The chequered flag has fallen on the first round of the 2021 Formula One World Championship, and what a phenomenal race it fell on. Lewis Hamilton drove superbly to beat Max Verstappen by only a mere 0.745 seconds. Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, scoring the fastest lap as well to cap off a strong weekend for Mercedes. Meanwhile, Red Bull’s second driver, Sergio Pérez recovered to fifth after an electrical fault on the formation lap meant he started from the pits.
Verstappen started from pole, defended well against second placed Hamilton and then held a good gap against the seven-time World Champion in the first stint at the start. Hamilton pitted early and when Verstappen pitted four laps later, Hamilton had managed to make the undercut work and passed the young Dutchmen while he was in the pits. In the middle stint, Hamilton struggled on hard tyres but stayed ahead of Verstappen, who was on the faster mediums. The lead changed once again on lap 29, when Hamilton pitted early once more, seemingly only able to manage 16 laps on that hard set of tyres. Verstappen stayed out till lap 40, pitting for hard tyres; Red Bull serviced his car in under two seconds, coming out 8.7 seconds behind race leader Hamilton.
During this race leading stint Hamilton broke the Formula One record for most laps led, beating Michael Schumacher’s record of 5,111 laps led in total. This final stint was absolutely nail biting as Verstappen had the newer and therefore faster tyres and had 16 laps to make up the gap to Hamilton. He set about it and with the power of DRS down the main straight, the win seemed to be his. He made it to within one second of Hamilton after the Brit locked up into the tricky turn one. Verstappen bided his time and made his move a whole lap later. Down the back straight with DRS open he made his move but Hamilton defended well into turn one. Verstappen then used the second DRS zone to get alongside and pass Hamilton around the outside of turn four, but in doing so went off the track and quickly was told to allow Hamilton to repass him with three laps left. After he allowed Hamilton by Verstappen had a very scruffy final sector and Hamilton built just enough of a gap to break the DRS for that lap and this was the nail in the coffin for Verstappen’s chances at a raise win, despite a nail biting last lap where he was right on the gearbox of Hamilton but could not force the Brit into a mistake. Verstappen would have been ruing Red Bulls electrical issues in his teammates car as it was that one extra lap that he needed to pass Hamilton for the win. This was the first time since 2015 that Lewis Hamilton has won the opening race of the Championship and the fourteenth time that Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas have shared the podium, equalling the record set by Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton and Vettel lit up the Bahrain night with quite an epic duel and this season looks the closest it has been in a good few years. Mercedes and Red Bull will undoubtably be battling it out all through the season and Red Bull will feel they have a great chance to properly take it to Mercedes in the Constructors Championship with their new second driver, F1 veteran Sergio Pérez.
Pérez will be ruing the technical gremlins he suffered on the formation lap that meant he had to start from the pitlane. Despite this, he made his way up the field each and every time he pitted overtaking more cars on track than any other driver. He made his way from stone last to finish an incredible fifth place. Had he started his original twelfth, surly fourth would have definitely been on the table and very possible he could have pushed Bottas for that final place on the podium. Pérez did mess his qualifying up on the Saturday but that didn’t mater considering he was forced to start in the pitlane so given his pace he showed in the Red Bull around Bahrain had he been right up there it would be an easy shout to say that Red Bull would have the upper hand in any fights against Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton – Started – 2nd, Finished – 1st
Sir Lewis Hamilton drove brilliantly and the win was very well deserved. He has his wish for closer competition as Mercedes have not been challenged as directly as Red Bull challenged them, in a rather long time. This battle between them looks like it could last the whole season and that is a very exciting prospect. Hamilton defended perfectly when he needed to and forced the mistake from Verstappen when he did pass him in turn four, had he not defended as well into turn one then Verstappen would have certainly won the race.
Valtteri Bottas – Started – 3rd, Finished – 3rd, set the fastest lap
Valtteri Bottas may not have had the blistering pace that Hamilton or Verstappen had this weekend but he was third fastest and didn’t make any mistakes. Leclerc passed him on the first lap but Bottas retook that position at the first opportunity. A slow second pitstop, a bad habit now for Mercedes in Bahrain, put him well of the leaders. This probably helped him because he was under no pressure to close a gap or make one from the cars behind so all he had to do was cruise to an easy third position; with a quick stop for softs to get the fastest lap on his way to the chequered flag. It will be interesting to see how well Bottas fairs when Pérez is brought into the mix; that will be an interesting head to head to follow as the season progresses.
Max Verstappen – Started – 1st, Finished – 2nd
Max Verstappen is World Championship material and will certainly give Hamilton a head ache this year. He has never been as at one with his Red Bull than he is now and will be kicking himself and the rulebook for how he lost victory. The turn four track limits played a big role in how the race ended and sadly for Verstappen not in his favour. Despite this, Verstappen was blisteringly quick when it matter and partnered with Pérez make Red Bull the team to beat this season. Verstappen will certainly be looking towards the next event at Imola and will have all his fingers crossed that his Italian bad luck does not return.
Sergio Pérez – Started – Pitlane, Finished – 5th
Sergio Pérez has the unfortunate seat that has seen the likes of Daniil Kyvat, Pierre Gasly and recently Alex Albon all been demoted some would say too soon. Though Pérez has a one year contract and will be seeing this possibly as his final chance. With that in mind, his weekend was an up and down rollercoaster. He failed to make Q3 and then had to have his electrical system changed before the race start, then his car conked out on the formation lap and he had to start from the pitlane. But this did not faze Checo and he went out of his way to make the best of a bad situation, pitting early and overtaking a huge number of drivers after each of his three pitstops and his fifth placed finish was hard fought and thoroughly deserved.
Lando Norris – Started – 7th, Finished – 4th
Lando Norris did what he needed to do early on, he passed his teammate on the opening lap, then passed Pierre Gasly on the Safety Car restart and soon afterwards passed Charles Leclerc for fourth and that’s where he stayed, untroubled maintaining his pace and tyres well. This was the perfect start for the young Brit as he goes into his third season in F1 and up against Daniel Ricciardo as his teammate which will be Norris’ toughest challenge yet.
Daniel Ricciardo – Started – 6th, Finished – 7th
For his debut race at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo didn’t seem too quick and was outpaced by some distance by his teammate Norris. He struggled behind the Ferrari of Leclerc and should really have found away past once his teammate dispatched of the Ferrari. He wasn’t slower than he should have been he just didn’t have the best race pace. It looks as if McLaren and Ferrari will be battling it out for the upper midfield positions this year and Dani Ric will be hoping to replicate his Imola podium from last year at this years race.
Charles Leclerc – Started – 4th, Finished – 6th
Ferrari have made big steps forward from their terrible 2020 season and Charles Leclerc has already stamped down that he’s their main man. Putting his Ferrari on fourth was probably a better accomplishment than Verstappen’s pole. Leclerc then passed Bottas into turn one at the start and but couldn’t keep the Merc behind for long; no surprise there. Letting Norris past is a slight misstep but in keeping the second McLaren behind allowed Leclerc to cement his position and sixth was well deserved for the Monégasque.
Carlos Sainz – Started – 8th, Finished – 8th
Carlos Sainz may not have matched his teammate during his debut race for the Scuderia but he scored points and didn’t move backwards. Contact with Lance Stroll after the Safety car period may have damaged his car but the Spaniard was determined and his race highlight had to be overtaking four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in turn one and immediately overtaking two time world Champion, and his own personal hero Fernando Alonso into turn four. Quite the impressive move from Sainz.
Lance Stroll – Started – 10th, Finished – 10th
Lance Stroll may have proven doubters wrong at Bahrain, as he outpaced his more experienced teammate Sebastian Vettel across the weekend and scored Aston Martin’s first point as a new outfit. Stroll fit in well in the midfield not doing anything drastic or losing out where he shouldn’t have.
Sebastian Vettel – Started – 19th, Finished – 15th
Sebastian Vettel had a poor 2020 that’s for sure and his 2021 season has seemed to start exactly in the same place. He was knocked out in Q1, earned himself a penalty in that session for ignoring yellow flags, made good ground up in the race but never seemed certain to score points. This was reaffirmed when he made a disastrous manoeuvre under braking when being passed by Esteban Ocon, rear ending the Alpine and earning another penalty which pushed him down to 15th at the chequered flag. Maybe this was first race jitters and it’s yet to be seen how Seb will do as the season progresses.
Yuki Tsunoda – Started – 13th, Finished – 9th
Straight up after one season in F2 Yuki Tsunoda showed brilliant pace in Q1 but was knocked out in Q2. He made good progress in the race making some very risky moves into turn one and turn ten, dive bombing former World Champions, successfully, as if he was back in F2. He thoroughly deserved points on his debut but AlphaTauri seem to have some bad luck already. Hopefully Tsunoda will sort out his qualifying and be up there with the McLarens and the Ferrari’s soon.
Pierre Gasly – Started – 5th, Finished – RET
Pierre Gasly had a great qualifying but his race quickly went to pot. Contact with Norris through turn five broke the Frenchman’s front wing which he then ran over. Pitting and coming out last Gasly never found the pace to make it back through the field and retired on lap 52. This will be a race to forget for Gasly through no fault of his own, it was just one of those races.
Esteban Ocon – Started – 15th, Finished – 13th
Another driver to be caught out by the yellow flags in Q1, Ocon lined up a lowly P15. His race was not massively excitable, he stayed relatively low down the order for most of it, gaining places from Gasly and Alonso’s retirements but not making up too much ground in the ultra-close midfield.
Fernando Alonso – Started – 10th, Finished – RET
Alonso’s return to Formula One was largely uneventful, his highlights more being overtaken than overtaking and then his rear brakes failed mid race forcing the Spaniard to retire. He looks quick in a car that should be quicker than it is.
Kimi Räikkönen – Started – 13th, Finished – 11th
Räikkönen, the oldest driver on the gird just missed out on points and that Alfa Romeo he has under him looks like it could become a formidable machine, but for the meantime it may be languishing just outside the points.
Antonio Giovinazzi – Started -11th, Finished – 12th
Much like his teammate Giovinazzi’s race was quiet and uneventful. He qualified well and has given himself a strong start to the season in a car that seems to have bridged the gap to the midfield.
George Russell – Started – 14th, Finished – 14th
Russell’s pace in the Williams is better than it should be, unfortunately he doesn’t have the car to even challenge for points yet. This year the team have developed the car in a way that when it’s good it’s very good but when it’s bad, like in Bahrain, it’s rather bad.
Nicholas Latifi – Started – 16th, Finished – RET
Latifi very much the back marker of last year has now been upgraded due to HAAS’s appalling car. Though he didn’t finish in Bahrain he drove as he needed to in a car that won’t offer him very much at all.
Mick Schumacher – Started 17th, Finished – 16th
Mick Schumacher will be looking ahead with dread, the car he has is dreadful and doesn’t have any stability in the rear. Mick spun on his own after the safety car restart and then backed up the field for the rest of the race, to no fault of his own, Schumacher was plenty faster than his disappointing teammate.
Nikita Mazepin – Started – 18th, Finished – RET
All Mazepin did was make two corners then light his rear tyres up and spear off into the wall at turn three, while the HAAS seems a terrible car to drive This is not the first time that Mazepin has had an off track excursion and he doesn’t look like he will be doing anything progressive this year.