2021 Bahrain Grand Prix Blog
Bahrain is often billed as the ‘Duel in the Desert’. Sometimes it does not live up to expectations but that wasn’t the case yesterday. Fans were treated to an absolute classic to kick start the season.
For the first time in eight years, Red Bull had the fastest car on the grid and went into the race as favourites. Max Verstappen made no mistake in Qualifying and claimed an easy pole but, perhaps crucially, his new teammate Sergio Perez was knocked out in Q2 and so could not offer a supporting role. Instead, Verstappen would have two Mercedes breathing down his neck.
The race got underway but almost immediately we had a safety car as Nikita Mazepin lost control of his Haas at Turn 2 and collided with the barriers. Not the start he wanted to his F1 career but thankfully he was ok. As a sidenote, we also really like the look of the new Aston Martin safety car!
Back at the business end and Mercedes knew they had to get their tactics right to stand a chance of winning. They opted to pit Hamilton early and execute an undercut on Verstappen, who stayed out four laps longer. The move worked perfectly, and Hamilton found himself with an eight second lead as a result.
For neutral fans this set up a dream scenario. Verstappen, with his fresher tyres, began to eat into Hamilton’s lead. The second round of pit stops went smoothly for both drivers and for the final stint the Red Bull, again with fresh tyres, was lapping around 1 second per lap quicker and would inevitably catch the Mercedes.
Verstappen closed the gap with ease and with four laps to go passed Hamilton around the outside of Turn 4. The Red Bull garage went wild, but their joy was short lived as they were told by race director, Michael Masi, to hand the position back because Verstappen had ran off the track during the move. At the time it seemed this may not matter because there was ample opportunity to have another go but, for whatever reason, Verstappen was never able to get close enough. Those last few laps would have been excruciating for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but they clung on grimly for the win.
Speaking afterwards, Hamilton said: “It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while” and Toto Wolff cited their rivals improved performance as the reason Mercedes went into the race as underdogs. He said: “Honda has done a great job in delivering a power unit that is extremely competitive… we just have to take it as sportsmen. There is just no other solution than to recover.” Wolff did however admit that the Mercedes car is “not in a happy place” with both drivers struggling for balance.
There was a lot of pre-season talk about who will be best of the middle order teams. It seems McLaren have plenty of pace and two exceptionally talented drivers in Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. They look best placed to fill this spot and it was the young Brit who shone at Sakhir. He should be proud of his P4 finish.
Ferrari have also made an encouraging start to the season finishing P6 (Leclerc) and P8 (Sainz). Ok, so they are not yet able to challenge Red Bull or Mercedes, but things are moving in the right direction. Leclerc summed up the feelings of the Scuderia, saying: “It’s a nice start and a good feeling and I am reasonably happy with the race today. I cannot be extremely satisfied with P6, but at the end of the day we need to look at where we were last year and it’s clear we have made good progress.”
Sadly, the ‘old guard’ F1 drivers struggled during the race. Fernando Alonso retired with a brake failure and Sebastian Vettel finishing in a dissatisfying 15th place. His position was not helped by a grid penalty or a 10 second time penalty for colliding with Esteban Ocon. Vettel received five penalty points on his super licence for the later offence and Aston Martin will surely be expecting better from him.
Sergio Perez deserves a special mention. Having broken down on the formation lap and starting from the pit lane, he drove a mighty race to finish in P5. The headline act though has to be Sir Lewis Hamilton. There was a glint in his eye during the post-race interviews and reflecting on Red Bull’s superior performance, he said: “We love the challenge, I love the challenge, I love what I do.”
There is a three week break now before F1 returns to Imola, but it will be worth the wait if the Bahrain race is anything to go by.