The start of a legendary season! - F1 2021 Season Review: Bahrain
F1 2021 Season Review is back, and we start off with the Bahrain Grand Prix!
After a long winter break, Formula One and the DriveTribe season review series is back for the 2021 season. The F1 circuit stopped at Bahrain this weekend for the season opener, and what a race it has been! Let's dive straight into this incredibly interesting race weekend...
Before we get into the race, let's rewind back to Saturday, where Red Bull shocked the world in a qualifying session that nobody would have expected.
Q1 saw Sebastian Vettel miss out on a good first qualifying session for the newly-introduced Aston Martin F1 team following a spin by Haas-rookie, Nikita Mazepin. The Russian spun his car at Turn 1 - right at the end of the session - prompting the yellow flags to be waved and for Sebastian Vettel to back out of his lap. The German driver was only able to put his car 18th, but was dropped to the back of the grid following a penalty for not slowing down enough during the yellow flags.
It was a good session for George Russell, though, who was able to get his Williams into Q2 in the first weekend of the 2021 season. Esteban Ocon also missed out on Q2 as a result of this, putting his French-coloured Alpine in 16th place. Nicolas Latifi and Mick Schumacher followed in 17th and 18th place, followed by Mazepin and Vettel in 19th and 20th after the penalty was awarded.
Q2 saw Red Bull's newest driver - Sergio Perez - surprisingly miss out on the final qualifying session due to the Milton Keynes-based team's decision to send the Mexican out on the Medium tyre. Red Bull opted to use this tyre in an attempt to allow Perez to go longer into the race during his first stint, but instead missed out on Q3 by 0.035 seconds. This did, however, give Perez the free choice of tyre for Sunday's race.
Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen would see an improvement upon their qualifying pace this year, getting both of their cars into Q2 and finishing in 12th and 14th places respectively; being split by Alpha Tauri's rookie driver of Yuki Tsunoda. George Russell would set the slowest time of Q2 to put his Williams in 15th place.
The Q3 sprint to pole saw Max Verstappen set the benchmark time of a 1:29.526 in the first set of runs in the final session - beating Sir Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes time by 0.023 seconds. The competitiveness of the Red Bull this year is something that F1 fans have been waiting a very long time for, as they really want to see a fight between Red Bull and Mercedes.
Hamilton didn't improve on his final run in Q3, which ultimately gifted pole to Verstappen at the end of the session. The Dutchman ended up beating the number 44 Mercedes by almost four-tenths of a second, which shows just how quick this year's Red Bull is! Valtteri Bottas only set a time fast enough for third, though Charles Leclerc was happy with a 4th place finish.
Pierre Gasly put in a great effort to place fifth on the grid, ahead of the new McLaren pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. Ex-McLaren and current Ferrari driver, Carlos Sainz, placed in eighth place, ahead of returning champion Fernando Alonso, who partners Ocon at Alpine. Lance Stroll put his Aston Martin in 10th place to round off the grid.
Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let's move on to the race!
There was drama before the five red lights even went out for the 2021 season opener, when Perez pulled over on the penultimate straight. The Mexican's power unit completely cut out on the formation lap, and the rest of the grid aborted the start and went around again. Perez was able to restart the engine of his RB16B, but was forced to start from the pitlane.
When the race finally started a lap later, Verstappen and Hamilton got away relatively evenly, with the Mercedes driver tucking into the slipstream of the Red Bull driver. Verstappen covered off Hamilton into Turn 1 and both held position; while behind them, Leclerc took to the inside of Bottas, but was unable to finish the move. The safety car would soon be deployed when Nikita Mazepin caught too much of the inside kerb at Turn 3, applying too much throttle and spinning his car into the wall on his F1 debut.
The safety car returned to the pits on Lap 4, but green-flag action didn't continue for long as a Virtual Safety Car was deployed just half a lap later. Schumacher spun his Haas car around on the entry to Turn 5, while debris was littered across the track after contact between Ricciardo and Gasly. The Alpha Tauri driver was overtaken by Ricciardo going into Turn 5, but rear-ended the papaya-coloured car and lost his front-wing, which was a great shame after qualifying so well.
During this frenzy, Leclerc makes his way past Bottas before the Virtual Safety Car is deployed. Bottas attempts a move back on the Monégasque going into Turn 1, but locks up his front-right tyre and goes deep. Leclerc doesn't need a second invitation to switch back and draw alongside the second Mercedes, but Bottas maintains track position by holding the outside line into Turn 4.
McLaren's Lando Norris was having a great drive today, taking advantage of the battle between Bottas and Leclerc to see where the Ferrari was weak. Norris, while being assisted by DRS, dived down the inside of Leclerc and takes fourth place - Leclerc doesn't go down without a fight, though.
During the first safety car, Max Verstappen reports issues with the differential of his car, which the Red Bull engineers started to investigate. The 23-year-old was able to maintain a lead of around 1.5 seconds to Hamilton, who was starting to pick up the pace.
The midfield starts to pit, with a lot of drivers switching from the Soft tyres to the more-durable Medium compound. These pitstops showed the strength of the undercut, allowing Alonso to jump Stroll in the pitstop phase despite being passed on track by the Canadian.
Hamilton pits on lap 14 to exchange his Soft tyres for a set of Hard tyres, with Bottas following the same strategy a lap later. Verstappen stays out in the lead of the race and continues to control the pace until lap 18, where he pits to fit the Medium tyre. Hamilton jumps Verstappen and takes the lead of the race thanks to the power of the undercut.
Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel had been keeping themselves busy, working their way through the field from the back of the grid. The two went head-to-head at the last corner, with Perez making a move on the four-time world champion for 9th place.
Hamilton pits again on lap 28, fitting another set of Hard tyres that he intended to complete the race on. The majority of the midfield followed Hamilton in a lap later, fitting the Hard tyre as well. Verstappen stays out and Bottas pits on lap 31, but is out of contention to challenge the front two after a 10.9 second stop cost the Finn a lot of time.
Lap 34 sees Fernando Alonso retire in the first race of his F1 return due to the failure of his rear-brakes - not an ideal start to the season for Alpine. Meanwhile, confusion occurred between Verstappen and his race engineer when being told that he was able to run wide at Turn 4 to carry more speed.
The stewards claimed that this was illegal in qualifying, but legal during the race. Hamilton had been taking a wider line for the majority of the race, but was soon given warnings over the radio that going too far wide was an offense. This sparked controversy due to the indecisive nature of the stewards.
Perez makes his third and final pitstop on lap 39, fitting the Medium compound of tyres to last him the remaining 17 laps of the race. Verstappen pitted a lap later to fit the Hard compound tyre, causing him to be jumped by Hamilton, but having a strong tyre advantage at the end.
Verstappen emerged 8.6 seconds behind Hamilton, but was on much younger tyres and predicted to catch the reigning champion in 10 laps time.
On lap 40, yellow flags were waved at the first corner when Ocon and Vettel had come together. Ocon had successfully passed Vettel heading into Turn 1, but the Aston Martin driver locked up and rear-ended the Frenchman, causing them both to spin and causing a bit of damage to the German's car.
Fast-forward to Lap 50 and Verstappen has closed the gap to around a second to Hamilton, finally reaching DRS range. Hamilton is forced to make defensive manoeuvres in all three of the DRS zones, before finally losing the permission to Verstappen in a thrilling overtake around the outside at Turn 4.
Verstappen had taken the lead with four laps to go, but slowed on the back straight to let Hamilton back through when the stewards deemed his overtake as 'illegal'. The previously mentioned controversy with track limits at Turn 4 cost Verstappen the lead, as his overtake was deemed illegitimate as it was made off-track.
Hamilton regained the lead and was forced to hold off Verstappen for three-and-a-half more laps on dead tyres. The Briton was sliding around corners while Verstappen continued to chase him down in DRS zones - though the Red Bull's tyres were starting to wear dramatically following the chase.
Verstappen dropped out of DRS range on lap 54 and 55, causing him to distance himself from the back of Hamilton's car. By the time the pair reached the final lap, Hamilton was only just the right distance away from Verstappen that prevented overtakes during the DRS zones.
While both drivers deserved to win, Hamilton crossed the line to claim an impressive victory at the season opener that he certainly had to work for. Verstappen was disappointed with the result, saying that he felt like he could have pulled a gap if he had kept the lead - but started off the season with the promise that Mercedes and Red Bull will continue their fight in three weeks time...
Valtteri Bottas finished in third place and with the extra point for the final lap, after pitting on the penultimate lap to make use of the fresh tyres. Lando Norris banked some impressive points for McLaren, finishing fourth, ahead of Sergio Perez, who made an excellent recovery drive to 5th. You can see the full race results below:
What did you think of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix? I would rate the race 8.5 out of 10 personally due to the tense battle at the end between Hamilton and Verstappen - where we didn't know who was going to win until the third sector of the final lap! Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
Today's race is just the start of what I hope is going to be an intense battle between Red Bull and Mercedes this season, and I am thoroughly looking forward to what is coming up...
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