite frankly I think the last three in the Middle East could be better for Mercedes,” he said.
“[Turkey] was in between, no one really knew where it was going to go, and it was quite categorically Mercedes who were stronger.
“The fact that Bottas was completely unchallenged by Verstappen, they were one and two the whole race, but Bottas never had to check his mirrors, ended up winning by 15 seconds.
“That’s a statement by Mercedes, and even though Hamilton’s behind in the championship, he’s the stronger [Mercedes] driver quite comfortably.
“He’s going to be able to apply the pressure and really turn the screw in the middle eastern races, Verstappen has to really fly in the next couple.”