Bahrain 2021: An Ignorant American Was Thoroughly Entertained
We finally got an actual race!
When a race gets labelled as “epic” before it even runs, there is so much potential for disappointment.
Bahrain 2021 did not disappoint. This race took all the pre-season excitement, all the hype, and all the unanswered questions of a new F1 season and turned out something very special.
And before you crotchety old F1 codgers say, “It wasn’t that special,” let me preemptively respond that as a new-ish F1 fan there’s an easy way to tell if a race is special: if I watched every lap, glued to the screen, not knowing what was going to happen until the last second, it was special.
I did, I was, I didn’t, and it was. Bahrain was special - not “exploding Frenchman” special, but definitely special. I enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ll tell you why.
Here are my 5 favorite things from the inaugural weekend of the 2021 F1 season, and a couple of questions for you long-time fans. As always, in the comments tell me why I enjoyed the wrong things this weekend, and if you’re feeling generous please answer a question or come join my Ignorant American F1 tribe to keep an eye on things here in the colonies.
My 5 favorite things from Bahrain 2021:
1. The climax came at just the right time.
Ahem. In every race there is a pivotal moment that decides who wins. Sometimes that magic moment happens prematurely, on lap one, which is embarrassing. Sometimes it happens really shamefully early, like in qualifying, and the winners and losers are decided before the race even starts. Usually the moment happens right in the middle of the race, when things are just getting good, and we have to finish up while pretending that we’re still enthusiastic about what’s going on.
But in Bahrain this weekend the planets aligned, the earth moved, and that pivotal, climactic moment came on the last lap, when Lewis and Max were still racing each other as they crossed the finish line. For once our excitement lasted all the way through to the end, and those end-of-race fireworks actually meant something, even if the whole thing was over by 10 am on a Sunday morning, American time. Look, if a race ends and everyone’s still alive, it’s never “bad.” But when it’s good, it’s good and we all know it. Bahrain was pretty good.
2. Bahrain was a great preview for the whole season, and I’ll explain in cookies.
If the 2021 F1 season were a special flavor of Oreo cookie, the cookies themselves would be Petronas green and Schweinshaxe-flavored. The filling would be black, yellow, and red and taste like cough-syrup and Skittles. What I’m trying to say is that we’re going to see a lot of Hamiton/Verstappen/Bottas sandwiches right up at the front. I also think the mid-field battle was a good sampling of what’s to come, and Ferrari did better than I expected. As disgusting as that Oreo cookie sounds, I actually think a shoot-out between Max and Lewis at the front and a lot of mid-field action is going to make for a delicious season.
3. Martin Brundle is an old fire horse who gets foamy-mouthed when he hears the bell.
One of my favorite things this weekend was, after a few false-starts to the race, hearing Martin Brundle practically beg the race gods for “an actual racing lap.” Now that his racing days are over, standing six inches from the cars as they zip by on the track is probably what’s keeping Martin alive. The excitement of young drivers is infectious, but t’s always great to get glimpses of the old flame that still burns in the veterans. Once a fire-eater, always a fire-eater.
4. I was right about Red Bull.
I was scoffed at, scorned, and digitally spat upon by a very small percentage of F1 fans for suggesting that maybe a) Mercedes wasn’t sandbagging in testing and that b) perhaps Red Bull will present a bit of a challenge to the not-so-silver-anymore arrows this year. I think Bahrain is proof that Mercedes has some work to do, they will have to earn their constructor’s championship this year, and that Lewis will have to actually beat Max to get the driver’s… Ring? Trophy? Wreath? Crown? Plaque? Someone enlighten me, what do the champion drivers get? Anyway, the game is afoot, and even if Mercedes runs away with it again this year, they will have a very Mad Max right on their heels.
5. Checo is great.
I’ll admit, I didn’t see the tenacity from Sergio Perez that I was hoping for, but he did turn lemons into lemonade multiple times and end up 5th. I went back and watched his onboard camera in laps 53-56, and the moves he put on Leclerc to get into P5 would have been the highlight at the end of the race if the front hadn’t stolen the show. But my favorite part of Checo’s drive at Bahrain was his team radio after the checkered flag. It went something like this:
Pit Wall - “Congratulations Sergio, you did really well and ended up P5.”
Checo - “Yeah, thanks. I’m sorry Max didn’t win, guys.”
Now that’s class.
Here’s my question after Bahrain, and I’m hoping you all can help me. On an old episode of that BBC motoring show that shall not be named, the great and magnanimous Jeremy Clarkson suggested that F1 would be better if, instead of curbs, the track was lined with 12ft cliffs so that drivers had to stay on or die. Obviously driver safety matters and Clarkson was being hyperbolic, but is there a real solution to the track limit problem? I think Max has a right to be frustrated if the track limits are only enforced right at the end of the race when he has the lead. What can be done, either by the stewards or physically in the construction of the track, to make those edges and their enforcement more consistent, without endangering the drivers?
Let me know what you think, tell me what I missed, and tell me why you're stoked for the rest of the season. I'll meet you in Italy in two weeks, probably to share Petronas-green Oreo cookies and a glass of bubbly red gut-rot energy drink under the Italian stars.