Just like that F1 is back, and this time with a bang! The season opener in Bahrain was truly unforgettable. With shocks and surprises throughout the field and a fight all the way to the flag, anyone who tuned in was treated to an amazing race. After many years of Mercedes dominance, we might finally have a title fight on our hands.
Chaos before the race start:
The lights didn’t even need to go out for the drama to start under the lights in Bahrain. On his debut drive for Red Bull, Sergio Perez almost didn’t make it past the end of the formation lap after an issue with his car. Despite almost giving up, he was able to restart the car and entered the pits to start the race from the back – something we know Checo doesn’t have a problem with!
Drama at the start:
The lights went out and the start was clean from all of the drivers. Verstappen retained his lead, with Hamilton following closely behind. Leclerc battled with Bottas to take P3 with the McLarens and Gasly waiting for any mistakes from the leading four. These battles were quickly quashed however by the spin of rookie Mazepin which brought out a safety car.
There were problems for Gasly on the restart. The Frenchman needed a front wing replacement after contact with Ricciardo leaving him at the back despite a strong start. Mick Schumacher also spun in this moment but saved the car from hitting the wall and he continued the race. There could be a real issue for the Haas team and their rookie drivers.
Overtakes and contact:
This race saw a variety of thrilling overtakes in the mid-field once again. Lando Norris battled with Charles Leclerc on laps 8 and 9 to take P4 and was impressive throughout the race to keep this position. Sergio Perez was also exceptional once again in Bahrain, proving how much he deserved the seat. Fighting from the back to P5, we once again got a masterclass in performing under pressure from Checo. Despite being voted Driver of the Day, he definitely had a run for his money for this title. Yuki Tsunoda was outstanding on his debut in F1. This is particularly evident with his rookie counterparts struggling so much with their new cars. The young Japanese driver was calm but confident when battling through the field to pick up points in first race, finishing P9.
Strategy confusion for the leading teams:
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were once again the two drivers fighting for the win. Both Mercedes and Red Bull made some really odd pit decisions during the race however. After an early pit for Hamilton on Lap 14, Red Bull kept Verstappen out until Lap 18 before his tyre change. This gave Hamilton the chance to take the race lead using fresher tyres. Mercedes then confused matters again on Lap 29 of 56 with a very early second pit stop. They put Lewis on hard tyres and hoped they could survive until the end of the race. Verstappen didn’t pit for another 10 laps after this. This left the young Dutch driver with much fresher tyres but a lot to do in the final laps of the race.
One driver who caused a lot of confusion was Sebastian Vettel. After failing to get out of Q1 and a 5-place grid penalty after yellow flags on Saturday, the 4-time world champion didn’t seem to have anything to give in this race. He also blamed Alpine’s Esteban Ocon for a crash that was so evidently his fault when locking up on Lap 44. This confused many fans watching at home, given how obvious his mistake was. After real hopes of improvement in 2021, his season has not started well. The German finished the race in P15 with only the Haas of Mick Schumacher behind him.
Alpine driver Fernando Alonso also had a very strange race and retired on Lap 34. After starting strongly in an Alpine that hasn’t been looking very competitive, the former champion then ended his race early with brake issues. This was found to be a sandwich wrapper that was stuck inside the brake duct. An odd and disappointing end to Alonso’s first day back in F1 but he will continue to prove his worth as the races continue I’m sure.
After battling throughout the race, and a confusing use of pit strategy, the race didn’t end until the chequered flag. Verstappen was able to catch up to Hamilton by Lap 51 and it was clear that the Mercedes driver was really struggling with his tyres at this stage. By Lap 53, Max was able to overtake Lewis but rushed the move and ran wide out of Turn 4. He was then forced to give the place back, which ultimately scuppered his chances of winning the race. This gave Hamilton the advantage he needed to defend from Verstappen all the way to the flag.
So many factors lead to this outcome. It was a race that really should have been won by Red Bull who were clearly the stronger of the two teams all weekend. Had Verstappen been patient when overtaking and had Mercedes not have confused the team by pitting randomly, Red Bull would have easily been on the top step of the podium. This is testament to Lewis Hamilton of course. Being able to preserve your tyres for so long and defend to the end, despite being the weaker team on the day, is truly a skill and one that very few drivers have.
The best and worst of Bahrain 2021:
- Lewis and Max – What else is there to say for these two? What an outstanding performance from two massive talents. Verstappen was unlucky on the day but the battle between the two drivers was so exciting. I think everyone hopes that we see it happen in all 23 of the races this season.
- Perez – Coming from the pits to P5 is a massive achievement for any driver, particularly during their first race in a new team. If this is the cautious Checo who is still learning the ropes as we are led to believe, we are in for a lot of excitement this season.
- Tsunoda – Yuki Tsunoda has come into F1 with so much talent and confidence from the outset. With so many issues for Gasly, the rookie performed exceptionally well throughout the race for AlphaTauri. He really proved his confidence once again in a post-race interview with Sky. Being able to explain in detail where his errors were and where he needed to do more work on debut is so impressive. He is a massive talent and definitely one to watch.
- McLaren – Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo have started 2021 very strongly. A finish of P4 from Lando and P7 for Daniel (on his debut for the team) proves how strong they are this year. They are definitely not a team to ignore, especially with Aston Martin seeming to be struggling so far this year.
- Ferrari – After a terrible year for the team last year, a new power unit and a new driver in Carlos Sainz seems to have rejuvenated the team. They are back fighting nearer the top which is amazing to see. A P6 and P8 finish for Charles and Carlos respectively shows how far they have come after such a poor 2020 season.
- Haas – The decision to take on two rookies was a risky one but their debut couldn’t have gone much worse. With Mazepin spinning out on Lap 1 and Schumacher spinning on Lap 4 and ending the race in last place, it is clear that 2021 is going to be a tough year for the entire team. After the errors this year and the shocking Grosjean crash at the end of last year, Bahrain is a circuit they must really wish they could miss.
- Vettel – Everyone had so much hope for Sebastian this year. He seems a lot happier at his new team and with a car that was so strong last year, we expected much more. Aston Martin seemed to have taken a major step back this year and that hasn’t helped Vettel. After going out in Q1 and finishing P15, he has work to do to get back to where once was.
- Gasly – Bahrain was a really tough race for Pierre Gasly. He seemed to be completely unable to make up time after colliding with Ricciardo on Lap 4. After looking so strong in testing and with Tsunoda performing well, there will be a lot of disappointment at AlphaTauri after this race that Pierre didn’t have as much luck. He retired in the last few laps with floor damage that had clearly plagued his entire race.
- Bottas – A podium performance isn’t enough to say Bahrain was a bad weekend for Bottas of course, but he was so far away from his two rivals. He made it very clear that he wanted to fight Lewis every step of the way to win the title. Valtteri needs to be much stronger than he was in this race if he wants to fight for the championship. He will need to be in the battle at the front in future races, not almost 40s off the pace.
What have we learned?
The Bahrain Grand Prix was an outstanding race! Seeing the possibility of a title fight and such odd results throughout the mid-field, this year is going to be thrilling. With Haas and Williams seemingly staying at the back and Red Bull and Mercedes still making up the front, there are six teams in the mid-field. Alfa Romeo are seemingly stronger, while Aston Martin are struggling, making this year look like one which will be filled with mixed up grids and unreliable cars, which we haven’t seen in Formula 1 in recent years. With 1 race done, and 22 to go, we have so much to look forward to.