There’s been some hype over this season, particularly in relation to Verstappen and Hamilton, and the opener did not disappoint!
With what seems like the fastest car on the grid, Verstappen nailed pole position in the Red Bull car on Saturday. Lining up beside him was Hamilton—would this be the first instalment of an overly anticipated duel between the two?
There’s drama before the start as Perez suffers power failure on the formation lap. Fortunately, he is able to get the car to the pitlane, which is where he now has to start the race.
Off the grid, Verstappen takes the lead followed by Hamilton, with Leclerc taking third from Bottas. Behind them, the two McLaren’s have a great wheel-to-wheel battle, with Norris eventually coming out on top. At the back, Mazepin crashes, which brings out the Safety car.
At the restart, there are overtakes and fights galore—most notably the two McLaren’s, Gasly and Alonso, the Spaniard making a great start to his return to F1. Within all of this jostling for positions, Gasly’s front wing is clipped and the Frenchman has to pit for a new nose cone.
After an exciting start, the race begins to settle down and it becomes a story of tyres, undercuts, and pitstops.
Verstappen leads from Hamilton, and Bottas retakes third from Leclerc but is steadily dropped by the top two in the first part of the race. Behind the top three, there’s close running and great battles between Norris, Leclerc, and Ricciardo, the Brit coming out on top in fourth position. Behind them, Stroll and Alonso do battle, with the Aston Martin coming out on top. On lap twelve Alonso sets the pit stop ball rolling and successfully retakes the position from Stroll with an undercut. The next few laps see a flurry of pitstops and it may seem like Red Bull are the biggest losers as they pit Verstappen late, which drops him behind both Mercedes cars. However, they are playing a longer tactical game, leaving the Dutchman with fresher rubber for the end of the race.
The middle part of the race again sees some fantastic on-track wheel-to-wheel racing. Vettel is high up the running order, having not pitted due to battles with Alonso and Sainz—the Ferrari driver coming out on top, taking his two competitors in one move. Perez executes numerous overtakes clawing his way up the grid from the very back, at one point running fourth but, having to pit for new tyres, drops back to twelfth. Still, this gives him more opportunity to display his on-track racing prowess. Bottas gains time during this part of the race, seemingly connecting much better with this set of tyres and bringing him much closer to Verstappen ahead.
Again, Mercedes go for the undercut on the Red Bulls—who seem to be able to make their tyres last a lot better. Unfortunately for Bottas, there is a problem with his pitstop and the team struggle to change the right front. Consequently, an 11-second pit stop sees him drop from second to fifth. Mercedes seem on the back foot against a faster car which can make its tyres last longer, and Red Bull’s strategy is beginning to come alive. Verstappen pits ten laps later than Hamilton, giving him much fresher—and therefore faster—tyres for the end of the race. It seems inevitable the Red Bull will catch and pass the Mercedes. And that battle is the main story from the closing phase of the race.
Steadily, Verstappen reels Hamilton in—though not as quickly as many had expected. The Dutchman hassles and pesters Hamilton, who reports having little grip. With three laps to go, Verstappen makes his move—going around the outside at turn four—but runs off the track and has to give the position back. From here, the Dutchman doesn’t seem able to quite get up the speed again for another challenge. He has a brief slide and falls out of DRS range. Although Verstappen does get within a second of Hamilton for the last lap, he just can’t get close enough to the Brit, whose defensive driving means he does enough to keep the Red Bull at bay. Hamilton, therefore, takes the victory in the opening race of the season.
What a final few laps! After the race, Verstappen looks visibly disappointed with the result, understandably—he had the quicker car and the faster tyres. Mercedes are elated as their tactics won them a cheeky victory.
Verstappen—I think— would have preferred to keep going and take a time penalty after the race for going off track. There’s some feeling of injustice too at the Red Bull camp, Hamilton having regularly run wide at that corner throughout the race with no punishment. Turn four at this track is one where the faster line does take you off the track, but technically, if you are gaining an advantage by leaving the track, you should have a penalty. Hamilton had been taking this line for much of the race before being told by the FIA not to.
This victory is an important one for Mercedes. For a team used to being at the front (with a car designed to run at the front), how they can cope and adapt to not having the fastest car could be the difference between winning and losing a championship this year.
Bottas came in third; he too seemed a little disappointed after that slow pitstop removed any chance he had of mixing it with Hamilton and Verstappen at the end.
Lando Norris finished in for a great fourth place, setting his mark at the team for the season. Teammate Ricciardo came in a strong seventh—a great points haul for the McLarens from a good race weekend.
Perez’s surge saw him climb up to fifth position—these great comebacks are, becoming a speciality of his. After a slightly wobbly qualifying and that unlucky power failure on the formation lap, Perez showcased his speed, determination, and racing ability.
Leclerc came in sixth for Ferrari, with new teammate Sainz in eighth. Sainz perhaps played it a little safe, but the last thing you want to do is bin a Ferrari on your debut with them! Leclerc was his normal blisteringly fast self. The team seems to of made great gains from last year, and I expect some absolutely banging battles between Ferrari and McLaren as the season progresses.
With a strong debut, Tsunoda took some points home in ninth place. The Japanese driver had a tentative start but, once he found his rhythm, progressed well through the pack with some good overtakes. Teammate Gasly had that unfortunate tangle in the opening few laps which saw him drop way down the order. A shame because he and the car had some real pace this weekend. Definitely a team to watch this year, expect them to be outpacing Alpine and Aston Martin over the upcoming races.
Speaking of which, the last point was taken home by Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. This seems to be the team to have come off worst from the regulation changes. Rather than fighting for third in the constructors this year, it looks like they’re more likely to be fighting for fifth or sixth. Vettel had a disappointing race, being given a five-place grid penalty before the race started—for not lifting under double waved yellow flags in qualifying. The German did get his elbows out in the race, but also made a rookie error—locking up and rear-ending Ocon after the Frenchman had passed him. Vettel came in fifteenth.
Alfa Romeo had a great race! Kimi really got stuck in, as ever, and Giovinazzi was showing much better pace than he had last year. They were unlucky not to bring any points home, coming in eleventh and twelfth.
Alonso got a good start—running in seventh at one point—but he struggled with grip and gradually dropped down the order until retiring with brake issues. Still, great to see him back though! Alpine teammate Ocon had a quieter race, the most notable moment being the rear shunt from Vettel. The car needs to find some grip by the look of it, but they potentially could really get in the mix of the midfield.
Williams showed a little more pace than they had last year, Russell having a good race—at one point running in the top ten. The Brit finished fourteen, and teammate Latifi bringing up the rear in eighteenth.
Finally, Haas had a poor day and Schumacher had an early spin—but did continue to bring the car home in sixteenth. Mazespin, sorry, Mazepin—as previously mentioned—had a more terminal spin—leaving him in a wall. This could be a long season for Haas with two rookies at the helm.
So, there we have it! What an opener, sowing the seeds for some amazing battles right the way through the grid for the upcoming year. But we’ll all be looking at the front: can Red Bull really beat Mercedes this year?
Driver of the day- Perez
Honorable mentions- Norris, Leclerc, Tsunoda
Numpty of the day- Mazepin
Bahrain Grand Prix Race Results 2021
- Bottas (Fastest Lap)
Urgh! Three weeks wait!
Sunday 18th April: Imola, Italy—Fast, old-school, iconic!
How to watch-
USA- Live on ESPN, Race starts 9 am EST
UK- Live on Sky Sports F1, race starts 2 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky 1 and Channel 4 Sunday 28th April- time TBC