With the first Grand Prix of the 2021 season done and dusted, we take a look back. Bahrain 2021 was perhaps the most exciting GP in years and holds promise that Mercedes will not have it all their own way, with a strong challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The battle between Verstappen and Hamilton raged race-long and, despite different pit strategies between the two teams, the outcome was only decided a few laps from race end, with track limits playing their part and handing a win to Lewis Hamilton. For the average spectator, the confusion of why track limits change between qualifying and the race needs to be sorted - even some drivers are still unsure what is legal.
Apart from the Lewis and Max show, there was plenty of excitement from P3 onwards. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished a strong P4, outdoing his accomplished new-for-‘21 teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who finished P7 after suffering floor damage from a contact with Pierre Gasly early in the race. Despite having to do a Ctrl-Alt-Del on the formation lap of the GP when his Red Bull RB16B shut down, Sergio Pérez did an outstanding job of charging back to finish in P5. Both Ferraris finished in the points, with Leclerc in P6 and Sainz Jr. in P8. The Scuderia cars seem less affected than others with the new 2021 floor regulations, but still have a long way to go; progress is definitely coming. Yuki Tsunoda’s F1 debut was strong, with a points finish, and, despite a poor start, the Japanese driver made some demon overtakes with a P9 reward for his efforts.
Rounding out the Top 10 was Lance Stroll in the newly branded Aston Martin, while teammate Sebastian Vettel had a disastrous weekend with yellow flag penalties, a five point endorsement on his licence, and a finish outside of the points.
As for the rest, Alpine had a DNF for newly signed ex-champion Alonso, with brake overheating caused by a wrapper lodged in the rear duct, and Ocon losing places due to contact from Vettel’s Aston Martin. Alfa Romeo had a lackluster race, with both drivers finishing just outside of the points. Despite the talented George Russell making it into Q2, he scored no points for Williams. Haas, with two rookie drivers, will struggle this season - Mazepin crashed on lap 1, while Schumacher recovered from his spin to finish P16, one lap down.
One of the key factors in the Bahrain race was the ability for Mercedes to bring Hamilton in for an early pit stop. With Perez coming from the back of the grid, Red Bull had only Verstappen to cover off the Mercedes undercut, and decided to leave Max out, trying for the overcut. If both Red Bulls are at the front of the grid in qualifying at Imola, Mercedes may find itself on the back foot when it comes to strategy calls. McLaren is emerging as the strong number three team behind Mercedes and Red Bull, and, if both drivers can avoid race start contact, they could be in a position to hold back both Ferrari and AlphaTauri, who effectively are at their home GP. New AlphaTauri recruit Tsunoda’s first F1 test was at the Imola circuit, so expect him to be on his game. The 2021 floor rule changes have hit the low rake cars hardest, with Aston Martin suffering the most. The recently announced addition of Nico Hülkenberg as test and reserve driver could help the Team rebound from its dismal season start. Williams has announced a new Team Leadership, bringing in 3 ex-Volkswagen personnel who were the brain trust behind the brand’s World Rally Domination a few years ago with driver Sébastien Ogier. The impact of this hiring will not be felt for some time, but it must give hope to the talented George Russell for the future.
With all eyes on Round 2 at Imola April 16-18, the virtual Tfosi will be dressed in red and hoping for a Ferrari victory, as always.