The opening round of the 2021 Formula 1 season took place in Bahrain yesterday with an exciting Bahrain Grand Prix that saw a first lap crash and fight to the end between pole sitter Max Verstappen and reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton. It was Hamilton however, who managed to cross the finish line less than a second ahead of the flying Dutchman, giving him his 96th career win and 75th win for Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas taking the final podium spot in his Mercedes following a slow pit-stop on lap 30, effectively taking him out of contention to fight for a possible win.
This was Verstappen’s fourth career pole position, and he took full advantage of it, taking control of the race right from the start until Hamilton managed to undercut him in the first round of pit stops. But it was the second round of pit stops that allowed Verstappen to close up to Hamilton, taking his stop 10 laps later, giving the Red Bull fresher rubber towards the closing stages of the race and putting him less than a second behind the Mercedes in an exciting last few lap of the race.
Bottas ran a lonely second half of the race in third, having enough time in hand to take a late pit stop for fresh tyres enabling him to get the fastest lap of the race and that valuable bonus point. Meanwhile, Lando Norris put in another impressive drive for McLaren, finishing fourth and equalling his result from last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
In his debut drive for Red Bull, Sergio Perez managed to recover from starting in the pit lane following a formation lap problem, to finish fifth, ahead of Charles Leclerc in his much improved Ferrari and the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.
The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz finished eighth, ahead of rookie Formula 1 driver Yuki Tsunoda in his AlphaTauri, with Lance Stroll giving new team Aston Martin a valuable point on their return to Formula 1 rounding off the top ten.
Lewis Hamilton said after the race:
“Firstly, can I just say it’s the first time I have seen fans in a long time, it’s so good to see people out here and everyone keeping their distance and staying safe. I’m so proud of what Formula One has been able to do, to start on a normal schedule this year and wow, what a difficult race that was! Definitely by stopping early, we knew it would be difficult, but we had to cover Max and keep the track position in the lead. They have had an amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special to get the win tonight. We stopped for that last stint and trying to find the right balance between pushing hard and saving tyre performance for the end of the race was difficult. And Max was all over me right at the end but I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while so I’m really grateful for it and massively thankful for the men and the women back at the factory and here, for continuously pushing the boundaries and never giving up, even if we do feel we’re behind. But we love the challenge, I love the challenge, I love what I do.”
Ferrari have been working hard over the winter to improve both the performance of their car and how the team itself works, and with both cars finishing in the top ten in sixth and eighth respectively, it is a big improvement on last season and a good start to the 2021 season with still more work to be done.
Charles Leclerc commented on the results:
“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.
I had a very good start. I found myself in third place and managed my tyres quite well in the first stint. I think there was probably a bit more left in them, but we had to stop and try to push the others towards different strategies, which was the right thing to do, but it might have cost us a little bit in terms of pace at the end of the race.
All in all, it was a good race and a positive weekend, and we made a good step forward compared to last season. We’re still not where we want to be, so we need to keep working and pushing very hard to get better in the coming races.”
Further down the field, the Uralkali Haas F1 Team, with their two rookie drivers, had a disappointing Bahrain Grand Prix, with Mick Schumacher finishing the race 16th while Nikita Mazepin spun out on the first lap, forcing him to retire, commenting afterwards:
“It was very simple – I made a mistake. It was just one of those things. My start had been good, I got into turn one taking the outside line. I was then going through turn two and I was really trying to avoid Mick (Schumacher) as he was close and got too much on power – the tyres didn’t take it. They were cold, I got on the kerb, took too much throttle and spun. It was totally my mistake, it’s very disappointing. I’m very sorry for the team as they deserved to do much better than that. Obviously, there’s always positives you can take – the learning experience is obviously there.”
As well as seeing some new drivers and two new teams this season, it is also the start of a new three-year partnership with award-winning Italian sparkling wine Ferrari Trento, who are now the Official Toast of Formula 1 celebrations and the first time that an Italian sparkling wine is part of Formula 1.
The next race will take place in three weeks’ time with the Made in Italy e dell’Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola on Sunday 18th April. Lewis Hamilton won the race at this iconic track last year, but will he be able to repeat it in 2021 or will it be Max Verstappen in an ever stronger Red Bull? We’ll bring you all the action right here.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Scuderia Ferrari Press Office, McLaren and Uralkali Haas F1 Team