F1 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix Review
Finally, the season opener got underway, and what a race it was! Here is a rundown of each team's performance, and what it means for the season ahead.
Finally, after what felt like a year, the 2021 F1 season opener got underway in Bahrain and what a weekend it was. Up and down the grid, all over the world, people were buzzing to get back to racing and the teams did not disappoint, with a cracking race, possibly showcasing the signs of a real title fight for the first time in a while. Red Bull have upped their game in a big way, and look to have taken the fight to Mercedes this year and Verstappen looks quicker than eve, while the Silver Arrows seem to be lacking their usual blinding pace. McLaren, Ferrari and Alpha Tauri look like the next best teams, with the Red Bull junior team making a big step forwards with their car this year. Then, Aston Martin and Alpine seem to be struggling a bit, followed by Alfa Romeo, who look much stronger than in 2020. Finally, Williams and Haas look to still be bringing up the rear of the grid, with Haas focussing their energy on their 2022 car instead of developing this one. This all means that it is all to play for in the coming season, and we're here for it.
Hamilton and Verstappen took part in an epic duel throughout the race- (image taken from grandprix247.com)
Firstly, we are going to discuss Haas, who are potentially looking at a very demotivating year as the team's energy is spent on developing their car for the 2022 regulations. Meanwhile, they brought in two new rookie drivers: Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, who will both still be on somewhat of a learning curve in F1, having obviously never raced in it before. So, coming into the weekend it was already looking pretty dire. However, the team were thinking maybe they could get a car into Q2, maybe a car fighting with Williams and Alfa Romeo in the race. No. With both cars in the bottom three in each practice session, things were not going well. When qualifying came around, they had Mick Schumacher in 19th, 4 tenths off of Sebastian Vettel ahead and Nikita Mazepin in 20th, 1.2 seconds behind Vettel. Then of course, they arrived at the race and Mazepin's race was over within the first three corners, bringing out a safety car as he crashed heavily into the barriers. Then, at the restart Mick Schumacher went for a spin, with the Haas car looking particularly unstable at the rear, and he never really managed to recover, only finishing ahead of those that had retired, 38 seconds behind Vettel in front.
While Bahrain is not exactly their strongest track, the team coming last here in both events last year as well, this race was a big clue as to the woes that may await Haas this season. Next race is Imola, but that won't be much comfort to the team, as one driver retired here last year while the other only finished above Alex Albon, who had suffered from an incident late in the race. The drivers seem to be using this year as a learning year, to figure out the sport and get their feet firmly planted on the ground of the top tier in motorsport, for a hopefully much more rewarding 2022. Any Haas fans around the world probably won't be watching this year back in the archives though.
Haas struggled in Bahrain and it looks like a pretty miserable season coming up for them- (image taken from autoweek.com)
Next up, there is Williams, who had a mixed weekend in the desert, with both cars impressing in some sessions and disappointing in others. They both finished in the bottom four in each practice session, but managed a decent result in qualifying, with George Russell making it through to Q2 while his teammate Nicholas Latifi outqualified the experienced Sebastian Vettel as well as the two Haas cars. Sunday brought the team pain instead of points though, as Russell managed 14th, although four cars did not reach the race distance of 56 laps, one of those being Latifi, who was running 17th before retiring with a suspected boost leak, which he had been struggling to contend with for most of the race.
All in all, it was a mixed start to the season for Williams, while both drivers reported that the car felt much better than last year, there is still a long way to go before they catch the midfield. On the positive side though, they do seem to have elapsed Haas in terms of performance this year and look like they might be able to do what Haas did last year, taking some gambles and getting a few crucial points to keep them afloat. Russell is still shining on a Saturday and Latifi looks more assured than last year, entering into his second season of Formula One. The team looks to have dropped back from Alfa Romeo though, so it looks like their season objectives may have to stop at points.
Williams had a decent first race, outperforming Haas at least- (image taken from williamsf1.com)
Now, we move on to Alpine, formerly Renault, who have Fernando Alonso, the double world champion, signed on for this year, as well as promising young driver Esteban Ocon for competition and a striking new livery. Having started to flounder in recent seasons after a previous ascent up the order, Alpine were hoping that the rebranding of the team would bring better results but it looks as though the French team may be set to disappoint this year. Practice results did not look too great for them, as Alonso failed to breach 15th while Ocon was adventuring slightly further up the order. However, come qualifying, it was Alonso who managed to break into Q3, qualifying 9th in Bahrain, while Ocon had been held up by yellow flags in his lap and failed to make it out of Q1. Coming into the race then, they saw opportunities for Alonso to grab some solid points and for Ocon to perhaps have a good recovery into a higher position and maybe even grab some points himself. However, the events of the race threw the hopes of those at Alpine out the window, as things went pear-shaped for the team in red, white and blue. While Alonso was fighting with those around him in the lower end of the points near the start of the race, having battles with the likes of Lance Stroll, Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda, his race started to unravel as his car simply lacked pace and eventually he was forced to retire due to a sandwich wrapper getting caught in the brake ducts, to cap off his weekend. Ocon on the other hand, couldn't seem to gain many places, finishing in 13th place after a collision with Sebastian Vettel.
Overall, it was a pretty poor weekend as far as Alpine were concerned, with one car retiring and the other out of the points. At least Alonso showed his ability to hold off the cars behind pretty effectively, but he couldn't progress any further not only due to the unfortunate retirement, but also just down to the lack of pace in the car. However, the race coming up is due to be in Imola, where Daniel Ricciardo managed to secure a podium for the team last year, so maybe they can have a more promising race there. Still, it doesn't look like the best of seasons coming up in France for the partly state-owned team that Alpine is.
It was a disappointing race for Alpine and possibly the beginning of a disappointing season- (image taken from grandprix247.com)
So, we now go onto Alfa Romeo, who look to have made huge strides forward this year with their car. Sticking to the same driver line-up of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, they looked strong through winter testing and the statistics showed that they are one of the teams to have improved the most from last year. Practice looked quite good, with both cars entering into the top ten in one session each, while qualifying was decent. Both cars made it into Q2 and they started the race 12th and 14th. It was to be a solid race from the Switzerland-based team, as both drivers narrowly missed out on the top ten as Raikkonen finished 11th, 2 seconds off Stroll in front and a further second behind Tsunoda while Giovinazzi came home 12th.
While this is the first time in three years that Alfa Romeo failed to score points on the season opener, Bahrain was not a track that they performed well at last year, and both drivers finished four places up on where they came this time last year. Both drivers managed to finish in the points in Imola last year though, so the team will be hoping that four-place improvement can continue on to the next race as well, but points would be a good start. The team look strong this year but they didn't quite deliver their full potential this weekend. Maybe we will see more from them over the rest of this 23-race long season.
Despite narrowly missing out on points, Alfa Romeo seem much stronger this year than before- (image taken from essentiallysports.com)
The next team is Aston Martin, who, after a very successful 2020 and a classy rebrand, were looking to hit the ground running this year and try and secure third place in the WCC which they narrowly missed out on last time around. However, from pre-season testing, things weren't exactly going to plan. Poor reliability and issues surrounding the new aero regulations hampered the team throughout the test, as the regulations have affected their car more than others. Then, they headed off to Bahrain and already they could only get one car into the top ten times in practice. Next came a disastrous qualifying, when Sebastian Vettel was obstructed by yellow flags and qualified 18th, before receiving a five-place grid drop for failing to slow down sufficiently for those waved yellows. While Lance Stroll managed to just break through into Q3, it was not really the result that the team were after. Sunday came around and Aston Martin needed a good race from both drivers to keep motivation levels up. What followed was not really good enough for the team in green. Lance Stroll did manage to hold on for a lonely point but Vettel's race was downright atrocious. He had a good first lap, making up six places but from there it all went badly. He couldn't make up any more ground and lost places, before getting involved in a collision with Esteban Ocon, which he was given a 10 second time penalty for his part in it. Eventually, he limped home 15th, with only one car still running that finished behind him.
After a very promising year, Aston Martin look to have taken a big step backwards this year and don't look like they will be challenging the likes of Alpha Tauri, Ferrari and McLaren for third this year. With Vettel still underperforming, it could be a very challenging year for them, partly due to the aero changes brought in for this year. This affected them more than other teams because they had been gaining most of their aerodynamic efficiency from the slots on the floor of the car, which have been outlawed this year, meaning that they were one of the teams hit hardest. All in all, this year may have to just be a case of damage limitation for Aston, which was not at all the plan.
Aston Martin had a mixed race- with Vettel struggling but Stroll shining- (image taken from skysports.com)
We move on now to Alpha Tauri, the Red Bull junior team, harbouring the highly talented Pierre Gasly and the highly promising Yuki Tsunoda for this year. Along with their sister team, Alpha Tauri look to have made a huge step forwards this year, overtaking rivals Alpine and Aston Martin in performance and maybe even in the fight with McLaren and Ferrari for third place in the Constructors' Championship. They were flying in winter testing, and showed their pace in the free practice sessions in Bahrain too, with both cars entering the top ten and Pierre Gasly managing a very impressive third place in FP3. Qualifying came and the team were so confident that they tried to get through to Q3 with both cars on the Medium tyres, to help with the race strategy. Unfortunately, Tsunoda couldn't quite get a good lap together and bowed out in Q2, but Gasly got through and managed a remarkable P5 position in the final shootout, ahead of a Ferrari and both McLarens, not to mention a Red Bull. In the race, Gasly was very unlucky, although he managed to hold position off the start very well. However, on the restart after the safety car, he was overtaken by both McLarens and as Ricciardo was passing him, they made contact and Gasly's front wing came off, sending him to the back of the grid and forcing him to pit and get a new one. He could never really recover from that, due to floor damage sustained from the collision, and eventually retired from a gearbox issue. Tsunoda on the other hand had a solid race, overtaking drivers like Raikkonen, Alonso and Stroll to take home two points for the team, on a mixed day at Alpha Tauri.
Despite the unfortunate race, Alpha Tauri have improved their car a lot over the break and could well be fighting for third and fourth in the WCC. Their driver pairing is one of the hottest on the grid, with Gasly driving better than ever and Tsunoda outshining many on his debut in F1. Their sudden rise in performance has been achieved through months of hard work and dedication, and if the team can continue that momentum, then they should be in with a shout of a few podiums later on in the season.
Alpha Tauri have bridged the gap to the top midfield teams, with a very fast car- (image taken from scuderiaalphatauri.com)
Ferrari, the legendary Prancing Horse, is up next and it has been a successful winter break for the red cars, as they look much stronger than last year, which is great to see. Despite some spins, winter testing looked promising and both cars managed to shine on multiple occasions. In Bahrain, they managed to get a car inside the top six in every practice session and looked very quick- best of the rest even. Qualifying brought about a brilliant result for the Scuderia, with Leclerc qualifying fourth fastest and Sainz, despite having an issue on his final lap, qualifying eighth, just behind the two McLarens. Their pace looked strong and the race looked set to be a good one. In the end, the race was slightly less impressive than qualifying, with Leclerc overtaken by Lando Norris and the charging Sergio Perez, coming home a still decent sixth, and Sainz taking a cautious approach to the start on his Ferrari debut and not managing to improve on eighth. Still, a good weekend it was and they will look to build on that throughout the rest of the season.
Despite a slightly deflated race, Ferrari showed their real pace this weekend and the future looks much brighter for the Tifosi than it did at the season opener last year. Both cars easily made it into Q3 and it was a double points finish last year, something which wasn't a given in 2020. While the team is obviously still not where it needs to be, they look like they have recovered a lot from last year and are now in the fight with McLaren and Alpha Tauri for third place in the Constructors'. Both drivers have said that they are looking forward to the next race in Imola, and rightly they should. It is going to be a much more successful season this year than last, for sure.
While Ferrari impressed in qualifying, they failed to build on that result in the race- (image taken from ferrari.com)
Off the back of a highly successful last couple of years, McLaren arrived into the season with a whole load of positive energy, and it wasn't to do with the virus. After a third place in the Constructors' Championship, they had signed on experienced racer Daniel Ricciardo and kept the extremely talented young driver, Lando Norris and they looked fast in pre-season testing. When they arrived in Bahrain again for the race weekend, they looked extremely good on Friday, with Norris finishing third and second in both practice sessions. However, their Saturday pace wasn't as good, with neither car finishing in the top ten in FP3, and the cars being outqualified by Leclerc in the Ferrari and Gasly in the Alpha Tauri. When it came to the race though, the team pulled off a very well-executed race to bring home a truckload of points. Norris overtook Gasly on the safety car restart and hunted down Leclerc soon after. He was sniffing a podium after Bottas' slow pitstop but it wasn't to be. Ricciardo struggled after sustaining floor damage in a collision with Gasly and couldn't overtake Leclerc and was overtaken by Perez. However, he still came home 7th, and with Norris finishing 4th, the team collected a total of 18 points, which was enough to outscore Ferrari by 6 points and secure an early third place.
McLaren look blindingly quick this season in the midfield, and I would be very surprised if, not only they didn't secure third place in the WCC but they also didn't pick up a few podiums or even a win. They are really that quick. While they are still a little way off the top two, this year could well be the year that secures their spot as a top three team, if they can hold off the resurgent Ferrari and the charging Alpha Tauri. Hopefully in Imola, Ricciardo will be a bit more accustomed to the car, although he did well for his McLaren debut this weekend, even outqualifying his teammate, who is much more established in the team. All in all, McLaren have pace this season and we may well see a large amount of success for the papaya team.
McLaren look to have cemented their position as the third-best team this year, with a well-executed weekend leading to a lot of good points- (image taken from mclaren.com)
We have made it to the top two- and what a difference a year makes for Red Bull. After winter testing, we knew they were fast. But after Bahrain, we can be sure that they will be fighting for wins throughout the whole season as well as the championship. Verstappen looks hungrier than ever for his first title and Mercedes seem to be lacking their usual dominance this season. To prove their pace, Verstappen completed a whitewash of all the sessions, finishing first in FP1, FP2, FP3 and Qualifying. However, Perez had a lap time deleted in Q2 and so only had one shot to get through to Q3, and he chose to stay on the Mediums. After a scruffy lap, he was knocked out, qualifying only 11th. To add to the disappointment, his car stopped on the formation lap before the race and while they managed to get the car up and running for the race, he was forced to start from the pitlane. So, the race came and Verstappen led off the line. Perez was making places up the field and eventually it was pitstop time and Lewis Hamilton attempted an undercut on Verstappen. In response, the Red Bull team chose to keep him out longer, sacrificing track position for fresher tires. Eventually, he came in and returned to the track around 6 seconds behind the Mercedes. But, with fresher tyres, he was able to close the gap to Hamilton and just as he was about to be in DRS range, Hamilton pitted again to cover off any undercut attempts from the Red Bull. Verstappen once again went longer, and he then had eight seconds to make up in fifteen laps. He gained DRS with five laps to go and soon made a move around the outside of Hamilton and into the lead of the race. Heartbreakingly though, he made the move off the track and, half a lap later, race control ordered the team to let Lewis by. From then, Verstappen could never really get close enough again and he narrowly lost the race. Perez by this point, had managed to come home a strong fifth, considering he was once again last at the start of the race in Bahrain.
Overall, it was a very strong weekend from the Bulls. While they didn't necessarily get the reward that their pace could have got them, this weekend showed that they are contenders, even favourites for the championship this season. Verstappen is showing that he can challenge Hamilton for the WDC and if Perez can drive well this year, Red Bull could even take the WCC. It is looking like an extremely promising year for Red Bull, and if they can maintain this pace, we are going to be in for a gripping title fight between two great drivers. Certainly, I don't think many people will be complaining about Red Bull's rapid rise in performance.
Red Bull have started the season strong, and it looks like a close championship fight is headed our way- (image taken from formula1.com)
Well, well, well, Mercedes are at the top again- same old, same old. But wait, is that the sound of a Honda engine in front I hear? Mercedes have fallen down from their well-established top team status this year, and have been, many believe, overtaken in performance by Red Bull. In part, their lack of pace has been caused by the new aero regulations. As with Aston Martin, they were affected heavily by these changes while Red Bull were on the opposite end of the spectrum. So, coming into Bahrain then, they were second quickest in practice, sometimes even third quickest. They looked strong in qualifying though, until the final showdown when Verstappen set a lap that was four tenths faster than Hamilton's. Finally, the race came, and everyone was expecting Mercedes to lose out to the far superior Verstappen. However, a strategic masterclass, as well as some astounding defensive work from Hamilton, saw Mercedes come out in top in the desert, finishing 1st and 3rd. Bottas' race was disrupted by Mercedes using him to help Lewis out strategy-wise and a slow pitstop but he still brought home a good 15 points for the team, to put them in first position by 13 points.
While they managed to capitalise on their opportunities in the race, showing that they will not give up their crown easily, we could be in for a very tight season between the two teams, in both the WCC and in the WDC between Hamilton and Verstappen. Also, there is the added dynamic of if Lewis does get his eighth title, this year, will he retire? He has always wanted to prove he can win in a slower car like Schumacher and Alonso did. If he succeeds this year, that may be the point he chooses to retire on. All in all, Mercedes are still a top team but Red Bull have taken the fight to them this year and it will be interesting to see how they respond.
Despite a lack of their usual pace, Mercedes pulled off an impressive win in the desert- (image taken from mercedesamgf1.com)
Thank you for reading! My name is Marcus Woodhouse and I am 13 years old, looking to get into F1 journalism. I have been passionate about F1 and writing for a while now, and bumping this post will help me progress. Have a good day!