2021 Bahrain Grand Prix – The Main Talking Points
I take a look at some of the main talking points from yesterday's season opener in Bahrain
Formula 1 has been widely anticipated to return to our screens for quite some time now off the back of a stellar season last year, and with the promise that we would see teams a lot closer, and a proper dogfight at the front, we were not disappointed. Seven-tenths separated eventual winner Lewis Hamilton from pole-sitter Max Verstappen in one of the closest season openers in a long time, but it was a race with plenty more to take away from. Here are a few of the talking points I took away from yesterday's awesome race in the desert.
Turn Four Track Limits
With the race ultimately being lost at this particular corner for that particular reason for Red Bull's Max Verstappen, plenty was discussed about the track limits at turn four, and of course Lewis Hamilton's many exploits over the white line during yesterday's race. Out of the fifty-six laps run in the race, Hamilton was counted as to have crossed the line twenty-nine times, while the FIA only warned Mercedes about their driver's exploits out of bounds when Red Bull realised what was happening and was doing it too.
Now, FIA race director Michael Masi has since confirmed that times were being deleted, such as those of Daniel Ricciardo's and Sergio Perez's during qualifying for crossing said white line, but that the artificial grass and gravel trap would determine the limit for the race, barring any obvious advantage. Verstappen had passed Hamilton for the lead and went off the track to which he was told to return the position, but I cannot understand why, in 2019, Hamilton pulled a similar move on Sebastian Vettel for third and got away with it. Sure, Seb did spin right after the move so not much could be done, but why is it treated differently compared to now?
At the end of the day, track limits are track limits and the FIA need to get on top of this matter. In the majority of circumstances, going off track leads to an advantage, and I cannot see how Hamilton could not have been seen to be gaining an advantage in the race, when Ricciardo and Perez supposedly were in qualifying? This is something that needs to be clarified for all sessions, that regardless of the circumstance, going all four wheels past the line is an impeachment of track limits. At the same time, Verstappen overtook Hamilton off-track, and rightly so, lost the position. Expect this to not be such a problem at Imola in three weeks' time, as an old-school circuit such as Imola or Mugello for example, is defined by the grass and gravel that borders the circuit and is a possible reason as to why circuits should maybe be getting rid of tarmac run-off areas.
2. Perez's Astonishing Fightback
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Sergio Perez would have been hopeful that his deleted time and second run on the same medium compound tyres only placing him eleventh on the grid would've been the end of his bad luck for the weekend, but the Mexican was faced with more trouble on his Red Bull debut, after his car shut off during the formation lap and he was forced to start the race from the pitlane.
Perez, a driver handed a golden ticket with the RB16B was determined to do well, as he blasted through the field on the start to eventually claim fifth place, passing cars that were, more often than not, on a faster compound than himself. It was brilliant to see him once again proving with worth with a drive that showed why Red Bull opted to take him on in the first place.
He admitted over the course of the weekend that he is still getting to grips with single-lap pace in the RB16B, but as ever with Checo, his long runs were very promising. If he gets on top of the pace over a qualifying lap and keeps up the hunger he showed on Sunday, I think Red Bull might have just found the second driver they have been craving since Ricciardo departed. I have a very good feeling for him this season and Bahrain only doubled that belief.
Tsunoda's Lightning Debut
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So, the AlphaTauri does look like a major step-up compared to last season, but there is no denying that the F1 debut of Japanese youngster Yuki Tsunoda has definitely turned heads in the paddock. I've been writing and ranting about Tsunoda since being impressed by his speed in F2 last year, but even I was taken aback by his performance over the weekend.
Very quick and consistent over the practice sessions, he lit up the timing screens after going second-fastest in Q1 on the way to an eventual grid spot of thirteenth. In the race, he was not deterred by names such as Alonso and Raikkonen as he drove home to take ninth and the first points finish for a Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi for Sauber in Brazil back in 2012.
Young Yuki will be somebody who everyone will be keeping their eyes on over the season, and those who weren't flattered by him in F2 can't deny his talent now. The kid is an absolute talent, and somebody who could have a very bright future in F1 if things go right. A possible replacement down the line should a seat free up for any reason at Red Bull, I'm sure.
Something that did stand out for me over the weekend was the fact that the Haas VF-21 seems like a proper handful of a car to control anywhere north of fourth gear. I've said it in the last couple of years thanks to the sufferings of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen and how the previous years' cars seemed to devour tyres, but I don't see any more of a change here.
Sure, we all know Haas is not concerned with this season and are fully focussed on the regulation changes coming next season, but the car looks to becoming quite unpredictable. Nikita Mazepin spun in every session and eventually crashed coming out of turn three at the start of the race and I was all ready to call him out on it until Mick Schumacher had a very similar spin after the safety car restart.
You could put this down to two rookies on their Grand Prix debut's making typical rookie errors but the bottom line is, Schumacher is an F2 champion and whether we like it or not, Mazepin is an F2 race winner and has tested multiple cars for various teams over the years, I can't agree that this was all the faults of the drivers, given the struggles of the team with two much more experienced drivers in recent years.
General Improvements Across The Fiel
All in all, 2021 seems to have brought much improvement to a lot of the teams on the grid. Despite not taking the win, Red Bull have now proven that they stand level, or even above Mercedes in terms of performance on track, which is something that I hope sparks a good challenge for the title.
Further improvements could be seen by McLaren, Ferrari, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo, which is of course great given how Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in particular suffered in 2020. Alpine and Aston Martin, coming off the back of great seasons for their previous incarnations last year, look to have started off a bit edgy, but with drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel threatening to claim points over the weekend for these two respective teams, it will only be a matter of time before they are right up in the mix also.
Williams, despite still finishing at the back of the grid, showed some undeniable improvements in pace and driver George Russell commented after the race that he was happy to be able to have the pace to actually challenge cars ahead and have the confidence to do so. Small steps for the much-loved Grove team, but steps that prove the right things are happening with the FW43B.