Lewis Hamilton Wins Season Opener In Bahrain

For the only the first time since 2011, Lewis Hamilton won the season-opening Grand Prix, taking the chequered flag under one second ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, following a tense and closely fought battle. Valtteri Bottas crossed the line in third for a double Mercedes podium.

Verstappen led away from the start from pole position, with Hamilton close behind. The advantage quickly switched to Mercedes, with Hamilton undercutting the Dutchman following a good pit stop. Hamilton led for a majority of the race, with the second pit stops seemingly switching the advantage back to Verstappen and Red Bull, as he pitted 10 laps after Hamilton. The fresher tyres on the Red Bull enabled Verstappen to close the gap to the Mercedes to set up a thrilling climax to the race. Verstappen managed a pass on Lewis Hamilton but had to give the position back to the Briton as he ran too wide and passed the Mercedes driver off the track.

Unfortunately for Verstappen, that would prove to be his last opportunity to take the win, as he had a small slide whilst trying to catch up and it was evident that his grip levels had started to drop off. Hamilton managed to hold on to take win number 96 and also surpass another Schumacher record - this time taking the record for the most laps led in F1 History, with 5111.

Bottas had a very quiet race and dropped some distance behind the two leaders, and any chance of challenging for the lead was gone as he had a slow pit stop when his front left wheel wouldn’t come off, and crossed the line in third, but managed to take the fastest lap and extra point following a late (more successful) pit stop. Lando Norris finished a fine fourth for McLaren, proving that the team from Woking has followed up on their promising Pre-Season testing.

Sergio Perez almost had the Red Bull debut from hell, when his car ground to a halt on the formation lap with an issue that forced him to start from the pit lane. Following some excellent tyre management and brilliant racecraft, he fought back to finish a brilliant fifth, ahead of Charles LeClerc in the Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren. The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz finished eighth on his debut in red, ahead of brilliant rookie Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri and Lance Stroll crossed the line in tenth, giving Aston Martin a point on the teams return to the sport.

We Finally Have A Fight On Our Hands

It may only be race one of the longest season in history with 23 races, but it seems that we will actually have a close battle on our hands for the championship this year, with Red Bull appearing to have the quickest car in Bahrain, with Mercedes closely behind.

Mercedes have been the dominant force of F1 since the start of the hybrid era in 2014, and have rarely had a close challenge, with the exception of Ferrari in 2018. This year feels different, however, with Red Bull clearly having a decent car in Pre-Season testing and then backing up that promise with a strong weekend in Bahrain. They took pole position by almost half a second from Mercedes, and had the quickest car over the course of the weekend. It was only a mixture of different strategies and track limits controversy that cost Red Bull the win, but Mercedes certainly turned up the wick this weekend following Pre-Season struggles. It certainly seems that we will have a close fight this year between the two most dominant teams of F1 since 2010, and I absolutely cannot wait for it!

Mercedes have an incredibly strong line-up, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, one of course statistically the most successful driver in F1 and the other a proven race winner and championship contender, but Red Bull arguably have one of the strongest lineups in the sport right now. Max Verstappen needs no introduction, and given the right materials, will surely be a world champion. The other, Sergio Perez, has been in F1 since 2011 and has had a long and successful career, mainly with the old Force India/Racing Point team, and finally took his first win last year. Four incredible drivers going head to head in almost identically quick machinery is enough to whet the appetite of any F1 fan!

Disappointment To Success

Sergio Perez raised plenty of eyebrows last season when he was given the second Red Bull seat, but has already proven that he is the right man to back up Verstappen and help bring Red Bull back to the front. A disappointing qualifying session saw him start down in 11th place following a tyre mix up, and it seemed destined to get even worse on race day, as his RB16B slowed to a halt on the formation lap with an electrical issue after he had new Control Electrics and Energy Store on his car. Fortunately, he was able to get the car going again to take the start from the pit lane.

Sergio proved that he is one of the masters of tyre management and racecraft, as he fought back through the pack with some excellent overtakes and smooth driving to take fifth at the flag. He is one of the most highly-rated drivers on the current grid, and a drive like that proves why. He was also last during last seasons Sakhir Grand Prix, before he fought back to take his first Grand Prix win.

Red Bull have made the right choice in giving the drive to the Mexican, and he is surely in for a successful season with plenty of podiums and a few race wins here and there!

The Rookie Sensation

Three drivers made their debuts this year; Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin for Haas and young Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri. Of the three, Tsunoda stood out a mile this weekend. He was the first Japanese driver to make an F1 start since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014, and became the first driver to score points on debut since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2017.

He raised plenty of eyebrows with some impressive lap times in Pre-Season testing and even went second quickest in the first part of Qualifying at the weekend. Unfortunately, he dropped out in Q2 but enjoyed an excellent race with some amazing overtakes, including a brilliant last-minute move on Fernando Alonso. He caught and passed Kimi Raikkonen for P10 and then followed that up by catching and passing Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll for P9 on the last lap. He wasn’t even 100% happy with his finishing position, saying that more points would have been possible if it wasn’t for him losing positions on the opening lap, dropping to 15th. Still, it's not a bad debut weekend at all!

Before the race, he was asked where he would like to finish, to which he simply replied “P1!”. He then said that top eight would be good, so he wasn’t far off his ideal finish, but it’s great to see another driver with good humour and fight in him.

A very highly rated driver, he is proving to be a very exciting addition to the grid and I will certainly be keeping a close eye on him this season!

Nikita Maze-Spin

Another driver making his debut this weekend was Haas’ Nikita Mazepin. Unfortunately for the Russian driver, his weekend will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. He started last on the grid, directly behind teammate and fellow rookie Mick Schumacher, following not one but two separate spins in qualifying, the last of which ruined plenty of laps for other drivers, including Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, leading to the four-time World Champion qualifying only 18th before dropping to last following a penalty.

Mazepin’s race didn’t go much better, as he spun all by himself at turn two and planted the car firmly into the barriers, destroying the right-hand side. His debut race was over as quickly as it had begun, and has done little to change the opinion that plenty of people have about him.

Whilst he is undoubtedly a quick driver and had some solid performances during last seasons F2 campaign, in which he finished fifth, it is an opinion held by some that he is just in F1 mainly because of the money he brings to the struggling Haas team and not just down to his driving talent. True or not, t his weekend has done little to change opinions, but hopefully, his performances can get better over the course of the season and he can prove that he deserves a seat in F1.

It won’t be easy for him or Schumacher though, as Haas have said they won’t be developing their car this year, instead choosing to put all their focus into 2022 for the new rule changes and regulations.

My Driver Of The Day

Sergio Perez, without a doubt. From starting last in the pit lane to fighting back to fifth, it was a calm and solid drive from the Mexican. Whilst Verstappen had a good race, as did Lando Norris, I have to give it to Perez.

Where Do We Go Next?

Well, after all that excitement, with now have two weekends off before the F1 circus heads to Imola, for the Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made In Italy E Dell’emilia Romagna 2021. That’s one hell of a name, so I’ll just say Imola for the first Grand Prix in Italy for 2021. We get back to business on the weekend of the 16th-18th April.

Thank you very much for reading my first Grand Prix review of 2021, and I am so happy to be back writing my pieces again after what seemed like a long, long time without any F1! Our weekly F1 Fans Show is getting bigger and better week by week, with more people getting involved and having their say, and we all appreciate it so much - after all, we couldn’t do it without you lovely people!

So tune in every Monday at 7:15 pm for a round-up of the weeks’ F1 news!

Take care and stay safe,

Steve Thomson