FeaturesFormula 1

Assessing the grid – 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

7 Mins read
Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The Bahrain Grand Prix held the season opener for the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, and what an opener it was. From a battle for the win all the way to the chequered flag to duels all over the grid, we had it all.

Lewis Hamilton was the eventual victor of the race, and the less likely race winner. All weekend, this race had been screaming out for a Red Bull Racing win from Max Verstappen. He had dominated every session and gained pole. It was his to lose and somehow, he still did.

TOP OF THE CLASS

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0:201s  | Race margin to team-mate: – 37.383s

The current world champion didn’t really do much leading up to the race. He showed no promise of being strong during the practice sessions and was unable to gain pole during qualifying, gaining second but being nearly four tenths off of Verstappen’s pole lap.

His race, however, was a tactical masterclass and gave all the fans the top of the grid fight they were after. Hamilton was running the race in second, behind Verstappen. He took the decision to pit early on lap 13 to get the undercut on Verstappen. Red Bull responded far too late and pitted Verstappen on lap 17, giving Hamilton the advantage.

Hamilton handed back the race lead to Verstappen when he pitted on lap 28. It looked as if Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s plan was to pit Hamilton three times so Verstappen used that to his advantage and pitted on lap 39.

With Hamilton now in the lead following that pit, he decided to go the rest of the race and not pit a third time. Come the final five laps, he had a charging Verstappen on his tail and was starting to struggle on his tyres. Verstappen claimed the race lead with an overtake at Turn 4 on lap 53 but had to give it back for exceeding track limits to overtake. By then he’d lost all his juice and Hamilton was able to go on and win.

Sir Lewis Hamilton showing, once again, that he is one of the F1 greats.

Credit: Sebastian Kawka

Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -1.662s | Race margin to team-mate:51.302s

I don’t think you can take away all the effort’s Verstappen put into the weekend just because he didn’t win. He showed that Red Bull are a serious competitor this year and this is just the first of twenty-three close contests. His time will come sooner rather than later.

He completed a hat-trick of fastest times throughout all the practice sessions and managed to smash out a pole time which excelled that of Hamilton’s.

There has been much controversy after the race that Verstappen shouldn’t have given the race lead back to Hamilton, due to Hamilton exceeding track limits at various times in the race. This has caused a bit of an uproar at the ambiguity of the track limits rules over a race weekend. Verstappen even stated after the race that he should have stayed in front and would have gained a five second gap to cushion a penalty. Team Principal Christian Horner confirmed that FIA ordered the switch back.

Sergio Pérez – Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.662s  | Race margin to team-mate: +51.302s

Sergio Pérez had a pretty unlucky weekend but still had a strong race which earned him the coveted title of Driver of the Day.

Qualifying had already set up Pérez in a bad position. He was unable to break out of Q2 and started in eleventh. During the race formation lap, his car completely shut down, leaving him unable to move. A second formation lap was completed and during this, Pérez was able to restart his car and take it to the pit lane. Due to his being out of position, he now had to start from the pit-lane, relegating him to last.

Well, after his victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix, we all know what Pérez can do when he’s last on the first lap. He fought his way through the field, making no mistakes and taking home a fifth-place finish. Maybe that cursed second Red Bull Racing seat is starting to get some luck.

Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.047s | Race margin to team-mate: -19.538s

With a new teammate at McLaren F1 Team in Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris needed to prove that he had the pace to match the seasoned race winner.

His whole weekend was strong, finishing third and second in Free Practice 1 and 2 respectively. He was just outqualified by Ricciardo, starting in seventh place when his teammate qualified sixth.

During the race, he managed to outpace the Scuderia Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, hold off the late charge of Sergio Pérez and overtake Ricciardo early on to bring home a fourth-place finish. A promising sign for the young Brit.

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.537s  | Race margin to team-mate: -8.010s

A fourth-place qualifying position and a sixth-place race finish is already miles better than what Leclerc was getting from his Ferrari last year. There’s been early signs that Ferrari are making a comeback and Leclerc proved they’re serious competition this year.

Yuki Tsunoda – Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.394s  | Race margin to team-mate: Gasly DNF

The rookie of the weekend. Yuki Tsunoda drove a storming race, you wouldn’t have believed it was his first F1 race weekend.

The Japanese driver has been strong all throughout his F1 career so far. He wasn’t able to get through to Q3 in his first qualifying and started in thirteenth. That didn’t stop him charging the field to cross the finish line in fourth. 

HOMEWORK TO DO

Nikita Mazepin – Uralkali Haas F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.824s  | Race margin to team-mate: Mazepin DNF

There’s not much to say about Nikita Mazepin’s race weekend. He qualified last but got promoted to nineteenth when Sebastian Vettel was given a five-place grid penalty and relegated to the back. Mazepin’s race was cut short when he crashed out at Turn 2 on the first lap. It’s a debut race weekend to forget for the rookie.

Pierre Gasly – Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -1.394s  | Race margin to team-mate: Gasly DNF

The Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s had looked powerful all weekend, especially Pierre Gasly’s. After being quiet all throughout Friday’s practice, Gasly pulled out some fire and gained the third fastest lap in Saturday’s practice and qualified in fifth.

On race start, he held his position well and it looked like he would be on course for a good race. Once the safety car, which was brought out for Mazepin’s crash, finished, Gasly went off again but collied with the back of Ricciardo’s car. This caused some damage to his front wing, forcing him to pit and tumble down the pecking order.

Gasly wasn’t able to fight his way up the pack again and retired his car with five laps left.

Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.455s  | Race margin to team-mate: +1 lap on race leader

Sebastian Vettel’s start to his Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team journey has not been the sweetest. He was unable to get out of Q1 due to Mazepin’s crash affecting his flying lap, leaving him starting in eighteenth. He was then given a five-place grid penalty. The FIA determined that Vettel failed to comply fully under the yellow flags brought out for the Mazepin incident.

His race didn’t go much better. He collied with Esteban Ocon in a silly mistake. Luckily, both drivers were able to continue on their race. He eventually finished in fifteenth. Both his yellow flag infringement and his collision with Ocon earned him a total of five penalty points.

Credit: Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team

Alpine F1 Team

I don’t think that’s much more the drivers could have done in that race but overall, it was a poor showing for the team. Fernando Alonso was forced to retire due to an overheating issue with his brakes and Esteban Ocon could only change his sixteenth place qualifying into a thirteenth-place finish. Not the start the rebranded Alpine F1 Team would have wanted.

THE REST OF THE FIELD

Valtteri Bottas had a less than exciting race, starting third and finishing third. He may have been able to push Hamilton and Verstappen earlier had he not had a pit stop issue. During one of his stops, his front right tyre struggled to come off, leaving him with a pit time of nearly eleven seconds.

Ricciardo’s start to his McLaren career wasn’t amazing but was still a good race from him. He started in sixth but finished in seventh. After the race, McLaren confirmed that Ricciardo had sustained damage to his floor in the collision with Gasly. Makes his seventh-place finish look slightly more impressive now.

Carlos Sainz Jr’s first race in a Scuderia Ferrari wasn’t great but it also wasn’t bad. He finished in eighth overall but just didn’t have the same pace as Leclerc. Maybe first race jitters?

Rounding off the rest of the grid. Lance Stroll occupied the last point place in tenth. Kimi Räikkönen slightly edged out is Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The both of them had a fairly quiet race but were still involved in some battles. Räikkönen finished in eleventh with Giovinazzi behind him in twelfth, a good result for the team.

Another race weekend, another pointless one for Williams RacingGeorge Russell managed to beat Vettel to fourteenth but there’s still a lot of work to be done at the team. Nicholas Latifi was a late retiree due to a suspected boost leak.

Mick Schumacher rounded out the grid, coming in sixteenth, the last driver on the grid before the retirees. He didn’t have the best of time in his F1 debut race for Uralkali Haas F1 Team but I’m sure his time will come.

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