Bahrain Race Review 2021: Season Opener

A fantastic season opener, and a driver-by-driver analysis of this weeks top racers

Lucy Rimmer
5th April 2021
Twitter @LewisHamilton
If you just saw the race result HAM/VER/BOT you may be disappointed. But don’t be! It was not clear who would win until the very last lap.

I was half expecting a Lewis Hamilton-style 2008 last-lap win. The 2021 season opener has got all of us extremely excited about the season ahead. The result may be regular, but the fight was fierce and there were no guarantees, same as the fact that there is no guarantee of the world title recipient this year. 

1. Hamilton

No longer are there ‘he only wins because he has the best car’ arguments valid. Hamilton did not have the best car. He did not have the freshest tyres. He did not have DRS. 

Yet Verstappen was behind him in the faster car, with fresher tyres and Hamilton remarkably managed to defend his 1st place position. 

Thanks to Mercedes' strategy and Hamilton’s fierce defending Mercedes won a race that wasn’t necessarily theirs to win. 

It certainly looks like we have a good title fight on our hands this year-nothing is sealed!

2. Verstappen

Starting on pole Verstappen ran a good race. Strategically speaking, an error with Perez meant Red Bull could not have a double car approach to their strategy, unlike Mercedes. Nonetheless, we saw Verstappen shoot away with a monumental 2 second+ lead on Hamilton. Proof that the Red Bull is the car this year with the most pace. With this in mind, although Verstappen didn’t win, he’s only 8 points behind Hamilton and certainly still a contender for the world title which is an incredibly exciting prospect. 

Verstappen did actually manage to overtake Hamilton, but by doing so off track, he was told by the FIA to give the place back and unfortunately didn’t get another opportunity to overtake again. 

Track limits in general is a line that the Mercedes crossed (excuse the pun) many times but there was not much clarity on the situation. Hopefully, future races feature some lucidity.

3. Bottas

Despite the nice point-scoring result, it was a disappointing race for Bottas. 

It seemed unfair to see Mercedes use a defensive strategy for Bottas, unlike Hamilton’s attacking strategy. Bottas said this was his year of being more selfish yet it doesn’t look like Mercedes is facilitating that for him. It appeared as though Mercedes was using Bottas to help Hamilton win, or least to stop Verstappen from winning, as opposed to giving him a fighting chance too. However, Bottas was not keeping up with Hamilton and Verstappen so perhaps that ‘defensive’ strategy was fair. 

Not to mention there was an awful pit stop that took over 10 seconds essentially removing Bottas from contention this race. 

4. Norris

Norris really surprised me in this race. He started the race wheel to wheel with new and more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo and actually got ahead. In my 2021 predictions earlier in the year I predicted that out of the two McLaren drivers Ricciardo would end up ahead, and while that may still be the case, Norris has proved that it may not be as straightforward as that. 

Norris’ excellent result means that McLaren is now 3rd in the Constructor’s Championship.

5. Perez

While ostensibly this is not an amazing result for the Red Bull driver, Perez actually started in the pit lane due to engine issues preventing him from starting on the track (not that he qualified too well anyway!)

But this is Perez. And his single career win came when he finished last on the first lap of the race. Overall, Perez did amazing to get up to 5th and proved that the midfield is a fantastic place to learn to be an incredible driver. Perez has proven that hiring outside of the Red Bull Academy was the right decision and I don’t think we will see him in 5th very often.

6. Leclerc

 Leclerc demonstrated that the 2021 Ferrari will not follow in its predecessor’s footsteps by qualifying in 4th. 

It was exciting to see Leclerc fighting with the Red Bulls, McLarens, and Mercedes again and we may see Ferrari fighting for podiums this year. 

7. Ricciardo

Ricciardo clipped Gasly’s front wing causing the Frenchman to seriously drop down the places this race. 

It was also disappointing to see the far more experienced Ricciardo finish 3 places behind Norris. But we’ll put this down to him being part of a new team and expect better results for the rest of the season. 

8. Sainz

A true highlight of the Bahrain GP was the three-way battle between Sainz, Alonso, and Vettel where we saw Sainz gain two places with one move. It wasn’t set in stone, however, and we saw the drivers switch positions, but it was top-quality racing between some excellent and experienced racers. 

9. Tsunoda

I do not remember the last time I was this excited by a rookie, especially a rookie's debut. 

Tsunoda managed to get points on his debut and put on a good show while doing it. Memorable moves include his overtake on Raikkonen and Alonso. 

10. Stroll

This was actually a disappointing result for Stroll for me. Aston Martin increased employees by 25% and while I acknowledge that rule changes may have had a detriment, 1 point so far is not good enough. There was no real reason Stroll didn’t do better than P10 but it doesn’t look good for Aston Martin. 

11. Raikkonen 

Again, Raikkonen had some fantastic battles with many drivers on the grid and it’s a shame the two Alfa Romeo’s were just out of the points. 

12. Giovinazzi

Nothing remarkable from Giovinazzi but what’s new.

13. Ocon

Poor Ocon got the brunt of Vettel’s clumsiness after Vettel plowed into the back of him on lap 44. That along with Alonso’s DNF meant it was a bad day for Alpine. 

14. Russell

This performance from Russell makes it seem more likely that Williams could get a point or two this year. The circumstance could arise this season that Russel nabs a few points seeing as Williams might not be the worst car this year. 

15. Vettel

This was a weird race for Vettel. It was the 4 -times World Champions debut race with his new team Aston Martin and the weekend started on a bad foot. He received a 5 place penalty for failing to respect double yellow flags in qualifying causing him to start at the back of the grid.

He then received a 10-second penalty for driving into the back of Ocon, while both drivers managed to continue after spinning, Vettel also received 2 penalty points. 

Unfortunately, so far, it does not look like Vettel will have a story too dissimilar from his Ferrari story with Aston Martin. 

16. Schumacher

The rookie placed last of all the finishers but ahead of his rookie teammate. He had a dodgy spin too but it’s far too early to tell about Schumacher’s future especially in the uninspiring Haas.

17. Gasly

Close to the beginning of the race, Gasly’s front wing was clipped by Ricciardo causing him to have his front wing changed. A stop that he never really recovered from. In the end, Gasly retired from the race close to the end. However, his rookie teammate’s point-scoring finish shows promise in the Alpha Tauri, and that Gasly can have some high-scoring finishes in the rest of the season. 

18. Latifi

It was a quiet race as per usual for Latifi who also quietly retired from the race at a similar time to Gasly. 

19. Alonso

Fernando Alonso’s return was big news for Formula 1 and he certainly had an impact despite his unfortunate retirement. 

Alonso pitted first, and relatively early on lap 11, which triggered all many other drivers to pit causing a dramatic reshuffling on the table.

Again, he had some fantastic battles with Sainz, Vettel, and Tsunoda but his race finished on lap 33 with a brake issue. A zero-point scoring race for Alpine. 

20. Mazepin

Mazepin spun out and retired on the very first lap causing him to retire. A disappointing Formula 1 debut for the rookie for sure. 

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