Winners and Spinners - Bahrain Grand-Prix
My nerves are shot to bits, but my lord what a season opener!
Sir Lewis kicking off his bid for an eighth world title with a bang. (Image; Mercedes-AMG Twitter)
Mercedes have proven me wrong. I wrote yesterday that they weren't looking on-form. But they burst off the line with a Red Bull baiting strategy and a set up that could bring the fight to a superior looking car and Max Verstappen. On the face of it, Bottas' performance doesn't seem to have been as sparkling as many expect but when you view his role as that of a rear gunner and someone to give Hamilton room to work with, he has done exactly the job that Toto Wolff would have been pleased with, especially considering some rough pit stops. In car number 44 the story was very different, an incredibly measured race from Sir Lewis, using an undercut from the pit wall to his best advantage, ramping the pressure onto Red Bull who were fighting singlehandedly with Perez stuck back in the pack. But we'll get to them in due course. As the race progressed, Hamilton stayed on Max with a precision that exemplifies his racing record and seven world titles. This gave him the edge as both his and Max's tyres degraded, Max's possibly quicker as the Dutchman pushed to catch Hamilton. Aware of his pace deficit, Lewis looked as though he was calculating his target lap times and balancing them so well against his tyre health to keep just enough left on the table for the final few laps, including a fightback after running wide on the exit of turn ten. All in, exactly the performance we've come to expect from Mercedes, but this time more so as they faced down the pressure of a speedy Red Bull and behind Bottas, a very competitive pack of McLaren, Ferrari and Alpha Tauri.
Norris and Ricciardo, a very tight team. But could this become a stumbling block later in the season? (Image; McLaren's Twitter)
McLaren has put in exactly the performance that they will be looking for, giving their season a strong start and putting themselves a solid third place in the constructor's championships. Both Ricciardo and Norris putting in a brace of mature drives to rack up P7 and P4. Norris looks to be making another one of his strong season starts, potentially exaggerated by his teammate still bedding in at the team in papaya. With a Red Bull and a Mercedes dicing ahead in the season opener, if things went wrong we could have seen Lando promoted to a podium again, but that wasn't to be. Ricciardo further down the grid also put in a good showing, keeping his nose clean with some big moves through the packed grid early on, even if this was to the detriment of Pierre Gasly *sobs quietly*. Combined though this was an extremely competent performance from Woking, and hopefully, they'll be able to creep closer to the top two as the season rolls on.
Good opening performance from the Spaniard in car number 55. (Image; Ferrari's Twitter)
Another winner has to be Ferrari who put in a performance that stands out so massively compared to last season's. A P6 and P8 put them just six points shy of third place McLaren in the standings. A pit wall that seems far less flappable than last year, able to capitalise on the strong qualifying positions that Charles and Carlos put in on the Saturday, giving them a good run today too. Hopefully, as the car evolves through the season we'll see the Scuderia gain ground on McLaren and the leading pair of Red Bull and Mercedes.
That is still a belter of a livery, a shame that Yuki was going too quick most of the time for anyone to enjoy it! (Twitter; Alpha Tauri's Twitter)
Another winner has to be Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese rookie put in a performance that marks him out as a standout driver. In a tight midfield, he was not afraid to get his elbows out and absolutely send one on Fernando Alonso. A move helped along by DRS but also Alonso's failing rear end, with overheating brakes that were slowly cooking the tyres too. But this shouldn't detract from Yuki's performance which saw him rack up a tidy two points on his opening race, something that will no doubt have the attention of Dr Marko. A class performance, hopefully, we'll see more of this in three weeks at a track where the Faenza outfit ran well last year!
What's the Russian for "That's not gone well"?
Nikita Mazepin, the namesake rather of this series, came into this season begging to be judged by his driving on track, only to spend more time today driving formation laps than he did racing laps. A poor on and off-track record and now a poor record on track have not given the nationless driver a good start to his career in this, the top-flight of motorsport. Although in a risky bid to be impartial, his teammate, Mick Schumacher did also have a wobble with his Haas but managed to regain control and keep it on track. Early signs of the differences between these two drivers. A gap we'll likely see widen as the season rolls on.
Not a smooth run for Gasly, hoping to improve on his run when we get to Imola. (Image; Alpha Tauri's Twitter)
It seems that if he does well on Saturday, Pierre Gasly can be forecast to have a rough Sunday. Imola last year saw him line up on the grid in P4, within 0.4 of a second of his former teammate Max Verstappen. And in a similar case today we saw him lining up P5 two rows back from Max, a poor run out of turn three saw him collect damage as he lost a position to Daniel Ricciardo. A demolished front wing and slow in-lap saw him tumble down the order and struggle to come back from there before retiring four laps from the end. Coverage was a bit thin on Gasly's time on the track so it is quite tricky to draw any meaningful conclusions from it at this point. Although with the win rattling under the car, I should think it damaged the floor resulting in a tricky drive.
A strong but troubled start to the Alpine junior's career. (Image; Alpine's Twitter)
I think we'd all expected Alpine to do better this weekend, and at one point it was looking like they would live up to the hype we'd laid upon them. Fernando was absolutely on it and lining up to bag some substantial points on his first weekend back in the sport. Unfortunately, a clogged rear brake duct saw his temperatures spike and eventually a retirement from the race. Nothing he had done wrong and a bit unfair, but that's life. Meanwhile, down the grid, Ocon seemed to be having a dire race battling through the dirty air from Vettel and the two Alfa Romeos only to be rear-ended by Vettel after an exceptional late braking move into turn one. Not what the young Frenchman needs when he is desperate to prove himself against the might of Alonso. Overall it was an improvement over his starting position, but not what the team needed, especially with one car out of the race. Has the change of management at Alpine seen them stumble? Can they sort this out? It is too early to call, but after seeing today's performance one can expect Cyril Abiteboul is feeling a bit smug.
And the rest;
Lance Stroll dicing with Alpine and Ferrari for points. (Image, Aston Martin's Twitter)
Another mixed bag for Aston Martin. Lance Stroll put in an extraordinary effort to get that car around in the times he did, especially given the struggles that his teammate was having with the same equipment. Aston Martin look to be the team most affected by the rule changes that have hit low-rake cars. While Mercedes have managed to dial out the issues, the smaller Aston Martin still seems to be doing the sums and figuring out how to get their low-rake layout to work in a world of steeply angled cars. While the engineers flounder, Stroll has proven his worth on track once more. Coming into his fourth year in F1 he has matured incredibly throughout this time and looks like he'll bring the fight not only to his teammate but also to the rest of the midfield. I don't really have much to say about Seb, a strange tyre strategy saw him struggle to maintain track position and a car that doesn't have a favourable set up seem to be keeping him from hitting his stride. Again, this is early doors and there is still time for Vettel to come back fighting.
The Williams boys on track. (Image, Williams' Twitter)
Williams have had what I'd call a good weekend, despite Nicholas Latifi retiring five laps or so from the end of the race with boost issues. Their car looked to be competitive against others that strayed into their territory and was significantly outpacing a Haas that looked as though it might struggle against the F2 grid. George Russell, who'd put in a blinding show of skill again during qualifying was able to improve on that through the race, capitalising on a few skirmishes ahead to come home 14th and ahead of Vettel. At some points, he was dicing for points, although this was due to another strange set of strategy calls, where an aggressive track surface was seeing tyre degradation drop suddenly and drivers lose a lot of time on their in laps. A lot of teams seemed to be one lap out on their calculations, although it's this tyre wear that gave us the close Hamilton v Verstappen battle at the front.
Max motoring along on his second stint on the mediums. (Image, Red Bull's Twitter)
I'm not sure what gremlins are floating around at Red Bull, but if they could politely sod off, that would be marvellous. Red Bull are lining up to have a funky record of pre-race laps, Max putting it in the wall on a reconnaissance lap on his way to the grid in Hungary last year, and Sergio glitching out on the formation lap this weekend. Hopefully, this isn't going to become a habit because my nerves won't stand it. But still, Perez put in exactly the drive he was bought in to make. A sterling recovery and a decent points haul keep Red Bull close to their title rivals Mercedes, hopefully at Imola next weekend we'll have a chance to see all four top drivers duking it out for the three places on the podium. Checo better go find the Imola cat and give it a lucky stroke. Max put in another world-class drive, worthy of a world champion, but when his tyres overheated just that fraction too much to recover. And remember this was a driver that had been battling with a recalcitrant rear differential all race, chances are the wear on those rear tyres was going to be uneven and tricky to manage. A good effort, but could it have been better? I feel we've seen better from the energy drink outfit, so fingers crossed we will see that remaining 1% from the team come out as the season goes on.
Kimi hunting down some points while racing someone who wasn't even a year old when he first started in F1. (Image, Alfa Romeo's Twitter)
I had had higher expectations of Alfa Romeo. But equally, these come because I have a soft spot the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo for Antonio Giovinazzi. He put on a cracking show of skill this afternoon, taking the fight with his teammate right into the points. Unfortunately, the tightly-packed grid and some hard pushes from Stroll and Tsunoda kept them from the top ten in the end.
It's just nice to have him here isn't it really. (Image, Haas' Twitter)
Last on this edition of "Jesse's Notebook", Mick Schumacher. Neutral. You can't really say much more than that. Piloting what looked to be a mildly fast wheelbarrow around the track, Schumy jr did well to keep the pup of a car pointing the right way largely.
So there we have it. F1 2021 is go! And it is looking good. Three weeks from now we'll be in Imola, a track that provided some strong racing last year, hopefully, we'll get the same levels of excitement again this year.