The Season Begins!
105 days since Verstappen crossed the finishing line in Abu Dhabi, we were finally back in action in Bahrain for the start of the 2021 Formula One season. New drivers, some regulation changes and a shortened testing programme the opening race of the season was shaping up to be an exciting on (check out our season preview here)
Verstappen topped the times in all three practise sessions, which had everyone wondering if Red Bull had actually made the jump on Mercedes or whether the silver arrows were sandbagging the practise sessions. Lando Norris also impressed with his pace going third fastest in practice one and second fastest in practice two.
Double yellow flags at the end of the first qualifying session saw Sebastian Vettel fail to make it to the second session in his first weekend for Aston Martin. The four time champion was then handed a five place grid penalty for ignoring the double yellow flags so that he would start at the back of the grid.
Yuki Tsunoda was the best of the rookies as he qualified in 13th, whilst the two Haas drivers made up the back of the grid before Vettel’s penalty. Alonso came back with a bang as he qualified in 9th, 1.5 seconds faster than his team mate Ocon.
It was Verstappen who took pole position, outpacing Hamilton by 0.388 seconds in his final run of the session. Verstappen’s pole backed up the claims from Aston Martin that the new regulations for the season gave an advantage to the cars on the grid using a a high rake set up. Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer has claimed that low raked cars like the Aston Martin were losing up to a second a lap because of the change in regulations.
Despite having one of their drivers on pole position, Red Bull didn’t get off to the best start as Sergio Perez pulled up on the side of the track on the formation lap. The Mexican was able to fix his electronics issue on the track but had to start the race from the pit lane. Perez didn’t let his disruptive start ruin his race as he carved his way through the field to pick up 10 points by finishing fifth.
Tsunoda built upon his impressive qualifying by securing his first F1 points in he first race by fissioning in 9th. The other rookies had a less than fortunate debut as both Haas drivers struggled with the rear end of their cars, Mazepin putting himself out of the race on the first lap whereas Schumacher was able to keep himself in the race but unable to make up any places in the final standings.
The battle for third best constructor well and truly kicked off as Norris and Leclerc battled for the top points out of the podium places. Norris came out on top of the battle finishing in fourth, showing that he is more than capable of taking the leading role in the McLaren team. Ferrari appear to be McLaren’s biggest threat this season as they appear to have overcome their power unit issues which have befit Alfa Romeo as Raikkonen and Giovinazzi just miss out on points.
A set of differing strategies from the two front runners gave us a race battle that we have been waiting years for. Mercedes and Red Bull played a game of chicken attempting to anticipate the undercut which left Hamilton attempting to defend his lead on a set of very worm hard tyres. With Verstappen gaining on fresher tyres it looked a certainty that the Red Bull driver would take the first victory of the season, had it not been for some controversial track limit calls. The race stewards had established before the race that track limits would be ignored but monitored throughout the race.
Hamilton had been making the most of the run off at turn four before the stewards threatened the seven time world champion with a penalty it he continued to do so. It was at this very turn on lap 53 where the seemingly inevitable happened when Verstappen made the pass on Hamilton but was quickly deemed to be off the circuit and forced to hand the position back. Hamilton was then able to fend off Verstappen for the remaining laps to take the chequered flag and the 25 points for first place.
Bahrain has seemed to have given Formula One fans some hope that we might have a long awaited championship battle on our hands. Despite not being able to win in Sakhir, Red Bull appear to have the fastest car on the grid and Lewis Hamilton will have his work cut out to secure a record eight world title. We now have a three week wait until we race again in Italy and the anticipation is sure to build as head towards the second race in what could be the most exciting F1 seasons in recent years.
By Shaun Dunn
Featured Image Courtesy of XPB Images